"Neighbor": My Friend, Legend, And Living Folklore
TOM WAS AN EXCELLENT WORKER
Some years ago, a wise man, writer, and friend told me that sometimes, a story can be much better if it's short and to the point. I think that now I will put his advice into motion. I want this story to be one that I don't have to say a lot to say anything.
His real name was Tom Williams. His friends lovingly called him, "neighbor," and for good reason. Every time that Williams would see people both near and far, he would yell to the top of his lungs, "Hey, neighbor" and that stuck with him. Williams was a good neighbor because he made friends into neighbors very easy.
Tom stood seven foot tall. And weighed a grand total of 130 pounds with boots and coveralls. And his yellow hardhat. Year around, Tom was known for wearing his trademark Carhartt, heavy-duty coveralls, work boots, and patented yellow hard hat. I am not jesting. In sweltering summer temperatures that reached into the 90's, Tom swore by his Carhartt coveralls. And in winter, the same wardrobe. Tom was never seen in anything but his Carhartt coveralls, boots, and yellow hard hat. No one knew why he chose to dress this way. I suppose that everyone figured that it was Tom's business how he dressed.
Tom walked everywhere he went. He never drove or owned an automobile of any type. He lived about ten miles out of Hamilton and would start walking to work, at the City of Hamilton (Alabama), Sanitation Department, around 3:30 a.m. in order to not miss his place on the city garbage truck. This was always a mystery to everyone how Tom knew what time it was because he didn't know how to tell time, read, or do math problems. Tom was that way and no one bothered to ask why.
Many times, Tom would reach the City of Hamilton long before his shift began at 6:30 a.m. and to pass the time, he would lay back against the wall of one of our hardware stores on main street and take a nap, but he always woke in plenty of time to get on the garbage truck. Tom, when he wasn't napping, did odd jobs for local merchants such was washing off the service area for our then-Amoco gas station or empty the ashes from the gigantic incinerator from the local Food Warehouse grocery store in downtown Hamilton. Tom was never idle--always busy at some job that no one else would do. Or have. That was Tom's way.
As time went by, and Tom Williams became more than a local legend, but true-blue, card-carrying slice of American folklore, there was several myths that surfaced about Tom. One being that he always took lunch at our local Hardee's where he only asked for a regular hamburger, just meat, no onions, pickles and a Coca Cola without ice. And the Hardee's employees always honored Tom's wishes. Without question.
It was rumored, but never proven that Tom would take a weekly bath in the Buttahatchee River that ran near his home place. In the summer, this wouldn't be a point of controversy, but it was said that Tom bathed in the river in winter as well. Tom was doing something right in his diet, work ethic, moral stance and bathing rituals, because no one ever knew of Tom having any disease or the slightest head cold. A friend of mine told someone in the office where we both worked that he would love to secure a government grant and do a case study on Tom to see what made him tick. Wouldn't that be one for the Discovery Channel?
One of my favorite myths about Tom was something Tom allegedly told a friend of mine. Tom said to my friend that if (my friend) could come to Tom's house and lift the fifty-five gallon drum full of quarters, dimes and nickels, that Tom would give all of the money to my friend. My friend took Tom up on his challenge and sure enough, there sat a black fifty-five gallon drum full of quarters, dimes and nickels--just sitting unguarded out in his backyard. Tom wasn't afraid of being robbed because of Tom's savage looks, no self-respecting thief would dare trifle with Tom's property. Fact is, one of our local landmarks, a mansion once occupied by State Representative, Rankin Fite, a local man whose power in the Alabama Legislature was storied, was being renovated. The city couldn't afford a private security guard, so they asked Tom if he would like to live in the Fite mansion for free while the renovation was being completed. Tom agreed. Tom was that way. Agreeable almost to a fault.
Tom has long since retired from the City of Hamilton Sanitation Department and even how he retired is something of color. Tom told a mutual friend that, "When it's over for me, I'm gonna go inside the city hall, turn in my notice and get my last check," and he did just that--walked into the Hamilton City Hall and turned in his retirement notice. But as a favor to his now-former employer, he stays overnight in the City Shop where all the city vehicles are repaired and serviced. No need for a security guard when Tom is around.
And no need to look for a better friend when Tom was around. He fit that bill to perfection. And then some.
Shame that there aren't more Tom's in our world.