Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Remembering Tom Gibbons

We lost a dear member of our writing community on Sunday. Tom Gibbons was talented and kind, a writer and a teacher who touched many lives. He will be very missed. When Tom began his MFA studies at Lindenwood at age 80, Susan Weich (now an LU MFA alum) wrote an article about him: http://newsok.com/st.-louis-post-dispatch-susan-weich-column-florissant-man-80-goes-back-to-college-after-beating-cancer/article/feed/82874. Tom's obituary is available here. We would like to share an excerpt from one of Tom's stories below, as a tribute to his life and work.


When I was young, some years back, my best friend was Charles Michael O'Rourke. His mother, from the old country, would always say to me, "Don't let Charley get you into any mischief!" She knew her son very well, as I was to find out. In later years, I came to believe that his middle initial stood for "Mischief," not Michael. When Charley was ten, he conned Buddy Thorpe into giving him 25 cents a week to teach him to be a ventriloquist. Charley had gotten a paper in a Cracker Jack box on "How to be a ventriloquist." In essence, all the paper stated was to "talk out of the side of your mouth." Charley would go see Buddy each week; Buddy would ask, "Did you see my lips move?" Charley would put on his most professional ten-year old face, and say, "Just a little; you're getting better. Practice a few more weeks," and collect his quarter. Then, off we'd go to the candy store.

Charley and I went through grammar school and high school together, and spent our share of time in some disciplinarian's office, usually because of a scheme cooked up by Charley. Once, at our high school, run by the Christian Brothers, Charley talked me into taking his place on a "Good Humor Run." He had a practice of taking orders for ten-cent ice cream bars, and smuggling them in under his shirt. Then he would sell them for a quarter. This one day, he had some excuse, so I went for him. Little did I know that the brothers were watching the Good Humor truck, Charley got wind of it, and wanted to see what would happen. When I stepped back into the school, I was met by three of the most solicitous brothers to ever don the collar. They suddenly had developed a great concern for my academic and athletic welfare. "Are you keeping your grades up, Thomas? You can turn that B in French into an A with a little work," said Brother Anselm. And from Brother James: "You know, I think you should run the 880; that would give us a chance in the two-mile relay." The comments went on and on, while my contraband slowly melted around my waist, and I could feel cold, wet trickles running down my legs. When they thought I had suffered enough, they stopped their caring comments, wished me well, and left this ice cream-soaked wretch searching for the men's room to clean up and absorb my financial disaster. It was a few years later before Charley finally admitted the truth to me.

We took the "GG" subway train home together, from Brooklyn to Queens. Charley no longer lived on my block, but we went most of the way home together. We were waiting on the subway station bench when an attractive young girl came onto the platform. Charley quickly slid to the opposite end of the bench, so the girl could have room to sit between us. Then, leaning towards me and across the girl, he said in a stage whisper, "Say, when we get to the last stop, do you think that your dad's chauffeur could drop me off at my house? I'd really like to use the bus fare to buy an orange sode." Playing along in my very best "Carriage Trade" manner, I responded, "I'm supposed to meet Daddy at the club, and he gets terribly upset when I'm late." The girl took it all in, but did she go for the rich kid? No, she sympathized with Charley, who went on to feed her more Blarney than could ever be found in the entire revired castle itself. I received an iceberg-like stare, which would have made an Eskimo shiver. She turned her back on me, and began a warm and sympathetic conversation with the so-called impoverished Charley. He got her telephone number; I got the back of her neck.

Charley started meeting me after school on those rare days when we had no practice. We both lived in Queens County. He lived in Bayside, and I in Flushing, about thirty minutes apart on the bus. We'd meet somewhere in between, and if the money were there, we'd split a pizza or just have a Coke. Shortly after we had both graduated, he phoned me. He wanted me to go bowling with his family, and wanted me to be there. I met him, and who was on his arm but the girl from the subway station--Maureen--and not the family members. Instead of a "pleased to meet you," I received a frosty "I remember you." She looked at me as though I had a dead cat under my jacket and asked, "No chauffeur tonight?" I gave Charley a begging stare, and he finally confessed to Maureen. She was a really good sport about the whole thing, and laughed it off, saying, "Oh, that's right, you were only a pair of silly freshmen back then, and I feel for a corny pickup line; I should have known better." We became great friends the three of us, and every once in a while, when the weather was bad, she would say something like, "Wait just a minute. I'm going to call Tom's chauffeur; it's starting to snow." She had a fine sense of humor, which was a great match for Charley's.




No comments: