Kentucky Stories of Loss

What I Know of Tom

Who did you lose to Covid 19? My Neighbor

I don’t know why, but who am I to know such things? He was our kindly next-door neighbor whom we’ve known for four years. The neighbor down the street to whom he bequeathed his wood-boring machine, a man who has spent countless hours with him in his basement workshop, is also in the dark. So is Carol, his wife. He left no note. And there was no real indication that things were amiss.

Sure, he didn’t pick any blueberries from the bush he gave us last fall while we were gone during the height of berry picking season. Nor did he pick any from his, which mysteriously failed to fruit this year. Sure, the Triumph TR6 he’s been rebuilding since we’ve lived here was not ready for the Concours show this summer. And yes, there was the mysterious vertigo from which he suffered. Originally diagnosed as crystals in his ear canals, a recent re-diagnosis discounted that cause but gave no new explanation. And there was the frustration with his internet service. But who knows why a methodical man will do something that seems so impulsive.

We try to find reasons, comb through behavior, frustrations, discover something to explain a desperate act. His dad, who had fled the West Virginia coal camps in the night with his family in tow, also killed himself. But his father’s death came at a much younger age than his.

What I do know of our neighbor Tom is that he was a maker. He painstakingly crafted the pickets of his fence, the gate to his backyard, the stairs that led down from the deck to the carpark. He was a tinkerer who worked on cars, who replaced his own windows and doors, who made cabinetry in his house to fit the space and the object.

What I do know of Tom is that he was kind toward our children and toward us. Knowing our son professed an interest in computers and electronics, he introduced him to Arduino, thinking that he too might find a similar joy in making and programming electronic devices. Knowing our son was interested in cars, he introduced us to Saturday car shows at the feedlot on the northside of town.

These memories seem so small now. Though we’d have cul-de-sac dinners in June, though twice a year he would invite me over to see his car and talk about the progress and the challenges and dream of the first spin down the highway, though we compared notes on lawn maintenance, and though he walked me through the various steps to ensure our blueberry bush took root, there was much more to him, as there is to all of us.

Tom was generous to everyone, those on his street, in his circle of friends, and in his various interest and hobby groups. When a widow a few houses down, wanted to give her MG, purchased brand new in the 80s and with barely any miles, to her son, he helped her move the car from her garage to the trailer. Our woodworking neighbor has many more stories to tell of his largesse and camaraderie. Though these acts of neighborly kindness, attention, and fellowship, seem small, they are the measure of a life, they are the memories shared among those who knew him, who remember him.

There was more, much more going on beneath the surface, but he let no one see. Carol speaks of his high standards, of his being particular. Engineers seem cursed with the blessing of knowing the right way of doing things, seem prone to frustration with self and the world when neither self nor world go according to plan. Could he be curt when faced with the failings of internet companies or builders? Sure. Still, his neighbors remember him as a kind man, generous with his time and tools, open to friends and neighbors, even while suffering from a debilitating, painful vertigo.

What will I will remember of Tom? The handful of Arduinos he, my son, and I worked on together; the joy my son takes in Saturday car shows; how we worked side by side to transplant the blueberry bush and to replace their kitchen window; how he praised his Carol’s cooking; the twinkle in his eyes and how a chuckle was never far from his lips.

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