How to be truly Happy

Robert (Hap) Smith

By Lynn Vanderhoff

One fine October day, June Jack, sister of one of the Gardens founder Richard Smith, stopped by SGG for a visit. She and I got to talking about her memories of “Hap” as he was called. “Hap” is short for “Happy”, which described his countenance and demeanor. Miss June described wonderful visits and meals they shared, as well as how the Gardens have changed over the years. She shared with me that he loved children, was indeed a child at heart, and would have been thrilled to see the development of the new “Gather ‘n’ Grow” Garden. As we pass the anniversary of his death, I asked her if she and her family would share some of their memories of him with those of us who never knew him but have benefitted from his passion and vision. Miss June’s grand-daughter Amanda Jack provided this memorial:

I was barely eight years old when Uncle Happy died, and I know that it had a huge impact with me. But now, eight years later, I honestly can’t remember very much about him. I remember Thanksgivings with him and Dr. Bob every other year, and talking with him on the porch down by the pond, but it was hot and the mosquitoes were swarming over me and mainly I just wanted to get back inside. I don’t have the amusing or touching anecdotes that those who knew him longer might have. In trying to reconstruct who he was to share something with you today, I kept coming up with nothing.

The amazing thing is that while my childhood memories of Uncle Happy and Dr. Bob are confusing at best, my memories of their gardens are astonishingly vivid: Posing with statues. Balancing on rocks. Running along curving paths, pretending to be in the jungle. Feeding the fish in the koi pond. Trying in vain to wrap my hands around my favorite sculpture, the big ball with dancing people painted on it. Harassing chipmunks and squirrels. Looking at the slowly growing bonsai. Coveting the buckeyes he would give me like they were pure gold. Sticking one foot experimentally in a pond. Climbing over that tree in the forest that thinks it’s a vine. Coming back for the memorial service. Planting bulbs in the garden out front after he died. Finding another buckeye.

I regret that I can’t get to know Uncle Happy now, now that I think I have a long enough attention span to listen to whatever he would have to say without wandering off to look at the fish. But at the same time, I’ve realized that who he was is reflected in these gardens. I think a lot of the most important things that he believed in can be seen here: To value beauty of all kinds- aesthetic, floral, or artistic. To create a peaceful space to inhabit, whether it be a garden or inside your own head. To never apologize for who you are. And, when you’re gone, to leave something behind that means more than a birth certificate and a death certificate, with a few traffic violations in between. To leave an idea, or a cause, or a place in which people can see you for years to come.

I’m very glad that Uncle Happy and Dr. Bob created such a thing, and that I was lucky enough to know both of them. But now I’m glad that anyone can experience these gardens as I did, and perhaps learn something about Uncle Happy through them, as I did. Or maybe people can come here just to have fun. Because the one thing I really do remember about Uncle Happy is him smiling.

The Rock Garden by the Tea House has a marker reading “Hap’s Garden” in tribute Richard Smith. Next time you are down there I hope you think of him and smile. By all accounts it would make him very happy.