My step-dad Thomas L. Maher passed away on September 11th, 2011. Tom was a husband, father, grand-father, great-grand father, and great-great-grandfather, a skilled machinist, mechanic, and avid golfer. Tom was the kind of guy who never backed down from a mechanical challenge, who in the morning after coffee, could take a non-running engine and the shell of a bug and by suppertime have a street-legal, Inspection-ready Volkswagen Beetle ready to go. I have personally seen this happen many times.
When Tom came into our family, it must have been difficult for him. The McLernon’s then were a loud and boisterous bunch, and the air around our dinner table was thick with tales of the 60’s & 70’s, politics, business, student unrest, and a family of doers setting off in a wide array of career and lifestyle directions.
In early August 1975, the summer of my nineteenth year, after an emotionally sleepless night contemplating all I was leaving behind and all I wanted my life to become, I packed up my van and in a bright, clear New Jersey morning started the journey of my life, a road-trip to Arizona to begin my love affair with the West and to continue my dis-jointed college education. Much to my surprise, the first letter I received from my Mom at my new home, brought news that she and Tom were married in our back yard on a beautiful September day, and she even included a few photos to prove it. I was only gone three weeks and was kinda miffed that they pulled a fast one on me, not that she was marrying Tom, but that it appeared they waited until I was safely out-of -town to tie the knot!
Tom’s natural curiosity about how things work was frequently on display as he took on jobs fixing things around our house that stayed fixed. Tom was also always keenly interested in some new technology, whether it was CB radios, computer hardware and software, or learning the ins and outs of digital photography.
When Tom & Char moved to North Carolina, within a few months he built the shop of his dreams, “Tom’s Own Shop” to house his thousands of tools and his trusted retirement lathe from DeLaval Turbine. Tom was never too busy to design and create some arcane piece of studio hardware I needed yet couldn’t afford out of a block of steel and after a short time in his shop, he’d have produced it, leaving behind a large blob of blue metal shavings and the lingering aroma of burning oil. In relaying the story about his retirement, Tom said De Laval had offered him the traditional retirement pocketwatch or the lathe he’d worked on all those years since they were retooling his shop. Tom selected the lathe because in his words “I already had a watch”!
Tom taught me how to use a chainsaw.
Finally, there was a mischievous side to Tom that I hope many of you had the agonizing pleasure to endure. I will leave you with two small vignettes that perfectly illustrate his fun loving side. Whenever we were down at the house in NC, Sundays were always an issue about what sporting event was going to be on TV, my NASCAR or Tom’s golf. His house, his rules, so many times I headed over to the Winners Circle Restaurant in Myrtle Beach to watch the race or to the beach to listen to it on the radio. I think he felt a little bad about this but not so bad that it stopped him from sitting down those Sundays in his favorite chair with a cold beer, a hot sandwich and Freddie Couples. One year, Tom excitedly told me he finally broke-down and bought a TV for the back bedroom and when I stayed at their house from now on, I could watch all the NASCAR I wanted to when I came to visit. When I arrived and walked back there, low and behold, there it was, in all it’s glory, a miniature 4”x5” black and white TV from Radio Shack. “Just like downtown”! Tom said.
Lastly, this story still brings tears of joy to Gayle and I and is totally true. The first time Tom and Char met my future wife in September 1995, Gayle had flown in from Portland, Oregon to celebrate the Labor Day weekend with us and we were sitting down to a nice Tom & Char home-cooked turkey dinner. During salads, Gayle feels something pressed against her leg under the table and it is a note being passed to her from Tom. Not knowing what to think or do, she discreetly unfolds the paper, reads the note and hands it to me with mixture of delight and alarm on her face. After meeting the woman of my dreams only one hour before, Tom had slipped her a note with a poker face, that read “Please help me. I am being held captive here against my will.”
I’ll close by saying that it’s true, Tom’s passing leaves a void in many of our lives today but he is now without pain and hopefully in some way reunited with his beloved Charlotte. By remembering him, either by his generous nature, mechanical wizardry, making the whole carload lift their feet as we traversed the NC/SC state line, the Cool Whip container in the freezer where the hand-written label said mashed potatoes but was really frozen peas, or those unbelievable poems or limericks he could spout off the top of his head at a moments notice, these remembrances may bring all who knew him some small comfort and even a bit of joy. If they do, then rest assured, Tom’s spirit will endure.
I never called him Dad but he always treated me like a son.