Where to start with this little tale about Joe? Maybe at the time that he appeared in my life and the reason he appeared.
Riverton, Wyoming and it was the fall of the year. The crew had arrived in town a week before I was transferred onto it from my crew that had stacked out until another contract was found.
25 new people and I knew not one of them. I lugged my suitcases into the hotel and unpacked, anticipating a month or two in this town before we moved on.
Monday morning arrives and finding the office was easy in this small mountain town. I just drove down main street and looked for the brown and red trucks that were carrying the emblem on their doors "Petty Ray Geophysical".
Surrounding the office, the crew had assembled. I parked my Chevelle and made my way to the office with the whole crew noting my arrival. Nods and eye contact as I walked by them, they knew a new arrival when they saw one.
I settled into the office while the party manager gathered the crew and sent them off for their days' work and returning to the office, states "the surveyor didn't make it in today" "could you go to his room and check on him and find out if he is planning on making an appearance?"
I'll bypass the descriptions on my leaving, but I did head for the motel where I was staying and he was staying.
I knocked on his door a few times and waited. Eventually he swung the door open a sliver, his face appeared though the small opening, disheveled and it wasn't a far guess that he had just crawled from his bed. The smell of acohol wafted through the door and into the crisp mountain air.
This was my first meeting with Joe. Apparently he and his girlfriend has just split and Joe wasn't in the mood to work and thought he would find the answers to his problems when he tipped up that beer can till he could see it's bare bottom.
I explained who I was and told him my mission, which was to see him at the office. His survey crew was waiting on him and in a few days if he didn't do his job, the whole crew would be waiting and that meant time and money. A loss of both.
I left and returned to the office and soon a much cleaned up Joe arrived, met his crew and was off to survey and lay out line.
In the coming months Joe and I became freinds. We spent a lot of time together. Dinners were shared, conversation flowed and he always carried a picture of his niece, Gracie, which is presented each time he would receive a new one of her. An adorable dark haired little girl, her big dark eyes like liquid ink, this was his pride. Joe needed roots and his family in Arizona was that for him.
As the year progressed, the months became shorter and colder and soon snow was forecast.
Joe didn't show up for work and I again made the visit to his motel room. The door wasn't locked, but was standing open a small sliver. Grasping the door handle, I swung it inward and there in front of me was a mirrored chest of drawers. On the mirror was a large large smiley face with sun rays reaching out from it. I stood and looked at that mirror and finally the message was received. Joe was gone and this was his goodbye to me. He had packed his stuff into that little yellow Volkswagen and he was headed for the Valley of the Sun, Arizona. Joe never stayed for the first snowfall.
Spring time arrives and along with better weather, I get a call from Joe. He wants to come back to work and work the summer. This became Joe's usual behavior for all the years we were friends. I would talk to the "party manager" and of course surveyors were in short supply so we would put Joe back to work.
Joe was much like a brother to me. Protective at times and irritating at times. I could tell stories here of some of the things that Joe did to irritate, and one that comes to mind is the cherry bomb incident which caused us to be kicked out of a bar in Illinois, or some of the times we roomed together and some of the things he dragged home for some intimate time which caused me to boot him out to go find a place of his own to live.
Joe knew I would get over it. He was right. Try as I might, I knew he was a good guy with a outer crust that could be a bit abrasive at times. He worked on my car when it needed it and when he moved on to the upcoming town where we were to work, he always made sure he found me a room before all the good priced rooms were swallowed up by the crews arrival. I was the last to leave the current town. I had to stay and pay all the bills before following the crew to the next town.
Joe was a talented artist and spent a lot of his time taking classes in Arizona during the winter. He was meticulous in everything he did and was one of the smartest, most clever men I knew and I loved Joe and mostly I trusted him to always be around.
I have many stories of Joe that make me smile and sometimes laugh out loud.
Sometimes we were on the same crew and sometimes he would be on another crew states away from me. Usually if the holidays arrived and he was in some state where the climate was mild, he would keep working. He would contact me and we would get together for the holidays. Once I was in Pa. and when Christmas came, Joe was in southern Virginia. I planned on being home for this holiday, something that rarely happened for me. I was usually in the Rockies and too far to get home for the Holidays.
Joe called me and we made arrangements for him to come to WV and spend Christmas together. He left Virginia in his little yellow VW and soon was pulling into the driveway at my sister's house where I was staying.
My family met and loved Joe. Joe and I were off to party. I was going to introduce him to the little town where I grew up and off to Ripley we went. I'm driving a big ole pickup truck with a topper shell on the back that protects all my earthly belongs. My clothes, cook stuff and sewing machine are beneath that cover on the back of that truck.
Party time was on and of course as the night rolled along and the drinks flowed, Joe and I were hammered. I do remember standing on the chair at some bar in the Ripley area, throwing 20 dollars bills at the bartender while bellowing out "Turn the juke box UP" to which he replied "sit down fool, the band is playin"..and that is the sum total of what I remember of the time we were in that bar. Joe wasn't in much better shape.
I drove. Now I do realize, this wasn't a smart thing to do and to this day I cringe when I think of climbing into any vehicle in this condition. Never the less, I'll finish this story and will inject right here that I never ever get into a vehicle in this condition to this day.
We headed down interstate. I don't think there was any converstation; neither of us were capable. We were headed to my sisters house.
I rolled the truck. Let's just cut right to the chase here. The truck rolled a few times and ended up on it's wheels in the media strip, I was thrown out and so was Joe.
When I woke up I saw the truck and then I saw all my possession strewn down the median strip, the metal topper from the truck was flattened out and looked like a sheet of metal without form or curve.
My fogged brain remembered Joe. I started screaming his name. Over and over, I cried out for Joe. I crawled to the water grate in the center of the median strip where most of my possesion had landed and I could see a hand extended and this is where I plopped down on the ground and grabbed that hand while crying "I killed Joe", OMG I KILLED JOE".
Between my wailings, I hear something so I shut up for a moment and I hear Joe "Annie, I'm not dead. Get me out of here".
I started slinging stuff to the right and left and eventually Joe emerged connected to that hand and alive and almost well. We would pay for this night for the next weeks with mucles that ached that we didnt' even know we had. But ..on with the story.
The wrecker and the cops arrive and the truck is towed to my sisters house. She was awake when the flashing blue lights came up the long driveway to her house and she watched as we crawled out of that wrecker and into Joe's Volkswagen to continue our party!
Just a note here for anyone that reads this. I know how stupid we were. I shiver when I think about this story and how we were endangering others. I know. I know. I promise, I would never ever consider doing some of the crazy things that we did back "then". I'm thankful I survived, Joe survived and most of all that we didn't hurt or kill anyone else before we pulled our heads out of asses and grew up a little.
More stories flow through my head of the time I had with Joe. Every year Joe would show up most of the times we had a place for him on my crew, and every winter he would disappear and I would find that smiley face drawn on that mirror in his room. He would never say goodbye to me. I knew I would see him in the spring. I still have snail mail letters he would write to me while he spent his winters in Arizona and I spent mine slushing through snow up to my hips, fighting frozen water lines and dodging drivers on the icy snowy roads of the Rockies or the north eastern part of the United States.
I would, at this time, wonder at my sanity for not following Joe to sun country for the winter.
I miss Joe and his sacasm. Oh yes, he could be sarcastic and quick to point out things he considered ignorant. He was never unkind to me.
I think of the ending to Joe's life and the part I think I played in the choice he made to end his life. I denied Joe when he summoned me to return into my life. Things had changed. I told him "not now Joe".
Soon there was a note that was found when his body was found. A note that said "I'll get with my friends back up north one way or another" and that was the end of my friend Joe.
I miss you Joe and I know your family misses you. Where would you have been today had you not chosen to end it all?
Rest in Peace my friend.