It had been eight months since we lost Joe. I still remember that last night. His request for his dog, Cleo, and an order of chicken wings. It had been a long year. Feverishly rushing to Salt Lake City for blood, and back to Austin for chemo.
He resisted using oxygen, and hated the Hoveround. I finally convinced him to use the motorized chair by showing him it operated like a tank. After that he, and New Baby would do figure “8’s” in the living room. He’d sit on the back porch. There wasn’t much room, and we had to put a little ramp down to accommodate the chair, but he’d find his way out there most days. There were good days, and bad days. Bad days he didn’t leave the couch. Good days would see him sitting on the porch. The neighbor behind us was building a Wood shop.
Joe had a wood shop at his house. Before his illness he would spend hours working there. Joe wasn’t a carpenter, he was an artist! The front door of his house didn’t come from Home Depot, he carved it from Redwood. He carved portraits into wooden planks. His brother in New York had sent him all the special woods. They didn’t look like much, about the size of a floor tile, but when he was done something or someone would be immortalized in the grain. He explained the grains and different woods to me, but I was clueless. He wasn’t, though. To him wood was forever alive. He told me the images were already there. He just removed the excess.
That last day, as he fed the wings to his little dog, I wiped my eye. “Men don’t cry,” he said. I did, though. To see this man, with three bronze stars, a silver, a purple heart and the Medal of honor concerned himself with feeding that dog at the VA was a little much for me. Joe was missing in action in Vietnam. Got overrun. Presumed dead. Reported back for duty in thirty days wearing ”someone’s” black pajamas and sandals. Now all he thought about his little dog, and yes, I cried that day.
The priest came in to administer the last rites. Joe didn’t have any sins to confess. I told him he could borrow some of mine. Within the hour it didn’t matter anyway. I had taken the dog home, and was about to return to the hospital when I got a simple text, “He’s gone.” I stared at those words for a very long time. I still have a screen shot on my iPhone. How ironic for a man’s life to boil down to, “He’s gone!” In his last moment he looked at his wife, said, “Oh baby,” and just left us.
The months went by. We watched all his “Buddies,” to see how his death had affected them. You know, you can never tell what’s in a child’s mind, or what level of understanding they have, but sometimes it shows and will humble you. Joe’s favorite was “New Baby.” When he finalized the adoptions, New Baby took his name. Joseph Steven Tarajos.
With all the ups and downs, the funeral, the probate, and all the rest, no one paid any mind to Joe, Jr. After all, he was just the baby. Christmas approached. There were two more trips to Utah between Joe’s death, and then. He’d bought a big blue house in Utah. His last building project remained unfinished.
The kids were now back in Texas for Christmas, setting up the tree and playing in Joe’s yard. Joe would usually be in his wood shop making toys. Then I heard a tap, tap, tap in the distance. It was then I noticed New Baby knocking on the door of the shop. A knock that would never be answered. He stood there perplexed staring at the unanswered door. I wiped another tear, but, men don’t cry.The Butcher Shop