A couple weeks ago, Nora came in the house after school in tears. Joe, our adored school crossing guard, passed away the Thursday night before. Until we became a Clement Elementary family (#ClementAve4life), I had never seen an entire student body have so much love and respect for a crossing guard. No one, and I mean NO ONE, ever crossed that walk without a, “Thanks!” Or more often, “Thanks, Joe!” And he knew these kids’ names. I don’t know how he kept up all of the crosswalk conversations, firing from east to west and west to east, but he did.
Of course, the Santiagos loved him, too. He was good man, a neighborhood icon, and the only person I’d ever seen unlock the old police call box on our corner and actually use the phone. (Seriously, my mind was blown — he had the key to a TARDIS?!)
Joe was the guy in the neighborhood who had been 90 years old for 25 years. He was a man of few words, unless he was talking about college basketball, football, or talking to one of the Clement kids. Any other time, you might get a “Have a nice day.”, or more often, his trademark answer to a question or response to a salutation, “Okay.”
I *lived* for that okay. We adopted that okay in our daily vernacular. Never in a mocking spirit, but because it made us happy. We loved Joe like a mo’fo’. Joe was a-o-kay.
For the last five years, I was determined to get more than my daily “Okay.” from Joe. When I finally did, it was more than I could have hoped for. It was at the very end of after school pickup, and I was the lone person waiting to cross the street. As I stood at the corner of Wilbur and Clement, waiting for Joe to blow his whistle and give me the signal to cross to the east, a car made a last minute right turn right in front of my feet. Joe looked pissed, y’all. I looked at the driver and, in my best Bronxish accent, yelled, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” She proceeded to park with the back half of her car in the crosswalk. Joe began his best pissed off shufflestrut towards her. When she got out of her car, before he even had to say a word, I said to her, “No problem, Cupcake. Just park right in the crosswalk. Where the kids walk. Way to not give a shit.” After she shot my her very best bitchface and began to cross the street, outside of the crosswalk, I called to her, “Hey! We’ve got a crosswalk here, just for you! Okay then, you keep being awesome!” I began to cross the crosswalk, smiling at Joe. That’s when it happened.
Joe laughed. A quiet chuckle turned into a full-on laugh. (I made Joe laugh!) Afterward, I called Augie at work to tell him. I’m totally serious. From that day on, my daily “Okay” always came with a big smile and a knowing nod. One day, for about 30 seconds, we were a team. It was like I got to be Joe’s companion.
Later that year, Augie and I were invited to a special coffee and cake event for the school’s dedicated volunteers. I was seated right next to Joe. We actually got a chance to have a nice chat. I confessed my sheer joy at making him laugh. He laughed (score!), and gave me a hard time about it. Met his wife. Forgot to ask about the TARDIS. I’m not proud of that.
Joe was laid to rest at Holy Trinity Cemetary. We were honored to know him. He was a nice man, a dedicated volunteer in many capacities, and he made sure our kids got to and from school safely. His wife wrote to the students after the funeral. She told them, that during his brief stay in the hospital, all of the cards (hundreds) that the kids sent to Joe were read, cherished, and hung up in Joe’s room. Every wall was filled with love letters made of loose leaf and heart shaped construction paper cards, all smeared with glitter and paste and crayon and fond get well wishes. She further told the kids that Joe wanted them all to know that it gave him a lot of joy to se them every day, that he loved them all, and that he knew he would pass away surrounded by their love.
The other day, Nora came home from school in tears, again. She said that some of the kids built a big mound of snow with a cross that said, “We miss you Joe”. The junior crosswalk assistants hung their reflective sashes on it. Nora went on to say that she started feeling really sad when she saw it, but when she was looking at it, the new crossing guard told her to hurry up and get across the street. That’s what really made her cry. “Joe would never do that, mom.” I know, honey, I know.
And, perhaps one of the most important things to know about Joe… We have decided that he was a time lord. It all adds up. And, in this house, we love us some time lords.
Nine: “Before I go I just want to say you were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I.”
Ten: “I don’t want to go.”
Eleven: “I will not forget one line of this. Not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
Our neighbor is out with his snowblower. In the street. He’s snowblowing the street. He is clearly an overachiever. While I do not understand him, I support him 100%.
So, today we salute you, Mr. Overachiever Snowblower Guy.
Without you, we’d all be trapped in our driveways, not knowing when the giant snow plow trucks equipped with copious amounts of rock salt would free us (in 20 minutes).
Because somewhere, down the block, a hipster is mocking you, but will later respect you for clearing the road for his fixie.
Because you give us something to believe in, and that something is that crazy old dudes can clear an intersection like a motherfucker.
So crack open that bottle of brandy, Mr. Overachiever Snowblower Guy, and throw back those Old Fashioneds.
And remember, when someone says, “Did you see that car almost slide into that crazy old bastard with the snowblower?” You can say, “Get me another goddammed Old Fashioned.”