I always adored my Uncle Joe. He was the kind of guy that would laugh with you, teach you to hoe the weeds around a tomato plant, climb an apple tree in the orchard, tell you stories about his travels and then show you how to tell if there was a thunderstorm approaching. I thought he knew everything about everything. I'm still pretty sure that he did.
Other people will recall Joe Reid the architect - he was a very accomplished architect. I remember times during his whirlwind tours of Washington D.C. when he would pass a building and casually say, "that's a building I worked on." I was too young to really appreciate his skill in that area.
Sometimes we would go to visit Uncle Joe, the beautiful Aunt Maria (who is from Greece and I always was in awe of her exotic accent - and mastery in the kitchen), and their sons Avo, Charlie and Robert. They were the cousins that everyone had a crush on, because they were not only gorgeous - but so kind and patient with their goofy little cousin. While we were there Uncle Joe would take us into the city to tour the Smithsonian museums, the Treasury, the Library of Congress, the Capitol, the National Cathedral, the Metro, the Mall, the underground tunnels that nobody else knew about...and it seemed like we did all that in one day. Uncle Joe did NOT let any moss grow on him. Or anybody traveling with him!
I think that is one of the reasons I was always so drawn to him - this kindred wandering spirit. I love to travel, but I didn't inherit Uncle Joe's chutzpah. When he was a young man, he decided he wanted to travel - so he signed on to a merchant marine ship as a cook. The thing was...he didn't actually know how to cook. He said he did, and I guess he figured it out as he went along. That takes some real nerve.
His time in the merchant marine gave him the opportunity to visit a lot of places. I dug out some of my grandmother's photo albums and found a few pictures of Joe as an adventuring young man. I love seeing him standing in front of the Sphinx and sitting atop a camel (he's there in the middle). But I think I like the picture of him sitting on the side of the boat. That faraway look in his eye...looking to the horizon...looking for a new adventure.
That spirit never left him. One of my favorite memories is from January 16, 1991. I was headed to see a friend in a dance production in Baltimore. But I got lost going through D.C. (Mom told me to take 95N but missed the part about going around by 395 or 495...whatever). I was supposed to be staying with my Uncle Louie (Mom's brother) outside Baltimore but when I called him for the third time from Glebe Road, in tears - he said he would call Joe to come rescue me. I was so glad to see that station wagon pull into the gas station parking lot. Joe - ever the hospitable host - said I must be hungry, why didn't we stop for a bite? We went to the Sizzler. He had never been and treated it like a culinary escapade! He had already eaten and chose to just get the dessert bar. He was delighted to find that he could eat as many desserts as he wanted!
That night he had the unpleasant task of telling me that my paternal grandfather had passed away. He was so sweet and understanding. It was just his way. Family meant everything to Uncle Joe. He loved his sons, adored his sisters and brothers, worshiped his wife...and we were all a part of his warm embrace. A lot of what I recall about him comes in bits and pieces...
He named all his dogs Oscar. One of them liked to save the kids who were "drowning" in the pool at my Aunt Twizzie's house. The only problem was that we weren't drowning until Oscar tried to save us. I think I still have a few scars on my back from being saved.
The night that he saved me from Glebe Road was the night that the Gulf War began. Since I had been driving for about 7 hours (including 3 hours of being lost), I had listened to NPR's coverage and we talked about that at our great epicurean adventure at The Sizzler. He thought I might want to keep up with what was going on, so he moved a TV into the guest room for me. The guest room that I wasn't even supposed to be in - since I was supposed to be at Uncle Louie's!
He showed me where the two cherry trees were in Aunt Twizzie's orchard. We ate cherries until I was sick. He didn't tell anybody why I was sick.
There were two huge evergreen trees in front of my great grandmother's house - he showed me that if you climbed inside on a rainy day, it was dry and quiet - just like a tent!
We visited he and Aunt Maria when both our families were at the Outer Banks at the same time about 10 years ago. He said that we really needed to have some ice cream and so he just went out and got some! It didn't matter how many times my parents or his wife said, "oh, no, Joe...we don't need that..." He saw the look in my eye when he mentioned it - or maybe he just really wanted some himself!
I'm going to miss him.
I hope he knows how much I learned from him.
I hope that I can put some of it into practice.