BARSTOW - In 30 years, Trica Smith amassed a large family.

There is her mom, Sherri, and her dad, Randy, and sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews. And then there is Chris, who she called her "in-town dad," and former Mayor Mal Wessel, who she called her grandpa, and one of her nurses, JoAnne, sometimes a mother and sometimes a cohort in parties and adventures, and countless others in Barstow who became brothers, sisters, moms and dads.

For a woman who spent the majority of her life in a wheelchair, who could never move her arms, walk or crawl, Trica Smith touched a lot of people.

"These are things we take for granted," Smith's uncle, Randy Baker, said after making a church full of her friends and family stand up and hug each other. "But these are things Trica could never do. She could never stand up or reach out and hug ... but there's nobody that I have known that could love like Trica loved."

Smith died Monday, after fighting a form of muscular dystrophy that left most her body without muscle content. She breathed through a tracheotomy hole in her neck because her lungs collapsed when she was a child. She had two rods in her back, was fed through tubes in her stomach and went into full cardiac arrest several times during her life. She was 30 when she died, but doctors initially did not expect her to live a year.

"They only gave her 12 months," her mother, Sherri Arnold-Baker, said. "And she fooled them, she fooled them every time."

Barstow was first introduced to Smith when she was 15 years old and needed a hydraulic lift to get her in and out of her mother's van safely. Then Mayor Mal Wessel organized a softball game between the police department and local members of the media to help raise money. With the help of local businesses, Barstow was able to buy Smith a lift.

"We gave her the gift of love," Wessel said, "and she gave us the gift of life."

The gift of life that Smith gave to so many showed on Wednesday as people packed into Living Waters Fellowship on H Street for an impromptu memorial service for Smith. Family from across the country spoke about how Smith inspired them, remembered growing up with her, riding on her lap in her wheel chair and being pulled behind her on roller skates. They told stories about doing Smith's hair and make-up before going to concerts, Disneyland or even just down the street to the market.

Smith's mother said Trica tried to grow up as normally as possible. In her room, pictures of her with friends still hang on the walls. A collection of porcelain masks covers one wall, a hobby of Smith's. Her favorite band was Evanescence. Two bottles of perfume and a box of hair dye sit on her dressers. Her mother said she dyed her hair every color but blue.

"We didn't treat her any different," Arnold-Baker said. "She wasn't any different. She wanted a boyfriend, to dress up."

Smith learned to type on a computer with a pencil and spent hours chatting with friends on the Internet. Arnold-Baker remembers her typing to several people at the same time, keeping online friends for years. Closer to home, Smith made friends with the people who her mother tried to help get off drugs. Arnold-Baker would open her home to people struggling with drugs and Smith, never shy with a comment, would tell them to quit.

"It's like this," Arnold-Baker said of her daughter's attitude toward drug users, "If I've been through the things that I've been through - the surgeries and the sickness - it should be easy for someone to do something as easy as quit drugs."

Many thanked Smith on Wednesday for her help. One friend, Chris Powell, who Smith called her "in-town dad," said he told Smith one day that he did not like doing drugs. Smith told him to quit, simple as that, Powell said on Wednesday. A few weeks later, he did. He said he was glad that Smith got to see him clean and sober.

At the church on Wednesday, boxes of tissues sat at the end of each row. Even before the memorial started, some were already empty, and while the people Smith touched remembered her, only a few eyes remained dry.

"She will be missed," her mother said. "I just don't really know where to begin when it comes to her impact on people."

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4121 or aaron_aupperlee@link.freedom.com


In her own words A poem by Trica Smith

I Did
They said, "You'll never make it,"
And they thought they were right,
But I kept on prodding forward,
Because I hoped I might.
They shook their heads in wonder,
That I lacked the sense to quit,
But I held my chin up higher,
And I didn't mind a bit.
They said, "You'll never make it,"
As the problems multiplied,
But I had to make an effort,
And to know at least I tried.
So I dug my heels deeper,
Though sometimes my spirits lagged,
I shouldered what was lightest,
The rest I sort of dragged. I found to my amazement,
At the end of the day,
That what they said I couldn't,
I managed anyway.
It only took three little words,
LORD HELP ME,
And I rid myself of doubt,
And all the said I'd never do,
I DID!