Lessons I Learned from Tommy Polcik

By Suzanne Wiggins

For a few years while growing up, the Polciks lived next door. Susie was a year older, Joey was my age, Tommy was a couple of years younger and Ryan was too young to take note. Susie and I never hung out together. It seemed like she and my sister Karen were always having fun with Tony, Molly and Autumn. Those were the ponies our dads unexpectedly brought home one weekend.

Joey, Tommy, Ryan and I were a built-in boys club. Yes, I was just one of the boys. We played football and baseball with the teams always being split Joey and Ryan against me and Tommy. It just seemed like the sensible choice since Joey was the strongest and Ryan, well Ryan was just forced upon us. We did a lot of other fun things too like catching frogs and throwing them into the small cement pond filled with green algae water, throwing snow balls at passing cars and then running for the hills if the brake lights went on, collecting tad polls, worms and other cool stuff from the woods behind our houses, and perhaps the most fun of all was constructing super highways out of dirt hills and scrap wood for use with their large collection of Tonka trucks. Despite really, really wanting one, I never got a Tonka truck so it was great when I had the opportunity to play with theirs. Life was good.

The Polcik boys were like my brothers. We had a lot of fun together, but there was an equal amount of fighting, both verbally and physically. Joey was too big to ever get away with beating up on me. I’m sure there were times when he wanted to punch me, but our dads would have yelled at him for hitting a girl. Tommy and I, however, were pretty well matched. We were about the same size physically, and because he was a couple years younger no one seemed to have an issue with our scuffles.

On one occasion, I must have provoked Tommy in some way which resulted in him using a No. 2 pencil to pop the tire on my new banana seat bicycle. I don’t recall many of the details of the ensuing altercation except for the excruciating pain caused by Tommy hitting me repeatedly with the plaster cast on his broken arm. Man, that hurt. My obstinate  refusal to show any indication of the pain he was inflicting caused him to angrily shout, ‘Just wait until I get this cast off my arm,’ all the while I was thinking, ‘yah, I can’t wait until that thing comes off too.’ It was these youthful experiences fighting with Tommy that taught me how to sit in a business meeting with an unaffected expression despite whatever internal monologue was rolling about in my head. A very useful skill to develop.

Tommy liked to sing. I don’t know if anyone really knew that about him because I only discovered it by accident. We both lived in large two-story houses that were built in the 1920s, but the Polcik house was far better for hide and seek and they had more toys so we usually hung out there. One summer morning I couldn’t find Tommy in any of the usual places; outside in the yard or eating cereal on the floor in front of the television. It was actually one of those weird mornings when it seemed like their house was deserted but you knew they were all there somewhere. I didn’t make the trek up to Tommy’s room very often, but that morning I had exhausted the list of other places to look so I quietly climbed the stairs in search of him. The bedroom door was open and there was no one there, but I heard something that made me investigate further. I walked across the room, opened the closet door and there was Tommy, sitting alone in the dark singing for what I could only conclude was the fun of it. He didn’t seem to be embarrassed by the discovery, in fact, to my best recollection I think I sat down in there and joined along.

After that, Tommy and I sang together a lot more often. One of our favorite pastimes became antagonizing the ponies into chasing us across the field to a very large tree with massive limbs.  We would scramble up on the lowest branch to avoid being trampled and once comfortably situated, we would talk or sing or just enjoy life as it slowly passed by. I have to admit Tommy was the person who taught me to sing, just for the fun of it.

I remember Tommy as a genuine and authentic person with a kind soul. We were compatible and had fun pursuing whatever crazy activities that occurred to us. He never made fun of me or said the cruel things kids can often say, but not actually mean. Looking back, I would say that Tommy was my bosom buddy or kindred spirit. I am certain, however, that he never knew how much his friendship meant to me. We were still young when they moved to a different house on the other side of town. I was devastated at the time, but life has a way of moving on. I have no memory of ever talking to Tommy after that despite spending a few years together in high school. But as an adult, I have thought of him often and have recounted the story of that classic fight over my bicycle many times.

Tommy (Tom) enlisted in the military after school and was stationed and living in San Diego when it was discovered he had a brain tumor. He passed away in 2000. I had a very good excuse for not attending the funeral, but actually I didn’t want to remember him as anything other than my childhood pal I spent every waking hour with. I guess the final lesson Tommy Polcik taught me was to always take the opportunity while you have it to let people know how much their life has meant to you, how you may be a better person having known them, and how you will never forget the unintended lessons they helped you learn. So for Tommy, I’m going to go sit in my closet, sort laundry and sing…just for the fun of it.

The Polciks
This post is dedicated to the memory of Tom Polcik and Sue Polcik Handyside, both of whom passed away far too young.