Grant Keltner

The Smack’s

The Smack’s

As a youngster, I would spend my summer months in northern California.  My parents split when I was five and once the divorce was finalized, it was decided that I would visit my father once school was over in the early summer.  I would stay with my father and stepmother for almost three months and visit for two weeks at Christmas.

My father and stepmother lived in Palo Alto, California, near Stanford University.  It was a beautiful setting.  Orange groves, grapefruit trees, walnut orchards, and wide-open fields dotted the landscape.  The summer months were full of bright sunshine and eucalyptus permeated the air.

My father had moved from Oregon due to a promotion.  He was working as a sales representative with Toyota manufacturing, in charge of sales and management support in the Bay area and northern California.  My stepmother worked for an advertising firm in Palo Alto, one of the largest firms in the area.  I have fond memories of growing up in the Bay Area.  A trip to Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe, and the surrounding countryside was always exciting and fun.

My father and stepmother bought a new Ford Mustang in 1965.  It was fire engine red, had black interior, and was a convertible.  It was a great car to explore the sights and sounds of California.  Dad would take me along on his sales trips on the road.  We’d go to Oakland, Santa Rosa, up highway 101 to Eureka, Mendocino and other towns and cities located along the California coast.  I always looked forward in spending my summers with my father and stepmother.

Around 1971, when I was about thirteen, my stepmother suggested that I spend time with kids from another family that she worked with in her advertising firm.  A add executive that she worked with by the name of Mike Smack and his wife Tonya had three kids around my age.  There was Mike Smack Jr., who was the oldest of the children, Bridgette Smack was my age, and Dan was the youngest child in the family.

Tonya Smack was a very kind and really great woman.  I would spend time during the summer with their family.  Since my father worked long hours during the day and my stepmother was busy during the day as well, it would be better to have the companionship of the Smack family’s kids.  Since Mrs. Smack was a stay home mom, we would be under the supervision and watchful eye of this loving woman.

Mike Jr. and I became fast friends.  He was a few years older than me and really gifted.  We read Zap comics, ate Snickers candy bars, and built model planes.  He was amazing at building model aircraft.  He loved to read up on the history of armament of the era.  He showed me how to paint and decal.  I learned about the P-51 Mustang, the Corsair, and the P-38 Lightning.  We caused mischief, watched late night movies, and had a great time.  He was one of the best gymnasts in the state of California for his age.  He could stand on his hands, do flips, and had an incredible upper body.  He also had a number two ranking in the state in the discus throw.  He also played the guitar.  He turned me on to John Kay and Steppenwolf, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Alice Cooper.  He played lead guitar and had a band that used to play at high school dances.  He had his driver’s license and we cruised through the California countryside.  It was great fun.  He was my best friend in California. 

His sister was a typical California bombshell.  She was beautiful, one of the cutest girls I’d ever met.  She was my age and a natural.  I had a huge crush on her.  She was great at water skiing, softball, and was probably one of the fastest runners I’ve ever met.  She taught me how to kiss.  She was a great friend.

Dan Smack was always tagging along with us like a young pup.  He was so cute, singing songs and laughing at the mischief we made.  He was like my second shadow.

The Smacks loved to water ski and Bridgette was one of the greatest water skiers I ever saw.  They had a fast boat and we used to ski up on the Sacramento Delta.  My father and stepmother would go along.  My father was the best water skier out of all of us.  Almost everybody knew how to water ski.  I remember the long country roads that cut through golden brown corn fields.  It was so big back then.  Everything seemed to stretch for miles.  I spent three summers with the Smack family from 1971 to 1973.

I started to watch, learn, and hear about the stories of infidelity with Mr. Smack.  At night, Mrs. Smack would tell us stories about finding her husband coming home late at night, finding lipstick smeared on his shirts, and finding business cards with phone numbers.  She was sad.  She’d sit in the kitchen late at night looking out the window waiting for Mr. Smack.  We were all saddened by the stories, saddened by the news. 

I was up late one summer night with Mike Jr. watching the Three Stooges.  Mr. Smack pulled up in his ’68 Oldsmobile.  He staggered out of his car.  He was obviously drunk.  A young woman was in the passenger side of the car dressed to the nines, laughing and carrying on.  We watched as he stumbled up the pathway to his home, listened as he fumbled at the door, and heard him bump into the walls down the hall that led to the master bedroom.  Mrs. Smack was up waiting for him.  We could hear how mad she was.  They started to fight.

“You’re drunk!” yelled Mrs. Smack.

He grabbed some money he had on the dresser and looked at his wife.  “I’ll be home later!”  Shouted Mr. Smack.

Mike Jr. looked at me as we watched his father climb back into his car and drive off.  “This has been going on for a while now,” Mike Jr. explained.  “I think my parents are going to get a divorce.”  I felt bad for the kids and I felt bad for Mrs. Smack.

The last summer that I was with the family was around 1973.  I soon found out that Mr. Smack had been dating three or four woman behind Mrs. Smack’s back.  I guess he saw himself as a playboy, a real ladies man, a real Casanova.  I loved Mrs. Smack.  She was like a second mother to me.  She was sweet and kind and good to her kids.  She was always backing us up and supporting us in whatever we did.  I can remember being called in the kitchen late one night.  It was one of the last nights I stayed with the family.

“I’m afraid Mr. Smack and I are filing for a divorce!”  The kids started to cry, I started to weep.  I didn’t know what to say.  “As you know, for the last several years our marriage has been falling apart.”

The room went deafly quiet.  Mr. Smack came and went like the wind.  I left California late that summer for Portland.  I carried a heavy heart.

Mrs. Smack had decided that summer to file for a divorce.  Around that time, she had met another man by the name of Mark Hutchinson, someone she knew from the area.  I remember being saddened by the situation.

Mike Jr. sided with his mother.  So did Dan.  They would live with their mother and new stepfather.  Bridgette was her father’s princess.  She would live with her father in an apartment in Santa Clara.

My father and stepmother decided to move up the northern California coast to Mendocino, California.  My stepmother had received a new job with a legal firm and my father would stay in management with Toyota.  Due to the split in the Smack family and the move with my parents, things drifted apart with their friendship.  I used to think about Mike Jr., Bridgette, and Dan.  I missed them as the years passed.

Around 2008, almost thirty-five years after going our separate ways, I was asked to join Facebook.  “You’ll reconnect with friends,” said an enthusiastic co-worker.

Apprehensive at first, I joined up.  I reconnected with friends that I hadn’t heard from in years.  One day while doing a search, I found Mike Smack Jr.!  I asked him about his mother and father.  He told me about their divorce, about the pain.  I found that he was living in Ohio on a forty-acre farm.  He was married, had kids, and we reconnected.

I called him one day.  He went on to tell me the following story.  Back in 1973, the Smacks did indeed divorce.  Mr. Smack continued to practice his law, drink, and chase girls.  I guess he was around fifty at this time.  He led a pretty wild life.  Bridgette loved her father and lived with him in their apartment.  Mrs. Smack wound up marrying Mark Hutchinson.  He worked in a warehouse and was a tough man.  They bought a home east of San Jose, California.  Mike Jr. and Dan lived with their mother and new stepfather.  Mike Jr. was a senior at this time.  Bridgette was a freshman in high school and Dan would have been in seventh grade.  The divorce was difficult for everyone.

On a quiet summer evening around 1980, the boys were asleep, tucked away in one of the bedrooms down the hall from the kitchen.  It was a Saturday night.  Mrs. Smack was sitting at the kitchen table filing papers for a divorce.  It seemed that the marriage to her second husband wasn’t working out.  She had left the papers on the kitchen counter.  Mark Hutchinson came stumbling into the house late that night.  He had worked that day and went out drinking.  He had caught wind of Tonya filing for divorce.  They started to argue and fight.  Mark reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a revolver.  He pointed it at her, screamed, and pulled the trigger.  The shot rang out, the bullet went through her skull, and she fell to the floor.

Mike Jr. and his younger brother were woken by the gun shot.  Dogs in the neighborhood started to bark.  The boys started to cry.  Soon, a second shot rang out.  Mark Hutchinson had shot himself in the head.  His body fell on top of Tonya.

Mike Jr. grabbed his brother and pulled him close to his body.  He protected his brother and peered around the bedroom door looking down the hall into the kitchen.  He could see blood and two bodies on the floor.  They ran towards the back door off the hallway.  They ran crying and screaming through the back yard knocking over lawn furniture, jumping over the cedar fence that separated them from their neighbors.  They ran into their neighbor’s yard.  The next-door neighbors came running out of their house.  The boys huddled down and cried.  The police were soon called in.  They went through the front door and found the two bodies, blood spattered against the kitchen wall.  It must have been terrible.

About a month later, Mr. Smack was driving his car through the streets of Santa Clara.  He was still partying, chasing woman, smoking, and living a hard life.  He felt terrible about his former wife and what had happened in his marriage, how hard everything was for his kids.  It seemed that through his lifestyle his heart was giving him problems.  His doctor prescribed medication, pills that would calm the pain he was experiencing.

Well, he was driving his car through the streets of Santa Clara that night, on a binge.  He had forgotten to take his blood pressure pills, suffered a massive heart attack, and plowed into a telephone pole.  His car was totaled.  He hit his head against the steering wheel of his car and died instantly.  The horn of his car alarmed everyone in the area.

By 1980, the children in the Smack family had lost both of their parents.  They had experienced a terrible ride of emotion.  I could hear Mike Jr. weep as he told me the story.  He moved a few years later, took his wife and kids with him to a forty-acre farm that he bought in Ohio.  It was a secluded location far away from the memories that he left behind in California.  Bridgette stayed in California, married, and had a couple of kids.  She went on to work for one of the local colleges as a counselor.  Dan became a contractor and lives in the Bay Area.

I was so saddened to hear the story about the Smack family.  I really couldn’t believe the way things turned out.  How ironic, I thought to myself.

Looking back Tonya Smack was like a second mother to me.  I can still see her smile.  I can feel the love she had for me.  She treated me like one of her own.  I’ll always miss her.

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