My Friend Tom
Mortality rose up and slapped me in the face today.
Over the weekend, I’d brought 14 calves down from Bangor and put them in the corral here at the house with intent to worm them all and run them over to the Sams’ property. I finally got a hold of Mrs. Sams and she told me to go ahead. With that knowledge in mind, I planned to get my butt out the door at work right at five and jam home, finish fixing the fence I’d been working on for three days and get them moved. Five o’clock rolled around, I grabbed my stuff, bid my co-workers a good evening and hit the road. As I got closer to home, I passed Tom McAdam’s place and saw him kicked back in front of his truck. The hood on his truck was open so I assumed he’d taken a break from working on it to have a beer in the shade. Normally, I would have stopped and had one with him but I was in such a hurry to get home and move those calves that I just honked and waved hoping he wouldn’t harp on me too bad later for not stopping. I took the quad and roaded it, piled high with fence fixing supplies over to Sams’. I recall standing in the field trying to coax tightly rolled barbed wire into cooperating while wearing some oversized gloves that were pissing me off. The fact that the sun seemed to be setting faster than normal and I was sweating like a pig didn’t help my attitude any. Mom saved the day like she has a tendency to do when she came striding across that pasture with two Coronas and a little plastic container of fresh lemons. That was quite possibly the best beer I’ve ever had the opportunity to drink. Mom watched as I finished up the fence then offered to help me move the calves even though it was becoming difficult to see. Knowing I needed to get them on some better feed, I took her up on the offer. I roaded the quad back to my house and she followed in my pickup and stock trailer. I backed the trailer up to the corral and the calves jumped in like they knew where they were going. I dropped the tailgate so Nip could hop in the pickup and I tossed the tailgate up behind her. I noticed that my pickup was stressing a bit at the weight on the tongue of the trailer. I decided that because the distance was so short, I’d risk dragging the whole load that far anyhow. As I pulled away from the corral, I heard a bone jarring “CLUNK”. Mom whipped around and said “What was that?” I told her not to worry that the calves weighed so much that the hitch drug the ground in a hole in the driveway. We continued on to Sams’ and pulled in to unload the cattle. When I got out of the truck to open the trailer gate, my mouth fell open. The clunk had been the tailgate falling open at the house and it had the deepest, nastiest crease in it ever. My attitude that had been fixed by drinking a beer headed once again to the deepest pits. I was mad, mad, mad but tried to keep a grip so I didn’t direct it at Mom. We unloaded the calves, I ran mom and the trailer home then headed home to brood. To make matters worse, as I pulled out of Mom’s yard, the “low fuel” light came on in my truck. I thought “Awww, what the hell…I may as well drive my butt on into town and fill up.” I figured it would give me a chance to lighten up a bit and I wanted a Diet Coke. So, I took a deep breath, settled into my seat and pointed the truck toward Marysville. I stopped at the stop sign on Erle Road and rounded the turn and that’s when I saw the lights…lots of em.
Not a quarter mile down the road on the left was the eerie glow of lights bouncing off of trees and buildings. They revolved around in their plastic housings on top of an ambulance and a Linda Fire Department rescue rig. I nosed my truck in in front of the rescue rig and rolled out leaving my lights on and my door open. I trotted across the lawn of Tom McAdams place to see what was going on and if I could help. I noticed Tom’s Mom standing toward the rear of his truck with her arms crossed. As I rounded the truck I saw two EMT’s deliberately working on Tom; one vigorously pounding out the repetitive motions of CPR, the other breathing air into his lungs. As my brain tried to comprehend what was going on, Lois, Tom’s next door neighbor told me, “Tom’s dead”. “What!?”, I said, “What do you mean he’s dead!? He’s only 42!! He’s in such good shape! He’s not dead!” Then it struck me. He was lying in the exact spot that I’d seen him laying in at 5:22 when I’d honked as I drove by. I staggered back and caught myself then stepped out of the way. I just didn’t want to be in the way. I walked over to Mrs. McAdams and gave her a hug. How do you console someone when their only son, the youngest of her children, has just passed away. I asked if there was anything I could do.
Tom’s ex-wife had married my cousin and lived less than a mile down the road. Mrs. McAdams asked me to drive down to their house and tell them. The hard part wasn’t going to be telling her about it because I’d lost any respect I had for her years before. The hard part was thinking about their two small boys who thought the world of their Dad and how on earth they would deal with their loss. With an extremely heavy heart, I drug myself back into my truck and headed to their place. I didn’t think anyone was home but then I saw the backup lights of a truck come on. I pulled in and asked to talk to my cousin alone. The boys were gone on a weekend camping trip so I felt more comfortable sharing the information I had but before I could get the words out, Tom’s ex-wife came around the end of the truck and asked what was going on. When I told her, she fell to her knees. I felt awkward watching her grief and apologized for being the bearer of bad news then backed out and headed to town for my gas.
I felt sick to my stomach and really didn’t feel like that Diet Coke any longer so I just filled up and headed home. As I passed Tom’s dark, quiet house I lost it. All of a sudden I felt so guilty that I hadn’t stopped. Someone had mentioned that they had seen him working on the truck at 5 pm. I saw him lying in front of it at 5:22. What if I’d stopped instead of driving on by? I know CPR. Could I have saved his life? I apologized out loud to Tom for not stopping and then started to cry. The crying turned to all out bawling that I couldn’t control. I rolled right on passed my driveway and attempted navigation to my parents through a blurry wall of tears. I stumbled across Mom and Dad’s lawn pausing to bend over and grasp my knees. My feet weighed a million pounds and it seemed as if I couldn’t coax enough oxygen into my lungs. I thanked God for the warm glow of a light in the kitchen window that meant that at least one of my folks was still up. Mom must have heard me because she met me at the back door. It probably would have looked a little comical had anyone seen it. She stood on the stairs, her short frame on the top steps, and held up her six foot tall daughter standing on the floor. She wrapped her warm Mom arms around me. You know that “Mom hug” that either makes you glow with happiness or fall apart when you get it. She waited for me to get a grip then pulled me in the house. To my surprise, Dad was still up, too. We talked about people that are close to us and how quickly they can be yanked away. They told me to do my best not to feel guilty. They both felt that God called Tom and I had driven on by because I was meant to. Tom wasn’t a best friend or someone that I saw all the time. He was, however, the guy that would come over at 1 a.m. if you “heard a noise” outside. He was the guy that would drop by and lay on the grass to drink a beer and watch the clouds roll by or reminisce about what good friendship means. He was they guy that understood how important our children are in our lives. He was a good friend….and I miss him.
In honor and memory of my friend William Thomas McAdams