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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

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the big fingers
october 1, 2010

One time, in the mid-2000's, Mary and I and her dad Joe were sitting in our dining room, during yet another holiday visit by Joe to our home. It was Christmas evening. We had just finished eating our traditional prime rib roast. The gold-rimmed white china plates were still pink with juice. Tony Bennett was on the CD player. We poured some more red wine. Face flickering in the candlelight, Joe looked introspective. Mary asked what he was thinking. "Just that these visits won't last forever. Someday, there'll be a final visit."

And so there was.

Joe's health had been deteriorating the past few years. For a long time, when we drove to the airport to pick him up each holiday season, we'd watch through the glass security doors as the unloaded passengers spilled through to the noisy public part of the terminal, and there, at one point or another, would be Joe, striding towards us in a tan windbreaker and his gray cap. He'd hug us both, clasp our shoulders, and we'd be off.

The last two years, he was brought to the glass security doors in a wheelchair. He had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and although he could still walk, it took a lot out of him, breathing-wise.

We never thought his most recent visit to us, over the 2009-2010 holiday season, would be his last. He seemed to still have a lot of energy, a strong passion still for life, a yellow legal pad full of blue-inked projects he still wanted to complete. But of course, that's one of death's greatest tricks. Many times, the big fingers come during the most ordinary of moments.

Over the years, Joe would comment on how much he appreciated the various obituaries I would sometimes have to write-for his wife, his daughter Katy, my own mother, my own father. We never discussed it, but I think he knew that eventually I'd be writing his obituary, as well.

So here it is, which I wrote for his website at, a website I created for him over ten years ago, to help give him something to engage in after his wife Joan died:

Joe died suddenly in his home on Wednesday, August 18, 2010. He was 89 years old.

He apparently had been working on his computer, perhaps on a new addition to this website, got up for a moment (probably to fix a drink), and halfway to the kitchen, God took him.

He leaves behind his two sisters, Carolyn and Gloria; two daughters, Mary and Ellen; four grandchildren, Amorette, Aaron, Constance and Richard; and a number of great-grandchildren.

The abruptness of his death has been hard on everyone who loved him. If someone has a long, lingering illness, there's time for family and friends to prepare themselves. None of us had that time. But as cruel as the suddenness of Joe's death was on all of us, we have to remember it was God showing great kindness to Joe. He died happy, without pain, doing what he loved most.

After Joe's wife Joan died, in the late nineties, Joe began coming down to our home in Texas during holiday season each year for a two-week stay. We'd do our best to pamper him. After a while, the three of us developed a running joke where we'd refer to our home as the Hotel Noel. The conceit got so elaborate that Mary and I would prepare menus each year for him, from which he could pick and choose the meals he'd want us to serve him. We even took to leaving a small box of chocolates on his pillow when he "checked in", much like a real hotel.

His favorite meal of all was Mary's Sea Scallops, scallops prepared in a delicious cream sauce with fresh basil and plum tomatoes. His favorite breakfast was Mary's version of Eggs Benedict. Each time he visited, we'd eat a lot of food, watch a lot of newly-released DVDs. Weather permitting, which it often does during Texas winters, we'd sit outside in our back yard garden, under the trees at the rear of our property, have a few drinks, and talk for hours. He loved sitting out there. Each morning, over breakfast, he'd ask if the local weather report had decided whether it would be warm enough for us to go out back again in the afternoon. Sometimes, if it were a little chilly, we'd wear jackets pulled around us, but almost every stay there'd be a few days where it was pleasantly warm and sunny out there.

Mary and I would talk to Joe by phone every other Saturday the rest of the year. The Saturday before his death, he was in his usual high spirits. Mary treated him to a subscription to Food Network magazine a couple of years ago. Joe told us that Saturday that while looking at the pictures of food, he had had a fantasy where he would fly down to Dallas that day to surprise us, and order his five favorite Hotel Noel meals to eat all at once. In retrospect, as I type these words, it suddenly strikes me that that almost sounds like a last meal request.

During that same conversation, he asked at one point, How do you make a grilled cheese sandwich? We explained the mechanics to him (he seemed genuinely surprised the procedure involved a skillet.)

The last we ever heard from him was an email he sent us the following Monday, two days before his death. After discussing a few other issues, he ended the email saying, That was the best grilled cheese sandwich I ever ate!

I like to think of that as his final words. Joe was enthusiastic about everything in life. Even grilled cheese sandwiches.

Joe, I hope you approve. I hope they serve Manhattans in Heaven, and I hope that if they do have computers up there, the operating system was created by someone other than Bill Gates.

Christmas this year will be hard. There won't be the drive out to the airport, the hugs in the center of the loud, busy terminal, the drive home where we happily catch up on news. And of course there won't be the waking up each morning knowing Joe is upstairs, ready for another day of good times.

Joe was a great guy. He lived through the Great Depression, prohibition, served in the navy in World War Two, became a rocket scientist involved in everything from the launch of America's first satellite (in response to the Soviet's Sputnik) through work on the International Space Station, participating over the years in rocket launches on five of the seven continents. He was an accomplished photographer, as anyone visiting his site at www.josephmeier. com can attest; a wonderful older brother; a loving husband; a nurturing father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Joe and I knew each other for over thirty years, and at some point during that long span, our relationship changed, as so rarely happens, from father-in-law and son-in-law, to friends.

So I miss Mary's dad. But I also mourn the death of one of the few friends I had.

The Video Lately this month talks about when I was notified of Joe's death, and what happened afterwards.