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The Last Minute Obituary

Locations: News Published

In the process of an interview for the Sopris Sun, Valley Journal co-founder Rebecca Young recounted her best memory from her time there. There wasn’t room for it in the final article in the print edition, but we’re able to include it here for anyone who might be interested: 

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“When I moved to town there was a mentally disabled man here people called Old Joe. And it was ironic that, because of the era in which I was raised, I was really taken aback by him. I didn’t know what to make of him, and I was very impressed about how all the other people in town took him stride, were friends with him, and were really kind to him. Billy Joe Ball who ran Circle Supers, used to take him out to the Stage Coach to dance with the ladies on Saturday night.”

“Anyway, he lived in the Dinkle. And he got pneumonia and died. He was well into his seventies. And it was really emotional when Joe died, because he was both like a grown man and a child. I’d taken a good picture of him, which was going to run on the cover, and Pat was supposed to write the eulogy for him. And he didn’t get to it and he didn’t get to it. And finally, when we were just about to go to the press, that column was still blank. And I was pissed. I took it personally. I can remember saying, ‘Dammit, Pat, he deserved a good piece out of you.'”
“We went down to the Post to print that paper with that column still blank. And Pat sat down at that type setting machine- not a typewriter, a typesetting machine. The type comes out physically, and that is what you paste on the page. You do not get chances to edit. It’s there. He sat down without saying a word and typed out that column of type in about fifteen minutes, straight out of his head, onto the typesetting machine, pasted it onto the page, and it was beautiful.
‘Gone, dammit, gone.'”
The full text of the obituary is reproduced below. 

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“Old Joe’ – a legend in his own line.

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It was the face more than anything else that you noticed right off.

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Stuck up there on top of a chicken neck, it was honeycombed with wrinkles, relieved only by squinted eyes, a beak nose and the largest toothless grin anyone could possibly envision.

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Hanging out in front of the old hotel where he had lived for 15 years, or walking down Main Street one always got the impression that he was hurrying to some intriguing rendezvous. This was emphasized by his habit of leaning forward as if heading into a strong wind on a  downhill slope.

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He loved, among other things, the clothes that people would occasionally give him and possessed one of the most varied wardrobes in the Valley. Although it is doubtful that he would have made anyone’s “best dressed” list, he might well have qualified for someone’s “unusual clothes” award. A typical outfit for him would have been something like white cowboy boots, green trousers, purple shirt, blue sportcoat topped off by a hat from his hug collection.

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He was a most unusual person.

He came here from Utah in the 30’s and lived up in Marble for a while before coming to Carbondale in the 40’s. After his mother died and his step-father left town, he was on his own and took up a room in the old hotel which, at that time, was virtually deserted. There’s a story that, as a child, he suffered a severe head injury that left him somewhat mentally retarded. Others contend that he just decided to remain a six-year-old and have a good time the rest of his life. At any rate, he was odd.

In fact, he was crazy.

Ask anybody who knew him. Why, you’d walk into The Nugget or T-Jo’s and, even if you barely knew him, he’d leap up from his barstool and rush over to you and say, “How ya doin’ there, ol buddy,” as if you were a long lost friend.

After that, you’d have to buy him a beer, of course, but what the heck — everybody in town had been not too subtly panhandled by him and he made it obvious enough so that it was really kind of a funny game in the end.

There are too many stories about him (some true, others probably true) to recount here. My favorite, however, was one which happened a few years back. It was late at night in the spring and he and his friend Virgil were walking down Main Street after a day at the bars. It had just rained and the gutters next to the curbing were, as usual, filled with mud and debris. Supporting each other in their somewhat lurching path down the walk, Virgil stumbled and fell into the mud face first. His glasses covered with mud, Virgin leaped up and cried, “I’m blind. I’m blind.”

You’re not blind, you dumb s.o.b.[”] said Joe, “Just wipe off yer glasses.”

“Goddam,” cried Virgil, “I can see. I can see.”

“It’s a miracle,” Joe agreed, and they went on their way.

He died of pneumonia last Friday. He’d been sick for several days and the people who knew him tried to get him to go to the doctor but he wouldn’t. He confided to one friend that he was afraid they’d put him away and wouldn’t let him come back to Carbondale.

The funeral was nice and well attended and the minister gave a tremendous eulogy. He would have liked it although the occasion was perhaps a bit too solemn for his taste. Later, they took him to the Glenwood cemetery for burial and he would have liked that too since (for some unknown reason) he loved going to Glenwood Springs, like a kid going to the circus.

It’s almost too easy to say, “It’s the end of an era,” and it’s too hard to admit it.

Taken care of

Cared for (in a manner of speaking) by the people of the town, he came [to] symbolize what was good about living in a small town — the caring, human side of urban life. And although a  great many didn’t like him and were easily embarrassed by his antics, a great many more unintentionally set psychic clocks by him. So strong was his presence, that more than a few people said they saw him leaning against the door by the hotel after his death.

It is probably true that a great many of the people who knew him were as distressed about losing a local landmark as they were about the person himself. Because they lost a little bit of the good feeling that came with living around here. It is certainly true that someone like Joe will never be seen in town again and, sadly enough, his likes would probably not be permitted to roam at will through the streets of this rapidly urbanizing town.

One-of-a-kind. Dancin’ drinkin’ fool. Crazy. Harassed by the kids. Oddly costumed, crazily creased. Nuisance. Gone, dammit, gone.

-Pat Noel, February 3, 1977