He drank too much. I knew that about him. Other than that, I didn’t know much more than his first name.
Which was Tom.
He had long hair, a yellowed beard. He was wiry. He smelled like the backend of a poultry truck. His breath could knock over a two-bedroom house.
Occasionally, his breath smelled minty.
Tom told me once, with a hoarse laugh. “I sip mouthwash sometimes. In a pinch, it’ll give you a good buzz, but it burns like hell.”
He frequented a restaurant I worked at, looking for handouts. He only visited when certain employees were on shift.
He knew which workers gave out free food or money, and which ones told him to get lost.
He carried a duffel bag. Olive green. He wore the same camouflage shirt. He didn’t know a stranger.
And nobody knew his full name.
I visited that restaurant a few weeks ago. It’s been a long time. I asked the waiter if they ever had any homeless loiter nearby.
He called the manager over.
“You mean Tom?” the manager said. “He used’a come around a lot. But, well, he…”
I had a feeling.
He went on, “One day Tom walked in and said he couldn’t get a deep breath. I wasn’t working that day.”
An employee took Tom to the emergency room. He had pneumonia. Bad. They hospitalized him. The infection killed him. The county got his body. What happened to his remains, nobody could say.
I never thought I’d write about him. Truthfully, I don’t think he would’ve cared for it.
But this is the South, and we have a longstanding tradition. We write obituaries for our departed, honoring them in print. A few sentences is the privilege of every man—be he rich, poor, or vagrant drunk.
Tom deserves his.
“Tom was heralded into Glory March, 2015. Nobody remembers his full name, or where he came from. But as a young man he fought in Vietnam. And he was proud of that.
“He was meek, poor in spirit, and a member of the human race. He died without making a sound. But he’ll be remembered for his cheerfulness and God-given sense of humor—even in the face of poverty.
“As far as anyone knows, he left no family, no possessions, and had no memorial services. Because the truth is, he went unnoticed by the rest of the world.
“But today, he has no afflictions, no sadness, and no bottle. And you can find him spending time with the One who kept him fed for so many years. His friend.
“The One who knows Tom’s full name.”
Rest well, Tom.