Don’t overlook your friends

By Matt Clayton - Guest columnist

I recently ran across a reminder about a “friend anniversary” on Facebook. The notice indicated I became friends with Tom Maynard on Feb. 25, 2012. I’m sure thankful our friendship extended far beyond the date noted on the social page, and sincerely appreciate the wonderful times we shared at Tom and Rita’s place on Stangel road. I’ll never forget how we first met.

I’m not positive about the year, but I had a day off work and stopped by Tom’s house expecting to find Victor (Vic) Stangel, who previously lived there and sold fruit from an orchard he maintained on the property. It was probably in the mid 1990s. To my surprise, Vic had sold his place to Tom and his wife, Rita. I stopped in and checked in to see if Mr. Stangel had any apples to sell as I had been a regular customer over the years but had not been there for quite some time. Tom introduced himself, explained the change in ownership and told me Mr. Stangel had moved into Sidney as the home-place had become too much for him to maintain. After getting to know each other through some mutual conversation, Tom said, “Well … I don’t have any apples for sale … but you can have all the apples you can haul out of here for free, how does that sound?” … I heartily accepted Tom’s offer but told him I would have to go get a box and come back as I had nothing to put the apples in. “No problem,” he said, ‘I’ve got a ton of old apple crates out there in the barn.” So, we walked to the barn and he dug out a few old apple crates; we filled them up with a variety of nice apples.

After getting the apples loaded up, Tom took me on a tour of the property. We had much in common concerning our love for history, raising animals, gardening and a genuine love to be and work outside. He showed me a place near the pasture that had once been part of an old feeder canal that led to the village of Lockington which lie to the southwest as the crow flies. He told me about his experience working with a prize work-horse and then showed me his collection of chickens, a few head of cattle and sheep, and a couple of goats. Time passed quickly as we chatted sharing stories about the Civil War-era as we sat in the shade of a big tree by his house. Eventually we ran out of iced tea and Tom said he had to get ready for work. He worked second shift at Honda and the afternoon had slipped away with little notice of the time while we talked. I hated to leave but I too had other obligations.

As I got into my van and started out the driveway, Tom said “come back” and waved goodbye with a big grin on his face. As I pulled away from the house I was reminded of Bogart’s last line in his classic film “Casablanca” where he said “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” … and so it was.

Time passed and our friendship grew. I made numerous trips to visit Tom and sometimes took my wife Darlene and our daughters along and he did his best to entertain the kids spoiling them with a variety of treats. Tom’s wife Rita (Meyer) was also a gem, and we always felt welcome at their home. I once stopped with my father in tow and Rita went to the trouble to make him a cup of coffee to go along with the cookies she offered and encouraged us to stay and chat a while. Great times, precious memories.

I remember one time Tom called me up and invited us to come see some recently acquired chickens, a rare breed called “Buckeyes.” I noted the excitement in his voice and told my daughters to get ready for a drive. Upon seeing the young birds, Christine and Sarah fell in love, and their admiration led Tom to give up four of them to add to their miniature flock — The girls would not have been happier with a sack of gold coins and promptly named their new birds, Peanut, Chicory, Bluebell and Carmel. The girls had a ball raising those birds, they soon became a part of our family and followed the girls around like a lost pups.

Years passed quickly, the chickens grew older, and our daughters grew up. Seasons changed the landscape of life and a change in activities on both sides of the fence saw us spending less and less time with Tom and Rita. Yes, we still stopped by on occasion, but changes in life resulted in us seeing little of each other compared to years past. I had not seen Tom for quite a long time and ran into him a few of times when he stopped by to pick up a few things at the local big-box store where I was employed for a while. My unusual swing-shift work routine was not very compatible with Tom’s schedule so about the only time I saw him was when he stopped in to shop. Over time I noticed slight gradual changes in his appearance. Tom looked tired, he appeared to have aged some as we all do but his countenance was not what I was used to, he was not the same ole happy go lucky guy; I suspected something was amiss. One day we talked as I helped him find what he was looking for; told me he had been ill but did not go into the details and I did not pry as he seemed reluctant to talk about it; he said “it was no big deal.” He then quickly changed the subject, referring to my daughters he asked, “How’s my girls doing?” I replied they were doing fine and though it was quite old, that we still had one of the Buckeye hens he gave to them years ago. After completing his shopping, Tom bid me a fond adieu; with his signature grin, he offered a firm handshake and said I’ll be back; Tom did not come back to the store and I never saw him again.

As is so often the case, time slips by unnoticed as we trudge along on the treadmill of life; all too soon one day runs into the next and days add up to weeks and months and eventually become years. It’s dreadfully easy to get caught up in the less valuable aspects of life and forget the necessity to check in on our family members, friends and neighbors who may be in want of some much needed company or just desire someone lend a hand with something they can no longer handle on their own. What I did not know the last time I talked to my friend Tom, was that he was fighting for his life; he had developed cancer and that was the reason for the changes I noticed about him. Without our realization Tom passed away on March 27, 2014. Sadly we were out of state and not only missed his funeral services, but it was quite some time before we learned of his death. True we were not life-long pals or bosom buddies who shared the most intimate details of our inner being, but we were good friends, and learning that he passed on was heartbreaking. He is truly missed to this day.

Friendship is priceless. True friends are hard to find and the value of friendship lives on long after we depart this world. All things considered we should all be a lot more thankful for our friends and let them know that sincerely and often. The clock is ticking. …

By Matt Clayton

Guest columnist

The writer, who resides in Sidney, is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.

The writer, who resides in Sidney, is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.