“Have you ever eaten squirrel?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve eaten squirrel.”
Terry Tomalin, survivalist, looked at me oddly. He wasn’t expecting to find someone who shared his taste for varmint. He reassessed things, and then he tried again.
“Have you ever eaten rabbit?”
I grinned. My father was a poor man in the South who hunted. Of course, I said, I had eaten rabbit.
He sat up a little straighter. And the contest was on. “You ever eaten turtle? Goat? Quail?”
Finally, he looked at me the way one gunslinger looks at another. His eyes narrowed.
“You ever eaten a grub?”
I laughed. No, I surrendered. I’ve never eaten a grub.
He flexed his shoulder in triumph. “I’ve eaten a grub,” he said.
He started to walk away. “Terry,” I said. “What does a grub taste like?”
“It’s bitter,” he said. “Chalky.”
“Then why,” I asked, “would you ever eat one?”
The why of it never mattered to Terry. It was about survival. It was the challenge of the wild. It was swimming with sharks or wading with rays or climbing the sky-high bridge in Sydney, Australia. You know the phrase “bigger than all outdoors?” To most of us, Terry was.
I always thought he must have been voted most likely to hunt bear with a wooden stake. I always thought Terry not only covered the outdoors; he brought it to its knees.
For years, Terry covered the Olympics with me. I would cover the competition, and he would cover the rest of the world. It was never too big for him.
For the last couple of years we were both with the Times, his office was next to mine. Our wives worked with each other. My daughter was in his wedding when he married Kanika, who always had a nice bond with her. Not long ago, we talked of her. For years, his family lived a few blocks away from mine.
Because of all of it, because of all the days we worked together, this hit his friends hard. None of us would have suspected Terry’s health would betray him. Terry, we were all sure, would be here when the rest of us were dust.
To Terry, the outdoors were a theme park, and the newspaper was his way of taking you along. He was a sportswriter, but the stadiums he visited were made of water and trees and rough terrain and everything else that constitutes being an outdoorsman in Florida. To him, a week at work was like a game of Survivor.
But the most impressive thing, and you will hear this from everyone, is the basic decency of the guy. I never saw Terry angry at anyone. I never saw him have a bad day at work.
He was impervious to pain. He would go to work days after knee surgery. Pain was a state of mind, he would say.
It’s an odd thing. When a friend dies, you are left with memories. They flood past you like a photo album, making you feel his smile, maybe you regret his passing. You feel for his family, for his wife and children.
He was a good guy. He was a good co-worker. He was a good friend.
And he left the rest of us much, much too soon.