When scrolling down the homepage of my site, some of you might wonder about the grainy photograph alongside the quote from Tim O’Brien’s “The Lives of the Dead.” That’s me on the left, back before I began sporting a beard nearly a decade ago. On the right is Tom Myers.
We’re both playing hooky from our jobs. I was teaching at Green Bay West High School at the time, Tom was an Associate Professor of English at St. Norbert College, and we’d decided to take in an event of some import: the final game played at Milwaukee County Stadium, September 28, 200, before it was razed and the Brewers made their new home in Miller Park.
The game was more whimper than bang for the Brewers--not unusual for their squads of that era--but a Brewers victory wasn’t the reason we’d taken Interstate 43 south to Cream City that day.
Ostensibly, our trip was intended to do two things: 1. To allow us (as students of American culture and society) to soak in the atmosphere of ritual and recognition, and 2. To allow us (as fans of two great American sports) to remember our youth.
Tom and I, both blessed/cursed with a bent toward sentiment and nostalgia, would see titans of our boyhood take one last trip around the bases or jog across the gridiron (the Packers played multiple home games in County Stadium from 1953 through 1994) in the post-game ceremony that day.
The day succeeded in meeting our stated goals. We observed ritual and nostalgia both of us would use to inform our teaching, just as we participated in ritual and nostalgia via the spark of memory the day ignited for each of us. I saw Robin Yount, Gorman Thomas, Rollie Fingers and other members of the ‘82 Brewers American League Champion team each thank the crowd. Tom, ever the Chicago boy, conjured images of his beloved Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Dick Butkus while watching Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Jerry Kramer--the rivals of his heroes--enjoy their moment in the sun.
We both shared many stories that day. More than anything, that’s what I’ll take away from that brisk September afternoon. Our stories.
I’d not met Tom until I was 18, a freshman at St. Norbert College in the fall of 1989. He’d never known me as the eleven year-old farm boy who curled up in his bedroom with his Panasonic radio, listening to baseball games deep into humid summer nights. And I’d never known the younger Tom, growing up on the South Side and paying for college by working summers in the Gary Ironworks.
But somehow, we knew each other. We knew each other in a manner that transcended biology and generations and locale. We’d known each other deeply from the first day of EN150 in a second floor classroom of Boyle Hall when we lingered in the hallway for fifteen minutes after the end of class.
We were both new to St. Norbert, and we both sensed in each other something comforting and familiar despite the difference in our years and our circumstances in life. That something surpassed familiarity, friendship, or esteem.
That something felt like kinship.
I have always felt that kinship with Tom. Whether we were exchanging the same Little Debbie Christmas Tree snack that finally disintegrated inside its plastic wrapper over the course of nearly a decade or eating Chicago-style sausages at Pasquale’s; whether we were conversing over a book in his office (me in the so-seedy-it was-charming pink armchair that swallowed me every time I sat in it) or were watching a movie on his Sony projection screen TV enhanced by a Dolby surround sound audio system; whether we were commiserating over my first legal drink--Guiness and Harp layered in a Black and Tan--courtesy of Tom or we were sharing a congratulatory embrace celebrating my marriage to Martha beneath the shade tree alongside the farmhouse where I’d grown up, we always felt that kinship.
Tom died in 2014. I’m not yet ready to write about that, but I am ready to write about all sorts of other things through novels, stories, poems, blogs--even academic fare.
And one of the most beautiful things about this writing is that through it, Tom does live. Were Tom’s body still alive today, I know that we’d be celebrating the upcoming publication of my first novel. Knowing him, we’d be enjoying a celebratory cookout whose food may be anything but haute cuisine but which had been prepared with love and care as only Tom could provide. He’d be over-the-moon happy for me and proud of me, just as I’d be over-the-moon happy to be sharing it with him.
I like to think of Tom, wherever it is we go when our souls lose the tether of our bodies, watching me and smiling--and I know, wherever it is that he is, that he feels the same kinship I felt beginning that late August day in 1989 and still feel when I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and attempt to combine memory and imagination and language as I dream.