Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Eulogy for a Common Man

Richard Osgood


As you all know, I ain't much for public speaking. Heck, this is likely the hardest thing I ever done, but thinking about Joe not being here no more is even harder. Joe and I been friends since before grade school, and seeing as most of you are friends and family that I've known for near as long as Joe, I don't mind saying a few words in his memory.

It ain’t never right when a man dies before his time. It's easy for us to be mad about it, to think bad about the person who caused it, maybe wish ill on him, but ain't none of that ever going to bring Joe back. The last thing he said to me before heading off to Jackson to deliver that ’68 Valiant was to check his tail light as he pulled out of the lot. It was good, so I gave him a thumbs-up. He waved back and off he went. That was that. No different than any other day, really. No thought in my mind of never seeing him again.

Some folks leave bigger holes than others when they’re gone, but it's those that touch our lives, day in and day out, that seem to affect us the most.

There was something Joe said to me a long time ago that first got me to thinking he knew a little bit more about stuff than he let on. Sometimes the name they give you is all wrong. That's what he said. Out of the blue. Like he plucked it from the sky. Then he furrowed those crawfish eyebrows of his and said, Remi, he said, the thing is, sometimes truth can only be known when a name is given. Until then, he said, a thing is just a thing. Nothing more. Nothing less.

For whatever reason, that stuck in my head all this time. At first I thought he was talking about himself, you know, because Joe is about as common a name as you can get, and maybe he didn't like being looked at as average even before someone got to know him better. But the truth is, he was always saying stuff like that, always pointing out the little quirks in life, things most folks don't seem to pay no attention to. That's just the way he was.

I never did figure how he could know so much about so many things. The only reason he finished high school was because he was a one-man offensive line, right Jammer?—saved your hide a few times, he did. Joe was bigger than a Mulefoot hog, he was, but I swear to God—sorry preacher—big as he was, he could crawl into the tiniest recess of a man's soul and throw a party bigger than Mardi Gras itself.

I am sure going to miss him.

There's some folks who said he was simple, said it didn't take much smarts to drive a tow truck, but there ain't no man, woman or child in the whole town of Batch that didn't return a smile when Joe flashed that gold tooth of his. Heck, I was there when he got that thing. He was pulling Bud Weeks' tractor out the ditch—remember that, Bud? The darned fool didn't hook the chain proper on the axle and the next thing you know—BAM, the chain catches him straight across the mouth. I ain't never seen so much blood.

He never did say why he went for gold. I suspect he thought it was the one thing nobody could take away from him, you know? After that, the local kids took to calling him Jaws, but rather than take offense, he would lean forward, stick his arms in the air—like a werewolf or something—and them kids would go screaming behind the bushes, only to come back in less than thirty seconds for more.

They took to calling him Uncle Joe-B, the kids did. I think he liked that name. Uncle Joe-B, they would say; Uncle Joe-B! Uncle Joe-B! You can't get me! You can't get me! And he'd get in that werewolf crouch of his, plant a snarl on his face, and with the sun shining off that gold tooth, chase the pack of screaming kids halfway down the block.

It sure is quiet now around here without him. Sure enough is.

God bless you, Darcy Brouchet. God bless you. The only time I remember Joe ever this quiet was when you almost lost Hubert in childbirth. You remember that? Yeah . . . I guess you do. I never did see a man pray harder than him. For a whole week he prayed, talking to no-one except God. That near broke my heart, I don't mind saying.

Then you brought that little boy home and we couldn't shut him up. He went on and on about how he had his mother's eyes, and how perfect his little toes and fingers were, and how those little fingers could wrap around his own finger—no small feat given the man's hands were the size of a gator's head—and he said to me, Remi, he said, This boy is sure to throw a football one day.

And he will, Joe-B. And he will.

Joe said we don't pay enough attention to how we name our own children. He said folks don't take the time to look into the soul of a new life and choose the name from what they see within. He said today's names are based on popularity, or self-indulgence, like naming a kid after your favorite sport's star, or opening a book of baby names and picking out one that just sounds good.

When Darcy was in the hospital, and Joe was all caught up in prayer, there was this faint light, he told me, that shined on the baby's heart—or from the baby's heart, I never seem to recall that part correctly—and for every day he prayed, the light got brighter and brighter, until one day it was like someone shone the light through a glass prism and all the colors of the rainbow filled the room. He said the name was right there, waiting for him, clear as day in all them bright colors. What I found out later is the name they gave their new baby boy, Hubert, in fact means bright heart.

Joe didn't know that either, or so he said after I told him, but I suspect he knew more than he was putting on.

It ain't easy trying to figure out why some folks seem to live forever, while others, like Joe-B, take leave of this world way too soon. Sometimes I get the feeling the time will come when the only folks left down here will be the ones God don't want. Maybe we're already there. I don't know. Course, nobody would confuse Joe for a movie star or one of them slick politicians, but that's likely the reason he will be missed. Some folks just seem to fit, you know, like they truly belong where they're at, and they share something in common with everyone around them.

The thing is, Joe would tell you straight that he ain't nothing special, that all we have to do is open our eyes a little to see he's no different than the rest of us. I never did know what the name Joe means, and I never felt the need to look it up—still don't—because in his case I don't think it makes no difference. What I do know is, from this day on, for every time I meet someone with that name, or for every time I see it or hear someone say it, I will always think of our own Joe-B. God bless you, Joe Brouchet. God bless you.

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Richard Osgood has a BA from Wesleyan University and an MSArch from the University of Cincinnati. Publication credits include Hobart, Write Side Up and The First Line. His story “Outs in Free” was a 2007 Pushcart Prize nominee. He has what some might consider an unnatural obsession with beagles.

© Richard Osgood

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2009