History will little record the life of Nap Smith. And his like—a family man, a faithful churchman, a small businessman and World War II veteran—is rapidly disappearing these days.
However, through the people he touched in each one of those roles, his influence will be felt for years.
Smith, 92, died a week ago today, having been stilled suddenly after going outside on a bright, sunny winter day to putter in his garden.
At his memorial service at Northside Presbyterian Church this week, his pastor, the Rev. Ben Skidmore, described him as "always considerate, always loving, always responsible and detail-oriented" and having a "real sense of fun."
"Every time I see an American flag," another man said, conscious of the Arkansas native's service as a Navy radar officer in Washington, D.C., and the Pacific, "I think of Nap Smith."
"He always seemed to cheer you up," one woman said.
My life intersected with Smith's when I was a child and he was the owner of a toy store, Nap's Toys and Gifts.
Walking into the toy store was like walking into paradise. There were affordable items such as balsa wood airplanes. There were items you saved for, such as Matchbox cars. And there were the big-ticket items only Santa had access to such as the Big Bruiser tow truck.
But the possibilities, in the relatively tiny store, were endless. Items were on shelves, on walls, on the floor. Super balls, models, train sets for guys. Barbies and other dolls for girls. Games for both.
While Smith could put on a stern demeanor as a shopkeeper—and with lots of little baby boomer rugrats running everywhere, he had a right to—he also could display a twinkle in his eye.
Mr. Nap, as we called him, knew his customers, knew what they liked and knew what they wanted. I could just stick my head in the door to see if the newest Matchbox car had arrived, and he would tell me with a shake of the head or a few words so I didn't have to approach the rack where they were sold.
A woman at his memorial service said her young boys once ran in his store and came back to her with items she knew they couldn't have paid for.
"I think Nap gave them the toys," she said.
As time went on, Smith's beloved wife, Mary, began to have a small corner of the shop to sell knitting supplies. Eventually, her part grew and grew, and when they moved from the Dalewood shopping center where they'd been for a decade and a half, they opened two shops—one for toys and one for knitting—on Lee Highway.
Friends at his memorial service described a man who made furniture, who opened his store on Christmas Day to sell batteries to parents who'd forgotten to buy them, who greeted everyone at church after the service, who would stay with Interfaith Homeless Network guests when people decades younger wouldn't, who finally quit working on his roof at the age of 90.
His life, according to one man at the memorial service, "would have been a good movie."
As Smith's like continue to pass away, it's a movie we may wish we'd seen again and again.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...
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