Monday, 8:30 AM. 35 degrees F, up from 33 an hour ago. rooftops are again white with frost but nothing else was effected by the drop in temperature. Wind W, calm. The sky is clear except for a few clouds on the eastern horizon, and the barometer is high. It will be a pretty day. Rain keeps eluding us and we need it badly now as winter approaches.
Bayfield is still beautiful with the colors of fall, and the pungent aroma of wood smoke drifted along Ninth Street as we walked in the chilly morning morning air at sunrise.
As some of my readers may recall, I recently lost a very dear, lifelong friend. We did not go to Tom's funeral, having just seen him, and preferring to remember him as he was in life. His family asked me to rite a eulogy, which may appeal to anyone who has lost a lifelong friend.
A TRIBUTE TO TOMMY
First, my sincere thanks to the Moran Family for being asked to write this eulogy. Tommy and I were friends from childhood, which is a rather rare thing these days in our hectic and ever-changing lives. Even rarer is that we were close friends, not just acquaintances.
Tommy and I grew up on the same block in the same neighborhood, and although we went to different grade schools (Catholic and Lutheran) we played together as children, were on the same neighborhood baseball team and had mutual friends. Living together on the same street, I was probably about as far north as he would venture and he about as far south as I, when we were really little kids. Bookend friends, if you will.
One thing I would like to stress is that it wasn’t just Tommy who was my friend in those early years but the whole Moran Family. I was an only child of older parents, and the Moran’s were something of a surrogate family…always something going on, Marggie a bit older, then Tommy, Monica and little Timmy…And then there was the parrot, who always said “come in,” when there was someone at the door even if no one was at home. Many a time I ended up saying hello to that old bird and not to Tommy or anyone else.
And of course Mr. and Mrs. Moran, wonderful people who never, not once, told me to go home because I was in the way or impeding some kind of family progress. Tom Sr. was an amazing man, whom I held in great regard. His basement (there was no garage) held a treasure trove of stuff…guns, clocks, odds and ends of great usefulness and wonder. The man who could fix anything and everything, only needing a “cup of tea” to ponder over it. “Got one here somewhere,” was his motto. I remember once the Moran family was getting ready to travel to Boulder Lake and a bearing failed in the rear axle of their old Cadillac. Tom's dad made a replacement for it on his lathe, and away they went.
And of course there was The Television Set, the first in the neighborhood, and the Odes of course, being much more staid, lagged way behind. So I, the plump bookish kidwith the glasses, would impose himself on the Morans to switch the TV to UN debates (as useless then as now) when everyone else had lost interest in “Uncle Milty” and similar slapstick comedy. We did finally get a TV, but as I recall it was a long dry spell.
As we got older, Tommy and I went to different high schools, he to Marquette with all its homework, me to “Nathan Hale, the County Jail, where the more you work, the more you fail.” There were many teenage evenings when I would be looking for something to do and I would walk past the Moran house and see Tommy at work at his desk in the upstairs bedroom, doing homework. The situation kind of reversed later, when I stuck to the college grind, and Tommy went to work at Lincoln Contractor’s Supply. But in the meantime there was great mutual interest in two overwhelming realities; cars, and of course girls. Tommy was a lot better with both than I was.
On the car front, the summer we were both sixteen (after my father died suddenly) we went up north to go fishing, taking my pride and joy ’39 Buick, that had dual exhausts and dual carburetors and would go 90 per in second gear. To make a long story short, a rod began to knock loudly by the time we got to Wautoma, Wisconsin. What to do? Two kids a long way from home with an old wreck of a car, and perhaps thirty dollars between them. We did the only thing we could do; rely on the kindness of a stranger, a sympathetic gas station owner who let us use his jack and tools and a corner of his parking lot for a couple of days so we could drain the oil, take the engine pan off and tighten up the bearing. Tommy could do this, at sixteen, because he had been well taught by his father. I was a good mechanics helper, but that was about the extent of my talent.
On the work front, when we were abut nineteen, we both worked for a while for the same construction outfit, Walter J. Lazinski Contractors, a very large sewer and water firm. We both did hard and sometimes dangerous work but Lazinski (AKA The Big Green Polack) was a first class outfit and neither of us suffered any real damage (I think Tommy was off for a while with a foot that he hit with a sledge hammer). His cousin Brian Miller worked there for a while too. We all did tunnel work at some point, Tommy at least under air pressure, where you had to go through a decompression chamber to go home. Any way, Tom soon graudated to selling equipment for Lincoln Contractors supply and a great sales career, and I went on to eventually graduate from college and go to work for Milwaukee County Parks and on to a long career in garden and arboretum management.
Tom and Cindy got married at what would now be considered a young age and immediately began raising a family. Joan and I got married much later and moved around the country a lot, so there were gaps in our relationship with Tom and Cindy. But we always stayed in touch and got together at least once a year. In all this time, Joan became as close a friend of Tom as myself. We all have our life crises, whether mid- or otherwise; Tommy had his, and I had mine, but we were always only a letter or a phone call away from the support of a close, close friend.
After Cindy passed away and I retired and we moved up north to Bayfield, Tom and I spent more time together, some of it fishing on the big lake. One incident worth repeating; Tommy and I were out in my boat fishing around Basswood Island in the Apostles. It was a beautiful fall afternoon, rather late in the day and we hadn’t had much luck, when suddenly as we were drifting with the current Tom got a tremendous strike. He played the fish up to the boat, and as it broke water several times it revealed itself as a big lake run brown trout. It tried to run under the boat but Tom maneuvered it over to one side and I got the net under it and hauled it in. We were both excited, but Tom more so, and uncharacteristically he grabbed at the fish, forgetting that the lure was full of exposed treble hooks. It took a long while to get the fish out of the net and all but one hook out of Tom’s hand, but that one was imbedded like a tick, and we did not have a side cutter along that would do the job (big mistake; never again without one). Anyway, by now it was getting dark and we were a long ways from shore. When we got back to the Indian Reservation where we had launched the boat we looked for medical help. The Indian Clinic was closed by then and the only resort was to drive to Ashland thirty miles away.
By the time we finally got to the hospital emergency room Tommy’s hand was as swollen and red as a good sized tomato, and the barb of the hook, which had been protruding through his hand somewhat, was now buried in the flesh of his hand. The receptionist of course had to get all of Tom’s medical history, and she took her good time doing it while I extricated tom’s wallet from his hip pocket and got out his insurance cards. Then we waited, as others with seemingly more minor complaints were taken care of. And waited. Finally it was Tom’s turn, and of course the first thing the nurse did was take his blood pressure, after which she said, “My goodness, your blood pressure is sky high,” to which Tommy retorted, “Maybe it’s because I have a #0#! fishhook in my hand.” It was all down hill from there, but the fish hook did finally get removed.
Tommy’s last few years were, as we all know, full of pain and hospitals. In all of this he was blessed with supportive family, friends, and special friend Barb, without whom I am sure Tom would have left us years earlier. Through all of this, he kept up his spirits, his faith, and his sense of humor. He was truly an example of how to handle life’s adversities, right until the end.
The last time we saw Tommy, a couple of months ago at his cottage in Langlade which he loved so, I told him that Larry Whalen, our mutual friend, and whom I also worked with in sewer trenches and on pipelines for years, often appeared in a dream, asking me to follow him down into a deep excavation to do some task, and I would always say, “Larry, I can’t go with you, you’re dead!” Tommy didn’t say anything, just smiled at me.
I imagine at some point Tommy will also begin to appear to me in dreams, in his fishing boat, and will ask me to get in. And one night I will have to go with him.