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“You Can Do It!”

Have You Ever?

Have you ever thought about writing a book? In this podcast I’ll be talking to a man who wrote three books — in his 90s. Tom Hickey, retired Public Relations Director at SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and former tax consultant, describes what it was like to live through the Great Depression and serve as a soldier in India, in World War II. In his last book, Tom shares the meaningful life lessons he learned in his first 98 years. Tom Hickey continued to write a monthly newsletter sharing his poetry and observations with family and friends and I was blessed to be one of them. This amazing and inspiring chronicler of life, passed away in November 2019 at the age of 101. He will be forever missed.

Please enjoy this tribute.

 

Show Notes:

Nadine O:

Over 50, You Are Not Done Yet. As a podcast documenting the lives of Americans. 50 and over. They are artists, musicians, performers, authors, teachers, and coaches. Their stories are your stories, their lives, their legacies, and the people that they’ve touched are all inspiring. Listen, as they open their hearts and share their passions.

Tom HIckey:

Some people can sing, some people can play music, but, all I can do is write and so, and that’s what I do.

Nadine O:

I’m Nadine O, and you’re listening to the Over 50 You Are Not Done Yet show, a podcast documenting the lives of Americans 50 and over and their stories are your stories.

Nadine O:

Today I would like to honor the life of Author Thomas J. Hickey, who passed away late November 2019 at the age of 101. I learned so much from my conversations with Tom. I would love to share one with you right now. This was from our very first interview taken by phone a few years back. Please enjoy.

Nadine O:

Who is Tom Hickey today?

Tom HIckey:

Wow. Hey, what Tom Hickey today is and I say good looking when he was younger, and I’m totally retired now, and I’m living with the, with my son, Bill. They have a great room set up for me here, and I’m very comfortable with it and they’re splendid to caretakers. They should say. Now I need a couple of tanks to get around, to get around. But that’s all. I’m good. I’m feeling great otherwise in that. I’ll be having a birthday in a couple of weeks.

Nadine O:

Yes, I heard about that. That’s great. And how old will you be? How young will you be?

Tom HIckey:

Well, I’ll be 97 years. Only my one daughter says that that means you’ll be in your 98 year. Oh yeah. Give me a break. Give me a break. I’ll be 97 in October the 14th.

Nadine O:

Well, congratulations.

Tom HIckey:

Thank you.

Nadine O:

Turning 97 there’s, you’re marking something else too as well. Not that is not a great thing, but also you have a book out.

Tom HIckey:

Yes. And this will my third book. I’m trying to write one per year. For example In 2013 I wrote a book about the year I spent in India during the, during the big war, and that was 1945 and ’46. And then the second book was about, primarily it’s about my father and mother and how they managed to get through the Great Depression.

Nadine O:

That was Surviving The Great Depression: One Family’s Story, correct?

Tom HIckey:

Oh yes, that’s right. Exactly right. Now this third one for 2015 is, well, it’s 10 lessons that I’ve learned in my nearly 100 years is the title, and that’s, my one daughter said, Dad, you only learned 10 lessons in all of those years?

Tom HIckey:

And I said, no. These are 10 specific lessons that I’ve learned that I’d like to write about.

Nadine O:

Is there one that you could share with us today that could perhaps inspire others who are reaching retirement or who are in retirement?

Tom HIckey:

There are. There are several. I think of one. One I’d be glad to read it if you like. It’s about-

Nadine O:

Oh sure.

Tom HIckey:

It’s about using your talents, that’s still the lesson I’m trying, I’m sort of giving myself, and let me read it for you.

Tom HIckey:

At age 18, just out of high school and then the family had just moved to Allentown. I answered a newspaper ad for sales people cause I needed a job and this sales is for real silk hosiery for women. So for a week I tried that. And I did cold sales, and didn’t get a nickel.

Tom HIckey:

And then my father said to me, Tom, there are some things you and I can’t do. Well, I resented that. I thought, Don’t include me with that negative approach. Right? The young guy.

Tom HIckey:

And so at the time, but then I stopped selling silk hosiery because I had no luck the second year. So many years later, the few successes and many mistakes that I realize what Dad was really advising me, and it said is this, Tom, make time, take time to learn what you’re good at and you, what you are not. Concentrate your energies on what you’re good at, and ignore the other.

Tom HIckey:

I thought that was excellent advice. And I think in times of the Flannery O’Connor, the great writer, essayist, [inaudible 00:06:13] Why are you writing? And she said, Well I write because I enjoy it and I’m good at it.

Tom HIckey:

And so that’s pretty much what my father was telling me. What you’re good at, stay with, and ignore the other stuff.

Tom HIckey:

Well, you know when I first started this for the first book as far back as then, was my good friend Joaquin Bowman, and I said at that time, you know, who cares? Who cares what I think of what I did?

Tom HIckey:

And Joaquin says, Well, your children will. Shoot. Look, they will care. And so their children, they will care. And so let’s do this with them in mind. Put them, that is what I have been doing.

Nadine O:

Yes. And you know the great thing is I had the opportunity to interview Joaquin as well, and he spoke so very highly of you and was really excited about your latest book, as well as proud about the other books you have written.

Nadine O:

And I know you had mentioned the book about your journey to India, and I just wanted to let the listeners know that that was Tom Hickey’s, India 1945 through ’46: A Soldier’s Diary.

Tom HIckey:

That’s exactly right.

Nadine O:

It seems like you have been pulled towards telling your story from the very beginning, which I just think it’s a theme that’s just sort of, there’s a continuation and I wonder if other people out there listening or friends of those listening know that how important it is to tell our story and not wait for someone to ask.

Tom HIckey:

Oh, no question. Right. There is, and I’ve been blessed with the, with people encouraging me to set an example. My primary physician sent me here to get a doctor [inaudible]. He said, Write it, write it, write it, write it. That was the story about India-

Nadine O:

Sure.

Tom HIckey:

Because it was a very critical point for India at that time. The war, both for here and over, against Japan were ending, and India was pushing for their independence from the United Kingdom. It’s very critical time. And for me it was so, it was a fun time because I’m watching all this sort of thing and the war was over. So that turned out to be a rather easy book to write, and I’m glad I did it.

Nadine O:

During your time in India, what would you say was the most impactful thing that happened to you?

Tom HIckey:

Yes, I think, well, what encouraged me most was getting to know the Indian people and loving them. They were great, and now there was a great deal of poverty there that I would I, just, it was just part of the part of this, of the landscape is that I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Tom HIckey:

I started out as more interested in and involved with the demonstrations and politics of what was happening in India at that time in order to get their independence. But so I think what I remember most about is, is a, how fondly I became involved in the Indian people, including Anglo Indian people that I got to know pretty well.

Nadine O:

More information on Tom Hickey can be found in our show notes and on our website at over50youarenotdoneyet.com.

Tom HIckey:

I really liked it. Indian people they have a sense of humor, they are quiet and yet they can act to encouragingly but not, as it says Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi has said, you know, just so without violence one, it’s called a nonviolent resistance, which is what he promoted.

Tom HIckey:

One incident, I remember particularly, I was a court reporter, court stenographer in India.

Nadine O:

Wow.

Tom HIckey:

And so that put me at the top, with the top level of people constantly. And I was in New Delhi at one time, and I had an opportunity to a, I got a break every so often. And I was taking a little walk through New Delhi, which was a beautiful, beautiful section. It would have been very quiet.

Tom HIckey:

And walking along, in the back of a very high stung fences were mansions, and I was passing by the dark way of one of them, and the iron gates were open, and a limousine was coming out. Two drivers in the front and then someone in the back, and so I stood right there at the driveway, and let it pass and pause for, oh, just a matter of a few seconds, always checking the street for traffic.

Tom HIckey:

And there really was very little traffic, but they stopped for just a few seconds. And that gave me a chance because right there at my face was this person who was alone and in the back seat of the van. And I looked at him and he looked at me and just nodded to each other.

Tom HIckey:

And then the car pulled away. And at that point I realized who that was in there. It was Mahatma Gandhi. As far as the Indian people, that made me practically a saint.

Nadine O:

Did you subscribe yet? What are you waiting for? Subscribe. Look for the button below.

Nadine O:

Can we talk about your book on surviving the Great Depression? I did get a chance to read it. It definitely was a family story, and I can tell you there were some nuggets in there that stuck with me, like the wagon. When you were a kid making money, and the car, what was the car you named? The car Popeye. I thought that was really cute, but I and I also love the Philadelphia Allentown connection and I think those who live on this side of the coast would get a sense or a feel like they were walking down the street. Surviving the Great Depression, why did you decide to write that book?

Tom HIckey:

Nadine, really I wanted to write it to show up the courage of my father and mother during that Depression. How, what had happened that, they were two, they were a couple from some a very little village outside of Worcester, Massachusetts, and sort of, a brother, an uncle of mine decided they wanted to leave, that there was no opportunities in the little village, except a couple of the textile mills.

Tom HIckey:

And so in order to get away from that, my father moved, moved down to Philadelphia, where he worked in a mill, but also it was seeking other opportunities.

Nadine O:

Sure.

Tom HIckey:

Well, at one point he had learned how to be a waiter, and at for some years as a waiter, he found an opportunity to buy a little restaurant of his own, which he did in West Philadelphia. And he learned, and he ran a restaurant doing very well with it, and suddenly, and then at one point we were, he got us into a restaurant where we lived upstairs. And so that just brought the whole family together.

Tom HIckey:

Then of course the Depression came. He had all of the original family business that he had in the restaurant. That just vanished. People couldn’t eat out, couldn’t have dinner out. And so the Depression really killed him.

Tom HIckey:

And he had to get out of that business, and we moved into a rented house a few blocks away, but, and then he was looking for work. I know he would work in bars that were getting ready for business the next day. One time, he went to a restaurant that was still open up in Landsdowne Avenue, and they said, Well, yeah, we could use you tonight over the dinner table at dinner time. But for tips only. So he worked that night for when it came back. He’d be able, he gave my mother all of his tips. Three nickels and a dime.

Tom HIckey:

And so I, somehow we struggled through he sold Christmas trees at one time. And he lost some of his money because the banks had closed on him. But he never went on a dole. In fact, my mother wanted to go on a dole to feed us three kids, and he walked away. He would not go on a dole. It was too, too proud. He was going to do this all on his own, for his own.

Tom HIckey:

So in 1932 he took a job at the Hotel Traylor up in Allentown. And then he worked there, came home every weekend for three years and it took him two and a half to three hours, each trip and then at the time I, on Sunday when he’s ready to go back home, I’d walk him to the trolley car at the corner, realize he got another two and a half hours before he would get to Allentown. Anyway, that was a story. Now he stayed there until, it was my senior year in high school, and I was doing pretty well.

Nadine O:

Now you went, you went to what high school?

Tom HIckey:

Oh, that’s the West Catholic, West Philadelphia Catholic high school for boys.

Nadine O:

Right. Now you did pretty good in high school?

Tom HIckey:

Yeah. Yes I did. It’s a matter of fact, my senior year I wrote some stories for their school publication, and that sort of got me interested in writing anything. And so my mother wanted me to finish, one of us to stay in Philadelphia until I finished high school, since I was doing so well and so three days after I graduated, my mom went on a moving truck. She went up through Allentown. That’s when, after, since 1932, that’s when my father finally got us up into Allentown, and he stayed with Hotel Traylor for some years.

Nadine O:

Right.

Nadine O:

What’s your story? What’s your soul? Finding it and singing it is definitely worth the journey. Remember, every moment in life is a gift. How you spend it is up to you.

Nadine O:

During that time, was there a song that you listened to that you really liked?

Tom HIckey:

Radio was just coming in at that time-

Nadine O:

Right.

Tom HIckey:

And of course nowhere near television, it was just radio.

Nadine O:

Sure.

Tom HIckey:

And were fortunate enough to get a radio. But, you know, you get no bread with one meatball, you know? As it was chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, ching, ching, ching. That’s the Depression song that I remember.

Nadine O:

What advice would you have for them about embracing the second stage of their life?

Tom HIckey:

I can only say that from the vantage point of where I am right now. Nadine, in the earlier years I used to worry about who am I and where am I going and what’s the, what’s this, and at the moment now at my age and my situation, I have a very comfortable, a room with my son and one of my daughters is financially taking care of, taking care of my being here.

Nadine O:

For those approaching retirement. Aside from putting aside money, what advice would you have for them about embracing the second stage of their life?

Tom HIckey:

God wants me here, and here I am. And what am I to do with my life? Well, God gave me a gift through ability to write. He gave that to me. And so I give that back to me. Some people can sing, some people can play music, but all I can do is write. And so, and that’s what I do.

Tom HIckey:

And the, for some reason opportunities come. Here’s what I have to do, and I, that keeps me busy, keeps me active. And it’s just this is my life now. This is my mission.

Nadine O:

Well, it’s a great mission, and you seem to be doing fairly well.

Nadine O:

You are listening to the Over 50 You Are Not Done Yet show.

Tom HIckey:

I have a little room that I’m in. One of my daughters called it a monastic cell because I’m here alone, it’s a solitude. And so these, once a month, I write something called Musings, Musings From the Monastic Cell, and I can tell some stories about all the fact that right now. And, outside the back space lawn that my son has and looking at from the deck, deer are coming out.

Tom HIckey:

I tell about that, and I tell about what’s happening to us and the trees are dropping the acorns. And so the deer are coming in to eat the, got off the acorns, of course. And that sort of thing, I write that. Plus what’s happening in the family. Somebody got married, engaged.

Tom HIckey:

One granddaughter camp, my brother’s daughter, she’s becoming an MD now.

Nadine O:

Wow.

Tom HIckey:

She has won an award in her medical, her med school. And that of course, and these opportunities to write just seem to pop up. I don’t seek them out. They just come and seek me out.

Nadine O:

You’re being called.

Nadine O:

I hope that those listening realize that everyone needs a Joaquin. You know, like you’re Joaquin that kind of pushes you to write that next book and supports you in continuing to feed the muse. More people entering retirement, about to retire, need and should have someone that says you can do it.

Tom HIckey:

Oh, absolutely. Nadine, that’s absolutely true. You need a mentor, and I never had one until Joaquin, just by accident, he came and interviewed me for a story he was doing of his own. And then Joaquin, What would you like to do?

Tom HIckey:

And I told him, Well, I’d like a little story about my life in India, my year in India. And he said, Well, go and do it. Except for Joaquin, I would never have done it. He gave me the ideas, business about 10 lessons that I’ve learned in my 100 years. He said, Do that. Do that. So. And then, so, you’re absolutely right, Nadine. In order to get you going, get you started, you do need an Energizer I guess would be the word.

Nadine O:

An Energizer. Yes. Which brings me full circle to the fact that I wanted to do this podcast pretty much to just remind people you are not done yet. There’s more in you, there’s more that you could be doing.

Nadine O:

It seems very small. Oh, I’ll just write a poem or whatever, but that poem has life from your thought to putting it to the pen or typing it out, and in the computer, and it touches other people’s, those words are your words, you know. That sound is your sound. That stroke from a brush on canvas is your, it comes from you, and I just hope that anyone listening knows that they can do it. It’s up to you to take the first step, and just looking at where are right now it’s inspiring because most people think, Oh, my goodness, I’m reaching retirement. My life’s over. No, there’s just so much more you can do.

Tom HIckey:

No question about it. In fact, in a sense, your life has just sort of beginning because you’re beginning to realize what’s available, and you realize what you can actually do. Just open the book about 10 lessons I learned.

Nadine O:

Sure.

Tom HIckey:

Well, in the back, in the very back of the book, Joaquin’s wife, Marianne did some paintings, some drawings, and within this poem by me, but I just happened to be sitting at the deck having breakfast one morning, and I thought these thoughts.

Tom HIckey:

It’s hard, hard to hear the silence of the morning in the Glen, and that’s, but the mind forces you to hear, ever so slightly, and it’s hard to hear the sounds of the morning in the glen, but the mind forces you to hear ever so slightly a bird bath, the bird mover in the bird bath, and a far red-bellied woodpecker or a chickapee Terrapin. And way above, a plane descending, coming home.

Tom HIckey:

Nadine, where all that came from, I don’t have any ideas. I was just sitting here, and it just popped out. Things that were, at least the muse took over.

Tom HIckey:

And above all, if you’re talking to retirees, you may well be, yeah, you’re right. You’re not done yet. It’s not all over. In fact, it’s just-

Nadine O:

Just beginning.

Tom HIckey:

Just starting because now you have, you have a little bit of time. You’re not to burdened down with the 24/7 work. You have a little bit of time. And so put your mind to work, and let it go.

Nadine O:

Let it go. Yes.

Tom HIckey:

The thing will come teach us. Just let it go, and let the, some say, Open the door and let God in. You know, some of their religious people say-

Nadine O:

Nothing wrong with that.

Tom HIckey:

And I hope you’re stimulating, some people might be giving up. Don’t give up. You’re not done yet, is that what it is?

Nadine O:

You are not done yet. You are not done yet. If I just touch one person, I’ve done my work.

Tom HIckey:

That’s a perfect idea.

Nadine O:

My name is Nadine O, and you’ve been listening to the Over 50 You Are Not Done Yet Show. Until the next time, dream big. No, dream bigger.

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