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Sunday, September 29, 2013

One Less Color


To paraphrase my friend, Alison: when a loved one dies, though life does go on, it seems to go on with one less color.

Tommy Clewley may not have been a primary color in my life. He was the friend of a friend who became a friend. So, he was more a shade where colors overlap - not quite blue, not quite green – but an integral part of my spectrum nonetheless. His sudden disappearance from that palette reminds me how often I take the colors of my life for granted.

I have probably known Tommy since childhood. The Clewleys were part of my Aunt Renee’s extended Bridesburg family. Reen’s door was always open, so a holiday party wasn’t really a party without half the neighborhood dropping by. But my first clear memory of Tommy is Christmas 1977, in Aunt Renee’s basement “rec room,” as he tried to teach my cousins Eileen and Marianne how to disco dance. His exuberance was entertaining and infectious. Since then, every time I hear the soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever” or anything by Donna Summer, that image of Tommy immediately comes to mind.

Then there were the late night runs to Newark Airport in the 80’s, to catch the $99 People Express flights to Florida. Tommy, Marianne, a variety of friends, and I spent quite a few long weekends in Flagler Beach, quaffing “Hallelujah Cocktails” at the Monk’s Vineyard and recuperating the next day on the beach. Tommy had a way of evoking laughter in even the most mundane moments.

He could also laugh at himself. One of my favorite malapropisms came as Tommy described the up-and-down weight seesaw of a certain Hollywood celebrity. With almost theatrical gravity, he remarked, “I am sure (the star) is bulge-emic.” In an instant, he realized his mistake –and its aptness –and burst into laughter. How could we not laugh with him?

In the 90’s, life got serious. We all had important jobs. I moved to Cape May. I only saw Tommy at the usual holiday parties, celebrations and solemnities that make up the social calendars of busy adults. And, because I had known Tommy since childhood, I don’t think I ever realized just how important – and how loved- he had become.

That is, until his retirement party on August 17. The throng of people in the photograph is a testimony to Tom’s good nature, generosity and love of life.

Who knew we would all meet again so soon – September 14, 2013 – to pay a more solemn tribute?

I heave a sigh as I write this. I know my life will go on. I know as I grow older there will be more farewells like this. Tommy’s death reminds me just how important it is to live –and appreciate – life to its fullest. Today really is all I have.

I know, too, that with time, the brightness will come back to my rainbow.  

But there will be one less color.        


  1. Mary, your tribute makes me want to know Tommy, a beautiful tribute. Sounds like not just you, but many lost a primary color.

    1. Thanks. Carol! Another opportunity to assess where I am in life. Even losses like these have a gift in them.

  2. What a beautiful tribute Mary. How lucky Tommy is to have someone to put such beautiful words to a memory. My deepest sympathy

    1. Thanks, Jacquie! A reminder to treasure all of my loved ones.

    2. Mary, Thanks for telling Tommy's story; I'm sad for your loss. As you stated to Jacqui, this post reminds me to appreciate those people in our lives who bring joy and goodness and memories of happy times past. Yes, the grief wanes over time, replaced by an occasional smile as you recall those Tommy moments -- doing the Hustle, soaking in the Florida sun, remembering the love at his retirement party. It's sad that he's gone, but as long as you have those memories, the colors are somehow a little brighter, aren't they?

  3. Mary, I loved reading your memories of Tommy, especially hopping on flights to Florida in the 80s. Sounds like fun! Yesterday, I witnessed a new life entering the world. Both birth and death remind me of the beauty, fragility, and mystery of life. With Baby Caroline, I feel that my life has gained another color.