Friday, April 22, 2011

Here's to You, Joe

We moved in to this little slice of heaven 2 years ago. We took quite a long while to shift stuff from the old one and I was in no particular rush. It was a dream that had been weaving in my head for many years and perhaps this was my unconscious way of processing the reality. There was also this weird feeling that, as a dream, the rightful owners were just off on vacation and when they got back, there was gonna be hell to pay! I'm only a squatter, living on someone else's stuff!

So, moving in means setting up and organizing and unpacking and decision-making. Don't ask how long it took to hang pictures. There are some still in back closets, waiting for their time.

After a few weeks passed by and as we were unloading another truckful of bric-a-brac, we watched a car slow at the driveway, hesitate and then turn in. The house is set back on an acre, with a slightly winding gravel driveway. The car was in no hurry to wheel it's way down the path and this gave us a few moments to ask each other if we recognized the driver.

Was it a Buick? Or an Olds? It was brown..ish and definitely a land yacht. Finally, it reached the footprint of the carport slab and came to a full-stop. The engine cut off, the door winged open and this long slender sheathed leg eased out and placed the attached foot firmly on the ground. A man hauled his lanky frame out of the car and pointed to this Japanese Plum tree standing tall at the end of the concrete and said, clearly and with purpose, "Steve said all those loquats on that tree are mine!"

This was our introduction to a neighbor from across the street at the other end of the block. Joe. He and his wife Lee (not her real name) had raised a family of girls in St. Bernard and lost just about everything but their dignity in Katrina. How do you start over in your 70s?

If he had anything to say as an answer, I think it would be, "With a sense of humor". Every time I bumped into Joe at the market, or wandered over to drop off tomatoes, he was in the best of moods. It really is a gift to be an optimist.

Neighbors are and have been a blessing for me. I have always had the best. I don't know why that is, but it is. My next-door neighbor from the old house bought their home the same time we did back in 1997 and we've been fast friends throughout these years. (She's even forgiven me for jumping ship like a rat and moving to the country).

When she moved over to this side way back then, she brought with her a couple of these trees from her house in Lakeview and while I watched them mature, I really didn't pay their due attention. I wish I had! I've lost a lot of years in my ignorance.

The loquat is large evergreen and we have them littered around St. Tammany. They set their fruit in late fall/early winter and slowly mature as spring approaches. This might serve them well across the lake but they take their chances on the Northshore. We get the freezing temperatures they don't and the hours enough to kill off the more tender fruitlets.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened in the winter of 2009/10. It was uncommonly icy and stayed that way long enough to knock off every tiny fruit of a well-pollinated tree and it didn't make me feel so happy or optimistic when I had to report to Joe that he wasn't going to have his crop that year. He takes everything in stride. "Oh well, next year!"

This year, however, has been entirely different. The bees were buzzing in December and Mother Nature spared us the harshest of weather. Our enormous tree is full of soft orange loquats and they are fantastic to watch as they grow!

But, all things pass and so did Joe. Just a few months ago we got a call from our next-door neighbor telling us Joe died the night before. I didn't even know he'd been admitted to the hospital. He lived just across the way.

So, now I stand out there, nibbling on his ripening loquats and thinking of Joe.

Here's to you!

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