In Memory of Tom

I live in an old section of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  When I hear a loud noise in the night, I can’t be sure whether it is fireworks or gunshots.  Some say it is a declining neighborhood, but . . . one day a paper sign appeared on the boarded up building across the street – “Coming Soon, Tom’s Pizza.”

Months went by.  Walking past the building, heaps of pigeon poop were collecting outside the front door.  There were some signs of rehabbing, as workers came and went from the building, but not much progress could be detected.  The windows were blocked off.  I didn’t expect much.

Then, one day in early January, 2011, the lights were on in the building.  A cardboard “open” sign appeared.  Coming home late from work about a week later, I stopped in to sample the goods and check out the rehab.

To my surprise, the interior was clean and inviting.  There were pictures on the walls, red and white checkered tablecloths, and attractive window treatments.  I walked across to my house with a delicious-smelling pizza, which my family snarffed down eagerly.

The restaurant served pizza, chicken and sandwiches and I stopped frequently after a long day’s work.  I got to know Tom, the pizza chef and proprietor.  He was a jovial man, middle aged, tall and robust.  He once told me that his pizzas were like his babies, going out into the world.  Tom  and Tom’s pizza’s were fast becoming a welcome neighborhood fixture.

Then one evening the familiar lights did not go on at Tom’s Pizza.  Tom’s night off?  No.  The restaurant was closed because Tom, a single dad, had lost his daughter, his only child.

Well, the months went by.  Come spring Tom could be seen planting red and white flowers in flower boxes that now adorned the windows.  Tom proudly displayed a huge American flag outside the door.

One evening in June I sat on my balcony and watched as pizza after pizza left Tom’s, some being loaded into cars and some being walked to their destinations maybe blocks away along the sidewalks.  The scene reminded me of a Normal Rockwell painting.  Before summer’s end, the local alderman was presenting Tom with an award for bringing curb appeal to the neighborhood.  Tom was enriching the neighborhood and making countless friends.

Then one afternoon I stopped in to treat myself to lunch.  Tom was leaning on the counter and did not look well.  He told me that he often did not feel well, and was going in for a stress test the next day.

Many ambulances pass by my house day after day, but this day it stopped at Tom’s Pizza.  Tom was taken to a local hospital after suffering a heart attack.  As the days went by, Tom’s employees kept the neighborhood posted about Tom’s condition.  There were signs of hope.  The neighborhood took up a collection and sent a beautiful floral arrangement and a card signed by many.

A few weeks later Tom lost his battle and passed away.  The restaurant remains open, managed by Tom’s family.  Tom brought the neighborhood hope and a bright countenance.  He is missed beyond words.

I never had a conversation with Tom regarding his beliefs.  Perhaps Tom’s actions spoke for themselves.  Perhaps the in-dwelling Christ guided Tom and brought such wealth to the neighborhood through him.

Tom’s story reminds me that our actions have an effect on so many others.  I digress from my usual posts.  Yet, through Tom, I am better “understanding the mission of Jesus.”

W.S.

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