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10 June 2008
We received the saddest note today, one which didn't surprise me, but which still had me sitting here at the computer crying as I read it.
Our friend Joe Sparks died on June 5 of ALS (Lou Gherig's disease). He was 75.
Joe was one of the good guys. We met him when I worked with his wife Shirley for The Secretariat typing service in the early 80s. That group became one big circle of friends, and the people in that group are still friends, though Laura, who owned the business, sold it and moved to Oregon; Melody moved to Maryland; and Joe and Shirley moved, first to Kansas and then to upstate New York. Three of us have remained in Davis--Cindy, who is my dentist, Roberta, and, of course, me. Roberta, Cindy and I get together occasionally. Roberta and I share a birthday and we used to go out to lunch on our birthday, usually because it's Cindy who remembers.
The friendships started, of course, with the women, since we all saw each other every day. But as the friendships began to form, we started getting together socially, too. We had a progressive dinner, which was so much fun, that we decided to set a monthly event, an international dinner, where one couple would host and choose the country and everyone would contribute food from that country.
It was great fun and we had the opportunity to sample lots of different cuisines, and to get to know everybody's husband.
Joe always enjoyed the wines. He was an enophile and loved his wine. It was serendipitous that his daughter (a friend of Jeri's) married a vintner and that Joe lived out his last years enjoying the wines of New York, and watching Diane and Tim establish their own winery and open their own tasting room, the ImagineMoore winery, the first winery to be established in the Naples Valley (NY) in over 100 years.
Joe also always had the best gadgets and we had a running joke going about his passion for Beta video vs. VHS video. It was before VHS had become the most widely accepted standard and the better quality Beta faded into the background (I am sure that if Joe was still collecting electronic gadgets, he'd be pushing Blue Ray video!). He had to gradually accept that it was more and more difficult to get movies recorded on Beta, but he never gave up his belief that the wrong format was chosen as the standard. And we never gave up teasing him about it!
He had been raised in Baltimore ("BALL-mer," he called it) and often spoke about his home city, his pride in having come from there evident. We never toured "Ballmer" with Joe, but were on a trip with him and with Shirley when they took a day to go back and visit the old haunts and I remember him being on a real high when they got back.
I remember his elegant diction. In some it might have been considered somewhat pedantic, but it just fit Joe. He chose always his words carefully.
Joe and his family had suffered several traumas throughout their lives, but he never lost the happy face he presented to the public. And he was always the gracious gentleman.
When their youngest daughter moved to Kansas, they moved to be near her family, and also Shirley's family. They lived there for several years and then followed Diane and Tim to New York, when they set up the winery.
Because of the distance (and who wants to vacation in Kansas?) there were several years when we didn't see them at all. Shirley and I would exchange rare e-mails, but mostly we learned about their family's events, as they did ours, through Christmas letters.
In July of 2005, we all went to Maryland to surprise our friend Melody on her birthday. Walt and I walked into the birthday room and saw Joe seated at a table and we noted that he, like us, had aged in the intervening 10 or so years. We noticed that he had a cane by his side. But we were not prepared for when he stood up, to see that he now was bent at a 90° angle
I can't remember exactly what happened to him, but he never recovered from that angular presentation. The above photo is of him on the arm of his daughter Diane.
Last year, Joe and Shirley celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I wrote about our trip to New York to be with them. I'm so glad that we went and that we had the opportunity to say what, at the time, we didn't realize was our goodbye to Joe.
Joe Sparks was one of those unique individuals who has passed through
our lives and has been part of us for most of our lives. We are richer for having
known him. His loss will leave a big hole in a lot of hearts, especially Shirley and
his children and grandchildren.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Joe and Shirley at their 50th anniversary celebration
MILES TO NOWHERE: 50 miles