An Old Ozark Friend . . .
A few years back, on August 8, 2008, to be precise, my old Ozark friend Tommy Sutherland sent me a photo of him at 51 -- "that really old guy is me at 51" -- with family, in-laws, and friends, which means that the photograph had been recently taken despite what the date says in the lower right hand corner. I was thinking about Tommy just the other day and recalled that I had intended to post this picture at the time he'd sent it, but I must have been busy with other topics, for I somehow neglected to follow through. I hadn't seen Tommy for about 30 years, and I was amazed to see how much he resembled his dad.
Life goes on without us, of course, but change in others reminds us of change in ourselves. Tommy tells me that after we finished high school in Salem, Arkansas (1975), with me heading off for Waco, Texas to study at Baylor University, he went on to graduate from culinary school in 1976, which I recall hearing about, and I think that was at a vocational school in Melbourne, Arkansas. He tells me that he then married a local Salem girl named Tommi Henry in June of 1977 and got serious about work, so he joined the Army National Guard in January of 1978 and went into active Army service in January of 1980. That's the same time that I left Baylor for the San Francisco area to pursue graduate studies at Berkeley.
Tommy got started a bit earlier on family than I did -- I guess I was too busy with my intellectual pursuits -- for he and Tommi had a daughter named Alisha on August 10, 1980. One year later, the family moved to Panama, and a son named Matthew was born there on December 15, 1981. The family was still in Panama three years later, for his youngest son Nathan was born there on June 19, 1984, after which the family moved back to the USA, also in 1984, and lived in Kentucky, Tennessee, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Alaska!
He left military service in 1987 and moved back to the Salem area for what he describes as "two loooonnng years" before moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas in January 1990, where he's been ever since. That was about the time -- I mean the latter 1980s -- that I headed for Europe, and while Tommy went on to see his family expand to include three grandchildren -- Talon, Serephyna, and Ariana -- I was meeting and marrying Sun-Ae, with whom I soon started a family, and heading for Korea.
But life isn't only about increase. There's also loss, for Tommy tells me in that email of 2008 that he and his wife had separated some years earlier and that his father had passed away, but that death must have been even more years ago, though recent enough for my brother John to perform the funeral service. Tommy "was very impressed with his sermon" and praised John as "an excellent speaker."
That brings us up to the present, with me wondering what Tommy is up to these days. I suppose he's still working as a cook around Fayetteville. I don't know if I'll get back to the Ozarks again even for a visit, but now that nearly 40 years have passed, seeing Tommy again would be great.
If not in the Ozarks, then here on this blog . . .