My wife handed me the photograph. Her expression was a foreshadowing of what awaited me. “We found this in the tub too.” The tub was a large collection of pre-digital photographs Lori had been organizing. I grabbed it, moved to the couch and sat down. It was a photo I took at Cub Scout Day Camp, with second-grader Thomas McCord, standing with his father, Dan. That summer I was the cubmaster for Troop 3096, Day Camp coordinator and chief photographer.
By MATT KEENAN
Special to The Star
It was June 2001. Our son Robert had finished second grade. Thomas was his classmate.
The day before camp, it rained three inches. Johnson County was in a flash flood watch. No matter — camp was on. For some moms, this was their first introduction to Scouts, and they had their index finger firmly on the panic button. Moms were asking — “Is it safe?” “Are the campgrounds flooding?” “Are you crazy?” And that was just my house. On that Monday morning, as our bus pulled out of Nativity, Indian Creek at 119th Street and Mission Road was over its banks, which forced a detour of the bus route. Moms who sat in their SUVs as the bus made a sharp left had an urgent need for smelling salts. The next two days we got two more inches each day. Camp Naish — thick with trees and heavy vegetation — became the world’s largest mud playground.
The McCord/Keenan tandem’s introduction to inclement weather was just beginning. We returned to Naish in July a couple years later for Webelos camp when the temperatures peaked at 106 degrees, a record high. The maternal panic button was, once again, engaged.
Robert and Thomas played on various teams. In sixth grade someone politely asked, correction, ordered, me to coach the CYO basketball team. This was the castoff team — the rejects from the A to D teams. I loved that class, those boys, but particularly Thomas, whose sweet disposition made him a favorite with pretty much everyone who knew him. But I was partial to him for another reason — he was on a perpetual growth spurt — settling at 6’2” in eighth grade.
This didn’t surprise his mom, Therese — at birth he was just a few ounces shy of 10 pounds and was over the 100th percentile at every medical checkup. “He had enormous feet from the time he was born,” Therese said. My whole family gave him wide berth in the pews at church because when he stepped on your toe you felt it. They finally stopped growing in ninth grade at size 15 . His football cleats were special-ordered and freakish looking. His flip-flops were like boats.
Through all these adventures Thomas coped with juvenile diabetes, diagnosed in first grade. You never really knew it, except for those times when he self-administered shots.
Thomas and Robert were teammates on a baseball team that played in Blue Valley and, yes, they knew that coach too. We won a few, lost a lot more, and along the way had lots of pizza and pool parties where supposedly one parent broke out a Speedo.
But Boy Scouts was the thread that connected all those years, tracing the trajectory from adolescence to adulthood, and they were rich with memories. At Bartle they spent time carving weapons, chasing skunks and hanging out in exclusive tent enclaves. The rest of their time they wasted.
In October, while a sophomore at K-State, we lost Thomas. He died from diabetes complications at age 20. His funeral included photos depicting a life full of adventure, including many of his days as a Scout. To Dan and Therese, the photo of their son as an Eagle Scout is no doubt among their most treasured, but I have my own.
We miss you, Thomas.
Freelancer Matt Keenan writes every other week. His book, “Call me Dad, Not Dude. The Sequel,” is available at local bookstores. Follow him on Twitter: @Mdkeenan2.