The Best is Yet To Come

The Best is Yet To Come

By: Bill the Butcher

That was Joe’s motto, and one of the last things he ever said to me while in his final trip to the VA in Temple, Texas. Joe was a retired Sargent Major, three bronze stars, a silver, and a purple heart, Vietnam. He was also married to my ex-wife, and I jokingly referred to him as my “husband in law.” Joe loved to work with wood. He built altars for the church, carved images in wood, and doubled the size of his house in Killeen, all by himself. He cooked,too. I think Joe could’ve cooked a combat boot and made it taste like prime rib.

He was married to his wife, Jackie, for forty-five years, and after she died on him he lived alone in the house he’d built until he met my ex. She had a heart condition and no medical, so Joe fixed that. He married her and gave her his benefits. Literally saved her life. Life is never fair. As Joe tinkered in his wood shop, within his lungs Agent Orange was doing was it was always designed to do, and what the Viet Cong could not accomplish, his own government finished the job!

When I came back from California, he put me in his garage apartment and as he worked on his house, which was never done, I watched over the property for him. At first Joe didn’t know how to take me. I was fresh out of California, pony tail down to my butt, setting up a full bar in my room, with an endless stream of visitors dropping by to have drinks, and discuss Texas politics. Being from Buffalo, New York, Joe didn’t even think Texas HAD politics, and any thought of secession was beyond him, but year or so later, as he read the Dam Good Times, he began to understand more and more about the Texas situation. He wanted to travel to Austin to meet everyone, but that was not in the cards for the Old Sarge. He still had one more hill to take.

But as we talked over those last three years Joe developed a dream. As I told him tales of the California desert, of Occatillo Wells, and he got a yearning to travel to the Wells. The last time he was there was in the 60s, and he drove a tank. He wanted to drive a dune buggy this time! But the clock was ticking for Joe. What began as what was thought to be Parkinson’s ended up being called Alzheimer’s, and finally got called what it was . . . CANCER! Agent Orange had ravaged his whole body, and with each trip to the VA, a new diagnosis was developed, and the sands of Occatillo Wells drifted farther, and farther away. During this time he bought a home in Brigham City, Utah. He called it the big blue house, and it was. He shuffled between the VA in Salt Lake City, and Temple, Texas, trying to replace the blood that Agent Orange was slowly drinking.

A devastating CPS case that my grandchildren had endured had left them destitute. Well, the old sarge fixed that, too. Although too weak to walk into the court room, he hired lawyers and appeared in court via FaceTime, adopted his five little “buddies,” and set them up for life! The youngest, New Baby became Joseph Steven Tarajos, and if you don’t believe that, just ask him, he’ll let you know! The Sarge had taken his last hill.

From that point it was endless trips to the VA to get blood, and endless hours on the couch. He got a Hoveround, but couldn’t operate it until I showed him that it steered just like a tank. After that he and New Baby rode it all around the house. He could get to the car, but could not drive, and it humiliated him to have his “husband in law” load him up in the passenger’s seat for yet another trip to the hospital.

A week before he died Joe was looking for an RV to take to California. He knew better. It was for his little “buddies.” When I loaded him up for his last trip to the hospital I wiped my eye and he told me, “Men don’t cry.” He checked into the VA that Friday. He sunk lower and lower over the weekend, and on Monday he called me. He wanted an order of chicken wings and his chiuaua that we’d recently got for him to replace his beloved “Cleo” who had died the year before. The nursing staff looked the other way, and let the little dog in, and Joe fed it the wings.

He told the nurses that I was his best friend. When the priest came to administer the last rites Joe couldn’t come up with any sins to confess. I offed him some of mine. He asked me which direction Ocatillo Wells was, and I pointed through the window toward the west. He turned his head that way and said, “The best is yet to come.” I took his little dog, and left to take it home. Again he saw me wipe my eye as I was leaving and he had to remind me that men don’t cry.

They transferred Joe to ICU as I was driving home, An hour later he looked at his wife, said, “Oh, baby,” and quietly slipped away. When I got home I got a single text, “He’s gone.” Over the next few days there was the usual rush to finalize all the paperwork. Joe wanted to be at Arlington. He got San Antonio. About a week later I was napping alone, and I heard his voice distinctly call my name, “W!” He always called me that as a kind of joke. Joe was a lifelong Democrat. Then, I clearly heard as I woke, “The best is yet to come!” I got up and walked to the front door and I looked to the west. I felt a great sadness as I realized Joe never got to Ocatillo Wells, but then it hit me . . . Maybe he had. Tears welled up in my eyes . . . but men don’t cry, and the best is yet to come!

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The above article (The Best is Yet To Come) is republished by contribution with attribution to the author Bill the Butcher and The Butcher Shop.

About The Author: Bill the Butcher is the purveyor of The Butcher Shop which is a collection of independent writers ranging from journalists to op/ed, from conservative to liberal. Whatever cut of literary meat you prefer the Butcher Shop is here to serve.

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