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In Memoriam: Tommy Joe Collard

Last night, the last of my seven siblings lost his battle with
cancer. I am sure I did some of my grieving in advance, as
we sometimes do when the patient has cancer, but to have
an event like this occur just days before an article is due is
not conducive to the task at hand.
A couple times today I found myself laughing out loud as I
recalled our fun times and the antics of all eight of us
together in the late thirties and forties. It almost seemed
sacrilegious to be laughing on such a sad day.
As a group we were known as the Collard kids, and no one
messed with a Collard kid, especially if our dog was with
us. Little Tommy Joe was the baby of the family. He tagged
along with his big brothers, who protected him so faithfully I
don’t think he ever learned or wanted to learn to fight. He
was the ever smiling, ever gentle one of the family. The
Collard kids were never violent, but together we carried a
big stick.
I was the oldest, and as the oldest I was a sort of mama for
him, until I was fifteen and left for boarding school. That
morning I invited him to give me a hug and kiss and the
little four-year-old Tommy Joe said, “No. I don’t like cha no
more cuz you’re going away.”
Those became our parting words through the years. It’s
what I said to him as he hopped on a plane to join the US
Navy. But this past year we changed it to “I like cha now.”
We all loved spaghetti. I can still hear the slurping sounds
as eight little mouths sucked in the strings, leaving the red
sauce circled around our lips until we retrieved it with our
tongues. Tommy always had a bit of sauce on his brow, in
his hair and down his chin. He delighted in causing the rest
of us to burst into laughter. Tom was always like that, but in
quiet, subtle ways.
I never thought I would be the last of the clan to arrive in
eternal life. I can hear it now. St Peter, “Oh no, not another
Collard kid,” and I will reply, “There’s a whole new
generation of Collards behind me. Now, can you direct me
to Starlight Bingo Hall?”

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