A Brady Bunch Story

"Everybody Has A Story", 13-year-old Austin Smith CBS/The Early Show

In his ongoing quest to prove that "Everybody Has A Story" CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman recently returned to Iowa City, Iowa. That's were the random toss of a dart landed him well over a year ago and brought him into the life of a special young man who learned some pretty tough lessons at a very early age.


Some people see "Everybody Has A Story" as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share their feelings, their passions, their story with the world, says Hartman, while others are much more pragmatic, as he found with 13-year-old Austin Smith.

"I thought, 'This is cool. I'm probably going to get to be on TV,'" Austin says. And as CBS followed him around his school cafeteria, his popularity went up.

"Lifestyles of the rich and famous," says one of his friends with microphone in hand, impersonating Robin Leach.

"Actually, it's lifestyles of the not quite rich and famous," Austin corrects him.

When he's not mired in middle school, Austin teaches Sunday school.

"I love working with kids, because I'm still kind of a kid myself," Austin says.

Actually, his father, Paul, says, yes, and no.

"I think he's had to deal with a lot of things that makes him a little deeper than many kids his age," he says.

Austin was Paul and Sherry's third child. Although she had been a working mom, Sherry quit when Austin was born, told her husband she was going to have so much time with the children when they're young.

If she only knew. Sherry Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30; had her chemotherapy at 31; her bone-marrow transplant at 32; and her funeral at 33. Austin was just 5 years old when she died, too young to remember much, but too old to ever forget.

"When she, like, hugged me, it's like you're hugging an angel. That's how I kind of felt. Felt like I was hugging an angel. I can be just at home in my room reading a book, and then all of a sudden, I just start wishing that she was there for just no reason at all. So sometimes I just talk. I'm home alone and I just, like, talk -- just to do that. Because I'm not hurting anybody if my mom can't hear me, but if she can, it's kind of nice," Austin says.

But the nicest part is yet to come, he adds. Three years ago, his dad met Penny. And Austin says this woman is remarkable.

"She will fold the clothes. Like, sometimes we'll have five baskets of clothes out in the living room, and she will fold all of them," Austin says.
She brings to the relationship three girls. Brady Bunch jokes not withstanding, they say it's been a pleasant combination -- especially for Austin and Penny.

"He wrote a card, I don't know exactly how it went, but it was kind of a poem," says his father, Paul.

"It said, 'I don't have my mom here with me now. But you are here, and you make my chow. When you and your family come over, it's like I just found a four-leaf clover." says Penny as she reads the poem.

"It's not Shakespeare," adds Paul.

"She's like a second mom. It's a pretty nice thing," says Austin.

And if his mom is listening, Hartman's bet is she's smiling, too.

It's been a year-and-a-half since Hartman first told that story and Austin says despite the occasional rude awakening, this has been a summer of pleasant surprises.

Penny and Paul got married last month.

"He said, I love you and I want you to be my wife," Penny says, "And the rest is a blur."

They're now combining their families in a new, much larger house. The girls are upstairs, and the boys in the basement.

Austin notes, "The middle level, I like to think of it as a neutral zone."

Actually, by all accounts they get along great. The girls try not to embarrass the boys too badly at baseball. And most importantly, Austin says Penny and her girls have given him a new definition of the word, family.

Austin says, "Family isn't necessarily somebody you live with or are related to. Family is a group of people that sometimes every now and then get on your nerves but for the most part you just love them to death."

Webster's, take note.
  • Tatiana Morales

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