Allene Massey Goldsmith, 99: The sweetest literary inspiration
By Ernie Suggs
When novelist Elizabeth Musser was 10 years old, she prayed that her “grandmom,” Allene Goldsmith, would live long enough for Musser to dedicate her first book to her.
Goldsmith was around when Musser’s first book, “Two Crosses,” came out in 1996. Not only was it dedicated to Goldsmith, but the book’s feisty nun was loosely based on her.
In 2011, Musser published her eighth book, “The Sweetest Thing,” which was even more influenced by Goldsmith, whose old diaries were used to sketch the life of Perri, the book’s protagonist.
“I started writing when I was 6, and she always took the time to listen to me and make me feel special,” Musser said from her home in France. “She was an intentional person who cared about people.”
Goldsmith’s son, Jere Goldsmith, said his mother lived by the motto, “Never lose your sense of humor, always be a good listener and never do anything in excess.”
“When you were in her presence, she would make you think you hung the moon,” Jere Goldsmith said.
Allene Massey Goldsmith died in her sleep Saturday in Atlanta. She was 99. A memorial service will be held Monday at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Philip.
Goldsmith was born Dec. 5, 1913, to Irvin McDowell Massey and Allene Sargent Massey in Memphis, where she attended Mrs. Hutchinson’s School, a prestigious girl’s academy.
Irvin Massey was big in the cotton industry, but when the stock market crashed in 1929 the family was forced to move to Atlanta, where he worked for the Cotton States Arbitration Board.
In Atlanta, Goldsmith attended Washington Seminary before briefly attending Oglethorpe University.
In April 1933, at the age of 19, she caught the eye of Jere Wickliffe Goldsmith II, who played football at Georgia Tech. They eloped and had two sons, Jere and Alan Goldsmith, both of Atlanta.
Aside from her love of the arts, literature and travel, Goldsmith loved a good glass of Scotch, partaking in one a night. She was also fond of animals, and family members say their home was often overrun with dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, birds, fish, turtles, a horse and even an alligator.
“We would go to the Humane Society just to look and we would always come home with something,” Musser said. “She named the animals after royalty. She said it would help their self-esteem.”
For the past 12 years Goldsmith lived in Canterbury Court, a retirement community. Initially she lived in her own apartment, but eventually she had to move to a unit where she would receive constant care. Family members found her diaries from 1929-1931 while cleaning out her apartment in 2009.
“They were just hysterical,” Musser said about the diaries. “They weren’t deep or profound, but they … showed her love of people.”
Despite coming from wealth in Memphis, the Goldsmiths never had a lot of money in Atlanta, Musser said.
Which leads to “The Sweetest Thing.”
Musser, said the book is about a debutante who attends Washington Seminary. Her rich family loses everything and is trying to keep up appearances. Not quite, but close to Goldsmith’s life.
“My great-grandfather was big in the cotton industry, and the way my grandmother described it, my granddad never had a ‘big job,’” Musser said. “Her family still had money, but they were not in the same social strata as they were in Memphis. She still ran in the wealthy circles, but they didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle.”
Before her grandmom’s death, Musser held a book reading at Canterbury Court for Goldsmith and her neighbors. Goldsmith sat in the front row in a wheelchair.
“The depth of our relationship comes through in my novels,”Musser said. “So for me, that reading was extremely special, because she was so important me.”
Goldsmith is survived by her two sons; a brother, Irvin McDowell Massey of Atlanta; five grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
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