There are about 5,000 tigers left in the wild on this planet and last week we lost another one….
As the oldest of the O’Brien Siblings I have always felt that I should have been the first to shuffle off. But since when did Timmy ever listen to me? (Besides, I think the Celestial Repo Men are planning to take me away on the “un-installment plan” one piece at a time; that “mortal coil” will be the last part to be towed away…..)
There are people who engage in extreme sports. For Timmy, it was Extreme Life. For good or ill, he tested the limits of what he could do and what he could get away with. Eventually, and unfortunately, some of that led to the rest of us losing him altogether too soon. It weakened his heart, which was already working overtime with the love he shared with just about everyone.
And as much Love as he showed towards his very extended family and his even larger network of friends in a variety of special interest groups – fellow postal warriors, snowmobile adventurers, VW Bug aficionados, water skiers, SJS 73 classmates, ELP lovers, and Broncos fanatics – he had an inexhaustible wellspring of affection for the four-footed furries of the world. (Sorry, fishies. You got the hook.)
Over the years he had his special furever friends – the first Jackie, later his own Jackie, his cats Tarkus and Karn Evil 9 first, and then Eddie whom he rescued when Eddie wandered into his yard and liked that tiger enough to stay. Then Timmy took in an elderly “puppy” whose past human had passed. He gave Zina the chance to enjoy the same planet he did for the time she had left. As it turned out, Zina led the way for Timmy, crossing over just a week or so before he joined her and his other “puppies” Out There.
“Puppies”…. It didn’t matter what species an animal was; he always addresses them as “My Puppy.” I’m sure if you search the videos on his Facebook page, you’ll probably find the horse who was also “My Puppy” in Timmy’s eyes.
When it comes to the Legend of “Timothy Ticklepepper” (our Grammy O’Brien’s nickname for him, much to his embarrassment), here’s the one I hope will be lasting – Timmy’s love of animals manifesting in all of those puppies who lived on his mail route. There are plenty of pictures of him on the job, making friends with so many of those dogs and putting the lie to that old story that dogs hate the mailman. At least in Timmy’s case, making those puppies “Mailman’s Best Friends” came easily… and not just because his mail truck was full of dog biscuits.
What he considered his greatest accomplishment in his 42 years as a letter carrier was that the people on his route weren’t his customers; they became his friends. There are some who finally moved away to other states, but whenever they returned, they made it a point to go back to their old neighborhood to see Timmy.
I belong to a Facebook group centered around the band known as The Adam Ezra Group. One day, the thread of a conversation – because of its prominence in one of Adam’s songs – was “Patchouli”. A few days later, Tim shared a picture of himself in uniform, holding and hugging the latest puppy on his route. Her name was Patchouli.
I thought my fellow Gatherlings (technically we’re “Gatherers” as a collective noun) would find it an interesting addendum to that Patchouli thread, so I posted the picture to the group. Not long after, I got a comment on that post: “Your brother’s name wouldn’t happen to be Tim, would it?”
Turns out Mark and Cindy were on that mail route and had a great fondness for that Tiger. Mark not only had Timmy as his mailman, but they saw each other at the gym. AND he also worked for a time in connection with Tim’s oldest son, Neil!
Since then, I count Mark and Cindy among my friends, as well as their daughter Robyn, who works for the band. I’ve met their son Ryan, who’s making a name for himself in the movie biz. And Timmy provided a most unique beginning for all of that.
I’ve got two stories about Timmy I’d like to share. The first, in a way, shares something in common with the aforementioned Ryan, who produces horror movies, including the continuation of the “Halloween” franchise.
I had come home from Manhattan in the late 70s, and Timmy and I went up to the Lake cottage for the weekend. Nobody else in the family was there yet.
It was a very warm night and we were lying on the dock, staring up at the starry sky, unbothered by mosquitoes, thanks to the bats feasting on them. Somehow, the conversation turned to the property next door, which had become a jungle. (That was because the old man who owned it let it lapse after his wife died.) And because it was popular in the theaters the previous autumn, we started joking around that at any minute, Michael Myers would come out of those woods, brandishing his huge knife.
I think we were somewhat… “enhanced”. We began laughing at the absurdity of that idea….
And then a twig snapped.
We couldn’t get inside that old blue cottage fast enough (as if that could ever protect us from Michael Meyers!) I apologize in advance for the terminology, but we were scared shitless… not the condition to be in when the only bathroom is back outside, the outhouse known as “HERE”.
The other story took place a few years earlier when I still lived at home and was still in high school. Tim and I used to share a makeshift bedroom down in the basement. One Friday night, I really needed my sleep because I had to start extra early Saturday morning at my job in the Meriden Square. Tim, being fortunate enough to be four years younger than me, could look forward to sleeping late. So he was in no hurry to fall asleep. Instead, he lay there in the dark… whistling.
I told him to shut up; he kept on whistling. (He was probably whistling ELP songs.) Despite my entreaties, he kept on whistling.
I finally couldn’t take it any longer. I jumped out of my bed and began beating him with my pillow there in the dark. Finally spent, I crawled back into bed.
Suddenly, I heard Timmy spit “Phffft!” And then again – “Fffpt!” “Pfffth!” That’s when I found myself doing the same – “Pfpht!” “Sfffthp!”
The light got turned on and we discovered the room was filled with downy feathers from my now split pillow, floating down on us. We spent at least the next hour cleaning up.
I thought about that night as we sat vigil by Tim’s bedside that last night because he looked like he was sleeping. Not only sleeping, but snoring away with a fierce determination. It still doesn’t feel possible that it was a sleep from which he didn’t emerge. I can’t fathom that my brother, who held two key positions in the order of the siblings – first as the “baby” for nine years and then as the middle child, the fulcrum between the two sets of siblings – is gone.
But he is out of pain now; all of that Life in the Extreme culminated in unbearable back problems which was making the possibility for him to enjoy such passions as hitting the trails on his snowmobile untenable. We’re going to be sorry later this year when we’ll need the water that we had no significant snowfall this season. But lack of snow kept Timmy sidelined from the sport so who knows? That might have kept him with us for just a little while longer.
I may not be the most religious person around…. Okay, I’m not; I have my Faith if not the religion. But I’ve also liked the concept of an afterlife; it just doesn’t feel right that this could be all that there is. (I love a good story about the vision of heaven – there are some good jokes about that. Ask me sometime, I’ll tell you a few.) And it seems only fitting that there really could be a Rainbow Bridge where Timmy could reunite with his three dogs and three cats and all the other beasties he befriended.
But most of all, it’s a comfort to think he’s reunited with Mom and Dad, Grammy and Nana, maybe even our grandfathers. Plus his beloved Auntie Anne and the cousins who went before to check the place out – Linda, Norman, Peter Ernest, and David, and while we didn’t have much interaction due to distance and the Internet not being invented yet, there would be Cousin Cindy as well. All of them rebels in their own ways.
It’s a nice dream, and it brings me some measure of comfort. Maybe it’s true; I can’t say for certain. And it’s not likely Timmy will be able to come back to confirm that, not that I wouldn’t put it past him to give it a try.
But that’s what Faith is all about. As a character in one of Timmy’s favorite TV series (perhaps his absolute favorite) once said,
"All faith must have a little doubt mixed in.
Otherwise, it's just flabby sentimentality."
So I hope I do get the chance to see Timmy again. And I hope you all find comfort in the possibility of seeing that Tiger also.
My favorite picture of Timmy
With me and Billy
not much really changed.
Tim still had that ebullient spirit.
Timmy always had an expression whenever we parted ways; I bet he shared it with you as well. I’d like to change it up a bit and send it back to him “Out There, Somewhere” as another one of his favorites, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, wrote:
“Remember, Tim…. God, Jesus, and Toby O’Brien love you.” (In response to his version, I would also add, “And not necessarily in that order.”)
Just one last thing. I was supposed to be the one who was to serve as the bad example for the next generations in the family, but he trumped me again. Still, learn from his life. As it has been said in the public service announcement, “If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.”
Don’t do it for Timmy; do it for yourself and for those who love you. On second thought, that does include Timmy because he loved you all.