He called me Auntie, I called him Uncle Joe. There was no logical reason for it, given that he was my former husband’s brother-in-law. But Uncle Joe he was.

Being in the process of reading “Atlas Shrugged” was the stimulus for my remembering Joe. You don’t need to have read Ayn Rand’s works, though, for this to make sense. I just want to point out how creative and essential Joe was, and how unlikely it would be that anyone would recognize him, either financially or through reputation, for what he did.

Joe earned his living as a school custodian. I’ll admit, before I understood his job, I thought it was pretty insignificant. Not the heralded creativity of those who obtain patents and money for their inventions of new things or ideas. He would certainly not be recognized by those who think the contributions of the mind outrank physical labor.

No, janitors don’t just wash floors and clean up messes after careless students. Daily Joe was met with the challenge of something not functioning properly. Heating and air conditioning breakdowns, electrical failures, plumbing problems, structural damage, animal invasions – I can’t name all the problems. And that’s just the point. Whatever the event, it was his job to diagnose and repair, to apply his creative skills to arrive at the most efficient solution. He kept the school running.

In the meantime, he served, as so many custodians do, as unofficial counselor to troubled students.

I confess, I have joyfully engaged in an occupation where the mind was paramount. That’s why I so fear falling on my head which contains my most important working parts. But I am unwilling to join those who belittle folks like Uncle Joe. We are all of potential value. We are all served if we appreciate and encourage what others have to offer. That includes the young man of limited ability who greets us as we enter the concert hall. Maybe that’s why, in the 60s, I identified with those who opposed elitism.

So, here’s to the memory of Uncle Joe.

10 responses to “REMEMBERING UNCLE JOE

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  1. I, too, had an Uncle Joe like that. Married my father’s sister, my Aunt Olive. That’s right, someone actually named their daughter Olive! Not Olive Oyl, but Olive Stewart, who married a Joe, a great big Polish guy of few words who had been a minor league catcher but had no education beyond the 10th grade. My Uncle Joe, like yours, worked with his hands. Never knew what he did, but I did know that he was kind, loved my Aunt Olive like a Greek Salad, and took care of his business without making a fuss or drawing attention to hmself.

  2. Mona – What a lovely tribute to your relationship with your Uncle Joe. Thank you for sharing your memories with me.

    I am sincerely sorry for your loss.

    Best, Pat

  3. We could not function without him

  4. Amen to every single word!!!!

  5. There may be a little Uncle Joe in all of us. If we pause to reach toward the souls of others, regardless of the titles they have or the neighborhoods they live in, we will find wondrous examples of what it really takes to make the world go round. I had an Uncle Joe – iiterally. He was a university professor and was nothing like yours. But his first wife, Allie, may have been the most marvelous person who ever lived. She “came from money”, never worked in a formal way and never failed to appreciate all that was around her. A gourmet cook, an open door, cat rescuer. Clipped newspaper and magazine articles that she thought others would enjoy and left little for the recycling. Stopped her 10 year old car to pick wildflowers. Devoted herself to a single mother in “the slums” dying from cancer, ultimately getting a neighborhood bridge named for her. Raised two kids – separated by 14 years – with whom she used her financial largess to form a legal alliance of some kind to further the education of African American youth. When my own daughter arrived she brought on her visit to welcome her, not the latest infant bauble, but some towels that she had found useful when her children were babies. They were for us, too. I’m not sure she ever cleaned her house. Fortunately for so many, my “Uncle Joe” had a wife.
    Her Quaker funeral service was among the most moving I have ever attended and beyond any tribute from friends that any person could wish for. I was lucky.

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