Much of this post is from one I wrote in 2007. I’ve just brought it up to date a little.
When I was 16 years old, I met a man who would become one of my best friends. His name was Joe, but we all called him Joe-Joe.
Joe-Joe was not from one of the better-off families in town; he’d probably never been to church except for weddings or funerals; he didn’t finish high school, in fact, Joe Joe couldn’t even read. When I met Joe, he was 24 years old. He was a very simple-minded person, didn’t think too much, didn’t want to. He was working as a ranch hand on the ranch across the road from our home. He didn’t have his own vehicle, but drove a ranch truck. I have hauled many a bale of hay with Joe Joe. Well, I drove the truck (I was a little too girly to pick up & throw bales of hay!) while Joe, Dave and Jeanne threw & stacked the bales.
I became closer to Joe Joe through my boyfriend, Billy. They were good friends, both coming from longtime Montgomery families. Joe’s brother owned a local beer joint which Billy frequented. I was not allowed there, although I’ll admit I’ve been more than once. (You young people don’t die of shock – when I walked in the door, Billy’s friends would holler “Watch your language, Nina’s here! They took care of me like a china doll.) Joe and I were the only ones who didn’t drink alcohol, me because of my upbringing and convictions, Joe because he’d seen what alcohol had done to his father and brothers.
Joe was always there for me. Whether I was dating someone or not (it was mostly “not” for me, I was not popular) Joe was there to take me places, ride horses, visit with my folks, whatever I wanted to do. “Joe-Joe, I need a Coke!” was a familiar request Joe heard, to which he never failed to comply.
When I was about 19, I dated another fella (this part of my life is where you learn from my mistakes, not from my example. This is history, and as my Daddy so aptly used to put it, you can’t change history!). We all ran around together, Jeanne and Mike (now her husband), David (my brother), Joe-Joe, David (my boyfriend) and me. In our small town, a night out usually meant driving around on logging roads, hanging out in one of the 2 gas station parking lots, or, on very special occasions, we’d go to Conroe. My boyfriend turned out to be a jerk (they often do!) and the night I discovered his duplicity was one of the most horrible of my life. But Joe-Joe was there, trying to protect me from the truth, staying with me through the pain and tears – he would have gladly hurt David if I’d have let him!
When I was around 20 years old, before I met Bill Petty (the most wonderful man in the world!), I asked Joe-Joe to promise me something. After the guy-troubles I’d had, I had a fear of being an old maid, so I said, “Joe, if neither of us are married by the time I’m 25 and you’re 32, promise me you’ll marry me!” Joe promised. Joe-Joe was fun, he was loyal, but I never loved him in that way. He was my security, though, and he let me use him as such.
Then, I met Bill and we got married. About a year later, Joe also got married, but 2 children later his marriage ended. You see, Joe Joe had begun drinking shortly before I met Bill. I never thought he would, but he did. His marriage died and Joe began to slide down the slippery slope of alcoholism: joblessness, instability, & disability. For years, Joe Joe spent his hours at charity hospitals (emphysema/COPD), beer joints, and visiting his dear sister. I only rarely saw him in passing on the back roads of Montgomery.
I got to see Joe at his daughter’s wedding in 2007. He was thrilled to see me, as I was him. He was still the same old Joe-Joe, simple, loving, laughing at everything – he talks so fast and quiet, you can’t understand half of what he says, but he just laughs at his own jokes and goes on! But alcohol had taken its toll on his mind and his body. He was as touched as every father is to see his daughter get married.
Last week, Joe-Joe had an accident. He fell and hit his head and was Life-flighted to a hospital. He never came home.
I am so heartbroken. Joe-Joe was my friend. And though I’ve not seen him in a very long time, I think I will miss him, because I will feel the absence of his friendship. There will be no service for Joe-Joe, whether by his wishes or not, I don’t know. I had to write tonight, though, just to tell the world that my friend died, and I will miss him.
Goodbye, Joe-Joe. You were a good friend.