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Kent Rasmussen <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 3 Feb 2012 16:45:53 -0500
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The past few days have made it impossible for me not to reflect on the cycle
of life. On Wednesday, I learned of the death of the much-loved mother of an
old friend around the same moment my younger son's first child was born.
Yesterday, I learned of the death of my dear friend Tom Tenney. Given his
failing health, his passing is not surprising, but I'm among the many who
are very sorry to see him go. He was one of the kindest and most generous
people whom I've ever known and I owe him an incredible debt.

Anyone who knows the unlikely story of my entry into Mark Twain studies
probably knows that but for Tom, my MARK TWAIN A TO Z would never have been
written. In 1992, I had a contract to write the book at a moment when I had
no credentials whatever in Mark Twain studies and was feeling increasingly
inadequate to meet the seemingly impossible challenge. During that summer,
chance took me to Hannibal, where I met Henry Sweets. He was hospitable and
informative and encouraged me to get in touch with Tom, of whose existence I
was then only faintly aware. Henry also told me about the forthcoming MARK
TWAIN ENCYCLOPEDIA. That book sounded so similar to the book I was
contracted to write that I went into a deep funk. What chance had I, a lone
outsider in the field, to produce a reference work that could compete with
one written by nearly 200 area specialists? No chance, I concluded, and I
decided not to embarrass myself by contacting a scholar of Tom's reputation.

Imagine, then, my surprise a few weeks later, when I was sitting in my
Center for Civic Education office and got a phone call from Tom. (I no
longer remember the exact sequence of events, but I imagine Henry must have
told Tom about me). I didn't realize it at the time, but that should have
been my first intimation that Tom was a telephone junkie. (Lord, how he
loved to draw out late-night phone conversations. I'm a night owl myself,
but even I started nodding off during some of those nocturnal marathon
conversations–and I live in a time zone three hours west of Tom's!)  To get
back to the point ... from the moment of Tom's first call, he became my
mentor and never-failing cheerleader. He read every page I wrote, gave me
reams of information, put me in touch with other helpful people in the
field--mostly notably Kevin Bochynski, another unbelievably generous person
and untiring supporter--and ceaselessly worked to dispel my self-doubts. And
then, when my book was finally finished and in production, he sent galleys
to his friends Lou Budd, Vic Doyno, and Alan Gribben and somehow coerced
them into composing puffs filled with such lavish praises that I thought
then (and still think) that I must be dreaming. Think of what that means
about the strength of Tom's friendship--both to me and to those other scholars!

Asking Tom to write the Foreword to MTAZ was, of course, a slam-dunk
decision, and I was pleased to see his name prominently displayed on my
book's cover. At the risk of sounding a little vain, I'll add that Tom's
Foreword concluded with these generous words: "Not yet exhausted by his
exhaustive enterprise, Kent Rasmussen seeks new Twain worlds to conquer; we
can only watch, and be grateful." When I first read those words, I felt a
little awkward--as if I had reached the summit of Cardiff Hill and had
nowhere left to go but down. I was pretty sure my tank had run dry, and I
hated the idea of disappointing Tom. Imagine my surprise, then, to find
myself, all these years later, on the verge of publishing my eighth and
ninth Mark Twain books. Last week, I was excited to be able to ask Penguin
to send Tom an advanced reading copy of my next book (my first to have an
ARC). I was looking forward to hearing his reaction. 

Well, now that will never happen. So, I'll simply end this by saying, Thank
you, Tom. I owe so much to you.