I was having fun the other day trying to imagine what it must have been like when my colleague Doug Smith arrived at Pearly Gates.
I was not there, so I can not confirm it, but I like to imagine what may have happened. Imagine this:
Puffy, white clouds hover over a perfect sky as veteran newspaper man Doug Smith strolls through the scattered cumulus, wearing his favorite powder blue casual suit with a spiffy straw hat.
He whistles, a bit tuned, and carries a briefcase, a baseball bat over his shoulder. He stops cold as he enters the gates where Saint Peter is waiting, wearing a white gown as one might expect, and with a book in his arms.
Doug raises his Groucho Marx eyebrows and makes a dramatic double shot, impressive in his conviction thanks to his many years on the stage in local 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 says to Peter, gesturing toward the gate and the clouds and the old saint himself.
St. Peter nods and squints at the novice spirit. “Come on, there were times you sure knew …”
“Let’s just say I’m really happy to see you here,” Doug replies, smiling. His eyes widen behind his wide-rimmed glasses as he notices that the gates look familiar.
“Jeepers that look like Gate 6 at Yankee Stadium,” he says in awe as the sound of cheering fans is heard in the distance.
Saint Peter, flipping through the pages of a book, looks up and smiles “Yes. We like to adapt the framework to our latest arrivals, ”he said, pointing to a place on a page. “I can see here that you really liked baseball.”
“I certainly did,” Doug exclaims, then looks across the podium, where Peter stands to take a closer look at the book, which captures the gatekeeper’s attention. “What are you reading?”
St. Peter holds up the book, and Doug is surprised to see a couple of his own pictures on the cover.
“It’s a preview of a book with your old newspaper columns,” St. Peter. “In a few years, your son Joe will publish this, and it contains some of your best work.”
“Let me see it,” Doug says, and Peter hands him the book.
“Wow. Joe did that?” Doug shakes his head in wonder. Joseph III, is himself an author, and after his father died in 2017, he cured about 120 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 for 68 years with Buffalo-Area Journalism. “
Doug’s eyes get a little hazy over the honor his elder has given him, and as he flips through the book, he notices that it contains columns from his entire career, including his years on the Buffalo Courier-Express, when he wrote most about entertainment. and theater, his later adventures as a food critic when he called himself “The Cheap Gourmet,” as well as his many stories of two of his greatest passions, baseball and train travel.
Woven as a golden thread through it all is his love and joy in his family, especially his beloved wife of 57 years, Polly, with whom he shared his local spotlight.
His whole life is on these pages, as colorful and honestly depicted as the many result books he spoke at baseball matches.
His extreme talent for storytelling gives St. Peter a fairly accurate account of Doug’s time on terra firma, and the saint is duly impressed.
“I really enjoyed the columns about your ride with Polly across Route 62. But why the hell did you want to go to El Paso?”
Doug chuckles at the inside joke, indicating that the saint had really read the entire book.
St. Peter gently places his hand on Doug’s shoulder and becomes serious for a moment.
“It looks like you did everything you could,” Peter says. “You drank every last drop of love and joy you had available.”
From his briefcase, Doug pulls a bottle of Maker’s Mark, which he often enjoyed in small doses, and waves it to Peter. “Almost everything,” he jokes lovingly, shaking the little bit left in the bottle.
There is a moment of pleasant silence as Peter closes the book and hands it to Doug. It is not the typical book he uses to examine the lives of the newcomers. But it will more than do.
“Good job,” the top apostle says, smiling down at the veteran reporter. “Go in. You’re the next one on the bat.”
“Really?” Doug’s eyes twinkle as he hesitantly throws the nearly empty bottle of bourbon at the saint, who catches it with the agility of an experienced second baseman.
“Thank you. This is absolutely wonderful,” my old colleague tells him, before gently putting the book down in his folder so he can enjoy every word later.
“Tell Polly I’m waiting for her,” he whispers. Then, in a moment, he disappears into the stadium.
Saint Peter pours what is left of the bottle into a shot glass that appears as magic in his hand.
While toasting the life of the Honorable Newsman, he hears the creaking of the bat and the sound of audience approval as a ball flies out of the stadium and lands with a hard plop near the opening in the gates.
Saint Peter nods contentedly. Doug Smith has struck a home. The audience goes wild.
Niagara Gazette contributor Michele DeLuca worked with Doug Smith when she was a copywriter on the Buffalo Courier Express and later as a Niagara Gazette reporter. She is a big fan of his work. Michele can be contacted via email at email@example.com. “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.