Friday, June 15, 2007

Keep the Light on For Me


I never met a man quite like Tom Lewellen. He and his wife Bert moved to Reynolds in the late 1970’s. The retired couple was driving through Reynolds one afternoon and stopped by Goddard’s Store and happened upon my dad. Tom was retired from the Navy and my dad was also a Navy man and they hit it off. In fact they hit it off so much that Daddy talked Tom and Bert into staying for good. They made Reynolds their home.

At one point in his career Tom was a Navy photographer. My dad had a dark room in his back yard and Tom taught him some tricks of the trade. Tom was also a wonderful cook. He ended up being the cook many times at church suppers. He also was quite a carpenter. He remodeled a couple of rooms at my parent’s house. Tom also single handedly built a house for him and his wife. This house was a two story house that looked the normal size when you looked at it from the road but it was only about 10 feet wide. I suppose I’m exaggerating but I’m not far off. It was so narrow that to get to the guest bedroom upstairs you had to go outside to climb the stairs. And in the guest room when you sat on the bed you could pat the toilet with your hand while lying on the bed. I asked Tom once why he made the guest room so small and so difficult to get to. His reply was that he didn’t want guests to become too comfortable because they may stay too long.

Tom is also the only man I ever knew who drilled his own teeth. I don’t know how many times he did it but I went in his shop with him one day and he showed me the 2 x 8 board he held onto when he started drilling. He even mixed up his own filling.

He and my dad became very good friends as Tom did with many folks in Reynolds. Tom served as one of the pallbearers at my dad’s funeral. His wife died a couple of years later and Tom sold his house and moved to the Navy Retirement Home in Gulfport. The home was destroyed during Katrina and Tom was moved to Washington DC where he now resides.

I got his address a couple of months ago and sent him a letter along with a copy of my book and CD. I received this letter today. Although Tom is very much alive, for me the letter was like a letter from the grave. It is a letter from a very unique man who was a big part of my life for many years and who I never thought I would hear from again and truthfully figured he had passed away. I can tell you I had a lump in my throat when I read it. And I was reminded of this incredible journey of life.

Hello Bruce,

Please forgive me for not answering your marvelous package sooner. My first glance at that book – believe it or not I sat right there and read that Lighten UP from start to finish. Hilarious to say the least.

Bruce, your wonderful help on Miss Berts cremation and the handling of all that legal work to the extent of calling the Base Doctor was certainly the greatest friendship possible.

Your Dad having been in the Navy started a genuine friendship that held thru the years. He was truly marvelous in every way. One of the things comes to my mind was when he asked my opinion on that car garage that was too small for anything post Model “T” and I explained taking the wall out between there and the kitchen then building a fireplace which he said was impossible but I showed him how it and its chimney could all be outside and that really satisfied him to a “T”. He raved so on my cooking those Methodist Men’s Club dinners. The real compliment was one nite when the dinner went especially well. Ed announced at church that should he ever become stranded on a desert island and he had a choice of Marilyn Monroe or Tom Lewellen he’d chose me.

When I moved to Gulfport to the Navy home and came back to Reynolds for a visit the Doctor & wife, his brother and wife, Lord, I can’t remember her name. She was such a sweet person and I dearly loved her. Well they all took me to that village south of town for a fish fry. As we finished I put three dollars down for a tip and the Doctor handed me back two and said, “Hey, we don’t want to spoil any of these waitresses.”

When they built the new store Ed had me tear up the floor in the old store and during the whole process “Big Daddy” sat in his wheel chair and followed directly in the whole process. I was running my skill saw in those tangled old floor boards when I found myself in a bind where it began to look dangerous and right at that moment Big Daddy leaned out of his wheel chair and jabbed his cane right on the spot and took care of that just perfectly.

When the motion picture Best Little Whorehouse in Texas came out, your Mama insisted on Bert and I joining she and Ed to Macon to watch it. I couldn’t count the times Naia and Ed took Bert and I to that catfish place over in that country restaurant.

The tape you sent is DVD and my player is VHS so I’m having a friend copy it so I can play it. Know it will be good as that book. As I mentioned to our Home chaplain of your book and to my surprise he’s anxious to read it.

My daughter in Atlanta has Miss Bert’s ashes and at my 86 in all probability she’ll be getting mine one day. This home is a wonderful place to live. When the hurricane hit the Navy Home and water went all the way to the second floor this Army home came to our rescue. They brought eight big buses and brought everyone to a person up here.

My daughter comes to visit. She’s a retired Delta Flight Attendant and tho this home has all sorts of trips and things I’m perfectly contented staying in my room. I also have a work room where I have a key and can utilize it for my woodcarving etc.

Again I want to thank you Bruce for thinking of me. Hang in there and I certainly know you are the man for those views from a hearse.

Kindest regards,

Tom

And kindest regards to you Tom. And somehow, some way I'm going to make the time to come see you. Keep the light on for me.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Life goes by quickly, try to enjoy every minute.

Judy S said...

Bruce I don't know how you can keep up with so many people. Every time I rode by the narrow house I wondered if Mr Tom was still around. I have very fond memories. He loved working with his hands and could build just about anything. When Daddy and Uncle Cecil decided to build the first cabin, Mr Tom did the brick work on the fireplace and BBQ pit. When daddy decided to build the new cabin, he took a drawing and deminsions of the fireplace and told the company to design the building around the fireplace. So we have a part of Mr Tom there. Please send my best to him. You had better say Judy Gaultney, Willie's daughter. Even after 34 years of marriage, no one knows who Judy Sanders is.