Back in The Day, we cruised around The Dairy Queen when our parents gave us the keys to the family car and sent us to the grocery store for milk. We’d drive through the DQ parking lot, going real slow to give us ample opportunity to see who was there and who they were with and what they were doing. Today I have my own car, and I don’t need any milk, but I’m cruising through the proverbial DQ anyway and lookie who’s here: my friend Tom Smith . . .
Tom’s mother was a formidable force in the county’s single elementary school when we were growing up. I was, quite frankly, relived as all get-out when I found out she would not be my first grade teacher. But she raised an impressive bunch of children, let me tell you what. I went to school with Tom’s brother, Allen, and in high school, one of his brothers – can’t remember whether it was Jim or John, though I still have much of the promotional materials – convinced me to run for secretary of the state Beta Club then set about supporting my campaign in every way imaginable. Somewhere along the way, Tom and I got to be friends – first as lovers of wordsmithing. I own one of the few copies of Tom’s memoir, and though he currently has no interest in publishing it, I remain hopeful that something or someone will come along and change his mind because the world needs Tom’s wisdom, his perspective, and his stories. Over the years, our common interest sphere has expanded to include poetry, making, philosophy, and good conversation. We don’t agree on everything – in fact, we disagree on some very important things – but our relationship is one of those rare ones large enough to hold differences. Tom is one of the most open minded and open hearted men I am honored to know. He is a champion of women in general, and especially of this woman, asking me challenging questions with no preconceived right answer in mind upon the asking; feeding me bits of poetry that we then talk about; directing me to books he knows will stretch and intrigue me; reassuring me on occasion; and just as importantly, calling bullshit (in his own way, of course) when needed. He is incredibly supportive, but he suffers no foolishness from me. Like The Engineer, Tom often believes in me until I can catch up and believe in myself.
The Engineer and I dropped by Tom’s house last weekend to leave a box of goodies at his studio door. Turns out Tom had time, so we were treated to a tour and a visit, which I’m now taking you on . . .
Morning glories greeted us.
(My mom and dad used to call me Morning Glory,
so I have a special fondness reserved for these beauties).
And while some folks
put big ole’ concrete lions in front of their special place,
reportedly to keep evil at bay,
Tom relies on a distant cousin of the lion as guardian
. . . along with my personal favorite:
a bottle tree thrown in for added protection.
Tom lives on the old home place
as we call family properties in this neck of the woods,
and his door is always open
to relatives in need of shelter.
Tom takes his role as the family elder
making sure young minds and hearts are well fed
and constantly stimulated.
I often feel like an adopted member of the family
as I benefit from the same treatment
as well as reports of what marvelousness this one or that one is cooking up.
(Not muses, exactly,
the buzzards come around
regularly just to
tease and torment Tom.)
Here we see The Engineer and The Artist
(though a different artist than usual)
pondering air conditioning options
while I run around snapping photos.
His studio is filled to the brim with an assortment of goodies and oddities
mostly things he finds at yard sales
some things dropped off by friends.
Deconstruction and repurposing are important parts of his process.
as we see in this piece he created especially for me last year.
It’s hard to see in this photo,
but the word “SKEE” (one of my favorite words of all time)
is nestled inside a component of an old printer.
Where some see discard as the only solution for dirty wheels on a child’s toy,
Tom sees something else.
He works on a pool table
(though it took some delightful investigating to figure that out)
that doubles as storage space.
He hints that my large hand stitched works
take too long
(a thought I stumble over often)
and with soft, gentle persistence,
he encourages me to try something different.
He even shortens my learning curve,
letting me benefit from his experience
by telling me what adhesive to use,
and later, after the visit,
he sounds like a kid on Christmas morning
when he tells me about the stain glass effect
that came from mixing the paints I left
with the adhesive he uses.
Tom’s studio is a fun place
where things get snatched out of their usual context,
spun around and around,
and stood on their head.
With one arm tied behind their back
for good measure.
Things become verbs, for example,
and bottle caps become tiny little pie tins . . . er, um, containers.
Tom creates his mosaic-a-ramas on wooden planks
and calls them panels.
His ultimate plan is
to stage a one-man show
in the adorable, squatty round building behind his studio,
filling the walls with his panels.
Anything’s possible in Tom’s place,
and nothing – absolutely nothing –
is too absurd to consider.
It is a happy place
a joyful place
a space filled to the brim
and impossibilities (of the Alice in Wonderland before breakfast variety).
You can’t be in there and not relax into a smile.
You just can’t.
And you can’t leave there not already looking forward to your next trip back.