“Come and sit by Katherine C. Long and Thomas P. Vogl, who love this island, books, cooking, ideas, science, words, and above all else, each other.”
These words are carved into a stone bench at the West Tisbury cemetery. I have read them often, loving the sentiment as I love the people who wrote it. I read it this evening after learning that our beloved friend, Tom Vogl, died mid-afternoon, Memorial Day afternoon.
As if I can ever forget.
Tom loved his life. There are always books on their tables, piles of books everywhere. A big loom fills half of the dining room. Delicious smells, and tastes of the best cheese being stirred in a huge vat on their stove, Katherine running back and forth between the dining table and the kitchen when the timer went off. Tom baked the best bread, knew where to find the best chocolate ice cream, the best restaurant or market for any type of food in any locale, and the best prune lekvar, which he had loved as a child. The house always smelled of freesia. You never knew what to expect when you walked in the door. Every visit was an adventure.
Of course, they have the best eggs. Every carton is like an Easter parade of colors from different varieties of chickens, of which Tom knew the history of the breed and all its qualifications. When you walk into the house in early spring, you are greeted by the peeps and cheeps of newly-hatched chicks in a pen in the living room.
The last few months, he spent more time in his chair, feet on a cushioned chair opposite, directing the action rather than running up and down with it himself. His eyes still sparkled as he spoke. His head and hands still gestured with his unrestrained enthusiasm for whatever subject engaged him at the moment.
Tom affected West Tisbury’s life in ways both subtle and notable. Our annual town party was always scheduled so not to interfere with preparations for Tom and Katherine’s winter solstice party. They cooked for both, their ovens going all day, preparing turkeys and hams for the town party. After that, they began cooking and baking for solstice, the open house they host that brings together people from all walks of Island life — some from off-Island, too. Tom’s interests in weaving, food, orchids, birds, curling, science, just plain life, attracted plenty of people to his circle.
I started painting his portrait a year ago. Tom sat in his dark green chair in the living room, talking as I drew. Somehow, I could never bring myself to finish the painting, even when Tom would tease me about never living long enough to see it. I told him I believed he wouldn’t die as long as I didn’t finish it. When Katherine called me Sunday afternoon to tell me it would only be another day or two, I went out to my studio and began painting. It was more for my own consolation than that Tom would see it. Maybe that was the reason. I knew I would find solace in the planes of his face, describing them with my brush, refining the edges, mixing colors, remembering my friend.
Tom approached his cancer as he did everything else — with intense interest. In some ways, it was like he was examining himself under a microscope. His “Ruminations,” a running commentary on his research and his treatment (medical and personal), is a gift to all of us. We have the complete set at the library.
He wanted to talk about what he was going through and to share his insights. He was terribly proud of being invited to speak at Falmouth Hospital’s Schwartz Rounds last week, to a group of nurses and doctors. Katherine said, “He did a marvelous job of presenting his case and his philosophy on living while dying.” It took his remaining strength. He died quietly with Katherine at his side.
Katherine is busy gathering their family together. She plans a solstice-like potluck memorial celebration of Tom’s life, date and time to be announced. I know it will be a celebration as large as the man himself. We will all be there.