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Tom’s stuff

June 17, 2015

Mike Fiedler

June 16, 2015

Tom died in late August or early September, 1997. Nobody knew when he died because his body laid on his kitchen floor for weeks, probably, before Mark Fryberger found it. Our son Todd told me on the phone that the body was unrecognizable, so it shouldn’t be kept for his daughter Hannah to see. That’s when I asked him if it were possible that it wasn’t Tom’s — and Todd said “no.”
Following Tom’s death events are hard to sort. The smell at Tom’s was cloying and overpowering. On the way back to Billings the next week the smell of death stayed with a photo album in the back of our car. At Tom’s we embraced the odor, cooking potatoes and roasting a turkey in Tom’s oven, feeding everyone. Not quite everyone. Some people didn’t want to go to the house. I remember Mike Fiedler dropped a piece of food on the floor where Tom died but quickly picked it up and put it back on his plate. I have a photograph of Mike standing at the stove right then. We put a couple of small rugs on the floor to cover the imprint of Tom’s body. I also took a picture of a part of the linoleum on Tom’s floor in his kitchen where he had glued the linoleum back in a mosaic pattern. You judge if it looks lovely. It impressed me.

Voluntary simplicity in living. Tom was a practicing Zen Buddhist. He self-treated his schizophrenia with daily meditation. And nicotine. Smoked for years, chewed a mixture of Skoal and Copenhagen. Was proud he quit smoking. Had used some of the pages of his grandfather Emil’s 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica for tobacco paper.
After we got most of Tom’s possessions from the house I found a rolled up plan for the clavichord—a blueprint—on his water heater in a small cabinet in his bathroom. His bathtub, incidentally, still had water. I believe Tom saved his gray water for his garden and other purposes. He washed his clothes in his bathtub, simply agitating the clothes with laundry soap, then rinsing, then wringing, then hanging on the line. I recall that he and Dana washed clothes that way back in the early ‘70s. I assume Tom sat on the edge of the tub when he did his laundry. Tom always kept a saucepan near the tub for rinsing his hair.

Tom's backyard

We put Tom’s possessions into the rented truck for Hannah and Jason, hooked up the old volkswagen bug behind to be towed. A pile of boards had accumulated near the back door, so we hauled them over by the garden and set them on fire with gas from Tom’s mower. Hannah had originally planned to burn Tom’s wooden bed, but I talked her out of it. (I had been impressed by the craftsmanship and gave it to Fiedler, who said he would treasure it.)
When I heard a distant siren I wondered at the grief we felt. It sounded mournful. But the sound got closer and a fire truck pulled up. Also, the police. None of us there lived in Missoula, so we didn’t know why. Not at first.

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