January 8

MAINE STREAM: Saying thanks through art and letters

George Smith

My dad, Ezra Smith of Winthrop, has a unique way of saying thanks. He carves you a duck, a loon, perhaps a fish, or gives you a painting of your house, camp or favorite place.

Dad started his artistry after retiring from Wilson’s Dollar Stores, a chain of five and dimes (remember those?) where he began as a clerk and worked his way up to a share of the ownership. Many remember him from those days in the Winthrop store.

While we’ve always known that Dad was handy, very capable of fixing things, we had no idea he would turn out to be a very good artist. He has filled his home and ours with his paintings, carvings and yes, his yard sale treasures. Dad never misses a yard sale and is one of those Mainers who goes to the dump with an empty vehicle and comes home with a full load.

He’s also a prolific writer of letters and cards to friends and family, letters often accompanied by his photos. And he is widely known for his letters to the editor of this newspaper. About a year ago, he wrote what he called his “last letter” to the paper. But I told my friends at the newspaper that if they believed that was really Dad’s last letter, they had not been paying attention. And sure enough, six months later, back by popular demand, were the letters from Ezra Smith.

When Dad began carving and painting in his retirement, he started with loons, creating more than 100, before moving on to ducks, followed by birds and brook trout. He’s carved most all of Maine’s game fish.

Then he started painting, especially enjoying creating paintings of his friend’s homes and favorite places. Dad’s art is scattered far and wide and prominently displayed in the Maine home and Washington, D.C., office of his friend, U.S. Sen. Angus King. Dad once appeared in a TV campaign ad for Angus, to assure Mainers that even though he was born and raised in Virginia, Angus is not a bad guy. That ad bumped King up 5 points in the polls.

For the month of January, the Olde Post Office Café in Mount Vernon, open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch from Wednesday through Sunday, features a lot of Dad’s art. While I acknowledge that I am biased, I think the display is stunning. It is certainly unique. The café features great food, too, giving you two excuses to come on out this month to our nifty little village.

Dad recently was featured in a Maine Public Radio story about turkey hunting. Reporter Tom Porter asked, “Ezra, aren’t you lucky to be hunting turkeys on this farm on this beautiful morning?”

To which Dad replied, “Tom, I’m lucky to be alive!” At the age of 90, there is some truth to that.

Dad has taught me the importance of saying thank you. Many of us are incapable of carving or painting, but all of us can write thank-you notes. So today, I am inviting you to join me in a new initiative.

Every day, I am resolved to say thank you to at least one person. Since I began this effort on Jan. 1, I am discovering that I owe a thank you to many people I encounter on a daily basis, and it’s become easy — even exciting — to not only say thank you, but to witness the reactions. Turns out a lot of people who serve us never hear the word “thanks.” Those two words — thank you — bring smiles to so many faces.

Every week, I am going to write and mail a thank-you note to someone. And no, it is not sufficient to email the thank you. A written thank you, arriving in the mail, is so much more personal and heartfelt. Dad would especially like this resolve, and he would want me to encourage you to buy a bunch of stamps now, before they go up in price on Jan. 26.

I thought about trying to write a thank-you note every day — and good for you if you can do it — but I knew that was unrealistic. I will, however, try to write more than one a week — in fact, I need to. Since starting a list of people who will receive these thank-you notes this year, I’ve already got more than 52 people. And my dad is right at the top of the list.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmithmaine@gmail.com. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.
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