I'm here in a hotel room, just having come from this morning's services. We were at the beach. It was gorgeous.
I'm unexpectedly in Connecticut, in the town where I grew up, sitting in a hotel like a stranger who doesn't belong. My sisters are off running errands and we'll regroup soon to drink wine and tell stories because that's how we do things. We make a party out of everything, and then eventually we start singing. If you're following me on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, there will be photos.
We'll laugh. We'll play games.
But I'm sad in a deep and profound way. Ugly-cry, gut-punched, I don't want to acknowledge a world where I can't hear Tom laughing kind of way.
So I'll just do what I do. I'll share what I wrote. What I read today. It's more for me than for you, because sharing makes me feel better.
I wish you could have known Tom. So, well. Here it is:
|My dad, left. Duck, right. Healy's wedding, 2002.|
In some ways, I wish I had the perspective to be able to talk about Tom the way my parents, John and Linda, would have.
In some ways, I wish I could share any of the many, many, MANY stories they’d tell. From the fun, to the funny, to the downright completely inappropriate. Because, from the time my dad and Tom became friends in grade school until his passing all-too recently, my dad AND my mom spent so much time with Tom -- gatherings and parties, vacations and the just-stopping-bys, and oh...the late-late-late nights, whenever they were together.
Yep. There are a lot of stories my parents could tell. And, even if heavily laced in sarcasm and swear words, there are also so many sweet, wonderful things my parents would say about Tom.
But I can’t tell you what my parents would say. Not really. Because I was a very little girl when I met Tom.
Tom. I don’t know if I’ve ever called him that in my whole life. The minute he tried to win a two-year-old Healy over with his Donald Duck impression, she dubbed him DEE DUCK, (“Donald” was too hard to say). And that moniker stuck. Even years later, on wedding invitations, he was Mister D. Duck.
|At my wedding in 1999. At the bar. |
(My mother would murder me for this picture if she could.)
And that’s exactly what makes this hard for me. For us. D Duck -- or the informal, “Duck” -- was always and forever the really fun guy who encouraged us to be kids. He was playful, and encouraged us to be playful. The night of my father’s services, 26 years after being given the name D Duck, he gave my sister a piggyback ride.
We were always kids around him. And that’s the lens that we will always see him through.
So I can’t tell you what my parents would say. Or even what my grown-up self would say if I’d only just met “Tom” a few years ago. Because I can’t even imagine that version of him. I can only really talk about the Duck we loved so much as kids -- because that’s the only Duck we ever knew.
* * * * * *
The first time Duck visited us at our house in Darien, my mother was beside herself with nerves. She wanted to make a good impression on this “old school buddy” of my father’s. She had no idea she was meeting someone who would become her own lifelong friend. (If only in large part because it takes a really special guy to put up with my father for so many God damned years.)
I don’t know how the night went in general, but I do know that when Duck went to leave, he couldn’t. Because his keys had disappeared.
Imagine if you will, a dinner party where you’re meeting your old friend and his new wife and kids for the first time, and you end the night by explaining that your keys have gone missing. Awkward. Except also true.
I don’t know how long they looked or what sort of uncomfortable conversations may have transpired before they gave up and woke both me and Healy (again, aged 2) up to ask if we had any idea where D-Duck’s keys were. Of course, I found this baffling, but Healy, in a dazed toddler stupor, said yep. She knew.
Now, Healy was a very shy and very particular kid, but took a shine to Duck immediately. I mean, who doesn’t? And in her enamored toddler state, decided that she would take his keys and put them in HER own purse. Because D-Duck’s keys were just that awesome. And then, before going to bed, she decided -- for reasons never entirely made clear to anyone -- to hide her purse at the bottom of the hall closet.
Well. For some people, this might have just been a strange end to a pleasant evening, end of story. But I think the Sammis family was sending Duck a message that I’m sure all of you have felt at some point in your lives: we love having you in our home, and we don’t want you to leave.
It was that way always. A visit from Duck meant my parents would be happy. It meant good times. It meant jokes. It meant silliness. It meant music and laughter. It meant fun.
|OMG 80s. Big, curly hair. Miller Lite beers and Tab cans.|
Duck was the ultimate “fun uncle”. Especially because he always brought cool stuff to our house, including the most amazing thing that had ever been invented in the history of the world ever: the car that would talk to you. “Listen to her when I leave my door open!” he said smiling while his immaculate car idled in our dusty driveway. Your door is ajar. Your door is ajar. “I think I’m in love!” he exclaimed. More than once.
Duck was the only person who could stop by, unannounced, and not rattle my mom. Duck was comfortable; he accepted us all for who we were. Our metaphoric “dishes in the sink” never mattered to him. He was there for the company.
And we loved it.
Duck was a fixture in our household-- something of a Sammis family constant. He was there on random Sundays, and the day I learned to ride a two-wheeled bike. He was there for egg-dyeing and swimming and on our Prom Nights. We sometimes called our guest room “the Duck room.”
I know it wasn’t a Christmas Eve, or even any party at all, until Duck arrived.
|At a Murder Mystery party my parents hosted. (I wasn't invited.)|
Even when my parents passed away, he managed to make us all feel better, just by virtue of being around, and being him.
He was everything charismatic. He was the guy you wanted to sit next to. He had the laugh you could pick out from everyone else’s -- maybe because it was so funny, but probably because it was so darn genuine, and infectious. He didn’t just like to have a good time, he BROUGHT a good time. He WAS a good time. He was our good time.
So...I’ll share something personal with you now. Despite how I think of Duck, I’m not ACTUALLY still a five-year-old, looking for Duck’s keys...I’m really a grown-up with young kids of my own. And every time we have friends over, and I watch them interacting with my kids... I catch myself thinking: “Is this friend of mine going to be their Duck? I hope we can find someone to be like our Duck.”
He set the standard for ultimate family friend, and he raised that bar awfully high.
D-Duck has been such a shining beacon of joy in our lives for so long and for so many occasions, in fact, I kept accidentally looking forward to seeing him today.
“How will we ever get through this?” my family has asked, too many times.
“Well, D-Duck will be there.”
|Also he was a Captain in the army and was handsome, apparently.|
My family has come to expect that Duck’s smiling face and joyous spirit will be there to get us through anything. I know in some ways, he still will.
But, now, it’s our turn to try to return the favor -- at least a little. To try to bring a little celebration to him -- as much as we can.
(Ask Healy & Sam to come up.)
Music and singing has been part of our relationship with Duck since the beginning. And we wanted to honor that today, in a way that felt...authentic. That truly represented Tom, Duck, and how we knew him.
I was looking through old pictures, and suddenly had a vivid reminder of a New Year’s Eve party my parents once hosted. (I wasn’t invited, but I watched from the hallway), and I very clearly remember Duck singing this song.
My dad was at the piano, and Tom was singing with his disarmingly good voice -- at the top of his lungs and with gusto, the way he lived life.
Uh, a song we will humbly try to sing now.
To us -- as, I know, to many of you -- Tom (Duck) has meant love, and he’s meant family, and he’s meant home. He is what a happy home feels like.
And we hope he’s in a happy home now.
Show me the way to go homeI'm tired and I want to go to bedI had a little drink about an hour agoAnd it went right to my headEverywhere I roamOn land or sea or foamYou can always hear me singing this songShow me the way to go home
|At his memorial services today. Overlooking the ocean.|