Hubby and I were sitting in UMKC White Concert Hall chatting with the couple seated one row ahead of us about our just devoured dinner. It was the first time we had met Debby and Lou for dinner and they had introduced us to a new dining experience in the local neighborhood. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves while the couple just to the right of us were trying not to listen in. Finally, though, it became evident that they were also enjoying the conversation. We introduced ourselves. They tentatively suggested that they might also like to have a dining adventure before the next concert. And thus began a long, satisfying, delightful friendship.
We're all not exactly sure of the date -- but it was sometime around ten years ago. I know we were all good friends in 2003 because I have pictures of them attending our 25th wedding anniversary.
Over the years the restaurant dinners expanded into our homes. They attended Hubby's concerts when he was still singing. We also went to movies and plays together when our interests coincided. We began to meet just for dinner -- for the pleasure of breaking bread in each other's company, not just attending an event following the meal.
We shared the sadness of a funeral when Debby's beloved sister died after a long illness. We cried together over the loss of long time pets. During every one of Hubby's illnesses, these two couples were the first I reached out to for prayers and support. When Hubby came home from the hospital in February, 2011, Nancy brought over a heavenly pot roast feast, a week's worth of food so we wouldn't worry about cooking. When Lou had hip replacement surgery, we were all there to lend him support. When Lou's mom was here for an extended bout of recuperation, we all worried about their little family.
At holidays, we met before Christmas to share in Christmas decorations and treats. We met after New Year's to dispose of the all the Christmas goodies in one grand potluck dinner. We met just this past Palm Sunday to share a dinner at a newly re-opened area restaurant.
Each year Tom and Nancy have helped Debby and Lou celebrate Lou's Day -- always around Valentine's Day. When Tom and Nancy's grandchildren were born, we excitedly awaited the new round of photos. When Debby, then, Lou, and finally Tom retired we cheered on their new interests in life. As I prepare for retirement this spring, each couple has been not just interested, but supportive.
We learned each others' foibles and preferences. We found that Tom loved appetizer plates. Nancy didn't much care for dessert. Lou preferred tenderloin sandwiches and spicy food. Debby drank iced coffee when she could get it and always has corned beef if it was on the menu. Everybody loved a good brunch. We shared our joy in experiencing new restaurants and finding good, cheap diner food.
Everyone was a classical music fan but Nancy also enjoyed jazz and the contemporary sound. Tom loved ballet and modern dance. Lou's taste were so eclectic that be it blue grass, rap, or contrapuntal, he loved it all. Debby thought Bach was horrible and would read a book if his music was on the program -- then stick her tongue out at us afterward.
Tom was our resident curmudgeon along with Hubby. He didn't tolerate poor service at dinner. He also had a wicked sense of humor, once he knew you well enough to share it. He could make you laugh until your sides hurt -- not with jokes but with his out-takes on the life around him. He could tell a great story and had just the perfect tone to turn his understatements into a table rolling with laughter.
While the rest of us were so liberal we nearly fell off the left side of the political spectrum, Tom managed a more middle line. His opinions were strongly felt and, though he wasn't shy about expressing them, he always left room for others to disagree. He never made you feel bad because you might hold an opinion he thought was "just this side of irresponsible."
Tom loved his wife. He adored his son. He thought the moon rose and set on his grandchildren. He treated Hubby as a treasure. He also had a welcoming hug to give you before you sat down in his company. He listened to our stories, some interesting, some very boring -- but he made us feel that each one was a lyrical gem. He made guests to his home feel incredibly welcome. He loved to garden. His spirit was generous almost to a fault.
This Sunday Tom left us. We knew he had chronic health problems but he never would share exactly what was wrong with him. He didn't like to dwell on it, we supposed, or have us feel sory for him. He didn't complain much. We knew sometimes he would leave a party early because he didn't feel well. He retired from Children's Mercy just this past fall but he claimed it was "simply time." He wanted to putter, he said.
For me, this has been an incredible shock. I'm stunned and, though it sounds like a an overstatement, heartbroken. Tom was an important part of my life. Without family here in Kansas City, honestly without family other than Wendy anywhere in this world, losing Tom has taken a piece out of my soul.
I know his wife, his son, his grandkids, his brother, his friends, his church will all be bereft without him. But on a personal level for me, no pre-concert meal, no concert will ever be quite the same without his presence. If afterlife is made up of the memories people hold in their heart, Tom will be around us for as long as my memory remains in tack.
Now I must find a way to say goodbye to a dear man and beloved friend. As my sister-in-law has taught me, it's not bloodlines but heartlines that make a difference in your life. Tom Reddig forged a line straight into my heart. I will miss him more than any words can convey.