Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reflections On A Life Well Lived

Our next door neighbor died just a few days before Christmas.  Last night, when Jim and I returned home, I said, "I just can't believe Joe is gone."  Jim agreed.

We have lived in this house for about sixteen years now, but it has only been in the last few years since we retired that we really got to know Joe.  Before that, we were gone much of the time and never had time to get to know our neighbors.

Joe and I neighbored a bit back and forth from the first summer on.  He would be out puttering around the outside in the evenings as I dug in the dirt in the front yard.  When we first moved in, there were no flower gardens in the front of our house.  There was only rock and ground cover.  Slowly, shovel, by shovel, I began digging and planting.  As I dug and planted, Joe puttered next door.  I became accustomed to knowing that my house and yard was always safe under Joe's watchful eye.

Nothing in the neighborhood ever escaped his notice.  Once, he came over and told us the garage had been left open during the night.  Another time, he warned that thieves had broken into his garage and other garages and were stashing the goods in his back yard.  He found the loot and called the police.  We installed chains and locks for our back gates.

Another time, we had to have some foundation work done to the house.  I was out of town when the work began.  Before leaving, I had discussed with the workmen how they could dig up my flower beds. Joe had no idea that we were having the work done.  When workmen began digging up my flower beds and pulling out plants, Joe came over and asked what they were doing.  He said, "Sally is going to be mad as hell when she gets home and sees what you have done to her beautiful flowers."  I still smile over that.

Once we retired, we got to know Joe better.  My husband and Joe would visit quite a bit as Joe tinkered on his old car or worked about the yard and house.  They would even share a few books.  We had time to finally get to know our neighbor.  Whenever we went on trips, it was nice to know that at least one neighbor was looking out for our house.  Joe and his wife would graciously pick up our mail and newspapers whenever we were out of town.

Joe, born just two days after I was born, was a wiry, short man who at one time managed the local Furr's Cafeteria.  He then prepared meals for the Meals on Wheels program.  A quiet man, unassuming, humble man, he married young and worked hard all his life.  He treasured his wife and family.  He adored his two grandchildren.  He honored his Catholic faith and his Hispanic heritage.  He was a hunter and fisherman.  He seemed to be able to fix anything.  He was truly one who could be described as "the salt of the earth" or one of great worth and reliability.

Over a year ago, we noticed we hadn't seen Joe recently.  We remarked that we worried that he was ill.  Then, we saw him one day and were shocked to see how much weight he had lost.  He had colon cancer.  He seemed to rally.  This summer, when we got up every morning and went out on the back deck to drink our coffee and read the paper, Joe was already out working.  He was fixing things around the house.  He was up on the roof.  He was painting.  He was always busy.  Even though he was fighting cancer, he went about his lifelong habit of being industrious.


One day this summer, as I was out working in the garden, Joe hoisted himself up on the fence between our yards.  He asked what kind of flower I had growing next to the fence.  I told him they were hollyhocks and related the story about collecting the seeds at a farm in Grand Junction.  I told him I was shocked to see how much they had grown since it took two years for them to come up and bloom.  He said they were just beautiful and said he'd never seen prettier.

I planted zucchini and tomatoes this summer.  I took some of the zucchini and tomatoes to Joe and his family.  His wife said that Joe enjoyed eating them.  She said he loved zucchini bread.  She even baked some for us.  I like to think that Joe really did get some pleasure out of eating those fresh vegetables from my garden during the last summer of his life.

Sadly, in the end, cancer claimed Joe.  He only weighed 84 pounds when he died after suffering so much during most of the fall.  His devoted wife took care of him everyday until the day he died.  He was surrounded by his grandchildren and his sons on a nearly daily basis.  One is blessed to have such love and care in one's life.

On the day of his funeral, I smiled when I saw his beautiful new red truck, driven by his son,  pull into place in the procession headed toward the cemetery.  Joe was so proud of that truck.  Then, I had to wipe  tears from my eyes as I thought how he would not be able to enjoy driving that truck up into the hills to go fishing or hunting.  He never got a chance to retire and do all the things he loved to do.  He didn't get to watch those beautiful grandchildren grow up.  He was too young to leave us so soon.

Joe's life was a sterling example of love and faith and hard work.  He lived his life well.   He left of legacy of how to be a good husband, father, and neighbor.  He exemplified la familia in the most positive of all traditions associated with his heritage.  We will miss him greatly.

28 comments:

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a beautiful tribute to a truly lovely man, Sally! I'm so glad you had a chance to get to know Joe in recent years. Isn't it sad how we dash around and don't have time for each other when we're working? His life, albeit far too short, was an inspiration to us all -- in terms of being a caring person to family, friends and neighbors alike. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Olga said...

How very sad.

John and Ellen said...

You have honored your friend in a beautiful manner. Few of us are ever fortunate enough to know a person of this quality. Nicely done.

John and Ellen
connectedtothevinephotography.blogspot.com

rosaria said...

As we age, we'll see more and more of our friends go, and will worry more and more about our own frailties. The only thing we can do is to live a good life, every day, every minute. We can't afford putting off to tomorrow!

Happy New Year, dear friend.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Gorgeous tribute. Truly beautiful. You have saddened me and made me miss a man I never met. Lucky you, though, for knowing him so well.

DJan said...

What a wonderful remembrance of a truly remarkable man. I hope that if there is a heaven, he is puttering in a garden somewhere, being industrious as he always was. What a fine story. Thank you for introducing me. :-)

Jackie said...

Sally...I don't know how you did it, but you evoked tears from me regarding a man I had never met....didn't know existed.
Joe seems like such a fine man. I pray for comfort for his family and for you and your family as I know that you both will miss this man who was what the Lord would want in all of us: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Matt. 22:39

Kay said...

This is such a beautiful post, Sally. What a wonderful neighbor Joe was. I'm glad you were able to get to know him even better after retirement. Our neighbor, Charlie is ill now too and it's really a worry. Your neighbors get to be like family, don't they? I know Joe loved having you for his neighborhood family.

Beth said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your friend Joe. I know that you will miss him.

This post was a lovely tribute to him.

Jeanie said...

This is so nicely written Sally. You shared both facts about Joe and your feeling about him in a way that made us care about the loss of a man we never met. It is a beautiful tribute.

Rita said...

What a heartfelt tribute to a good man! It sounds like he will be missed by all his family...and you guys, too! :)

Sandi said...

How honoring your post was of your dear neighbor, Joe. Thank you for sharing what his life meant to you and your husband. Your words were a reminder to me; to appreciate my neighbors, be thankful for their connections, to take the time to stop and chat, even when I feel "too busy".

Lovely post, Sally.

gigihawaii said...

I think your friend Joe will be so proud of what you have written about him. Very well done, Sally.

Arkansas Patti said...

Just a lovely tribute and I hope his family gets to read it. He sounds like one of those "salt of the earth" types. You were lucky to share space.

Jean said...

A lovely tribute to an obviously lovely man. Give a copy of this to Joe's wife.

Thisisme. said...

Hi Sally. A very moving and touching tribute to your friend and neighbour. A life well lived - who could ask for more than that? It was the new red truck in the funeral procession that brought the tears to my eyes! Beautifully written post.

KleinsteMotte said...

He will be missed. Colon cancer. Ouch. I am one of the luckier ones. So far it's been 3 1/2 years since I had surgery but could not do the chemo.
Sadly your friend was not one of the survivors. But he leaves behind those who knew him and loved him. Your tribute is a fine one and very fitting for him, a true neighbour and family man. He is surely missed.

Linda Myers said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend's life. Sound like he made the most of the days of his life, and that his family and friends appreciated him.

laurie said...

what an inspiration he was, adnsuch a wonderful person to have had the honor to be called your friend.
Beautiful tribute, just lovely,

dkzody said...

My deepest sympathy on your loss of a good friend, a good neighbor, and a good man.

Linda Reeder said...

You have told Joe's story so beautifully. It is sad and lovely and heart warming. And what a lesson in living life well Joe has provided us.

Mage said...

Thank you so much for telling Joe's story. You touched my heart.

Grandma Yellow Hair said...

Wonderful way to honor such a kind man as Joe. I am glad you got to know him better these past few years. Sounds like the prefect friend and neighbor.
I am sorry Sally for your loss I know you will miss his friendship and watching your home. Funny about him coming over and telling the guys how mad you would be. lol
Thanks for sharing this tribute and Joe left what most of us want to leave a legacy of good to all of our family and friends
Happy New Year
Maggie

Maggie May said...

Sorry to hear about Joe. You wrote a wonderful tribute.

I hope you and yours have a happier New Year.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Jeanie said...

Dear Sally, this is such an eloquent tribute to a wonderful man. I think you were both lucky indeed to know one another, to share a fence and a life. I know how much you will miss that friendship, simply from reading your words.

I think you may be a great source of support for Joe's widow. I know that may be difficult, but I also know that you know and understand grieving in a way others may not. She will find a source of strength in you. That is perhaps the "giving back" of the gift Joe brought you. You are in my thoughts.

Claudia said...

Thank you for this beautiful tribute to a wonderful neighbor and friend. You've managed to paint a picture of your friend for us. I'm so sorry for the loss of someone so young to such a terrible disease. Blessings to you and to Joe's family and friends.

xo
Claudia

Deb Shucka said...

Such a lovely tribute to a life that left a legacy any of us would be proud of. I'm sorry for your loss - and glad you had the time you did with this amazing neighbor.

Sightings said...

Joe ... he sounds like a true American hero.