Author: Samuel Newsome
An extraordinary tale about life, love, faith and friendship, Joe Peasillustrates how the most important life lessons sometimes come from the places we least expect.
About Joe Peas: Who is Joe Peas? Is he a simple Italian immigrant house painter, or is he a complicated man with much to hide, even from himself? When the aging painter develops health problems, his life intersects with that of family physician James King. Dr. King is drawn to the curious Italian, whose life is a stark contrast to his own orderly life. The free-spirited painter and doctor forge a unique friendship—a friendship that only grows when Joe breaks a hip, and becomes a patient in a long-term care facility where he does rehabilitation under Dr. King’s care. As Joe interacts with other residents at the facility, he learns of their struggles, their triumphs, and witnesses their close relationships with their families. The spirited little Italian enriches the lives of the other patients—and encounters with the residents change Joe in ways he never expected. Through these interactions, Joe realizes just how much he missed in his own life. While Joe struggles to come to term with his past, Dr. King faces his own struggles living in a community that values conformity over individual expression. Eager to help his friend, Joe hatches a plan. But that plan—as colorful and vibrant as Joe himself—sets in motion a chain of events that sheds light on the secrets of the enigmatic painter. Things are not always what they seem on the surface. Could there be more—much more—to Joe Peas than meets the eye? And will the truth about the mysterious painter finally be unveiled?
An extraordinary story that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned, Joe Peas is irresistible. Tender and touching, thoughtful and thought provoking, Joe Peas is filled with unforgettable characters that come to life within the novel’s pages. Informed by Sam Newsome’s experiences as a physician and educator, Joe Peas is a powerful story about true healing.
February 16, 1944
The Battle of Monte Cassino, sometimes referred to as the Battle for Rome, was as intense as any combat in the Second World War. Axis troops guarded the mountains and controlled the Rapido, Liri, and Garigliano River valleys. They controlled the old Appian Way access to Rome. While the German forces did not occupy the Abbey of Monte Cassino, they did control the surrounding hillside. Allied forces were uncertain of the strength of the Axis defenders and whether the abbey was under Axis control or not.
On February 15 alone, a massive barrage of 1,400 tons of bombs was loosed upon the abbey and its environs.
American soldiers of the Fifth Army witnessed the Allied bombardment as they steeled themselves for yet another assault on the enemy stronghold. The smoke and mist rolled down into the valley from the hills.
Most of these weary, battle-hardened soldiers were veterans of the North African campaign. They had not seen their wives and families for months, if not years. They knew that nothing or no one could survive such a barrage.
On February 16, as the smoke began to dissipate and the irritation of the GIs’ eyes cleared, a patrol noticed a new and unexplained feature on the landscape of no-man’s-land. A closer investigation revealed what appeared to be only a smoldering pile of cloth, perhaps a sack. On closer inspection they discovered the cloth to be the burned and tattered shirt and trousers of a small child. And they were surprised to find that the waif inside the clothes was still alive. The child was no more than smoke-stained skin and bones. His hair was filthy and scorched.
The soldiers snatched up the child and got him out of harm’s way. Over the next few days, he gained strength but appeared to be mute. The medics couldn’t tell if this was shell shock or a more serious medical condition. The homesick GIs refused to hand the boy over to the authorities. As he gained his strength, he was more or less adopted by the mess hall personnel.
Eventually the boy learned a few words. His main word was “Joe.” He probably had heard the term “GI Joe” so often that, when asked his name for the hundredth time, he said, “Joe,” and the moniker stuck.
The time came for the Fifth Army to move on. Joe had become a fixture at the mess hall and had won the hearts of the GIs, but they couldn’t take him with them to the next deployment. He was classified as a displaced person. When the aid worker asked for his name, he said, “Joe.” As for his last name, he had no idea. After an uncomfortable period of silence, he saw the cook opening a can of black-eyed peas. Joe had become fond of them as a staple of his new diet, so he said, “Peas.”
The aid worker asked, “Your last name is ‘Peas’?”
And so it was. At least that was one version of the story.
“You guys don’t know how to paint a house. You got to scrub, and I mean really clean the shit off! You don’t do that, you just wastin’ you time! Then you scrape that sucker plenty good! You don’t scrape and you just wastin’ you’ time! And then you prima it.” He used the word prima, instead of prime. “Then the paint. You got to use that good paint and none of that shit you get at any hardware store. You gotta know you’ paint, man.”
All this was overheard above the usual cacophony of the Waffle House. The customers in the surrounding booths, the chatter of the counter traffic, and a jukebox with the usual repertoire of country offerings provided a constant din that completed the diner experience. The high-speed, enigmatic counter orders shouted by the waitresses, and the clatter and motion of Freddy, the short-order cook, completed the symphony of a morning at the King’s Mill Waffle House.
The atmosphere was not one suitable for meditation, but it was great for a quick breakfast with a genial ambience. And with the bonus of a little time to read the daily paper, it was hard to beat. There was also something to be said for the old-fashioned diner experience that allowed the patron to see the food prepared.
Dr. James King and his wife, Betty, frequently slipped in for a Sunday breakfast before hospital rounds. This morning the paper took second place to the bantam man monopolizing the counter conversation. He had a dark, olive complexion; a pate of slick black hair; and a pencil-thin mustache. He appeared to be of an advanced age, but his animated speech and gestures suggested he was very active. Doc and Betty had lived in town all their lives, but they didn’t know him, and yet the small man was literally holding court with a cadre of local laborers as though he was a well-known local craftsman. Doc knew that a couple of these men had been lifelong painters, but they and the younger men listened when the speaker harangued them as though he was the resident house-painting expert.
“Lemme tell you ’bout paint. You paint a house like you court a beautiful woman. You don’t think Joe knows women? Lemme tell you guys. All the world’s best lovers, they’re Italian. All the best painters, Italian. You think that may be an accident?” The little fellow gestured widely with both hands, ending up with his thumbs inside his suspenders.
“You see a beautiful woman, you size her up. You got to find her blemishes. She may bebellissima outside, but she will have secrets. She got a jealous lover, or even a husband, you gotta know.”
He looked over at Betty, and she could have sworn that he winked at her. “That house you paint. It’s a got problems, you gotta know ’bout it. It got dry rot or hidden wasp nest, it can hurt a fella.
“That woman, you got to court her; you offer her flowers and candy. Flatter her and tell her she’s a so special to you! Give her all the attention she needs. She’ll say she doesn’t want it, but never you mind. She’ll eat it up. Make her believe she’s a you’ only one.
“That house, you got to court it too. Clean it like it’s a you’ best friend. Give it attention; take care of its special needs. It’ll pay off, guaranteed!
“That woman, now you better close in on the next step. You got to get physical contact. Now you guys know physical contact.” He looked around, giving his audience a knowing look. “A li’l touch and a li’l kiss and you on you’ way. Now you get to know her. She let her veil drop. You learn what she want or not want.”
Again, Betty sensed the Italian’s eyes on her. She could not help but wonder if it was more of a leer than an innocent glance. He was, after all, an Italian!
“That house, you ready for the next step. You get more physical with that house. You place the best prima you got. A simple kiss, a preparation for the real amore.” As the little Italian said this, he seemed to blur the comparison of house painting and a romantic liaison.
“Gents, it’s a now time to consummate the affair. Be gentle, be thorough.” He looked around to see if the entire diner, even Betty, was listening. They were. Then he continued.
“Take you’ time. You be simpatico with her and she be kind to you. Remember, you ’mericans, you always hurry. You take you’ time here. Smitty, none a’ dis wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am! Make you’ time with you’ lady count!
“That house, now it’s time to complete the act. Use you’ best paint. You no grab the brush like a bat. You hold it gently; caress it like a fine lady’s hand. You do slow, so slow, even passes, gentle strokes, feel the moist paint being stroked into the rough wooden surface. Soon the surface becomes moist, pliable—sexy. The strokes, they become more rhythmic, hypnotic—even erotic. You take you’ time, jus’ like with that bellissima woman. You do a slapdash job, you paint no good.”
As the fellow warmed to the sensual aspects of house painting, he actually lost part of his broken English.
“After that, you stay. You call that what? Afterglow! You stay. You be kind. You stay. You no run off and you see what it’s like to have real, real…”
The little Italian and everyone in the diner turned to see who had said that. Dr. King and Betty looked around too, till they realized that the now red-faced Betty had volunteered the statement.
Joe continued, “Buono, intimacy. That lady deserves you’ best. That house deserves you’ best. You got it painted, then you look at the family. You see the look and feel of the family who live in the house. That’s a so good!”
One of the painters, Smitty, looked up from his third cup of coffee. “I need a cigarette.”
Abner, Smitty’s partner, decided he’d better call his wife and see if she was ready for their regular “date night.”
Dr. King and Betty had lingered longer than usual over their coffee as the little Italian and his band of painters entertained them. As Doc and his wife left the restaurant, they heard Joe ask his audience, “Who is that guy?”
“Why, he’s my doc,” said Smitty. “Fixed me up real good when I hurt my back last year.”