Tom Merrifield: A Celebration of Life

I hate funerals. Even when people call them “a celebration of so-and-so’s life,” you can’t hide what’s going on: someone has died and some people are sad, some people feel guilty, and some people feel guilty that they don’t feel sad.

Tom Merrifield died last month. October 25, to be precise. I’m going to go ahead and assume that most of you don’t know him by name, which is OK. He was the guy who owned the banner towing planes that puttered up and down the Pinellas beaches for the past 30 years.

God, he could be a jerk.

What, you want me to lie? Have we MET? The guy was harsh with people at times.

A local beach paper ran a short article about Tom and made him sound like a friggin’ saint. Why can’t people just stand up and say, “Man, the guy was kind of an asshole, but that’s what I liked about him. He was a decent guy who happened to be human, he had a scary need for companionship, he often spoke derisively to his friends, and once he pissed me off so badly I threw him out of my car, but you know what? The world needs more people like him, because at least he was real and not some bullshit chex mix/soccer mom/bridge playing motherfucker?”

In case you’re wondering, yes, we had words on more than one occasion. The last time he and I spoke he got made at me, but then he calmed himself down and we talked for about an hour. And one of the very last things he said to me was that he wanted people to sit around at his funeral and talk about “One time, with Tom…” and remember him that way.

His friends “celebrated his life” a month after his death (today) so here goes…

One time, with Tom, we drove out to an airfield in Kissimmee and I backed the trailer over part of a gas pump.

One time, with Tom, we rented a boat and went fishing one of the artificial reefs. It was the first time I saw flying fish, and dolphin rode our bow wave.

One time, with Tom, we went kingfishing and we ended up bludgeoning the kingfish so badly–it would NOT die–that if FWC saw our boat we would have gone to jail for murder while they launched a massive search for the body. Note on that one: after we beat the hell out of this fish it still flopped around in the cooler for a full five minutes.

More than one time with Tom, we went fishing every week out of Tierra Verde. He loved to fish; he obsessed over fishing. He would buy different line and it wasn’t enough that he had it, he’d put it on our lines, too. He’d fish off the seawall at the end of 18 at SPG; he’d fish off the dock at Tierra Verde while we waited for a boat. Of course, on at least one occasion I had to take the fish off the hook for him, but he loved the fishing part.

One time with Tom he bought Tom (another Tom) a crab trap and we put it out while we fished and then pulled it out later… and got a cowfish and spider crabs.

One time, because of Tom Merrifield, I had the coolest summer job in the world: banner towing ground crew. Without sounding too hippy-dippy, he understood what it meant to “follow your bliss.”

As usual, now that he’s gone people will realize what they couldn’t appreciate while he was alive (I think sometimes his mouth didn’t help, either, which is what I loved about him so much, I recognized a kindred spirit): he was a good guy. He was an asshole, he was a moody sonofabitch, but he was a good guy, and I am a better person for having known him. He helped me be who I am right now, and for that alone I should have told him while he was alive how much I appreciated him. He treated his friends well and when he liked you, you would not want for anything and he would work his brain double and triple time to find a way to solve your problems. Since he was a very, very smart man, he usually came up with a pretty viable solution.

I’m not saying this well and I’m not saying it very eloquently at all, but let’s leave it at this: he used to hassle me about not dressing up and wearing high heels and a dress and makeup. Not only did I go to his funeral, the only one I’ve been to in almost ten years, I wore a dress, makeup, and high heels, just because it would have made him happy, and he would maybe have understood that I valued knowing him. I really, really wish I’d done it while he was alive.

Of course, he would have made some incredibly insensitive remark that would have just pissed me off and we would have fought, but, ah, such is life.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.