Today I got up later
than usual. It wasn't a very good morning, because I awoke tired
from not having slept well. The tiredness was not physical,
Yesterday I lost
a special childhood friend to cancer. In my heart is a separate
compartment for special childhood friends. They are the ones
who have shared with me all the things that have been important
all through my life. Such a friend was Tom SmithDr. Tom
Smith, one of Santa Fes finest veterinarians.
Even when we were
in elementary school and I wanted to be a policeman or fireman
or cowboy, Tom wanted to be a vet. We knew our goals in life,
or at least he did. He was going to be an animal doctor like
his dad, who started the Smith Veterinary Hospital more than
50 years ago. We played marbles and slid on the ice and vowed
we would never marry. Who liked girls anyway?
In junior high we
got our first jobs together, as sack boys in a grocery store.
For a while in 1951, each day after work Tom let me go with
him to his dad's clinic and put Vaseline on the burns of the
original Smokey Bear. It is something I still talk about today.
Many years later, when I had graduated from engineering school,
I went to visit a friend in Washington D.C. I told her about
helping take care of Smokey, after he was burned in a fire in
the Capitan Mountains in southern New Mexico. I told her how
the symbol for fire prevention had been created from that bear.
But she didn't believe me. She thought the symbol had been created
first and them a bear had been found to represent it. To settle
the argument we went to the Washington Zooand sure enough,
there was Tom's dad's picture, along with the story, just as
I had told it, by the side of the cage that housed old Smokey.
My buddy Tom had made me a hero.
When high school
came around, Tom became the captain of the football team. As
tough as he was, he could always make me laugh during practice.
He played center, and when I was opposite him on the line, he
would cross his eyes behind his thick glasses and stare at me.
In the brief moment that I was distracted, he would hike the
football and knock me on my bottom. He would then give me a
hand up as he laughed about his screwy move.
After practice we
would take a shower and then meet later at some malt shop to
spot girls, as we used to say in those days. For
some reason girls were becoming more important to us.
I remember one night
a group of us managed to acquire a ball from our local bowling
alley. We drove up to the top of Washington Avenue, which runs
north-south on the east side of the Plaza and slopes uphill
to the north. About three blocks from the Plaza, Tom got out
of the car and bowled the ball as hard as he could down Washington
Avenue. He got back in, and we left as the ball was gaining
speed on its way south. I've often wonderful what was that ball's
When high school
ended, five of us agreed to go to college together. We all headed
out to Colorado State University. Four of us weren't sure what
educational field we wanted to pursue, but Tom's dream had never
wavered. To be a veterinary doctor, like his father, was his
goal. Of the five of us, only Tom stayed the full course. The
rest of us went on to other things or other schools.
During his university
days, he met his future wife, Jean, and they went on to have
three childrentwo boys and a girl, all of them successful.
Of the three, his daughter followed Tom in the field of veterinary
medicine, and she runs the Smith clinic today.
Some years later
when I got married, Tom was in the wedding party. Knowing that
he and my other friends might want to do some mischief to my
car, I hid it in my future in-laws neighbor's garage.
Who would ever think of looking there? I didn't even tell my
mother. When Tom asked her where the car was so that they could
do a little wedding work on it, my mother, being something of
a prankster herself, said she didn't know either, but would
try to find out. She then approached my future mother-in-law
and said she was worried about Tom and the guys messing up the
car. My future mother-in-law, never thinking my mother would
be involved, told her the car was well hidden in her neighbor's
garage. Later, when my wife and I got to the car, thinking all
was well, we couldn't believe the guys had found it. There was
writing all over the outside and empty champagne bottles, by
then smelling like vinegar, littering the interior.
When Tom retired
a few years ago, he and Jean decided to move to Montana to do
some ranching, which had always interested them both. Though
it was the first time we had been separated by such a distance
since college, our friendship remained strong. We spoke often
about business matters, but it always got down to buddy talk.
I used to tell him, "Tom, if I know Im going to have
a rough week, I always like to call you." He would say,
"Why?" And I would say, "Because after you tell
me all your problems, my week sounds easy."
Tom had a way of
talking about some small problem he had encounteredlike
one of his cows having a calf too early in the year and him
having to stay all night to keep the calf warmin a way
that made it sound hysterically funny. After laughing at his
story, I could face my week with the greatest of ease. As my
problems came charging at me full throttle, all I had to do
was think about Tom's story of the week and everything seemed
As good as Tom was
at making mountains out of molehills, he also made molehills
out of mountains. When he first told me about his cancer, he
glided through the problem with surgical skill. Never over-dramatizing,
he calmly explained his situation in a clear and articulate
manner. He was so cool in his explanation that I failed to understand
how serious the situation was.
Tom and I, along
with some other fellows, had a real estate business deal cooking;
and I, being the broker in charge, had been talking to him on
a regular basis until just a couple of months ago. Then I hit
a few snags orchestrating the final deal, and I wanted to wait
to call until I had good news. Before I did, however, his daughter
called yesterday, with the bad news. Now I punish myself for
not calling him sooner.
Most of us have only
a few really special friends. Communicate with them often and
let them know that you have them in your thoughts. Remember,
tomorrow might be too late. Don't end up being sorry like me.
Have a better day