Someone to Watch Over Me

Somehow, I stumbled into the most unlikely friend.

My 105 pound, 5' 6" frame towered over him.

A thick blanket of smoke from the devouring fires of Yellowstone hung heavy in the damp Fall weather and I was bored, lonely if I was being honest.  It had only been a week or two since moving from my home in Canada to this little forsaken college town, or so it seemed to me.  It's a whole other story how I even ended up here.  I remember the words, "Over my dead body..." when the mysterious acceptance letter showed up in the mailbox which I clearly was not expecting.

So, not wanting to be alone, I wandered into the local nursing home. There in the main lobby was the most beautiful grand piano, with the setting sun and cozy fireplace to frame it.  I sat down and begin playing a song or two.  Slowly, the elderly residents would shuffle in and around the piano.  One such man caught me attention.  With a wink, he began singing and dancing.  Before long, they had all dispersed but him.  Joe.  Joe Fres.



Joe Fres from Sardinia, Italy was no more than 4' 8" tall.  He wore a white apron and a straw hat on his 94 year old head. Little did I know, as he danced with himself that he would become my best friend.


Saturday memories


I know it sounds odd and weird and by today's standard, even creepy.  Joe had never been married, never bore children and had no family.  Many weeknights, after long days in class and at the library and almost every single weekend, I spent time with Joe.  He was as healthy as a horse and his mind was sharp.  Singing around the piano became our thing.  On weekends, I would sign him out and take a drive out to his tiny little one room home in Annis.  It was tucked in among the plum and apricot trees.

The front room in that house was so tiny, only room for an old Victorian loveseat, a phonograph from days much earlier than I could imagine and an old fridge, fully stocked with Italian wine.  He would sit me down on the loveseat, place a record on the phonograph, crank the handle and pour himself some wine...and some more wine and in between his sips of wine, we would dance to Moon River. We sat in the late afternoon sun.  We picked apricots and apples and plums.  Before the sun had set, we headed back to town so he could settle down for the night.

I think he often left our weekend visits to his house just a little buzzed which was probably against some rule I hadn't been informed of.  As I walked him back to his room in the nursing home, he would be drifting across the hallway and singing some nonsense songs, much louder than usual and I felt obligated to sound responsible in those moments...

"Shhh, Joe!  Quiet, and try to walk straight..."  He would laugh and wag his finger back at me.

Sometimes, I would take him back to my apartment and he would fix us an amazing Italian dinner.

When I met my husband, he was very protective and fearful of losing me forever.  He believed in reincarnation and made it very clear that he was coming back for me after he died.  When Shelbie was born, I took her along on our visits and outings and he loved her!  He would sing to her as he rocked in his chair. Over and over he would whisper how beautiful she was.

It was such an unlikely friendship.  Nothing more.   He was the most important part of my life for such a short time, only 6 years but I felt like I had always known him. In so many ways, I think back to our time together, he rescued me.   Sadly, he died two months after Spencer was born, at the age of 100!

So, today, I drove out to the Little Annis Butte Cemetery to say hello to one of my best friends.  I think of Joe often but especially today.  I drove back out to his little house, the tiny little house where we hardly fit and I could still see all the love bursting from that front room.

There are very few people who I can say made a difference to me but Joe was one of those few.  I think we were two lonely people who both needed a friend, a place to belong, someone to watch over each other.  He was truly a tender mercy for me. I wish had a picture of us together but that was back in the day when the best we could do was stuff those memories in our back pocket and keep the snapshots tucked away, somewhere safe.



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