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My Friend Joe

John W. Pinkerton


A couple of days ago, I began writing this essay which features Joe Antkoviak.   I haven't talked to or seen Joe for a really long time…months.

I guess my writing conjured him up.   Suddenly, there he was at my door this morning.

I first met Joe when he joined the staff at Somerville High School as a history teacher and coach.  He quickly dropped the coaching responsibilities.  However, he assumed other responsibilities that were less work and paid just as well.  Joe could manage to get more money out of the district than anyone I've ever known.  I asked him about this and he just laughed.

I quickly learned that Joe had a great sense of humor and could spin a tale with the best.  What's not to like.

Joe drove to school each day from about twenty-five miles away from his home near Burton, Texas, along a windy rural road.  The trek didn't seem to bother him.

Joe was a good teacher, and, more importantly, was a good school person.  He showed up each day and worked at his job.  Now I could clearly see that when he was in the Burton school system, he didn't pay much attention to his English teacher because his written language skills were…well…awful.  Now I taught English for twenty-five years, but never held this against him, and because of his humor and his dedication to teaching, we became friends.

I think the first time I visited his home was the results of his inviting me to participate in an activity I had never heard of, fantasy football (see “Fantasy Football”).  I was reluctant, but he was in need of a twelfth man---no pun intended---so I agreed to participate.  I never regretted it.

Speaking of his home, Joe and his wife, Karla, have built a great house in a rural area outside of Burton.  After one winds down a gravel road, a huge house looms up.  This was the first time I was introduced to a “mud room,” country me.

Of course we met his wife, Karla.  She's very likeable, but I could tell that she considered Joe to be a handful…which I'm sure he is.

I was still a drinker back then---not a drunk, but an enthusiast who liked bars.

Joe would often invite me to meet him in a bar in Brenham, a nice town about 15 miles from each of our homes. 

I don't know why he liked the particular bar at which we met, but after a few visits, I commented to Joe, “Joe, have you ever noticed that most folks here don't have two of their appendages or two eyes or two ears?”  Joe instantly knew why I had made this remark and slyly laughed…whatever that meant.

One of the best things Joe ever did for me was to invite met out to Greenvine (See “Bars”).  It's the best grocery store-bar I've ever been in.  Of course, a bar is only as good as its customers and its management---  great place.

I encouraged Joe to get a certificate for mid-management---principal.  I just figured Joe just lacked confidence.  I suspected some folks had expressed a lack of confidence in his abilities.

Joe got his certificate, and when a princpal job came open in Somerville, he applied.  He applied but they told him he didn't qualify because he didn't have a residence in the district.  They gave the job to a lady from Giddings, further away than Joe, but she agreed to get a residence in Somerville, which she did---on paper.  Now the lady went on to do a good job, but Joe, and I also, knew that he had been lied to.

Before long, Joe decided to move on.  Crap!  Now I'd have to be the funny guy on staff.  It was a strain on me, but I did what I could.

Joe took a teaching Job at Round Top-Carmine.  He liked the job.  After a couple of years, he moved on to a job in Brenham, a larger school nearby his home and an easier job with better pay.

He once described his first day in the classroom in Round Top-Carmine: “I asked the students to begin reading Chapter One in their texts while I took roll.  When I looked up, that's what they were doing.”  I responded, “Well, why did you leave?”  Joe answered, “It was too quiet there.”

Holy crap, Joe.

Joe finally got his years in and retired.  Before Joe retired, Karla, got certification to teach and is still doing that, but she too is soon to retire.  They've also had three great girls, and Joe runs a few cows, and substitute teaches.

I've got to tell you the “cow story.”  Joe came by our house one day and asked if I wanted to buy a few cows.  Of course I didn't, but he said I wouldn't have to purchase them myself or sell them or feed or water them.  Sounded like a deal to me.  He made a few dollars for me, and I retired as a a six-pack cattleman.

One of the weirdest experiences Joe and I had was with an ignorant-ass principal.  We invited him to accompany us to Greenvine.  Before going to the bar-grocery store, we looked Joe's herd over at his Momma's place.  The principal made a remarkable remark while dodging manure piles: “I love the smell of manure in the mornings.”

Once again, Holy Crap!

We made it to Greenvine where the locals, mostly older folks, entertained us.  Great evening.  While on the way back, out of the blue, the “principal” decided to share with us what he should have taken to his grave.  He revealed that he and the school board had decided to fire a woman teacher so that a male teacher who was her boyfriend would resign. 

Once again, Holy Crap!

After we left this guy's company, Joe and I laughed and expressed astonishment at his naivete. 

I guess the “principal” realized he had shared more than he should have and called me into his office a few days later to tell me the problem had been solved.  I can't remember the solution, but he was telling me it would do no good to reveal what he had told Joe and me.  I replied, “…Okay,” and went on my way.  Hell, I had no intention of telling anyone: it would not have done “anyone” any good. 


Of course this guy was promoted but had to move on because of a major screw up in his new job.  Of course he got a new job as superintendent at another school where he was shot out of a cannon from that job for misusing school funds.  Yes, “education” is blast.

Anyway, back to Joe.  A few years ago, Joe realized that he was having a health problem.  When he walked his dog, he fell short of breath quickly.  He checked it out with a doc who reported that he had a birth defect heart problem which was inoperable.  Medicine marches forward and a few years later he had an operation which corrected the problem.  Joe comes back to Somerville to do a little substitute work and occasionally comes by the house for a chat.  I appreciate that.

I once made a joke about Joe being a Czech to which he quickly responded, “Pole.”  He seemed to take pride in his Polish heritage…as he should. 

This reminds me of a funny misunderstanding I had with Joe.  We were speaking of some woman when Joe asked, “Who was she from home?”  I had no idea the meaning of Joe's words.  I asked him what he was saying, and he just repeated, “Who was she from home?”  When I told him I didn't understand, he responded, “What was her maiden name?”  Holy crap…again.  I don't know if this is a Polish expression or a country expression or a Joe expression, but…I like it.

I met Joe's mom a few times.  A really lovely person.  When she passed away, Joe really took it hard.  He had visited with her almost every day through the years.  His father, whom I never met, passed away before I met Joe.

I enjoy Joe Antkoviak's company better than any male I know.  When he appears, I know folks, including me, are about to be entertained.