Thursday, March 29, 2012

Love Is Stronger Than Death

One of my father's almost-lifelong friends died a few days ago; his funeral service is in Florida today.

I'm not sure how they met as young men, but I've learned a few things from Tom's obituary (don't we always?) that have added a few pieces to the puzzle.  Both were products of elite New England colleges ~ Williams for my dad, Princeton for Tom ~ who then landed in agriculture.  My dad returned to Ohio and the family grain business after college; Tom headed for a master's degree in agriculture in Florida and then founded the Driftwood Fruit Company in Vero Beach. 

Perhaps they met when my grandfather, spending a winter vacation in Vero and always alert to a new business and a new story, discovered Tom's business.  (For many years I was the frequent beneficiary of that discovery ~ winter after winter, huge boxes of Florida citrus fruit would arrive on my doorstep, gifts of my grandparents via Tom.)  I know that they both loved tennis; one of my very few memories of my mother is of sitting on a picnic table with her and my younger brothers, watching Tom and my dad finish a game on a court somewhere in Vero.

When my parents decided to settle in Vero, they built a tri-plex there with Tom.   We were to live in the top floor three-bedroom apartment; downstairs were two one-bedrooms, one for Tom and one to rent.  (Another six-year-old memory of my mother: running errands with her as we made plans for the seaside decor of what would have been my very first room of my own.) That arrangement lasted a month ~ we returned to Ohio for the summer and fall, and my mother and youngest  brother were killed in the car accident, and Tom met and married his wife.

Over the years, as my grandparents spent longer and longer periods in Florida, Tom and his family were an attentive extended family to them.  (And, I've just remembered, they always called my grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Craig! ~ even as my grandfather lay dying in Vero after their thirty years of friendship.) Tom and my dad, who share the same birthday a year apart, remained fast friends -- despite his move, as they aged, to the far right of the political spectrum, and my dad's to the far left!

Tom was delighted when I veered onto my new life as a seminarian, and I learned something more about his old life when he contacted me with congratulations:  he had come from a family of stalwart Pittsburgh Presbyterians.  Hence, the Princeton education.  He grew up only a few blocks from the seminary ~ I emailed him a photo of his family homestead ~ and one of the buildings there is named for an uncle, I believe, of his.  (McNaugher, for anyone in the know.)

As I've thought about Tom and his family over the past few days, it has occurred to me: another family who got what was supposed to be my life.  My parents had planned to move to Vero for good; my brothers and I would have grown up under the Florida sunshine, only a couple of blocks from the beach.  My dad asked me a few years ago whether I would have liked that.  "Oh, YES!" I said, without hesitation.  But . . . it was Tom and his wife who were married for fifty years before death intervened, and their children who grew up among orange trees and warm waters.  

Just an observation.

For today, I plan to spend some time being grateful for Tom and his family, and their friendship with my grandparents, my parents, my brothers and me, and my children.


  1. I'm sorry for yet another loss in your life, Robin, but also grateful for the connections and memories that this relationship has stirred in you. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. I, too, am sorry for this loss, but grateful for the window into another part of your life and family history. Tom sounds like a good man - one who will be missed.
    Thank you, too, for your kind words on my blog today.