Happy Lamdomgs!

MrTomHarrisonI’m not likely to ever meet anyone again quite like Mr. Tom Harrison.

The Harrisons lived next door to us on Old Baltimore Road in Maryland. I recall little about his wife Phoebe as she passed away a short time after we arrived in Olney.

Mr. Harrison lived in a sprawling colonial overrun with plants and books. There was an observatory in his backyard that housed a telescope. He often invited my brother and I over to peek through it and observe the stars. One night we even got to see a comet.

After his wife died, he and my parents became good friends. Mr. Harrison was a former RAF pilot. He was tall, with thick white hair and a lovely, craggy, angular face (pictured at left with Mom in the early ’70s). I was certain that in his time he must have made a dashing pilot.

But I actually got to know Mr. Harrison through letters he sent our family after we left Maryland in 1971. Three addressed to me are extant, with the first on June 2, 1978, after I’d invited him to my high school graduation.

In that letter he thanked me for writing and extended his congratulations. Then he commented about an error in the commencement notice: “Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, as it says somewhere in the Anglican prayerbook.”

“If you don’t mind a word of advice from an old codger more than sixty years your senior,” he wrote, after noting that I’d be starting college in the fall, “remember that before you are twenty-five you must establish a character that will serve you all your life. You don’t need to look very far for an example. Try your mother and father. You’ll do if you can keep up with their standards.”

There’s a lingering sense of loneliness to the closing of his first letter: “I have health, a place to sleep, enough food, a garden to cultivate and nearly enough room for my books. What else could I desire? Well, I’d like to see you all again some times.”

Two other letters followed in 1982, just months before I was to leave for London to live with Abigail, my Scottish girlfriend at the time. He states in the letter that he’d just turned 82 (so I’m wondering if he was a very young pilot in the First World War, or if he was in the Second World War) and proceeded to give me advice on becoming a writer. “Thomas Carlyle wrote that the best University is a library of books. H.G. Wells had no time for Universities. Galsworthy was trained to be a lawyer…”

He recommended I read Stevenson’s Virginibus Puerisque, and gave tips on things to do and places to see in Britain.

Four single-spaced typewritten pages later he closed, writing, “A word to your father and mother. The Greeks had three words for Love, one of which was eros. When I say that I love you, exclude eros but emphasize the other two.” In soft lead pencil he signed it: “Tommy.”

The letters were thoughtful, painstakingly well-written, with corrections in the margins as needed.

So I thought it strange that in his last letter to me, dated March 25, 1982, he wished me well on my trip to England and signed off with “Happy lamdomgs!”

It’s likely he meant “Happy landings!” but for the longest time I thought it was some mysterious Anglo catchphrase, like Cockney rhyming slang or street banter entirely unfamiliar to me.

I don’t know when Mr. Harrison went to join his beloved wife, but I often think of him.

I’ll never forget his kindnesses to our family, and his eagerness to help a neighbor kid who desired to become a writer.

~ by completelyinthedark on December 5, 2010.

One Response to “Happy Lamdomgs!”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Been thinking about past mentors lately and Mr. Harrison was probably my first, that is, along with Mom and Dad. All-new post next Friday, March 6! Cheers, Mike


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