The LuLac Edition #2354, February 9th, 2013
ALL YOU NEED IS “TOM”
Yesterday afternoon I found out about the passing of a person I grew up with in the Junction section of Pittston. Tommy Garretson was three years older than us and mentally challenged. He wasn’t into sports in the sandlot at the park off Cliff Street but could usually be heard critiquing us as he sped by on his bike.
As we became aware of pop culture, so did young Mr. Garretson. The indelible reach of Television back then had no discrimination as to who it reached and how it touched them. Kids were impressionable. Our neighborhood was no exception. It just reached us in various degrees.
When the “Tarzan” movies were on TV, Tom would go through the neighborhood doing a yell that might make Johnny Weissmuller green with envy. When Batman came on the scene, Tommy donned a white towel and rode that bike screaming the theme. The Beatles “She Loves You” gave him the opportunity to add to his repertoire. As he walked somewhere with his mother Lulu and father Denny, he belt out the lyrics to “She Loves You”. (By the way, it was 49 years ago tonight that the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan).
My wife asked me today whether we ever made fun of Tommy in the neighborhood. I’m sure people might have but not in our circle because he could do things we were dying to do. Our parents told us that he could do it because he was “special”. So instead of making fun of him, I think we elevated him to a legendary neighborhood character. When we would get together years later, he always came up in our conversations. Fondly.
As we grew older, Tommy was still a presence in the neighborhood. But he became much bigger and stronger than us. Any kid with sense knew that it was time to navigate this relationship carefully. One time I was coming out of Draus’ Variety Store and Tommy pulled up on his bike. He was in a sour mood because someone had made fun of him singing the newest Beatle song, “All You Need Is Love” My sidekick that day, Jerry Fitzpatrick (a diminutive smartass who had the uncanny skills to avoid any physical confrontation) said, “Change the song. Say to them, “All You Need is Tom”. He thought about it a while and then rode away on the bike singing “All you need is Tom”.
Years later, (about 1989) I saw Tommy on Public Square, thin, medicated I think, and sad. Or maybe I was sad thinking back to those days as I saw us as adults. I came up to him and said, “Junction”. He smiled and said, “Junction”. He then called me Fitzie but I never corrected him. It was the last time I saw him but certainly not the last time I mentioned his name.
When my friend Bruce Prandy e mailed me yesterday that he had died, the first thing I thought of was those Beatles songs. And as anyone will tell you, with the Beatles, “All You Need Is Love” or in our case, “All You Needed was Tom”. He was 61 and living in Assisted Living. He’ll was buried at St. Mary’s Help of Christian Cemetery on Chapel Street in the Junction. About a stone’s throw away from where he rode that bike and sang those songs.