Uncle, we laid you to rest today and you will be missed. Family and friends gathered with granny, granddaddy and mom nearby. There were orchids and palms just for you. The Navy honored you with an unwavering and beautiful playing of Taps. The flag you loved was draped upon your coffin. I will keep it safe and close just as I do the memories you helped make .
Your good friend Ken wrote the following to me to share with our family and I think it was a perfect story of the your spirit, humor, and will....
From Ken: Tom was a treasured friend. Please share my tribute with his fmily.Remembering Dr. Tom Thomas Graves
When I first saw him, he was bent over a walker and moving slowly, turning his head to look from side to side. His grey beard and unruly hair projected dignity and a life fully lived. It was interesting that although “Tommy” had aged and his appearance was completely different, he still looked the same.
He was last to come down the ramp. The fatigue of several hours in a crowded airplane, then pushing a walker the length of a long airport corridor clearly showed in his demeanor. When his eyes met mine, I pointed the way guys do and he pointed back making a connection that bridged fifty years. A smile formed that lit up not only his face, but the whole terminal. Seeing the tension visibly leave him, I knew that the next couple of weeks were going to be unforgettable.
Back at Manatee High School where we met, we had been friendly, but not close friends. We always spoke and sometimes would talk for a few minutes. But he was one of those that I remembered were welcoming when I first moved from a small school to one that had as many people as my entire hometown. In a group He was always quick with his wit and his intelligence was obvious. But as it always does, time moved on and so did we.
Then one day - and it seems like only yesterday – out of the blue, he responded to something I had posted on Facebook. I do not remember what it was about, but most likely the subject was the nature of the Pacific Northwest. Over the next couple of years, he would write of his love for the Cascade Mountains and a longing to return. However, he would also go on and on and on with amazing passion and the tenacity of a badger about any political subject that was mentioned by others on the forum.
My wife Sharon had sort of followed along with our exchanges and took note of what seemed to be his priority on a “bucket list”. She asked why I did not invite him out and take him on one of my forays. So, I got his phone number and called him. Speaking with someone you have not spoken with or even seen in over fifty years is surreal, so we talked for a minute about how we each were and exchanged the usual pleasantries. Just sort of reestablishing a connection that had been broken a lifetime ago.
When I got around to saying that I had called to invite him to our home and on a trip into the forests of the Cascade Mountains, his silence was profound. If you knew Tom, you know that silence was not his long suit. Now, here he was making his way down the concourse to an adventure that had no itinerary other than to go wherever the wind blew, the sun shone, lakes sparkled like diamonds and volcanoes pierced the sky.
We spent the night at our home in the mountains northeast of Spokane where he got to meet Sharon. They hit it off immediately and talked easily. Tom seemed at ease. Next morning, we put his stuff into our small RV trailer, we climbed into my pickup and started on the five-hour drive to White Pass to set up a base camp next to a lake for our explorations.
Since he exhibited an air of independence, I told him that I would not treat him like an invalid, but that if he needed me to help with mobility or any thing else, he should just tell me in plain language. He said he appreciated the openness and that we had a deal. He also said that although my truck was built for logging roads and it was a bit of an effort for him, he would like to try loading and unloading his walker and climbing in on his own.
We visited Mount St. Helens where I was able to introduce him to Gary Rosenquist, the photographer who took the famous photos of the eruption in 1981. Gary was gracious and signed a copy of “Mount St. Helens – The Story Behind the Scenery” for him. Tom was over the moon at this. Later that day, we had a great laugh when he discovered several of my photos in the same book.
We made a day trip to Mt. Rainier where he was able to use his walker to travel several of the paved or compacted gravel trails. We bought T-shirts, sweatshirts and a couple of postcards. Along one of the trails in the meadows near the visitor center, there are some stairs. I carried the walker down the stairs and was just going back to be ready to assist him if needed. He was standing at the top contemplating the steps when an attractive woman smiled at him and offered her arm. His smile was so big that we would not have needed the sun for light. When they reached his walker, she gave him a big hug and caught my eye. We both grinned and nodded then she walked away still smiling.
On our way back to the pickup, neither of us spoke but Tom was obviously in seventh heaven. It was all I could do to not laugh. She sure made our day.
We made a slow drive around Paradise Valley where we stopped to listen to marmots whistling and watched wildflowers blowing in the breeze. Then it was back to camp for an evening sitting around a campfire by the lake. During the tour around the valley Tom left his walker in the truck most of the time. He seemed to have become stronger and his bearing was noticeably more positive.
During the evenings at camp, he told me of his life. He was sad about several things in his life but had pride in his accomplishments as a Doctor. He spoke of family and friends and the trials of being homeless. Over the course of our adventure his spirit seemed to feed on the environment. We would talk about what to see the next day and relive the experiences of the trip so far. Our military experiences were of interest to him and I told some of mine, but we had widely different times even though we served in the same era.
Then we left the “west side” and went east to Mount Adams and Takh Lakh. We made a trip to Trout Lake where Sharon grew up where we had spent many great days while getting to know each other. It was during this time that Tom mentioned he had always wanted to hike and camp in wilderness areas and how he regretted never having even been in one, much less camped out there. I knew of a place where an official wilderness boundary is not far off an old muddy logging road. We took a four-wheel drive day on a bumpy, winding, rutted dirt path through the timber to get there.
When I saw the orange colored signs nailed to trees specifying “Wilderness Boundary” citing the law and declaring it off limits to motorized travel, we stopped. Tom became animated and got out of the truck way too fast, but keeping his feet, he pushed through waist high rhododendron and huckleberry shrubs then went behind one of the trees to look back from inside the wilderness. Not much in the great scheme of things, but he had realized one of his life’s dreams. - One of my favorite life memories. -
The next morning, we headed up to Takh Lakh where we could be near the base of Mount Adams. A storm was moving in, so we got to watch lightning dance across the face of the mountain. Several bolts hit trees not too far from us. Again, I was surprised when he stood and watched with me without heading for cover. I told him that if he felt tingling in his hair to put his ankles together and hunker down in a squat while wrapping his arms around his knees. He laughed and said, “That’s not happening!” I was just back to that spot and sent him a tagged photo and message about it on June 21. I hope he saw the photo and got to read the post.
We made it back to Knotkwyta Forest with a day to spare for unwinding and preparing for his flight home. He sat quietly in a rocking chair on the front porch and listened to rain falling on the metal roof. He appeared much more peaceful now, although I could tell he still had some internal noise he was dealing with. When we got to the airport and we shook hands, he sighed and quietly said, “Thank you.” On his way up the concourse he pushed his walker but was not leaning heavily on it the way he had when he first arrived.
Doctor Tom, I hope you have found the trail through Paradise Valley and are walking it with a strong happy stride.