Over the years I've called the Cromptons the Muffinpants family here. They are my mishpocha, the people I've bonded with for 3 generations now. We have our traditions, memories, stories, and love, like any family does. We've been through victories and losses, changes and surprises, births and deaths. And now we'll get through losing Joe, somehow.
Joe was my brother by another mother. We worked together in the meat department of our local food co-op for a decade. In that time, he, our friend Plague and I led the first union drive there. We put our hearts and souls into it, 2 long years that never got us to a vote. It was an ugly fight, but Joe (whom we dubbed 'Captain') sailed above the fray. More than that, he laughed it off, even seemed to enjoy "fighting the bastards". He was like Sir Percival, untouchable because of his purity of heart. He believed, and instilled in me the belief, that despair is a mortal sin. Not in a religious dogma way, but in the way that you're doing irreparable damage to your spirit if you allow despair. He would not allow despair.
Plague wrote a lovely bit: "...he is the only man I would call Perceval ever...he is the only one who is pure enough of heart to find the grail. He looked to the far horizon, and no petty bastard could drag him down. He could not see the scorpionlike tiny crawling beings trying to get to him, just the horizon, our captain. He fought the good fight. He stayed the course..."
He did. He also remained working there, and 5 years after our union drive a second drive brought the union we wanted. Plague and I were no longer there, but Joe got his dream of being a union member. He was happy and proud to be a UFCW Meat Cutter.
But Joe was so much more. He made art. I have a papier mache statue of his mother milking a goat that he made as a youth. And two manila envelopes full of prints made of his woodcuts. Near the end, he surpassed his earlier works in leaps and bounds. Here is a photo by family friend Tom Stier of his latest works; the toes are Joe's, as is all the art.
Joe was also a deep thinker. At times he would randomly blurt out a sentence and look to you to add something as if you'd heard whatever he'd been discussing in his head. I called this, "putting my head in a blender", and it became known amongst us as being "blenderized". He read voraciously. He criticized thoughtfully. He theorized wildly. He was a delight, a challenge, at times nerve-wracking. I can't count how many times I yelled, "I'm gonna kill ya, Joooe!" in our workdays, when he'd make a mess. And he was funny.
The first time I worked alone with him, he was training me on the Sunday open-to-close alone shift. We were resetting the fish display, and a customer asked for a red snapper. Joe grabbed one and began wrapping it. She said, "How do you cook this?" and he replied, "Apply heat." Later that day another customer asked when the fish deliveries were. "Tuesdays and Fridays," he said. "Well if it comes in on Friday, what's it like by Monday?" she said. "It reeks", he said, and walked away. His customer service improved over the years.
As a friend, he gave all he could whenever he could. He helped me move 3 times, including the evacuation for Irene. He came to every party I threw, bearing food. He once made a sausage pie at work for my birthday and put the candles on while it was still hot. They melted, making a layer of wax between crust and meat. A birthday I'll never forget. He brought me so much laughter.
Joe leaves here the loves of his life- his wife Carole, daughter Phoebe, grandchildren Lila and Parker, son-in-law Jesse, his sisters and brother, nephews, nieces and cousins, and many, many who loved him. He was predeceased by his son Jeremiah, who left us tragically 3 years ago, and for whom he wrote an amazing, honest obituary.
I'll forever miss him, his gentle nature, his kindness and decency. But somehow, he'll always be a part of me, a sort of weird Jiminey Cricket in my mind. And heart.
The last time we spoke, we knew it would probably be the last time. A breath between every word, short because of the lung cancer that started it all. He told me to listen to Louis Armstrong to get through this, so I am.