Well, it’s official. The end of an era. Stellar seemed to know. He was extra excited to see Tom today. I timed a package to arrive this afternoon, to be sure we’d get to say goodbye on Tom’s last day. He’s been delivering UPS packages here for fifteen years–I was wrong yesterday when I wrote twenty, but hey, not that big a difference at this point. I don’t remember who was the UPS driver before Tom; it’s almost as if there was no time before Tom. We have all come to love and depend upon him over the years.
I wrote a card and signed it from me, Stellar, the ghosts of all my past dogs, and the names of half a dozen other households, including the dogs: Popis and Phoebe, Badger and Hazel, Bear and Dugan, and of course Rocky. Tom gave all the dogs cookies, and had as good a relationship with the dogs on his route as he did the people. Tom and I had a special friendship. We argued about climate chaos, presidents, and other political hot potatoes, but we strove to stay civil and land on common ground. We shared adventure tales, and tender moments around life passages. He sometimes brought me elk steaks or venison when he hunted, and trout and Kokanee when he fished. I still have the last pack of filets in the freezer. I shared jam and salsa, cakes and cupcakes, and occasionally timed my baking to be sure the cookies were still warm when he arrived. He was a staple in my life, and at the beginning of the pandemic he was the only person I saw for some months.
One day a few years ago I was driving home and had just crested the hill when I saw a weird white rectangle on the side of the road. That wasn’t here when I left…what the hell is it? did someone just put up a metal shed? To my horror I realized as I neared that it was Tom’s truck, upside down. Just beyond was an open ambulance. I pulled over and was stopped by the EMT, whom I knew. “Is he okay?! Can I go see him?” She had to ask him before she let me. He sat in the back of the ambulance getting checked out. They let me in to hug him. Someone had run him off the road and sped off. He missed a day or two of work, but was mostly just shook up. Who wouldn’t have been?
Some years earlier, Tom was instrumental in reuniting me with Desmond Turtu after his unauthorized journey across Fruitland Mesa. He pulled up at a house a couple miles west of here and the little girl came running out calling, “Guess what we found?!” She showed him the tortoise that her mother had picked up crossing the road at the top of the canyon that morning. “I know that tortoise!” he said, “That’s Rita’s tortoise!” He told them how to reach me at work. They’d been leaving messages on my home phone all day. When I arrived after work to pick up Desmond, he (Desmond) was sitting in their white-tiled foyer eating watermelon.
I forgot to remind Tom of that escapade as we chatted this afternoon. As usual, we talked about a lot of things, but there was a poignant air today, knowing it was the last time. Oh, maybe we’ll run into each other somewhere down the line, but… I told him I’m never going to order anything ever again. I doubt any of us will cherish another UPS man as we did Tom, always ready with a smile or a laugh, easy-going, accommodating, reliable. Tom loved his job, loved the route and the people, and he will also love not having it. He’ll spend his time hunting, fishing, hiking and camping with his kids and grandkids, and pursuing his bucket list, which includes, next month, “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” for the first time. May he sail through the rest of his life with ease and joy.