A ball cap with “DLTOMI” stitched across the front of the crown.
I had not ordered it, but as soon as I saw it I knew the source.
It was a gift from my old friend Tom Wheeler.
We grew up together in Wakeman: He on a little country property south of town, “Friendly Farm;” and I in the village but alongside the same Rt. 60.
We went to Wakeman Elementary together, then Townsend Junior High where his dad was the custodian.
We played baseball in the Wakeman Little League and the New London Pony League.
In high school we had all the same classes, had a little car wash business together on the weekend, and raised a certain amount of hell in his 1954 Plymouth, “The Big P.”
We concluded our 16 years of education together with four years at Ohio University. In the 1980s, Char and Beth and I ended up pictured with Tom and his family on the cover of an OU recruiting publication.
Then, as happens, we went our separate ways. You already know my simple work history. Tom, on the other hand, was spending those same years becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs to ever grow up in this county. He started an aerospace components business which is respected throughout the industry and which now employs several hundred people in Mentor. He’s a classic American success story.
We sometimes go years between visits now. But we’ve been better about it recently. He took me for a fun ride in his new helicopter last summer, for instance.
Another thing we have in common is doctors who have reminded us not to take our good health for granted. Mine actually performed a major surgery on me just to be sure I got the idea.
The message Tom got from his physician was much less radical, more of a wake-up call that he has to pay more attention as the years roll by.
As it turns out, seventy two years have rolled by for us. Tom had his birthday last month. I have mine next month.
We know we’re getting up there. And I suppose it was that knowledge, combined with his doctor’s somewhat scary health warning that had Tom in a receptive state of mind for something Clint Eastwood said.
Eastwood sponsors a celebrity golf tournament at Pebble Beach in California each year. And in 2018 the famous movie star/director was playing there with country singer Toby Keith. Eastwood mentioned that the next day was his 88th birthday and that he was also starting production on a movie called “The Mule” which he was directing and starring in.
As Billboard magazine said: “Struck by Eastwood’s relentless energy at an age when many are content to sit and reflect, Keith asked how he keeps going. And Eastwood said, ‘I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in,’ Toby Keith recounted.”
Keith turned those words into what Billboard calls the “beautifully haunting song that lingers at the end of ‘The Mule.’”
Tom Wheeler turned them into a ball cap which he sent me. DLTOMI lettered across the front. And the message spelled out—DON’T LET THE OLD MAN IN—on the back, above the strap.
And I think I got it just in the nick of time.
I had been sitting in my recliner in my underwear watching an afternoon re-run of Matlock. I was covered by a multi-colored afghan and sucking on hard candy. I had just trimmed the hairs in my nose and ears. I remember it all clearly because it was 4:15 and time to start thinking about an Early Bird dinner out.
I had just put on my slippers and was heading toward the front door to yell at some kids who were playing with their puppy on my front lawn when the Fed Ex guy rang my doorbell.
He had the box with the DLTOMI cap in it.
Immediately, my outlook changed. I got a dog treat for the kids with the puppy. I turned off the TV and instead ordered some action-filled video games from Amazon (online!).
Then I went out to buy a copy of Hemmings Motor News to see if there was a listing for a 1954 Plymouth. Suddenly I felt like raising a little hell again.
And I know just the guy to go along with me.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.