Monday, November 8, 2021


 The photograph above was taken just a few weeks ago, back on the evening of the first Saturday in October.  Pictured, if you are not familiar with the Schaefer clan, is yours truly, the bearded one, and his much younger & better-looking brother, Joe.  

Cindy & I had spent the day driving over from Dayton to Joe & MaryAnn’s place outside Charlottesville, Virginia.  I like to tell folks “my brother lives in Tom Jefferson’s neighborhood.”  And, indeed, ’tis true.  Monticello is just a few miles down the very road they take regularly to get home.  

I snapped that “selfie” after dinner, though it wasn’t the first photo I took. The primary image would be a photo of my little brother, all by himself.  I had every expectation it would be the last photo I would ever take of him alive.  

I posted the image of both of us to Facebook on Sunday, just saying how good it was to visit family.  Lots of loving comments, not least of which was, “sure can tell they’re brothers!  Look at that hair!”  True enough indeed.  Best we can tell that DNA came from the Zimmer side of the genetic pool. 

What I did not post on Facebook was that Joe was dying.  Cancer.  Don’t know which one, but it got one of his kidneys three years ago, and recently made a raging return.  All the medical staff at the University of Virginia Hospital could do was prolong the inevitable.  Joe was very grateful for their care. 

After dinner Joe talked about what his body was up against, none of it sounded good, but he also talked about looking forward to doing some surf fishing.  Over breakfast the next morning, things continued to go well.  Joe was actually eating a little bit, something that had been a real problem of late.  

He stepped away from the table for a minute and came back wearing a heavy sweater.  Then the chills set in.  He said he thought it was “a fever,” and figured the best place for him was sitting in front of a burning gas fireplace.  MaryAnn encouraged him to take some Tylenol, but his last six-hour dose hadn’t expired yet, and Joe didn’t want to take meds before he should.  He’d wait out the chills.  This wasn’t the first time.  

In the midst of all that, with the reality we had a long drive yet that day, our visit expired and Cindy & I took our leave, giving Joe hugs and a kiss, wishing him the best.  On the way out, MaryAnn said she was determined to get some meds into Joe to calm his shivering.  She texted an hour or so later that she was successful.  

By day’s end, Cindy & I found ourselves at our Hilton Head villa, eager to get started on our two-week fall beach vacation.  By Monday morning, though, as I sat on the deck in a warming sun, I felt some words coming together for something about Joe.  I got the Mac word processor up and running, and out popped this tribute to a “flawed but really good man.”


I have found the older I get the less I really know about the siblings I grew up with.  What I know about them — who I think they are — is primarily product of the years spent growing up with them on Fauver Avenue.  I am surely aware of the professional accomplishments of each and celebrate them for it:   Patty as an office professional for the City of Kettering, Mike as a guy supervising IT that kept natural gas flowing through the Midwest, Marty as the heart & muscle of the art department at San Diego Public Schools, Ted as a vice president at Kroger who spent time with employees in Memphis recently after the mass shooting in a store there, baby Susan as human relations chief for Bobcat heavy equipment sales & service for over half the state of Ohio. 

But there’s so much more I just don’t know about them.  What do they prize most in life?  What comes up in bed talk with their partner?  Who is the number one person in history they’d like to have a long conversation with over dinner, a cup of coffee, or a beer?  What horrors did they experience in their lives they never wanted to share with the rest of us, whether for not wanting to burden us with their pain or calculating their silence as a product of their own shame?  Or who or what do they think God really is, expressed in detail from their heart of hearts? 

One of those six siblings, brother Joseph William Schaefer, is especially in my heart today.  It’s easy for me to think of him as Joey, but he gave up that moniker long ago and reserves it for his own son today.  But for the younger brother who came into my reality when I was seven, a part of me will always know him as Joey, the kid who came up with the name Flufflo for one of our pet Easter rabbits.  I have this image etched in my mind of a smiling little Joey, who must have been about three, kneeling on the kitchen floor under a chair offering a leaf of lettuce to an animal who had absolutely no idea what in the heck was going on.  

I have another image in my head of him grinning while holding a hockey stick on the frozen waters of a pond at Eastwood Park, a site the city of Dayton monitored & kept a warming fire burning.  Not sure what other sports he enjoyed, but I know he sang in the choir at Belmont High School and somehow got himself and our youngest brother involved in the school’s performances of Oliver Twist.  Back then that seemed like a pretty big deal to an older brother.  

For some painful reason it was Joe who was identified, even by himself, as the “black sheep” of the family.  The oldest brother went to the seminary for high school, but all the others of us were proud to call ourselves tuition-paying Carroll Patriots.  All except Joe.  I was old enough not to be too interested in the development of the younger sibs, but scuttlebutt was Joey wasn’t much of a student.  And if his grades weren’t going to be that good, why pay tuition?  So off he went to a public high school where, I guess, he could either sink or swim. 

When all was said and done, he surfaced just fine.  Couldn’t tell you his grade point, but what the Air Force recruiter saw was good enough for the military, which did, indeed, morph into quite a respectable career in radios.  Personally, I never understood exactly what Joe did with tubes & transistors while stationed in Germany, but by the end of his career, he served on an Executive Branch team that assured President George H. W. Bush and later Vice President Al Gore would be in good communication with the powers-that-be back in the nation’s capital regardless of where in the world they landed.   Just last week Joe told a story of some shenanigans in Kennebunkport, Maine, when then-President Bush & Barbara were vacationing at the compound their family made famous.  

Let me just say that as I assess the life paths the Magnificent Seven all settled into, I have to conclude the black sheep of the family surpasses all of the rest of us in some pretty cool categories.  First off, he’s seen parts of the world the rest of us will only dream about. It may have been hot and our nation at war, but as the forward ops for the Executive Branch, he’s napped and had dinner in countless mess halls and restaurants not just across the country, but around the world.  And as that government radio guy, he’s been in proximity to consequential human beings the other six of us will only read about in the paper.  But Joe was there

You might wonder where the title of this essay comes from:  Boatdiver.  Well, that would be Joe’s internet handle, drawn from his love of donning scuba gear and descending into another world the rest of his sibs can only conjure by watching the  National Geographic channel.  Sure, he is a fisherman, like so many of us (somehow I missed that gene), but he’s seen water worlds that other family fisher folk only experience from the surface.  I think that is not only notable but freaking amazing.  Plus he’s driven over every covered bridge in the state of Virginia on his Harley Davidson, probably having been the organizer of the weekend event for regional bike aficionados.  

When our Mother passed away back in January 2018, Cindy Lou & I were on a Hawaiian cruise celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and her sixtieth birthday.  You’d think we’d be the ones the most miles from home.  Not so.  Joe was volunteering as a Knight of Columbus in the African bush trying to solve a serious problem for the locals:  providing them with a reliable source of drinking water.  On another trip, he & his buddies worked to create a building that would serve as a health center for folks who had to travel miles to see a doctor for a sick kid.  Fair to say young master Joey undoubtedly found his heart in very righteous places.  

No doubt Mom & Dad were proud of all their kids when we were young, and celebrated our accomplishments as we trod our individual paths.  I am amazed at the uniquely different roads we all took, connected yet independent of all the others.  As a brother, I am so proud of all of us, yet I’ve got to say, that Boatdiver guy is truly something special. 

I love you, Joe.  

Big T       

Joe’s pet nickname for me

Tom Schaefer

      October 2021

* * *

By the end of our second week, we got word from the family that Joe would be admitted to hospice. Medical staff could do no more. It didn’t take long for Cindy & me to know our drive home would include a return visit to central Virginia. 

So much more to say, but let me save those reflections for another day.  Let me close with these realities: 

Joe’s 64th birthday was 23 September 2021. 

All Joe’s sibs made it to his hospice bedside.

Joe was released from this worldly dominion 

on 23 October 2021.

Today’s elder idea:   Take care of each other.

A mantra Joe would be proud to own

                                                    Fauver Avenue, Easter 1964.  

                                                            Joe lower left in grey jacket.

No comments:

Post a Comment