I got some bad news yesterday, my friend and mentor Tommy had passed away. Tommy had been retired for 11 years now and even though I hadn’t seen him in a bit over a year it hit me like a sledge hammer.
I couldn’t help but think of him as the prototypical lineman he was. I never saw him in his prime but even as a 52 year old man, when I first met him, he seemed larger than life, if a casting directer ever needed to cast a lineman for a role Tommy would have been my first choice. Tall, lean, and sporting a big mustache Tommy was meant to be lineman. He could climb like an ape, never even missing a beat in a conversation, and after 35 years on the job he was unflappable. We could pull up on a job and the lines could be lying on the ground like spaghetti and while the “cubbies” (young linemen) stared in terror at the sparking wires, Tommy would already have a plan.
He was a patient teacher. New Linemen aren’t exactly the easiest bunch to corral, yet Tommy could run a full crew of them without a hitch. He had no problem strapping his hooks on and coming up a pole to lend a hand, even though the new guy ended up being more of a living tool caddy than a helpful hand. My one and only “disagreement” came on a fine Spring Day when as a young man I was feeling my oats. I had just completed a pretty tricky piece of line work and was feeling good, the “Old Man” hadn’t had to help and the only thing left was to cut the pole. Now one of the scariest things Linemen do is cut pieces of pole down while they are on the pole. It involves dangling off of a pole with a running chainsaw. I fired up the saw and started to cut, I looked down to see Tommy having a fit on the ground. I killed the saw and gave him my snottiest 24 year old “WHAT?”. With out missing a beat he cut me down to size with a glare and a “You’re cutting through your belt, asshole.”. Needless to say I was suitably chagrined and meekly went back to work.
We spent a few weeks out on the Beach just me and him. We came to have a little truce when it came to music. Each day we suffered through the others musical selection. I blared Metallica and Anthrax, he countered with Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. They are now on my Ipod, I’m sure metal never caught on with him yet he never went back on our agreement.
Cancer may have made him weak but I’m sure it was the loss of his wife that finally made his heart give out. When Carol passed and Tommy was still in the hospital, I felt it in my bones that he wasn’t long for this world. He wanted to come home for his kids and grandkids but with his Carol gone I just don’t think his heart was in it. I know that if Heaven has telephone poles Tommy is up there, sun on his face, and the wind in his ‘stache. Rest in Peace, Senior Man and say Hi to Carol for us, we miss you both.
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