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Conversations With Papa Charlie: A Memory of Charles E. Smith

Author: David Bruce Smith

Publisher: Capital Books

Price: $22.95

Conversations With Papa Charlie: A Memory of Charles E. Smith

This collection of vignettes about the author’s grandfather isn’t literature, but it doesn’t pretend to be. Although the subject is one of Washington’s most successful businessmen, the late developer and philanthropist Charles E. Smith, it’s not a biography, either. Whole decades are left out, chronology is shuffled, few fancy names are dropped.

Instead it’s a tribute to a mentor—think Tuesdays With Morrie without the wisdom-of-the-ages slickness—by a man lucky to have experienced that rare gift: regular contact with and guidance from a loved one more than a generation removed.

Papa Charlie’s pieces of advice are decidedly homespun. Some start out sounding like clichés, only to surprise with their blunt quirkiness: “Never be afraid to delve into a subject you know nothing about. You will either discover an aptitude or, at the very worst, you won’t like it.”

The most delightful chapter describes the author’s dismay with his family’s health-food obsession in the 1970s, spurred on by Papa Charlie. “I was an enigma at school,” he writes. “People thought I was strange; there was a rumor that I kept a pinup of Adele Davis in my locker.”

Throughout, there are quiet glimpses into generosity, family ties, and aging with a sense of adventure. And then—who knew?—this unassuming volume turns around and ends on an astonishingly poetic note: a gift from grandfather to grandson to reader.