With all due respects to the legendary Marx Brothers, my first couple months of living in Vincennes after moving from Cleveland went much smoother due to the legendary Marx Brothers — Groucho, Chico, Harpo — and sometimes a guy named Oliver.
Two months after moving to my original birthplace, I prepared to start high school. The only people I knew in Vincennes at the time included aunts, uncles and cousins.
Then came typing class on my second day at Lincoln High School. Freshmen rarely took typing — now it’s called keyboarding, for all you millennials and other younger generations out there — but I signed up for classes so late during the summer I guess they had to put the new kid somewhere.
This day another new student walked in and handed the teacher his schedule change paperwork and sat next to me. He too enjoyed membership in the Class of 1975, which remains the greatest to ever graduate from Lincoln, in my humble opinion.
Two freshmen in the same typing class sitting in the last row had to lead to something good. And it did, dear readers, it did.
That’s the day I first met Tom Low, who later in high school picked up the nickname “Oliver.” More on that later.
We exchanged simple introductions and soon tuned out typing instructions for a discussion on our favorited baseball teams. I followed the Cleveland Indians and Tom liked the Cincinnati Reds because he watched their future stars play in his hometown of Indianapolis.
It wasn’t much of a discussion. The Indians at the time earned the label as the worst team in the Major Leagues bar none, while the Reds were in the midst of enjoying winning seasons and championships as the Big Red Machine.
Despite the disparity in the success of our teams, there was something about this guy I really liked. He had a quirky view of the world, always smiled or laughed, and loved a pun or four.
Our friendship was sealed for life a couple weeks into the school year and it came in typing class.
We had these exercises called timed writings where we typed a set piece in two minutes. We got grades based on the total of correct words typed.
One time writing I failed to see Tom reach over and pull the lever on my typewriter ribbon cartridge to stencil. I did the entire timed writing in stencil, much to the chagrin of my teacher and my grade for that exercise, but I could not stop laughing.
What a brilliant, quirky — there’s that word again — practical joke. I knew I had to spend more time with this guy.
Soon I was at his house on the edge of Vincennes, squinting my eyes to try and bring into focus black and white Marx Brothers movies shown from his 16 millimeter projector. You have not lived until you’ve seen Groucho dancing, Chico plucking the piano or Harpo dropping everything but the kitchen sink out of his oversized coat on a screen that doubled as a multi-tiled kitchen wall.
These showings led to works of the great silent film comedians before Tom and I entered that rite of passage called earning a driver’s license. This opened up a new world of quirky as we cruised the mean streets of Vincennes in the mid-'70s in Tom’s gray Ford Falcon and later a blue Ford Pinto.
Wheels created new adventures with Tom. We went to Roller Derby matches and Indianapolis Racers pro hockey games in Indianapolis and came up with the idea to take advantage of living along a time zone boundary.
A few times we brought in the New Year twice — once in Vincennes and an hour later thanks to an imagery time line floating in the Wabash River over in the Illinois prairie. We stayed up all night on those occasions with me drinking Double Cola after Double Cola and Tom swigging plenty of beer, uh, root beer, that is.
Most important we shared a common belief. We enjoyed to the fullest many Friday and Saturday nights without alcohol, drugs or all that petty high school drama.
Somewhere about halfway through high school Tom picked up the nickname Oliver and I called him that the rest of our days.
Tom and his father, who also is named Tom but later in life switched to Duke, worked together at Valley Electric Supply. Tom the younger was asked to add his middle initial to all official paperwork.
Don’t let this secret out, but Tom’s middle name is Dean. When he put in his middle initial the office mistook it for an “O” and wanted to know what it stood for.
He blurted out “Oliver” and it stuck. The office and other coworkers asked no more questions and Tom, uh, now Oliver, let it ride, smiling under his bushy mustache each time someone there called for Oliver.
Oliver attempted to teach me the finer points of bowling and pinball, but I never quite caught on to either. Oliver was an incredible bowler and won many titles and trophies in his day.
Lucky for me Oliver took me along on a couple of his bowling teams leading to my only championship trophy. The trophy is nice but to me it was Oliver’s clever team titles that I remember more.
One year we were No Driver. Oliver looked in the newspaper and noticed “no driver” was listed for several cars in the upcoming Indianapolis 500 qualifications, so he decided that would be our name.
No Driver did not win a title but our next team, South Dakota, ruled as the summer league champions. Oliver said he always wanted to go to South Dakota to see Pierre and Rosebud Indian Reservation and believed if he couldn’t make it up north than at least he could bowl for their honor.
South Dakota did honor uh, well, South Dakota, by placing that name at the top of the standings in the old Vincennes Creole Bowling Center.
Years later I made it to South Dakota and had my picture taken by the state welcome sign. I don’t know if Oliver got to see that photo but at least one of us made it to the land of bowling champions.
So many other vital parts of my life are connected to Oliver.
The day after we graduated from Lincoln, Oliver invited me to take a trip with him to Tampa Bay, Florida, to visit his relatives. It was my first venture into the Sunshine State and later led to me living in that area for a few years after landing my first professional journalism job.
To this very day I am one of the few Americans who may claim they lived in Weeki Wachee, Florida, home of the living mermaids. Oliver took delight in calling me Weeki Dougie each time we wrote or talked on the telephone.
More importantly, Oliver introduced me to my dear wife, Debbie, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Life took Oliver and me in different directions after I married and frequent contacts morphed into occasional meetings and eventually none for years. I often reminisced about all the crazy events we survived and his quirky sense of humor.
Cancer silenced Oliver’s sense of humor and affection for life on June 29 in Jackson, Tennessee. He passed away during his sleep much too young at 61, but he left behind a legacy of love, laughs and lousy puns.
Good night Tom “Oliver” Low, and May God bless.
Doug Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.