I was born in Girard, Texas, November 27, 1937, the first of two children of John and Lois. My brother, Daniel Polk Smith, born two years later, will doubtless write his own piece in this book. I will not say much about him, except that he is the superior brother in looks, physique, athletic ability and some other respects, though not all.
Girard was a small town (I think my birth increased the population to nineteen), and since there was very little going on there, I was happy to leave at the age of three. We moved to Victoria, Texas.
I have only three vivid memories of Victoria: a woman with a strange name, something like “kaloadzie,” who made a wonderful, exotic pastry called “colotches” (now I know they were just prune danish); a fat girl named Mary, who was constantly coloring (she colored “dark,” which is especially hard); and a two-year-old named Midget, who always had a load in his diaper. (To this day, my family refers to a baby with a dirty diaper as a “midget” or more recently, alas, as being “in midget mode.”)
Next, we moved to Midland, Texas, whose name is a great joke, because, at least in those days, the only thing it could possibly have been considered to be in the middle of was nowhere. Absolutely nothing happened to me in Midland.
Brownsville, Texas was next. There we went across the border to Mexico a lot, and I started to school, but we left before I got any grades or had any girlfriends.
Then to New Orleans, with a three-month stopover in Girard. New Orleans was the biggest change from Midland and Brownsville a seven-year-old could imagine (or probably an adult, for that matter). Everything was green, and there were lots of bugs, crawdads, parks, zoos, and kids with funny accents. We met our first Italians there—and our first Catholics without Spanish accents. I remember many things about New Orleans, especially the following highlights.
My dad made me a particularly ingenious kite. It was a teardrop shape he created by bending a strip of bamboo. What a thrill when it first flew! We flew it over the meadow across the crawdad stream.
In school, there was catechism every so often (I’d say three times a week). One boy and I were the only ones in the class who didn’t go. We just sat and talked, but I can’t remember what about. Evidently, he wasn’t very interesting, or I wasn’t. I wonder if he remembers me.
The Cabildo and the rest of the French Quarter were most impressive. As far as I know, they were my first introduction to the idea of history. My mother has always been a great tourist and teacher. We not only saw things; we learned about them, too.
President Roosevelt died and World War II ended while we were there. I remember the general sense of panic when the President died, and the radio—hours of radio. On V-J Day, we went to the center of the city, Canal Street. What a celebration! It was the noisiest, happiest, most crowded thing I had ever seen, and I was old enough to understand it.
After two weeks of the second grade in Metaire (pronounced “mettry”), a suburb of New Orleans, we moved to Port Lavaca, Texas, a town of about 5,000 on one of the larger inland bays of the Gulf of Mexico. We lived there a little over four years —our all-time record—until late 1949. By then, I remember too many things to relate the few significant ones, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that in Port Lavaca I met my first girlfriend (Norma Jean Brett), had my first fight (with a kid named Angel), got my first job (delivering the Corpus Christi Caller), bought my first bicycle, tried shoplifting for the first and last time, took piano lessons for a few months, and made my first “straight A’s.” It was a good town in a good time of life.
But the climate didn’t agree with Dan. He had severe asthma in those days, and the semi-tropical vegetation of the Texas coast put too many things in the air to be allergic to. So we moved to another great town to grow up in, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For the next twenty-two years, I lived in New Mexico, except for a three-month job in El Paso before college and nine months in graduate school in California. It is truly my home. I went from junior high through college there; my two children were born there; most of my values and opinions spring from the desert West, and as I write this in the South of England, I can’t think of anything I’d rather have than a chili relleno and a sopapilla with honey.
I did two kinds of work: paper routes and sacking groceries. For some reason, we never hit on the idea of letting the customers take their carts into the parking lot like they do now, so I’ve carried hundreds, yea thousands, of heavy sacks to the cars of people twice my size. The work I didn’t do was in school, and that was a pity. In junior high, I settled for C’s, with no outside work to speak of. In high school, I went for B’s with a little work. I also gave up the piano lessons—one of the top three or four mistakes of my life.
Throughout my childhood, the most significant single theme, the thing that underpinned and overshadowed the whole experience of our family life, was Christianity. We studied and discussed the Bible, which we understood as the basis of our values, our ethics, the quality of our relationship, our way of life. We went to church at least three times a week, at home or away. prayed before every meal, and studied our Sunday School lessons on Saturday night.
Though as teenagers, we saw mostly the constraints of the faith, their teaching and their example of the Christian life were the greatest gifts my parents could have given me. If only I had not become too “wise” to follow their example.
Though we were not usually near them, my grandparents were a great influence on me. Ed and Minnie Beaver (Pa and Granny) lived in Girard when I first remember them, but they moved to Jayton, Texas shortly after that. We spent many great times in both those places, doing the most unusual things.
The one I remember best was when Dan and I, who were not very familiar with outdoor toilets, decided the pit, with the sort of “counter” the ground behind it made, was a great place to play “store.” We laid a piece of cardboard over the refuse, then took turns being the shopkeeper down in the pit, selling I hate to think what all across the counter to the other. It was great fun, and, as far as I recall, odorless, until Mom came looking for us. Her nose was abnormally sensitive, we thought, because she spent the rest of the afternoon scrubbing us and our clothes. Pa enjoyed it all very much.
I am pleased to echo the comments of my cousin, Larry Craig, elsewhere in this book, about the love we felt for Pa and Granny. Their influence on me was deep and wide, especially hers, for she spent much time with us after he died. I am very thankful for them both and for the many influences they passed on through my mother.
During my senior year in high school, I married Dixie Lee Rogers, the girl I had dated the previous two years. When I graduated, my first priority was not college, but the support of my wife and the child we were then expecting. So on May 27, 1955, the day after commencement, my childhood came to an end.
I got a job selling shoes, which lasted about six months. I can’t say “I sold shoes,” however, because I wasn’t very good. In fact, my commission seldom exceeded my “guarantee,” so I sought another career. (The store manager shed no tears.) I passed the U.S. Civil Service test in August or September and went to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in October— in the Survey Branch.
On September 4, 1955, one of the great events of my life occurred. Our first son, Richard Daniel, was born—8 lbs. even. More of him later.
For nearly a year, I worked as a rodman on survey parties, traveling all around New Mexico and into westernmost Texas. I remember good times and the growing feeling of becoming a man, but the work was pretty boring and very hot or very cold most of the time. I soon discovered why people get more education, and decided I’d go to college, one way or another.
In September 1956, I enrolled at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, declaring chemistry as my major. That didn’t last long, because I soon discovered how little I knew about history, philosophy, literature, and the arts. (Not that I knew much about chemistry either, of course, but that seemed less and less important as the year went by.) A whole new world of intellectual opportunity opened to me, and I entered it, calling my major alternately English or Philosophy.
While I worked 20-35 hours a week (still at the Corps of Engineers), I took heavy course loads and worked very hard, eager to take in as much as possible. It was an exciting time.
Midway through my freshman year, February 10, 1957, another great event: Michael Allen, our second son, was born—8 lbs. 6 oz. More of him, too.
In college, I made a mistake much worse than dropping piano lessons: I left the Christian faith. My enthusiasm for the new found learning, and for the people telling me about it, left me wide open for the alternative philosophies and theories that dominate the thought of modern universities, and, increasingly, our whole society. I was an atheist by my sophomore year.
Dixie followed in a year or so, though less enthusiastically. Oddly enough, we continued to attend church, even to be active, for ten more years. We said it was because we were afraid to tell our parents—afraid of what it would do to them, we said—but I now see that it met many of our needs.
I did well in college, finally majoring in mathematics because friends assured me I would starve in English or Philosophy. It was wise counsel, I think. Anyway, I’d been taking math because I liked it.
Dixie enjoyed my college days much less. I was working so hard and was so taken with it all, I had little time or energy for her and the kids. She was not in school, and the new world was not opening for her. My friends were not interesting to or interested in her. We began to move apart, and—my next major mistake—I let it happen.
The career I expected was college teaching, so I went off to the University of California at Berkeley to get a Ph.D. We packed all our belongings into our 1953 Dodge and a 5’X9′ rented trailer and went west in late August, 1960.
But I found I didn’t like teaching. Worse than that, I discovered a surprising fact: I was never going to be a great mathematician. Worse than that, I wasn’t even likely to get a Ph.D. from Berkeley! I met students there who could do more mathematics in an hour than I could all day. So I left.
Looking for a job, I happened into IBM and stayed eighteen years. The jobs were systems engineer, salesman, product development, management, and management development. The locations were Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Albuquerque again, Denver, Colorado Springs, Washington, D.C. (living in Potomac, Maryland), Chattanooga, Tennessee, and White Plains, New York (living in nearby Stamford, Connecticut).
In 1980, I left IBM with a friend and started a small business, in partnership with two of his friends who had a consulting practice in personnel management. We did some product development (pre-employment screening tests), consulting (staff reduction and performance measurement), and outplacement (helping people being terminated to find new jobs).
We were bought out in 1981 by a larger company, for whom I worked until September 1983, when I joined the British computer company International Computers Limited (ICL), still in Stamford. At this writing, I am Vice President, Marketing and Development, for North America, which means I’m responsible for new business initiatives in the U.S. and Canada.
But I’ve rushed ahead to the present. Many things happened along the way, so let me back up to 1966, when Dixie and I moved back to Albuquerque from Los Alamos.
By then we were very far apart, and in the summer of 1967, we separated. It would be hard to explain the details without seeming to be trying to justify my own actions, which cannot be done. The Lord hates divorce because it’s so bad for us, and he commands against it because, hard as it may be for us to see this, it is almost never (if ever) the right thing to do. We had an amicable financial settlement, but we made another mistake by separating the children. That didn’t work at all, and after a year or so, they were both with me.
Besides working and caring for the boys, what I did most in the next two years was amateur theatre. In Los Alamos, I had been in a musical comedy, primarily as a singer. This led to a lifelong interest in theatre, especially a very active period in the late 60’s. I wanted to learn to be an actor, though I had no professional ambitions. It was a very good hobby for me. I made good friends, had a lot of fun, and became much more outgoing and demonstrative, especially before audiences.
In June of 1969, I met Barbara Binkley, the beautiful woman who has been my companion, helper, lover, and friend ever since. We were married December 7, 1969. Barbara, whom most people call “Bink,” had three girls: Anita, 16, Kim, 13, and Gail, 12. Kim is three months older than Rick, and Gail is six months older than Mike. The girls have been a wonderful addition to my life and, except for a few typical teenage problems, a constant joy.
Naturally, we had quite an adjustment period. For example, neither house was big enough. The kids worked out a way for us all to have beds, but it was still not good. The boys slept in what had been the family room. But we did adjust, and we had a lot of fun as a big family.
With one exception. Mike never made the adjustment. In the fall of 1971, six months after we moved to Denver, he ran away back to New Mexico. For the next few years, he stayed with his mother, who had by then re-married. We later discovered he was using drugs and had been for some time, in fact long before I met Bink. This has led him, and the family, into one difficulty after another. Don’t believe anyone who tells you marijuana isn’t harmful. We will never fully recover from its effects.
After many ups and downs, Mike has made a major effort and great progress toward rebuilding his life, and he seems well on his way to becoming the kind of person he was as a boy, warm and friendly, generous, bright, and with a good sense of humor. He is now living and working in Clovis, New Mexico.
The kids started graduating from high school and leaving home soon after we married. Anita graduated in 1970 and didn’t move with us to Denver in April 1971. Later, she came there and stayed with us for a time—until she met and married David Kotke of Burnsville, Minnesota in September 1973. Besides Denver, they’ve lived in Greeley, Colorado, Billings, Montana, and Seattle, Washington. They recently moved to Richmond, Virginia, where David is an executive with a national retail chain. Best Products Co. Their children are Jason David, born February 7, 1975, and Christopher Lee, born July 12, 1977. They are two fine young men. Jason excels at football and wrestling, and Chris is a math whiz.
Anita is a lovely Christian woman, physically and spiritually, whose speaking ability and musical talent (singing, song writing, and guitar) have brought joy and help to many, especially through her work in the church and the Christian Women’s Club.
Kim went to Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where she earned a Batchelor of Science degree in psychology in 1977. She has worked in the hotel and conference center business, especially in conference planning. In July 1983, she married Danny Gallo of Highland Mills, New York. They live in our town, Stamford, Connecticut, where they own Corporate Multi-Media, Inc., an audio-visual rental and sales business they started in January 1985. But Kim’s time is now mostly devoted to their son, Daniel Noah, who was born May 17, 1984. He was six weeks premature and nearly died from respiratory distress syndrome, but now he is a big, healthy, delightful boy, whose lungs are at least as strong as normal.
Kim is a fine woman, bright and capable, gentle and warm, a dedicated wife and mother, beautiful inside and out. We are, of course, most pleased to have them near us.
Rick attended St. John’s College of Santa Fe and Annapolis, Maryland, graduating in 1977. He continued his studies at the University of Maryland near Washington, where he earned his Ph.D. in nuclear physics in December 1984. He married Susan Anderegg of Alexandria, Virginia in August 1982. She also attended the University of Maryland, where she earned her Master’s degree in sociology. On November 3, 1984, just before Rick’s graduation, Susan gave birth to Nathan David, who on his first birthday has been dubbed “a wild man” by his father. He is definitely very energetic, but a true delight.
Rick is on a post-doctoral assignment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. Susan is a loan officer at the Morris Plan finance company. Rick is also racquetball champion of his health club and an expert mountain climber (technical rock climber, to be technically correct). He is a gentle, caring, intelligent, principled, thoroughly enjoyable person—a really good man.
Gail attended Ft. Lewis College and the University of Connecticut. She has also worked extensively in the hotel and conference businesses—since January 1983 at Arrowwood, the largest conference center in the New York area, where she is Accounting Manager. She lives in Stamford with five friends and a very old 280Z, which she acquired from Yours Truly (never sell a car to a friend). She sees much more of New York City than the rest of us, since she is a dedicated Yankee fan—the kind who actually goes to games.
Gail is also a lovely person, bright, witty, beautiful, generous, energetic, and a great joy to have nearby.
We moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee in the late summer of 1976, just after the Bicentennial Celebration in Washington. We had no kids to take with us by then, since Mike graduated from high school in Maryland and went back to New Mexico.
In Chattanooga, an amazing thing occurred. I, the “Compleat Atheist,” who placed his faith in science and modern philosophy not by accident or upbringing but through learning and rational decision, I, the aggressive anti-Christian, suddenly believed in Jesus Christ.
There was no apparent reason. My job was the realization of a long-held goal, and it was going well. Our finances were good; in fact, we lived in the best district in town. We were having what I considered our usual adjustment problems in a new town and the accompanying tension between us, but I wasn’t expecting a new solution, especially not a supernatural one. No one confronted me about the state of my soul. A few people made routine comments about their churches, nothing more. No special sermon convicted me of sin. I wasn’t healed of anything. Nobody misled me into thinking the Christian life to be an easy road to prosperity and bliss. I knew from my youth exactly what I would be giving up, and getting into—not an attractive prospect to an unbeliever. One day it just became clear to me that God created the heavens and the earth and that he did love the world enough to send us his only son. It was as if He had tapped me on the shoulder and said “Bob, look at me. Don’t try to figure me out; just look at me. I want you back.”
Since then, Christianity has been a very important part of our lives. Bink had always been a believer (though, by agreement, we never discussed it), so our journey together in Christ began immediately. He has saved us in more ways than one. And we have tried to serve him, though feebly, in church work and leadership, teaching. Young Life (a youth evangelism program), and a few other ministries. It is good to be back!
Bink is very active in our church and in Rummage Round, a Christian charity thrift shop. And she is, of course, a very active Grandma. She also gives of her time and money to several other institutions, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Lord and Taylor, to name a few.
We have been through better and worse together. We’ve moved too many times (usually against her wishes), fixed up houses (mostly her work), had some great times, made some good friends, traveled a bit, fought a bit (sometimes a lot), cried together, comforted and counseled each other, rejoiced together, worshipped, prayed, and praised the Lord together. Through it all, she has been strong and faithful, open and honest, witty and willing to laugh at our mistakes, caring and loving, energetic and dedicated, committed to Christ. Next to Him, there is no one more important to me.
The last half of this has been written back in the USA, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, driving home from Richmond. Reviewing my life here on the New Jersey Turnpike, I don’t see anything very significant. The people are significant, of course, but not much I’ve done has affected them positively or changed them for the better. The only really worthwhile thing I’ve ever done is to come to the Lord. At 48, I still feel the most important parts of my life are ahead, that I’ll do something significant one day. But I bet He’ll have to handle that, too.
December 1, 1985