Son of late 'A Land Remembered' author visits Braden River High

Son of late 'A Land Remembered' author visits Braden River High

srocco@bradenton.comFebruary 8, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- Patrick D. Smith, author of the illustrious Florida novel, "A Land Remembered," died 12 days ago from complications of pneumonia.

Now his son, Patrick Smith Jr., dressed in an old-timey pioneer's outfit, stood before 150 students at Braden River High School to tell his father's story.

Smith pressed play.

"All I'm trying to tell you is to be strong. Don't ever let nothing get you down. Don't be afraid or ashamed to love, or to grieve when the thing you love is gone. Just don't let it throw you, no matter how much it hurts," a voice narrated from "A Land Remembered" through a speaker.

Teacher Mary Thompson lobbied to have Smith come to the school all the way from his home in Cambria, Calif. After all, her students are reading the book now and are required to make a 15- to 20-minute video based on scenes from the novel.

"They are learning technology. I'm teaching them how to use skills and software to make a presentation," Thompson said. "This is the first time they've finished a chapter book in a while."

The late Smith wrote his first book, "The River is Home," at 21 years old over the course of 10 days.

"He just wanted to prove to himself that he could do it," his son said.

Smith knew nothing about publishing a book. He found a publisher in the phone book and sent a manuscript with a letter that said, "Please publish immediately." Two weeks later, he got a response: "We will," Smith Jr. said.

In the 1960s, his father went on to do public relations for the University of Mississippi. He escorted James Meredith, the school's first black student, to class, protecting him from getting shot. The experience inspired him to write "The Beginning."

"It was a step for him as a writer. He said it was the hardest book that he ever had to write," Smith Jr. said. "Much harder than 'A Land Remembered,' partly because of the subject matter and partly because it had all these plots and subplots."

Smith wrote his first book about Florida, "Forever Island," after moving his family to the Sunshine State in 1966. The Florida Seminoles lived in the Everglades then -- until developers pushed them out.

"And he had seen the white man dig the canals and drain the land and come closer and closer until he was now here again, once more telling the Seminole that he could not love on this land because the white man wanted it," the voice said.

Smith went on to talk about "A Land Remembered," which has been in publication for 35 years, a book that "should be issued with orange juice when people cross the Florida state line."

Smith Jr., showed photos of scenes from Florida that inspired the novel. Ninth-grader Anna Escobar liked that part most: "It's pretty cool to see scenes from the book. That's exactly how I pictured it."

Nearly a year before he died, Smith was honored with the Great Floridian Award. There was a celebration in Tallahassee, but Smith was too sick to go. Gov. Rick Scott bestowed him with the award at his home. An award, his son said, that has been given to Ponce de Leon and General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.

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