Thomas Nock, affectionately known to his friends as Tommy, was my uncle. To me he was simply always Uncle Tom. I remember being surprised when I first heard people refer to him as Tommy. It was a reminder that he was known and loved by more than just his family. And while his Norvelt neighbors knew him during his growing up years which were well before my time, all of my early memories of Uncle Tom were indelibly connected to Norvelt, Tom’s first home and the one he spoke of the most during his final years. It is both beautiful and appropriate that Tom is home again for his eternal rest in the place where he longed to be.
When I was a child, we would drive to Norvelt every Christmas, sometimes stopping at Tom’s in Dayton Ohio along the way. Most of the time, Tom would join us for the holidays and rendezvous at the family home that we always affectionately called “Grandma Margaret’s house” and then, later, “Aunt Mary’s house.” Generations gathered at 128 Tulip Place and Tom was always central to the fun. A playful and attentive uncle, I remember him picking me up high in the air, and holding me upside down. He would hold me by the ankles and “walk” me across the ceilings, allowing me to direct the route from the living room to the kitchen and back again. I remember laughing with glee when Uncle Tom would announce “You’re going for a walk!” and away across the ceilings we would go. And when my brother and sister had too much energy for the adults in the house to cope with, Uncle Tom would announce a game called “Trap” where he would just gather us up in a bear hug and dare us to break free. “You’re in a trap!” he would say, and that was the signal that the breakout game was underway. It was a fun and ridiculous way for us young kids to burn off extra energy. I played a version of that game with the rising Nock generation, who might remember it as “Crack the Egg.” Tom was up for anything fun and even accompanied us on a family trip to Disney World.
Christmas in Norvelt went the way of childhood games and we continued to gather and celebrate for Thanksgiving in Pensacola. He would sometimes accompany my
Mom to the movies. Uncle Tom would always bring me a book to read. A voracious reader, he enjoyed everything from histories to mysteries and introduced me to modern novelists I hadn’t read before such as Lee Childs and John Grisham. He always showed an interest in my life without exception. Every time I saw him he would cheerfully ask, “Read any good books?” and always greeted me with “What’s new?”
As life went on and games of Trap and Walk in the Ceiling faded, Tom was a welcome part of any game and a formidable competitor in Trivial Pursuit. A genius at geography and a repository for facts I never even knew existed, Tom could you tell you the route and length of the Trans Siberian railroad.
Eventually, Tom stopped playing games and coming over, so every visit, I would go to see him. The TV would grow louder but his questions were always sentimentally the same. Tom wanted to know about his family. He kept every detail top of mind, including some imaginary ones, but there was never a moment when family was far from his mind. From Texas to Costa Rica, he kept everyone straight, asking about everyone from Ian to “Alexia” whose name he seemed to enjoy mischievously mispronouncing.
Tom moved into an old age home with the help of his brothers, sisters in law, and niece who made sure his room was lovingly tended to and had many pictures of his family spanning five generations. The room was simple and stark, just as his home had always been, just as all his sentiments had been. In all my life, I don’t think he ever forgot a birthday or a Christmas holiday, always sending a card with the plain signature, “Uncle Tom.”
And now that Thomas Nock has passed to his eternal rest, I would like to share with you the legacy of love that he leaves behind: that no matter how sparse or stark or lonely life may appear, that when celebrations and gatherings fade and when memory itself betrays us and fails, two things will always remain. These are love and family.