In Memory of
my daddy ... Luell Lucas Smith
April 13, 1910 - June 28, 1994
THE CHAMPION'S GIFT
My father was a champion! He excelled in whatever
sport he chose to play ... especially his first love, baseball. The Jacksonville
newspapers described him as a talented, colorful pitcher. His love for baseball
was so strong he played a game on the very morning of his marriage to Mother ...
she never let him forget.
It was natural for him to want to pass on his incredible talents to a son. It
was natural that he would want a son to raise; but I was the firstborn of 3
girls, and at an early age he taught me to fish ... bait my own hook (with
wigglers), pitch a baseball, and have a deep love and appreciation for almost
It wasn't my first choice to be a tomboy ... what I really wanted to be was my
Daddy's little princess. Probably as much as he wanted to have a son, I wanted
to crawl up in his lap and have him hold me and make things better. He wasn't
like that. He was not especially demonstrative; but I never felt cheated. Even
though none of us could ever be the boy he wanted, I knew how very proud he was
of his three beautiful girls.
On the summer of my divorce, Mother and Daddy invited me to join them on their
vacation in Dunellon, Florida (where Daddy grew up). It was a low point in my
life ... I felt I had failed. As always, Daddy and I fished; but on the first
day I cast all morning to no avail ... not even one bite. We went back in for
lunch; afterwards, I went quietly to my room to nap away the disappointments. I
was wakened by a tap on my shoulder ... I heard Daddy saying, "Let's go back out
and try again" ... and we did! As they say in fishing circles ... we caught a
mess!!! I realized now that this was the way Daddy took me up in his lap and
made things feel better ... and it's the way he taught me not to give up.
Daddy was never a quitter. When the stroke that paralyzed his right side and
slowed his speech felled him, many, including some doctors, said he would never
recover; they didn't know my Daddy. I discovered I didn't know him either. He
would have liked Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues, and the poem entitled, "You
Mustn't Quit". It reads, "... success is simply failure turned inside
out!" And as long as he was able ... he never quit. He was determined that his
body, which did not work ... would work! With only one good hand, he learned to
dress himself, tie his own shoelaces, drive his car ... and he talked
laboriously ... but he talked!!! He would say, " I WISH I could talk ... I know
what I want to say, but I just can't say it" .... and then he would try again
and say exactly what he wanted to say! I once told him, "Daddy, you and I have
talked more in 5 years than we ever talked the previous 50!"
Last year I felt a strong need to move to Colorado and be close to my children
and grandchildren. I was torn between the two things I loved most; yet when I
finally found the courage to talk with him, his response was quick, but his
speech was slow as he told me, "You're no spring chicken ... you have to do what
you have to do." He placed no guilt on me ... he just gave me the freedom to
start my life anew! I've never loved him more.
I never became Daddy's princess, for it took a combination of three girls to
equal his one princess. Yet out of his wretched stroke came a blessing ... for I
was able to experience the "other" side of my father ... the part I had always
longed for ... and it was all there ... the loving, caring, affectionate parent
... always my champion!
"Gifts" Christmas 1994
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