B. Smith

18 Jun

The news that B. Smith has Alzheimer’s disease has hit me and a lot of folks really hard. I saw the segment on Sunday Morning last week and broke down in audible sobs. The sight of the once gracious, warm, always put together B not knowing the day, date or year just broke my heart.

In the 80s in midtown Manhattan was the place to be. The bar scene was thick with what were referred to back then as Buppies (Black Urban Professionals). The restaurant was always packed too, but the bar was where the pulse was. On any night from Wednesday till Saturday night the place hummed. The woman behind B. Smith’s is a former model named Barbara Smith, one of the first Black American models to appear of at the cover of Mademoiselle magazine. She subsequently graced many magazine covers. B. went on to become a major lifestyle expert on cooking and decorating and like her predecessor, Martha Stewart, she had a TV show, a full home collection line (hers was at Bed, Bath and Beyond) that included bedding, kitchen stuff, furnishings, three cookbooks and olive oil. She and her husband and partner Dan Gatsby had restaurants in DC and a luxe place on the water in Sag Harbor–the Hamptons–where they also own an architecturally daring house.

I felt my eyes fill with water when her eyes filled with tears during the interview.  Watching the look on Dan’s face (her adoring husband of 22 years) sit next to her, caressing her hand, was simply heartbreaking. You rarely saw B without Dan. He’s now her caregiver and maybe that’s when the tears started to flow. I know something about what its like to care for a loved one whose ability to remember has left them.

For a little more than a year, my father live with us. At first he could use the bathroom on his own, after a while he needed a diaper at night. Now, he can sometimes remember to go, but he wears diapers. He still asks for my mother, who died five years ago. When I tell him that, he shakes his head and sucks his teeth. “Did I go to the funeral?” he’ll ask. I assure him that he did. He doesn’t look relieved. The next time I see him, he might ask where she’s living. He seems alarmed that she’s living somewhere without him. I tell him again that she has died. Recently I showed him a picture of the two of them. It was taken in the 70s. I ask if he knows the people in the picture. He looks carefully and at first says no, then he realizes the man is him. “That’s me,” he brightens. I  ask who the woman is and he says: “That’s you.” I correct him, “No that’s Clara, that’s your wife.” He pulls the picture close to his face and says, “Hi honey.” I hide my face so he can’t see my tears. I know that he is lost and it’s worse without her. His dementia presented a year after her death.

So I watch B on the Sunday Morning show. I try to understand why I’m crying so hard. I mention this to my friend Pam.

“Maybe it’s because of who she was.” Yeah, Pam says. “Maybe it’s because of my Dad.” Yeah, she says. “Maybe it’s because my memory is so bad and it’s scary.”

“Yeah, it’s x,y and z.”


2 Responses to “B. Smith”

  1. chelledv June 18, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    I so get all of those reasons. I watch a friend go through dimentia and now Alzheimer’s with her father. It’s difficult to watch. So, I know it must be devastating to experience. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Stephanie Littles June 19, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Salaam Benilde,

    I too watched the show and was saddened by what I saw. My mom had Alzheimers and passed 1/8/11, at the age of 90. Although she couldnt remember who I was in the end, she still felt love for me and would brighten up whenever I entered her room. Alzheimers patients keep and remember the love, and so will B.

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