A Tribute to "T-Bone" Tom
Fitzmorris (The Editorial)
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"T-Bone" Tom Fitzmorris
photos copyright Al Ruscelli
on a Day of Tribute to T-Bone Tom Fitzmorris
Id like to
take some time to relate a few of my impressions of the day that was taken
to honor the man known as T-Bone Tom Fitzmorris. From those who knew Mr.
Fitzmorris well, I ask your forgiveness in advance for any lack of
knowledge of the man that may show through in my story. I am perhaps one
of the least qualified people to attempt to tell any of his story, so I
will stick to the impressions left upon me by the events of the weekend of
May 16-18, 1997. Those impressions were rather
profound, to me at least, and it is my opinion their effect upon me
represents in some way a microcosm of the larger overall effect this man
had on his community in general.
Last week --
Friday, May 16, to be exact -- I decided to make a trip over to T-Bone
Toms restaurant in Kemah. A couple of things drew me there, but it was
really one of those times when I couldn't exactly pinpoint the reason I
decided to jump into my truck and take a ride to Kemah.
I know it
had something to do with procrastination and something to do with a few
photographs I had taken several months ago -- photographs of T-Bone Toms
restaurant taken late one January evening just about the time they were
closing for the night. I had been out by the Kemah bridge taking night
shots of the Pappadeaux restaurant across the water, trying to catch that
just-perfect, multicolored reflection in the water of the channel. It was
late and I was heading home. On impulse, thinking to take a photo or two
of the restaurants neon-lit front, I pulled into the parking lot at
T-Bone Toms. The lights were still on inside, but not all of them. The
chairs had all been stacked on the tables, but I couldn't see anyone
inside and the parking lot was empty. I decided to take a chance and take
a couple of shots. I was nervous that someone might confront me for
stopping there so late. However, overcoming my reservations, I took a
couple of long exposure shots of the restaurants front and neon lights. I
didn't get arrested by the police or confronted by anyone. I simply took
my shots and went home. As far as the photos go, I was really just playing
around and didn't have any idea how they would come out. As it came about,
all of the photos turned out pretty well. It was a lucky night for photos
and I ended up with a couple of portfolio-quality shots.
along the line, it became a practice of mine to give away copies of
certain photos, ones I liked particularly well and ones I thought others
might like as well -- especially if they were photos of something that
might be particularly close to someone's heart. After I got those photos
of T-Bone Toms Restaurant developed and printed, I got it in my mind that
these might just fall in that same category. I thought to myself, Yes,
Id like to give a couple of these to the restaurant owner. But it was
one of those thoughts I was only half sure about, and since I didn't
really know anyone at T-Bone Toms, and since I didn't know how they would
receive me or my photos, I waited (OK, I procrastinated) and never brought
them copies of the photos.
When I read
the copy of The Enterprise that I had picked up early on Friday (back
again to May 16), I read the brief item on the front page concerning
T-Bone Tom Appreciation Day. I had heard two days earlier, from some
tennis player buddies of mine, that Tom Fitzmorris, A.K.A. T-Bone Tom, was
not doing well, that he had cancer and perhaps did not have long to live.
When I read the article in The Enterprise, it just confirmed what I had
already been told. It also made a little clearer the banner that I had
seen earlier in the week strapped to the fence outside of Kemah park --
the one that invited everyone to come and celebrate T-Bone Tom
Back to the
procrastination part: I knew I had waited too long to deliver the copies
of the photographs I had wanted to deliver a long time ago. Well, not that
it was absolutely too late, but it was too late to deliver them during a
time when there wasn't something more important going on, a time when I
could just say Hey, and Hi, and How do you like these?
evening I ate a late dinner, went though my photographs, picked out two of
the best shots of the restaurant, and headed over to T-Bone Toms.
haven't yet said so in a direct way, I need to say now (and I say so with
a feeling that is something akin to guilt) that I did not know Tom
Fitzmorris when I went over to his restaurant that Friday night. Although
I had heard his name many times, and almost everyone else that I knew in
the area seemed to know him, I did not know the man. That much was, and
is, my loss.
arrived at T-Bone Toms that night, I carried a copy of The Enterprise
with me so that I could explain to whomever I met there that I took
pictures for the newspaper. I thought it might serve as a good lead-in to
presenting them with the photos I had taken back in January and would also
give me the opportunity to ask permission to take photos at the T-Bone Tom
Appreciation Day event scheduled for Sunday, May 18. (After finding out
that there would be such a day in honor of the man, I knew that I should
make myself available to take at least a couple of representative shots to
put in the next edition of The Enterprise as a follow-up to the brief
announcement in the last edition.)
entering T-Bone Toms, I managed to fumble my way through an introduction
to the first employee I met at the counter, and she kindly called floor
manager Linda Hansen out to talk to me. Even though it was rather late,
nearing closing time, and though she was still busy with the remaining
customers, Linda took the time to offer me a seat and some ice tea while I
clumsily thrust my photos at her and explained that I was a part-time
photographer, etc., etc. Much to my relief, she seemed to like the photos.
I was able to relax considerably. (Thank you, Linda.)
I told Linda
about taking the night photos some months earlier. I told her I wanted
them to have copies of those photos (See? Here they are -- if you like
them, that is . . .). I told her Id like to come out to the park on
Sunday and take photos for the paper, and perhaps even stay for the day
and chronicle the entire event if it would be appropriate. My relief grew
as Linda listened patiently to everything I said, even encouraging me to
go ahead with my wish to do a follow-up story with accompanying photos.
introduced me to Bill Burkhart and they took some time to explain a little
about T-Bone Tom to me. They let me know the who, what, when, where, why,
and how of T-Bone Tom Appreciation Day. They told me a little about the
past, a little about the present, and a lot about why they were doing what
they were doing.
had been in the planning stages for about 2 to 3 weeks; a short time by
anyone's standards to accommodate the size of crowd and the agenda that
was planned for the day. Dedicated committee members can make all the
difference in the world, however, and by that weekend, all was ready.
There would be a parade, enough barbecue to feed an army, bands,
presentations, and an auction. Once the ball started rolling on this
thing, it was unstoppable. Everyone wanted in on it. Everyone. Family,
employees at the restaurant, friends, politicians, the police and fire
departments, local business folks. Everyone. After years of giving to the
community, it appeared that an opportunity was being presented by which
the community could give a little bit back to Mr. Fitzmorris.
Its a bit
hard to describe everything I saw on that Sunday. Linda had prepared me as
best she could for what to expect and what to watch for in terms of taking
a few good photos. She had also explained to me that even though this
event was technically T-Bone Tom Appreciation Day, Mr. Fitzmorris
himself would have none of it being only his day. He wanted it to
be everybody's day if he had anything to say about it. He wanted
this to be a day for the community. He wanted anyone who had differences
with anyone else in the community to lay down those differences for a
while (hmmmm . . . maybe permanently?), and come on out and be part of
all of the preparation that I saw, the people volunteering to set up in
the gazebo, under the pavilion, in the main building, the grounds being
prepared for however many people would show up that day.
hearing the approach of the parade and rushing out to the corner of 6th
St. and Hwy. 146 just in time to get a picture of the red limousine
carrying the Fitzmorrises, Tom and Carol standing right up through the
sunroof and waving to the crowd, Bill Burkhart leaning out the window with
a camcorder, perhaps even taking a picture of me taking a picture of them.
I watched son David Fitzmorris driving the red, 1960 Thunderbird
convertible close behind the car carrying his dad and mom and looked off
into the distance at the coolest line of classic cars, mixed with police
and fire department vehicles, all coming down the road and on past me, a
trail of vehicles rounding the corner to reach the final destination
behind the park. Horns were honking and lights were flashing and I was
firing my camera at the little five-to-six car segments of the parade that
I could fit into each frame. It was an awesome little stretch of time to
be standing on that corner. As the last vehicles passed me, I remember
rushing back again to the other side of the park so not to miss the
limousines arrival and the entrance of Mr. and Mrs. Fitzmorris into the
feeling good. It was a kind of high to be out there that day,
knowing and feeling everyone's anticipation of the good times to be had
and the memories to be shared as well as the memories to be made. There
would be song and dance and food and stories to tell and a thousand or
more people sharing it all. This would be a day for Kemah and the entire
area to remember.
kind of day it was. For the most part, that's the kind of day it was
supposed to be. Because we shared and talked and listened and sang and ate
and felt good.
Fitzmorris made his trip through the crowd after all the speeches were
done, the enthusiastic press that surrounded him spoke for itself.
Everyone wanted to say Hi or shake his hand or smile their encouragement
at him. We all had the chance because he gave it to us.
But -- there
was still just a little bit of an edge to it. Just that little edge of
knowing why we were all there, and knowing that every reason why we
were there was not necessarily a good or fun reason. There was that part
of the reason that we were there that had to do with necessity. The
necessity to support someone in the community who needed and deserved the
support because times right now, for him or his family, were not
was made very emphatically with the developments of the afternoon. When
Tom was taken to the hospital in the early afternoon, word spread and
everyone grew uneasy. The tragic and heartbreaking news of the later
afternoon was tough to bear. It was too soon. It couldn't happen today,
not today. We weren't ready yet, no one was ready yet, not for Tom to go,
not yet . . .
wasn't for us to say. What happened and the way it happened and the time
it happened were not for us to say.
evening, in T-Bone Toms Restaurant, I was honored to join hands with a
small group of T-Bone Toms friends. Some were employees, some were old
associates -- all were friends. We formed a circle and joined one another
in prayer for Mr. Fitzmorris, for T-Bone Tom. But for the events of the
day, I would have felt too much the outsider to even consider joining this
circle. Not for lack of desire to do so, but for fear of intruding on a
private moment, for fear of being the one outsider, the one who didn't
belong; the one who didn't really know Tom. I guess this was yet another
moment of Mr. Fitzmorris influence reaching out to touch someone (this
time, me) in a positive and caring way, because I was accepted into that
small group without so much as a disapproving glance from anyone there.
hands for perhaps five minutes while several in the circle took turns with
prayer or words of appreciation for Mr. Fitzmorris. For the second (the
third?) time that day, I felt tears coming to my eyes. My nose started
running. I wanted to raise my hand and wipe at my eyes and face, but I
didn't want to break the circle. All I could manage was a sniffle or two
and a few blinks to stem the tears. Just as I had earlier, I wondered at
the source of my emotion. I did not know Mr. Fitzmorris, at least not
personally. But, I was very quickly beginning to understand at least a
little bit about the kind of man he must have been, if through nothing
more than his effect on everyone here.
people around me spoke, I felt tempted to say a few words myself, but
again I felt out of place. Instead I lent only a silent prayer to the
words of the others: Thank you Lord. And thank you, Tom. Thank you for
letting me somehow share in this day. Thank you for letting me meet these
people, some of the most kind and caring and giving and compassionate
people it has been my privilege to meet. God bless you, Tom, for being the
man you must have been to this community and in this life. God bless you
for your continuing influence.
that, in a strange sort of way, I finally got to meet the man I never
really met. I had the honor of seeing him through the eyes of a couple of
thousand of his friends. Ill never forget that day, and Ill never forget
what I was shown about love and compassion, and how much one man, having
such an abundance of both, can come to affect those around him. Thanks
again, Tom. God bless you, and God bless your family and friends, every
one of them.
friend of mine once asked me what I thought the most important thing in
the world was. I told him that I wasn't sure. What is the most
important thing in the world? I asked him. "It's love," he said.
money, not possessions, not anything you can own, not a fancy car or a big
house. Love is the most important thing in the world. Do you know why?" he
asked. Without waiting for me to answer, he said, "Because love brings you
closer to God."
Once in a
while, I think about what that friend told me. I am thinking about it
interesting to me to see how good, loving, caring people affect the
lives of others in their communities. Sometimes the circles of effect are
fairly small, not going much beyond a tightly knit group of family and
friends. Sometimes those circles are large, stretching out well into the
community in general and even beyond. In either case, good people can have
a rather profound effect on those who get to know them, those whose lives
are touched by them.
I had the
opportunity to see a little bit of a good mans effect on his community
last weekend. I had the privilege to see the respect, admiration, and love
that can be generated for, and by, someone who is perhaps more comfortable
with giving than getting.
I guess what
it comes down to is that a few things seem a little clearer to me today;
the things that really matter in life, like the way we choose to live
our lives. The actions we choose to take and the causes we choose to
support. The way that we care about the people around us, and the depth to
which we are willing to show it. I have to ask myself, How does my
approach to life affect those around me? Am I kind when I should be kind,
do I take actions that I truly believe to be good and right actions, do I
do unto others as I would have them do unto me?
I wish right now
like I wished last Friday night that I had taken the time to go over to
the restaurant and introduce myself a few months ago when I first had the
notion. Among the smaller and least significant things, Id like to know
whether Mr. Fitzmorris would have liked my pictures of his place or not.
More importantly, I would have liked to have known him. But, I cant wish
back something that didn't happen that way. All I can do is keep plugging
along and think about the next time when want to introduce myself to
someone. Maybe next time Ill summon up the courage a little more quickly
and just go do it.
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