Oct 07 2013

Remembering Tom Shackleton

Category: familyharmonicminer @ 5:40 pm

Remembering Tom Shackleton


Tom was my big brother.   At various times growing up, he saved me from drowning, tried to explain how cars worked, tried to teach me how to box (mostly by teaching me how to duck), bragged about me to his friends (while explaining to me privately that I was a geek), wreaked terrible revenge on bigger boys in the neighborhood who picked on his little brother, caught me when I was falling off a roof, and delighted in watching episodes of the late 1950s classic horror television series, “Shock Theater,” which left me running for the door in terror.

Tom taught me that smoking was a bad idea in a very simple way.  In Roanoke, Virginia, when I was 4 or 5 and he was 9 or 10, he gave me a cigarette that he made by hollowing out a stick, inserting some dried, crushed leaves, and lighting it.  One puff made me a non-smoker for life, which, at the time, seemed like it was about to end.

Tom had a knack for machinery.  He had great confidence that he could take something apart and reassemble it, and he was right, most of the time.  I’m not sure my sister’s toy baby carriage was ever quite the same, although Mary Lou eventually forgave him.  He seemed to be able to figure out how cars worked without motor manuals or instructions, and couldn’t understand how his little brother could be “book smart” and not intuitively grasp the mysteries of crank shafts, valve timing and cams.  At the age of 15 or so, if memory serves, he bought an old junker car for $75 or so (it had to be towed to our drive way), and worked on it till it ran.  I don’t remember where he got the necessary parts, but since he was still too young for a driver’s license, he drove it up and down our driveway….  And that included the vegetable garden, off season, which soon became an unofficial, and unpaved, part of our family raceway.  I mean, driveway.

At the age of 9 or so, I was amazed that he could make the old piece of junk actually run….  It all seemed like some sort of mechanical wizardry to me.  Tom didn’t seem to care much for traditional school at the time, but then appeared to break the laws of thermodynamics in making junk do something useful.

Tom loved dogs.  The dogs that our family had were brought home by Tom, sometimes surreptitiously.  First there was Sparky, whose death from being hit by a car left Tom inconsolable for at least a couple of weeks.  Not long after that, Tom found a little white puppy somewhere, named her Trixie, and snuck her home zipped into his jacket.  My folks didn’t have the heart to say no.

Tom had something of a reputation in Auburn, Indiana, as someone with whom it was unwise to get into a fight.  Shortly after Tom enlisted in the Army in 1965 or so, we moved to Sugar Creek, Missouri.  We kept moving west, and I graduated from high school in Arizona.   When I went to college, in Anderson, Indiana, about 100 miles from Auburn, a young man whom I had known in junior high in Auburn asked me if I was related to Tom Shackleton, whose reputation as a fearsome warrior was apparently still intact in northern Indiana, and spreading.  I proudly said that he was my brother, and tried to look really tough and steely eyed.

My mom was pretty brave when Tom went to Vietnam, but when she thought no one was looking, she’d cry sometimes with worry.   Sometimes I’d come home from school and catch her wiping her eyes, trying to look cheerful.  He wrote some letters home while he was there, but I think our folks had a hard time judging how he was dealing with the experience.  After some pretty close calls, he came home in one piece, and I’m pretty sure our parents thought they’d simply prayed him back home safely.

When Tom introduced us all to Teresa, we had no doubt that he was “marrying up.”  He simply adored her, and seemed to know that he was a very, very lucky man.  Somehow, she knew how to handle him.  He was tough.  She was tougher, somehow, while being very gentle and warm.  Everyone in my family loved Teresa, and approved of Tom’s good judgment in marrying her.

Sometime in around 1979 – I’m not sure exactly – Tom and Teresa visited Phoenix, Arizona, where our parents lived, at the same time as I did.   That was the first time I got to meet their son Brad, who was very young (and who says he remembers the meeting, and that I still had red hair).

When I would see Tom in the decades since, it seemed to me that he really, really loved Teresa, Brad, dogs, and his friends….  Possibly in that order.  He always had a dog, frequently multiple dogs, and the family obviously really enjoyed them.  He had a little dog whose mission in life was to terminate empty plastic milk jugs with great prejudice, and Tom’s evident joy in the tiny beast was great fun to watch.

Tom was a mixture of toughness, challenge and tenderness.  As brothers do, we fought sometimes, and didn’t see eye to eye on a great many matters, but we were each proud of the other’s accomplishments.  When I came to visit after Teresa passed, we talked late into the night, and I was struck by how difficult it was going to be for him to go on without her to take care of, and to take care of him.

Tom’s legacy is Brad and his grandsons.  He was immensely proud of them, and considered them the greatest accomplishment of his life, along with his marriage to Teresa.

I think he was right on all points.

Phil Shackleton, brother of Tom Shackleton, Oct 1, 2013, Glendora, California


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