I had a little fun the other day, trying to imagine what it must have been like when my colleague Doug Smith arrived at Pearly Gates.
I wasn’t there, so I can’t confirm, but I like to imagine what might have happened. Imagine this:
Fluffy white clouds float above a perfect sky as veteran journalist Doug Smith strolls through the scattered cumulus clouds, dressed in his favorite pale blue leisure suit with a stylish straw hat.
He’s whistling, a little out of tune, and he’s carrying a briefcase, a baseball bat on his shoulder. He stops short as he reaches the gates where St. Peter is standing waiting, dressed in a white dress as one would expect, and holding a book in his arms.
Doug raises his Groucho Marx eyebrows and does a dramatic double take, impressive in his conviction from his many years on the community theater stage.
“Wow,” he says to St. Pedro “You’re really here.”
The former Niagara Gazette sports columnist steps a little closer to where the goalkeeper is. “You know I was a skeptic most of my life, right?” he tells Peter, pointing to the door and the clouds and the holy old man himself.
St. Peter nods and narrows his eyes at the fledgling spirit. “Come on, there were times when you knew for sure…”
“Let’s just say I’m really glad to see you here,” Doug replies, smiling. His eyes widen behind his wide-rimmed glasses as he notices that the doors look familiar.
“Jeepers, that looks 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 settings for our newcomers,” he said, pointing to a spot on a page. “I see you liked baseball a lot.”
“Of course I did,” Doug exclaims, and then looks over the dais where Peter stands for a closer look at the book that is occupying the gatekeeper’s attention.
St. Peter picks up the book and Doug is surprised to see some of his own photos on the cover.
“It’s an advance copy of a book of your old newspaper columns,” St. Pedro replies. “In a few years his son Joe will publish this and it contains some of his best work.”
“Let me see that,” Doug says, and Peter hands him the book.
“Wow. Joe did that?” Doug shakes his head in amazement. Joseph III, he’s a writer himself, and after his father passed away in 2017, he curated about 120 pieces of Doug’s best work into a book called “The Best by Doug Smith: Base Paths, Rocket Man, the Cheap Gourmet and Other Adventures.” in 68 Years of Journalism in the Buffalo Area.”
Doug’s eyes cloud a little at the honor his eldest son paid him, and as he flips through the book, he notices that 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 styled 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 for his family, especially his loving wife of 57 years, Polly, with whom he shared his local limelight.
His whole life is on those pages, as colorfully and honestly portrayed as the many scorebooks he scored at community baseball games.
His extreme storytelling talent gives St. Peter a fairly accurate account of Doug’s time on dry land and the saint is duly impressed.
“I really enjoyed the columns about your trip with Polly down Route 62. But why the hell did you want to go to El Paso?”
Doug laughs at the inside joke, indicating that the saint really had read the entire book.
St. Peter puts his hand gently on Doug’s shoulder and looks serious for a moment.
“It seems to me that you did everything you could,” says Peter. “You drank every last drop of love and joy available to you.”
From his briefcase, Doug pulls out a bottle of Maker’s Mark, which he often enjoyed in small doses, and waves it at Peter. “Almost everything,” she jokes good-naturedly, shaking what little is left in the bottle.
There is a moment of comfortable silence as Peter closes the book and hands it to Doug. It is not the typical tome he uses to examine the lives of newcomers. But it will be more than enough.
“Nice job,” the senior apostle says, smiling at the veteran reporter. He comes in. You’re next up at bat.”
“In fact?” Doug’s eyes sparkle as he, without hesitation, 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 tells him before putting the book away carefully in his briefcase so he can savor every word later.
“Tell Polly I’ll be waiting for her,” she whispers. Then, in the blink of an eye, she disappears into the stadium.
St. Peter pours what’s left of the bottle into a shot glass that seems like magic in his hand.
As he toasts the life of the esteemed journalist, he hears the crack of the bat and the sounds of approval from the crowd as a ball flies out of the stadium and lands with a loud thud near the opening of the gates.
St. Peter nods satisfied. Doug Smith has hit a home run. The crowd goes crazy.
Niagara Gazette contributor Michele DeLuca worked with Doug Smith as a copier at Buffalo Courier Express and later as a reporter for the Niagara Gazette. She is a great admirer of his work. Michele can be reached by email at [email protected] “The Best of Doug Smith: Base Paths, Rocket Man, Cheap Gourmet and Other Adventures in 68 Years of Buffalo-Area Journalism” is available on Amazon.