Friends…. the Southern Command will be held in reserve as I head for funeral duty once again.
I will soon be 63 years old and as it comes to all of us, it is now my lot in life to lift the caskets, nod at the familiar songs, shed tears, fight the “screwdriver in the throat” as Lawrence calls it…. and notice the empty chairs and their growing numbers.
As my friends and I approach the last few innings, we must often march to the dirge that has become an unwanted companion; nonetheless we are the fortunate ones.
I met most of my best friends about this time of year 47 years ago… two-a-day football practice… Taft Union High School in Taft California, where they don’t fry eggs on the sidewalk—it’s old hat—they watch asphalt melt.
Tom O’Brien, left, was a quarterback and figured in his “C” and “B” team’s successes before moving up to varsity as a junior, along with the rest of us.
As seniors we went 8-2 and won the league championship outright… a great cap to our high school careers.
Two years in Taft Junior College followed, both of us majoring in law enforcement. Eventually we enlisted in the Marine Corps and Army, respectively.
We talked of joining the same department after the war… once we were sworn officers.
Tom got to ‘Nam in the waning days of the war and a few years ago said that he’d tell me what happened there.
We ran out of time, suddenly, four days back.
Tom and his wife, Nancy (love of his life and also a classmate), were coming back to California from a trip when he was stricken; on landing at the airport he was transported to UC Davis Medical Center where he spent his last hours.
Over the years we followed each others careers and I don’t believe either of us missed any of our every five years class reunions… despite his having to attend one in a “halo” to protect a broken neck, suffered in the line of duty with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.
The former altar boy at St. Mary’s was a decorated officer and served many years on the SWAT team and did some undercover work. But true to his reserved nature, he spoke very little about his career pledge to “protect and serve”.
Tom raised two daughters and loved to officiate high school football and softball; and whenever there was a disputed incident in the NFL, college or the NCAA Women’s Softball Championship, I knew the right call was as close as my phone.
Sometimes we talked for hours, catching up and comparing notes on aging, old times and the realities of the world.
Charles M. Schulz once said,
“Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn't work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I know what I need. I need more hellos.”
See ya around, Tommy…. we’ll have plenty of time to talk.
Nights are long since you went away,
I think about you all through the day,
My buddy, my buddy, no buddy quite so true.
Miss your voice, the touch of your hand,
Just long to know that you understand,
My buddy, my buddy… your buddies, they miss you