Monday, January 27, 2014

A Journey Into That Dark Ether....

They say you can't take it with you, but I think that they're wrong
'Cause all I know is I woke up this morning, and something big was gone
Gone into that dark ether where you're still young and hard and cold
Just like when they built you, brother, they broke the mold....
-Bruce Springsteen

It is appropriate -  I think - to measure one's life in terms of the impression that the one who has lived that life has made on those with whom he came into contact.  By that unit of measurement Yours truly is a ghost.  However by that unit of measurement, the contributions that Tom Mendelson made on those around him and the world that we all occupy are more easily appreciated and readily ascertainable.  

Tom Mendelson died on Friday.  It had been my pleasure and privilege to have known Tom, his son James and to a lesser degree Tom's wife Diane since Rob came home from school one day in the autumn of 1996 and announced that he wanted to join the local Boy Scout Troop.  My indoctrination into the world of scouting was a weekend camping trip in northwestern New Jersey near Picatinny Arsenal.  Among my least-favorite things to do is sleep outside.  Also among my least-favorite things to do is to miss Yankees playoff games.  Rob's first camping trip in Scouting took place on the weekend that the Yankees went to Baltimore in '96 for what turned out to be the final three games of the ALCS so I am confident that even now my level of enthusiasm for the outing is leaping off of the page. 

As I am with metronomic-like regularity I was entirely wrong about the weekend camping trip.  I enjoyed it.  Rob loved it.  And he was hooked  While it helped of course that his best friend Dan Byrnes (the two are something akin to twin sons of different mothers) was already a member of Troop 148, what cinched the deal for Rob was Tom Mendelson.  Tom was a man who had done any number of amazing and interesting things in his professional life and who knew how to do a lot of really cool stuff.  He loved teaching kids and he loved having Scouts in the troop - like the ones he helped mold Dan and Rob into becoming - who embraced the whole "outdoor life" experience.  I must confess that when Rob came home at age 10 and declared he was joining Troop 148 I was uncertain how long his time as a Scout might last.  Once I had the chance to see him - and the other kids in the Troop - interact with Tom I knew he was in it for the long haul.  And he was.  Margaret and I are the proud parents of an Eagle Scout.  So are Joe and Lucy Byrnes - Dan's parents.  Neither of us would be but for the fact that our sons had the good fortune of meeting Tom Mendelson.

In the years since Rob graduated from high school and moved out of state, I had seen Tom only infrequently.  You could always count on seeing him any time there was an emergency in town - such as in the aftermath of Irene or Sandy - with his sleeves rolled up assisting others.  He left the talking to the politicians.  He and his cohorts from the Office of Emergency Management focused on the "doing", which he did extraordinarily well.

Margaret and I last saw Tom Mendelson this past summer.  On Saturday, July 20, 2013, our little hamlet 'NTSG celebrated its 100th anniversary.  As we were leaving the park next to the high school we walked past Tom who was manning a post outside the OEM RV prepared to offer assistance to anyone who might be in need of it - and considering that it was approximately 111 degrees out at the time I presume at least one person did.  We exchanged greetings and played catch up with regard to each other's now-adult children.  After we filled him in on the state of Rob's life, he told us (while smiling ear-to-ear) that he had recently become a grandfather.   Tom's son James (an extraordinary man in his own right and every inch his father's son) and his wife had just celebrated the birth of their daughter.  Not once - not even for a moment - did Tom stop smiling as he told us about the apple of his eye, his granddaughter Samantha.  Not once. 

The world can always use more people like Tom Mendelson.  I am grateful for the opportunity I had to get to know him and - more than that - for the interest he took in helping my son and countless others grow up and mature.  The impression he left was positive....

....and indelible


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