By Jennifer Richardson
My mother, Nancy Smith, opened her business venture called The Smith House Event Center several years ago. Located at 400 South Main St. in my hometown of Tuscola, IL, The Smith House has provided Tuscola and the surrounding area home-cooked meals served with a heaping side dish of hospitality, in that rarefied atmosphere of a restaurant that feels like home. She has hosted family dinners, weddings, funeral dinners, bridal and baby showers, graduations, civic organizations, and an endless list of other important occasions.
I enjoy seeing the pictures of all the events she hosts that pop up on my social media news feed. These pictures of groups of people commemorating life’s meaningful moments show glimpses of her beautifully decorated and spacious event rooms and her delicious food. Many of you have been a guest in her home; you understand what I mean.
It is no surprise that my mom has been a part of so many memories in-the-making. Long before she opened The Smith House Event Center, she was the center of our home, the original Smith house, where great food and legendary hospitality were fixtures in our everyday lives.
My mother was not afraid to teach her six children the behind-the-scenes undertaking it was to have a residence that was prepared to welcome others to our table and our lives. We grew up with procedures, and responsibilities, and a daily expectation that we would learn the art of making a home a welcoming place. I and my siblings were expected to answer the phone with a clear and responsive, “Smith House, (insert name of child who picked up the phone) speaking. We cleaned, we planned, we cooked, we hosted, and we cleaned again.
Along with the framework she built around us to help us understand how to be prepared to provide hospitality, she also radiated the joy that comes from living a life that is larger than self. Her meals always included good food, but the greater sustenance she gave us was an example of how much we could enjoy serving.
In recent years my mom had talked of selling her business and moving toward her life-long dream of retiring to a house on the lake. And late last year she announced that she and my dad had sold their home and business, and she was very happy to report that the new occupant of The Smith House Event Center would be my eldest sister, Mary.
I recently took the opportunity to ask my sister what her plans for The Smith House were in the upcoming months. She told me that, in addition to the Event Center schedule, she has already added hot, curbside pickup suppers every Wednesday. She is planning to offer a much-anticipated eat-in Sunday dinner beginning in the Spring. Longer-term plans include the opening of a Bed & Breakfast within The Smith House, perhaps a coffee shop, and becoming a popular venue for the growing trend of smaller weddings.
My sister was quick to say that she too has appreciated and marveled at the gracious example set by our mother over the years. She has many memories of cooking with mom, and she is so thankful that, even with six children underfoot, our mother always always made time to teach us the skills that make a home. Mary plans to continue my mom’s delicious midwestern comfort-food meals, but will also be adding some of her own signature dishes, like Pesto Chicken and Country Ribs.
Mary has been grateful for the open arms from our home-community, and is looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. She welcomes anyone to reach out to her on The Smith House facebook page, or with the TSH phone: 217-253-2819. She said she has been told many times she has big shoes to fill, and she and I agree–this is the story of our whole lives.
My sister is certainly honored to follow in our mother’s footsteps and is glad to have her assistance over the next few months of the transition, before mom officially retires. I am confident that the matriarch of our family is not retiring from her post as the keeper of our best traditions. We are all looking forward to many more wonderful family gatherings, with the addition of a beautiful lake-front view.
As we welcome my sister Mary as the new lady of The Smith House, I know I speak for many when I whole-heartedly thank my very special mother for lighting the path in front of her, and so many others. Mom, you have touched the lives of thousands, with your nourishment, your beauty, your hospitable spirit, and your love for people. Enjoy your retirement knowing your light will shine on.