By Ashley Lodato

Like many people around the valley, I’ve been thinking about the Twisp River Fire this week, and about the firefighters in Engine 642.

I remember in particular one night in the spring of 2013, a couple of months after Tom Zbyszewski was the runner-up at the state Poetry Out Loud finals. I was chaperoning a high school trip to Spokane and Tom was among the 25 or so students on the trip. We were all sitting in a pizza joint for dinner, waiting for our pizzas and calzones to arrive. I was at a table of chaperones with Rob Crandall, Ann Diamond, Dana Stromberger and then-superintendent Mark Wenzel; Tom was across the aisle with a table of friends from the debate team, happily engaged in the sort of conversation that bright and creative Methow Valley teens engage in.

Suddenly Mark Wenzel called Tom over to our table of chaperones. Tom gave his friends a “duty calls” look, came over to our table, and waited to find out what we wanted from him. Mark said, “Tommy, give us ‘Golden Retrievals,’ would you?” referring to one of the poems that Tom recited at the Poetry Out Loud regional competition in Spokane, where he had taken first place.

Tom staged himself at the head of our table, took a moment to compose himself, and then recited, flawlessly, a poem he had probably not even thought about in nearly two months. Tom was right in character, though, with subtle hand motions and the cadence and volume of a true orator. When he finished the final line — “bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow” — Tom received our applause with characteristic humility and a courtly little bow. It was a classic command performance.

But as he stepped away from our table just before returning to his friends, Tom put both hands up in front of his chest, fingers pointing down, opened his mouth, and stuck his tongue out a little and panted — the universal pantomime of a dog waiting for his next command from a human.

The ironic impression was, I thought later, so very much like Tom. Always happy to oblige, Tom had honored the somewhat impulsive request of a respected adult, but he also showed us who was in control of the whole situation after all. He gave us what we asked for, but he left us then — as now — still wanting more. 


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