I had some fun the other day, trying to imagine what it must have been like when my colleague Doug Smith arrived at the Pearly Gates.
I wasn’t there, so I can’t confirm it, but I like to imagine what may have occurred. Picture this:
Puffy white clouds waft about a perfect sky as veteran newspaperman Doug Smith strolls through the scattering cumulus, wearing his favorite powder blue leisure suit with a spiffy straw hat.
He’s whistling, a bit off tune, and carrying a briefcase, a baseball bat over his shoulder. He stops cold when he comes upon the gates where St. Peter stands waiting, wearing a white toga just as one might expect, and holding a book in his arms from him.
Doug raises his Groucho Marx eyebrows and does a dramatic double take, impressive in his conviction thanks to his many years on stage in community theater.
“Wow,” he tells St. Peter. “You’re really here.”
The former Niagara Gazette sports columnist moves a little closer to where the gatekeeper stands. “You know I was a skeptic most of my life, right?” he tells Peter, gesturing at the gate and the clouds and the old saint himself.
St. Peter nods and squints at the newbie spirit. “Come on, there were times you knew for sure…”
“Let’s just say that I really glad to see you here,” Doug replies, smiling. His eyes from him get wider behind his wide-rimmed glasses as he notes the gates look familiar.
“Jeepers, that looks just like Gate 6 at Yankee Stadium,” he says in awe as the sound of cheering fans is heard in the distance.
St. Peter, flipping through the pages of a book, looks up and smiles “Yes. We like to customize the setting for our newest arrivals,” he said, pointing to a spot on a page. “I see here that you really liked baseball.”
“I sure did,” Doug exclaims and then peers over the dais where Peter stands to get a closer look at the book that is occupying the gate keeper’s attention. “What are you reading?”
St. Peter holds up the book and Doug is surprised to see a few of his own photos on the cover.
“It’s an advance copy of a book of your old newspaper columns,” St. Peter replies. “In a few years, your son Joe will be publishing this and it contains some of your best work.”
“Lemme see that,” Doug says, and Peter hands the book to him.
“Wow. Joe did that? Doug shakes his head in wonder. Joseph III, is a writer himself, and after his dad passed away in 2017, he curated 120 or so pieces of Doug’s finest work in a book called “The Best of Doug Smith: Base Paths, Rocket Man, the Cheap Gourmet and Other Adventures in 68 years of Buffalo-Area Journalism.”
Doug’s eyes get a little misty at the honor paid him by his eldest and as he flips through the book, he notes it includes columns from throughout his career, including his years at the Buffalo Courier-Express when he wrote mostly about entertainment and theater, his later adventures as a food critic when he called himself “The Cheap Gourmet,” as well as his many stories about two of his greatest passions, baseball and train travel.
Woven like a golden thread through it all is his love and delight in his family, especially his beloved wife of 57 years, Polly, with whom he shared his local spotlight.
His whole life is in those pages, as colorfully and honestly depicted as the many scorebooks he carved at community baseball games.
His extreme talent for storytelling gives St. Peter a pretty accurate account of Doug’s time on terra firma and the saint is duly impressed.
“I really enjoyed the columns about your trip with Polly across Route 62. But, why the heck did you want to go to El Paso?”
Doug chuckles at the inside joke, which indicates the saint had really read the whole book.
St. Peter puts his hand gently on Doug’s shoulder and gets serious for a moment.
“Looks to me like you did all you could,” Peter says. “You drank up every last drop of love and joy available to you.”
From his briefcase, Doug pulls a bottle of Maker’s Mark, which he often enjoyed in small doses, and waves it at Peter. “Almost all of it,” he jokes affably, shaking the little bit that remains in the bottle.
There is a moment of comfortable silence as Peter closes the book and hands it to Doug. It isn’t the typical take he uses to examine the lives of the newly arrived. But it will more than do.
“Nice work,” says the top apostle, smiling down at the veteran reporter. “Go on in. You’re up next at bat.”
“Really?” Doug’s eyes twinkle as, without hesitation, he tosses the nearly empty bottle of bourbon to the saint who catches it with the dexterity of a seasoned second baseman.
“Thank you. This is absolutely wonderful, ”my old colleague says to him before tucking the book carefully into his briefcase so he can savor every word later.
“Tell Polly I’ll be waiting for her,” he whispers. Then, in the blink of an eye, he disappears into the stadium.
St. Peter pours what was left of the bottle into a shot glass that appears like magic in his hand.
As he toasts the life of the esteemed newsman, he hears the crack of the bat and the sounds of the crowd’s approval as a ball flies out of the stadium and lands with a hard plop near the opening in the gates.
St. Peter nods in satisfaction. Doug Smith has hit a home run. The crowd goes wild.
Niagara Gazette contributor Michele DeLuca worked with Doug Smith when she was a copy kid at the Buffalo Courier Express and later as a Niagara Gazette reporter. She is a great fan of his work. Michele can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Best of Doug Smith: Base Paths, Rocket Man, the Cheap Gourmet and Other Adventures in 68 years of Buffalo-Area Journalism” is available on Amazon.