remembering my brother

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People let me tell you about my big brother. He was warm-hearted person who loved me ‘til the end.

You know how big brothers are. One minute they are playing “fatty cheeks” and seeing how many pecans they can fit in your cheeks, and the next they’re helping you through some of the most difficult times of your life. I don’t want to sound conceited, but I had the best big brother in the world. And now I’m brokenhearted without him.

Norman, who I dubbed Bubby from an early age, had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. He loved God, his family, his country, the great outdoors and OU football.

On our way to the OU-Texas game in 1985. Boomer Sooner!

My earliest memories of Bubby are a little fuzzy because he went to college when I was in 4th grade. I remember him hunting squirrels and going frog gigging when we lived in Edmond, Oklahoma. That’s also when he had a pet tarantula that scared the bejesus out of me. His friend Steve taught me a card trick that I’ve since forgotten but made me feel pretty grown up at the time. He drove my grandparents’ hand-me-down Cadillac with fins until it finally gave up and we had to pay to have it towed away.

When I was 10, he graduated from high school about the same time that we moved to Kansas City, Missouri. He was one of those over-achiever types that graduated valedictorian and magna cum laude, had 4.0s, was student body president and tortured his baby sister.

As if fatty cheeks wasn’t bad enough, we played circus, which involved him and my sister Julie pulling me around the house in a wagon and feeding me Gainers Burgers. For you youngsters, that’s a burger for dogs. I gladly ate it because he was my Bubby.

Relaxing on Julie’s deck in St. Charles.

I wasn’t the only one he tortured. My big sis, and his little sis, Julie also adored him and bore the brunt of his “games” before I was old enough to play. He once drew a target on a cardboard box, coaxed her into the box and then shot arrows at it. They both got spankings: Bubby for hurting his sister and Julie for being gullible enough to get in the box. Ah, siblings.

That orneriness didn’t end when we grew up. One Thanksgiving not that long ago, he hid a smoked oyster in the last piece of pumpkin pie, knowing full well how much I loved that pie and how much I hated those oysters. I did not take that very well, to say the least. We just texted about this a couple of weeks ago.

Dr. Bubby was an endodontist and gave me two root canals. Prior to the first, we were at a movie together and he bit a piece of ice from his Coke into two pieces and held one against my tooth until I jumped and screamed. Twice. Didn’t want to take any chances, I guess. When I arrived for my second root canal, he had roped off a seat for my imaginary friend Patty and then proceeded to post a pic of me with the rubber dam in my mouth on Facebook. Funny guy, my brother. Patty lived in the mailbox when I was young. Several years ago, he gave me a new mailbox for her. Thoughtful, too.

Bubby with Nanny, Grandpa John, Mom and his firstborn, Norman Autry Smith III.

Because of our vast 10-year age difference (8 ½ years), I didn’t really get to know my brother until I was in college. Well, he got to know me in high school, but I was a pain in the BLEEP and try to forget that part of my teens. Regardless of my BLEEPing tendencies, he took in me and my mom so that I could finish my senior year of high school in KC…when he and his wife Kim and dog Skippy lived in a two-bedroom townhome and were expecting. Like I said earlier, he had a very big heart.

Standing in front of the ZTA house in Columbia, Missouri.

Our parents lived in San Francisco while I was at college at Mizzou. Bubby was living in KC for most of my years in college, and we visited each other often. Being the most obnoxious OU fan on the planet, which is saying a lot, he came to visit both times Mizzou played the Sooners—dressed in red and white from the tip of his shiny white shoes to the brim of his cap. I’m sure his boxers matched, too.

The Tigers didn’t win a lot of football games while I was there in the early- to mid-80s, but they somehow managed to win both of those games. There’s nothing sadder than an OU fan walking around the MU campus after an embarrassing loss or two. That didn’t stop us from going to Harpo’s together, though.

Norman III’s first quail hunt with his dad and Scott. He shot 8 quail that day in 1992.

Bubby and my husband Scott got along from the first time they met and enjoyed going hunting together. Much to our parents’ delight, my brother, sister and I had five babies in three years. Those early Christmases were something else!

Scott and I had the distinction of having our kids the closest together. At a Mother’s Day celebration at our house when our daughter Anna was just shy of eight months old, we shared the great news that I was expecting once again. There was a long, awkward pause that was finally broken when Bub asked if we meant to do that. He had a huge heart but was sometimes lacking a filter.

The three Normans and Norman’s baby girl Haley on the annual Christmas tree hunt.

We all had so much fun while the kids were young, with Easter egg hunts in their backyard, summer parties in our backyard and annual jaunts to cut down our Christmas trees together. There was a joint visit to our grandparents’ house in Colorado Springs that involved a visit to the zoo, a family reunion and toddlers running through the sprinklers wearing nothing but smiles and beaded necklaces.

Bubby with Spencer and Haley playing in the snow during a winter visit with us.

After Scott and I moved our family to Colorado in 2002, Bub had even more reasons to come to the mountains. There were many fishing trips, of course. The Crystal River and Avalanche Creek were his favorites. We enjoyed a wonderfully snowy Christmas visit with snowmobile rides, kids’ skiing, sledding and snowshoeing. He also made it out for our son Andy’s high school graduation in 2012 and daughter Anna’s wedding in 2018.

Our family together at Anna and Dalton’s wedding in Carbondale in 2018.

About that big heart I’ve mentioned a couple of times, he was also incredibly generous. One of my brother’s lifelong roles was as a caretaker. It didn’t matter if you were family, a friend, a scout, a patient or a stranger, he wanted to help. And he did. He took such good care of Mom after Dad died. If I ever called for advice, he was there for me, and I know that was true for anyone who knew him.

There were so many sides of Norman. His kids, and later his grandsons, were his biggest joys. He was an avid hunter and fly fisherman, and he shared this passion with his kids. His home is filled with his trophy mounts, and his freezer was always full of the game and trout he brought home. If you liked a good joke or an entertaining story, he always had one ready. I really loved it when he laughed until he cried. I’d sure love to hear him laugh again right now.

Since I can’t do that, I’d like for everyone reading this to click this link and dance with me to his favorite song, “Brick House.” That man sure did know how to boogie.

My world is smaller now that he’s gone. There’s a hole in my heart that won’t heal. I ache for his kids and daughters-in-law and the grandkids he won’t see grow up. The only consolation is that he’s at peace, he’s with Mom and Dad and our beloved brother-in-law Kevin, and I know we’ll be together again.

Until then, Bubby, “Hi ho paint, let’s get where we ain’t.”

a day in Sonoma, California

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Of our four days in Sonoma County, one was spent in and around Sonoma, a historic city in northern California at the heart of the renowned Sonoma Valley wine-making region. Its history is fascinating.

According to, “In the mid-1800s, the town now known as Sonoma was just a collection of ranchos, governed by Mexico. Even though the U.S. government and the State of California took over the territory not too long after that, you can still sense its heritage. The centerpiece of town, Sonoma Plaza, is still anchored by the northernmost Franciscan mission in California—and it’s even the birthplace of the California State Bear Flag, created by Americans rebelling against Mexican rule. Today, however, Sonoma Plaza is lined with charming shops, tasting rooms and popular restaurants.”

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where to eat in Sonoma County: four faves

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We just got back from a wonderful, wine-filled week in Sonoma and Napa. It was an actual work trip for our liquor store. How sweet is that? Before I get to the wine, and there’s so much wine to discuss, I want to tell you about four restaurants we loved in Sonoma County. Two were recommended by winery employees. Locals have the best insights on where to, or not to, eat. The other two were found on Google.

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good boy

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We said goodbye to Jackson yesterday, and the nest feels very empty right now. It’s been 10 years since we adopted him as an adult, but it seems like yesterday.

At the time, we’d just moved into a new house and were dog-less for the first time since 1986. That lasted about three weeks. I started looking at rescues in the paper, then moved online and spotted an ad for Red, a black lab coming from a kill shelter in Rawlins, Wyoming. His name came from the color of his collar; they had so many black labs that that’s how they identified them.

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remembering Mom on her birthday

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I’ve been struggling to write this tribute to Mom for almost a year. She passed away last February, and though I’ve worked on it several times I’ve just now been able to finish it. Since today would have been her 85th birthday, I’d like to share some of what made her so special. Continue reading

ruffing it with fido: how to take your dog camping

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Camping with Fido

Guest post by Aurora James

Spending time in the great outdoors with your canine companion can be quite a treat. However, if you’re planning on camping or spending the night, there are a few things you will want to do to prepare. With these tips, you’ll be ready to enjoy whatever nature throws at you. Continue reading

a tribute to outlander

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Memorial Wall at Culloden Moor

I’d love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon if it was pure fiction. Her storytelling takes hold of me and won’t let go until I’ve finished each book, which I’ve now done a few times. The fact that the series is based on real events and many real characters, and the lengths to which she has gone to make it as historically accurate as possible—except perhaps for the whole time travel thing—makes me love it even more. This really hit home when we visited Scotland in 2013. Continue reading

travel tuesday: weekend in steamboat springs

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Sunrise at Stagecoach Reservoir State Park

Sunrise at Stagecoach State Park

Our first official outing with our new truck camper was at Stagecoach State Park, about half an hour outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We’ve camped there a couple of times over the years, but this campsite was the best yet. We completely lucked into it, too. It was the very last site available, and just so happened to be right on the lake. Score! Continue reading

New Year’s Greetings from the Nest

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On the Pauite Trail

Riding the Paiute Trail

Happy 2017! Facebook has been quite diligent in reminding me weekly that the Tales From the Empty Nest page is woefully inactive, so I thought I’d start the year off with a blog post in hopes that I’m a little more consistent over the next 12 months. No promises, but I’m hoping to spend more time writing this year. Continue reading