Thomas Hughes lived a magnificent life. His impact on the world will be felt for the next 100 years, at least.
Based on notes we read from his brother, Nick (included in a scrap book put together by Mary Hughes and her daughters for Tom's 80th birthday) one can surmise that the boy Tom Hughes was mischievous, witty and adventurous — legend has it he ran away from home a couple times, probably to the relief of Nick, who reportedly received multiple inadvertent injuries related to his brother's antics.
Photos of Tom as a youngster possess a striking familiarity — you can see his offspring and his offspring's offspring in his smiling face and his confident stance.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Tom was a 17-year old high school senior. Within a couple of weeks he joined the Marine Corps. He spent the next four years traveling across the Pacific —he was with the elite Carlson's Raiders on Guadalcanal. He later was on Bougainville and then fought the Battle of Iwo Jima, where he was injured so badly he was nearly mistaken for one of the dead. As a teenager — younger then than his first two great grandsons Cole and Thomas John are now — watched several of his young friends die. One Memorial Day he told us about 16-year olds who fought and died there. He couldn't get those boys out of his head, he had said.
Before age 21 he had been shot a couple of times. He received the Purple Heart Award and was honorably discharged in 1945. He married the most wonderful woman in the universe — a woman who by her mere presence softened or corrected any idiosyncrasies or shortcomings in her husband's character. She was Clara Ann, or as most of you know her, Jinx. Together they were a force of goodness and strength, not to mention style and savoir-faire.
He was an attorney and she a mother, in the truest sense. The Hugheses would bring six children into the world. And those they raised — as well as their children's children, and their children's children's children — would become highly valuable members of society — lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, dedicated caregivers ... one stock broker, but hey, no family is perfect.
The Hughes kids and grandkids and great grandkids enjoyed a close relationship with Grandpa. He had a ranch outside Kaufman and, so, we rode horses and tractors and fished and frog gigged and roasted marshmallows over a bonfire and reveled in being a part of this big family.
Tom and Jinx are ever present — birthdays, baptisms, weddings, births, everything. To those brave and select enough to marry into the Hughes family, they are not merely in-laws, but Mom and Dad.
We marvel at Grandpa's wit and experience. Every time we talked, seemingly, he had a story we hadn't heard before. He shared about battles and parties and cases and trials of raising four boys and two girls. He picked up new technology and loved his laptop but swore Facebook would not accept him. We assured him that wasn't the case and offered to set him up, but he opted to stick with email, which he used proficiently — to the point where I had to request that he ease up on Obama.
Not only did Tom survive the war, but he also endured triple bypass surgeries and cancer. Even when he wasn't feeling so hot, he hardly missed a grandkid's performance or a birthday party or a graduation.
He was a tough as hell, sharp as a blade man who, as Jinx said, was finally tired. I know I join the family in thankfulness that almost all of Tom's life was joyful and that he did not suffer very long before moving to the next world.
Of course we all are cut deeply by the loss of him. Grandma, Jinx, of course, possesses such faith that she views death a little different than most of us mortals. She knows Heaven is right on the other side. She is not one who goes around saying this but behaves as if she doesn't believe it. She believes it. She shared yesterday a sentiment she had read and held onto years ago:
"We don't want to be born. We are comfortable in the womb. But when we are born we experience the light, the loving arms of our parents and life. We don't want to die because we have come to love this life and the people in it. We are comfortable here and don't wish to exit into the unknown. But when we do, and we all do, we will be met with this indescribable light and love. We cannot even imagine the wonder and love and joy that lies beyond this life."
And so, while she misses him, she understands that before long they, and someday all of us — our whole big wonderful family, will be together again.