The Champion

A Fishing Story


In Memory of my daddy ... Luell Lucas Smith

April 13, 1910 - June 28, 1994


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 every sport.

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!

                                        Beverly Smith (Zacharias) Herrington
                                           From "Gifts" Christmas 1994


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