Tom Sheehan has lived in the same house on Central Street for 63 years. Over the years, Sheehan has seen a lot. He has seen many of the vestiges of the old Saugus, the Saugus he grew up with, gradually disappear - the old high school; the State Theater; and the Adventure Car-Hop.
He has been there to witness new town fixtures spring up - the new high school; the infamous orange dinosaur which stands guard over Route 1; and the ice palace known as Kasabuski Arena where he has watched the sons of Saugus skate for Saugus High since 1946, when he played for the school's first-ever hockey team.
And he has seen his own sons, who once passed through Little League and youth hockey - those suburban rites of passage - grow into men with sons and daughters of their own.
In his latest book, A Collection of Friends the 76-year-old author invites the reader to see what he has seen, commemorating the people and the town he has loved for so long.
"Enduring, memorable, these people have filled my life and they are found here in this book," Sheehan writes. "Perhaps for a short time of reading, they might live again for new friends."
Sheehan became interested in writing at a young age. Most nights, his grandfather Johnny Igoe, dump master at the Malden City Dump, would read him poetry by lamp-light.
"Listen to the words. Hear them. Feel them," his grandfather would say.
At six years of age, Sheehan was introduced to the works of his fellow Irishman William Butler Yeats.
"[Igoe] made Yeats’ voice to be his own voice, that marvelous treble and clutter of breath buried in it," Sheehan writes in his book.
Later, after his grandfather had passed on, Sheehan listened to a recording of Yeats reading his own poetry. "I swore it was Spellbinder Johnny Igoe still at work," he writes.
The seed that was planted in Sheehan as a boy has only grown with time, blooming in full force late in life.
"You come with two things - love and energy. So you damn well better use 'em," he says.
And he has. While working as a semi-technical writer for Raytheon, Sheehan wrote during every spare moment for 35 years. He became a prolific poet, published in many poetry collections.
Since retiring in 1991, he has added essays, short stories and novels to his poetry credits. After publishing two mystery novels, Vigilante's East (2002) and Death for the Phantom Receiver (2003), Sheehan decided to write a book about what has mattered most in his life - "My family, my comrades and my hometown."
A Collection of Friends is the story of one man's journey through life in the town he has called home for 70 years.
"This town has been exceptionally good to the Sheehans," he says.
Though born in Charlestown, Sheehan has spent most of his life in Saugus. He was a star athlete at Saugus High School, playing football, baseball and hockey for the Sachems before graduating in 1947.
On the football field, both in Saugus and in the Army, he was a teammate of Art Spinney, later of the Baltimore Colts. In 1990, Sheehan was inducted into the Saugus High School Sports Hall of Fame along with his nephew Bob Gaudet, the head hockey coach at Dartmouth College. Sheehan continues to be a big supporter of Saugus Youth Sports.
In addition to sending his sons through Little League and youth hockey, Sheehan has also helped run the Pop Warner football program and he was on the Board of Governors at Kasabuski rink.
"I keep telling [my kids], 'When your turn comes, you give back.' And they will give back," he says.
In the trenches
"Ah, Saugus, the town I took to Korea many years ago, savored, brought back!" he writes in his memoirs.
From 1950-1952, Sheehan served proudly in the 31st Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He is filled with both pride and sorrow when he thinks about the war. A lump still rises in his throat when he speaks about his "comrades" who fought bravely along side him in the trenches in Korea.
He is haunted by one name in particular - Jack Slack. During his last six months in Korea, Sheehan became a war correspondent. In order to be relieved of duty, he needed to find a man to replace him. That man was John R. Slack. After returning home, he received several letters from Slack. But then the letters stopped coming.
"In his last letter, he wrote, 'I'll catch up with you when I get home.' But I can't find him," Sheehan laments.
Sheehan has checked casualty lists, written to veteran's associations and even called 179 Jack Slacks across the country, but there is no trace of the man who took his place in battle. He has knocked on every door on Van Schoick Street in Albany, NY, Slack’s last known address before military service.
In his book Sheehan pays tribute to his comrades, both those who fell and those who remain. The front cover features a photograph of a row of gravestones adorned with American flags commemorating the veterans buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Saugus. Another photo on the title page depicts a statue of a soldier at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Where the heart is
There is a saying: "Home is where the heart is." Or as Sheehan so eloquently puts it in his unique brand of poetic prose: "My heart is forever locked into this town whose streets I walk the way I might one day walk another paradise. If there is one like this, if it is one I can earn my way to, where the river comes pale and palpable in its touch at East Saugus. If it is one where you can look across to Lynn, where old pilings and boats worn out by muscle and devotion continue their journey back into the earth. Where the marsh turns suddenly brown, then white, and where friends, the old and the new, the lost and the forlorn, herald every corner I turn, telling me they love what I still have."
Today, Tom Sheehan is right where he wants to be - sitting at a computer doing what he loves in the town that he loves in the same house on Central Street.
If you are interested in ordering A Collection of Friends, information can be found at www.pocolpress.com.
In the meantime, Sheehan and fellow BC alum John Burns (they co-edited the sold-out A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900-2000) are working on a tribute to noteworthy and memorable Saugonians called Claiming Our Own, and Sheehan is working on several other projects including an NHL mystery entitled Murder from the Forum.