A letter came to the Jos web site in 2003 from a woman who cannot now be reached. For reasons of privacy, her name here will be "E.K." We all believe, but cannot prove, she had a brief but sweet encounter with Jos, just when she really needed it.
EK writes: Hello. I'm not even sure that I should be writing this, but here goes. I have taken up knitting within the past two years, and an online friend of mine had a really fantastic hat she had made on her website, a toessel. I asked her for the pattern, and she said that I had to go to the Jos's memorial site and read his story before she would send me the pattern. I went, and spent the entire evening there reading about your wonderful son. I really liked Jos's site, it reflects great love, appreciation and respect for him from so many people.
As a parent, I can not imagine the shock, horror and utter wrongness that you must feel about his passing. In my opinion, your family has to be some of the bravest, most strong people to not only keep on going but to be sharing with everyone the wonderful life that Jos lived, rather than hoarding every essence of his being for yourselves. Although, from what I gleaned about him on the website, I think Jos would love the site and very much enjoy the memories and stories.
The entire time I was reading, I was bothered by this little voice in my mind telling me he looked familiar. Back in 1999, I lived in a city in WI called Kenosha. It's about 45 minutes south of Milwaukee, on I-94. That summer I had left my husband and was having a lot of financial problems and was working swing shifts, extra shifts, every spare moment I could at every account we had available, as a security officer for a privately contracted firm, and often logged three hundred miles or more a week driving to and from the various accounts I was working at. Sometime around the first week of July, I cannot remember the exact date, I'm sorry, I was on my way to take my son to my moms' so I could go to work, pulled into a gas station just off of I-94 and promptly ran over something, ruining my tire. When I opened the trunk and dug into the spare tire well, I found out that my ex had seen fit to liberate my spare tire, jack, and anything else he felt might have been useful to me. I did not have a credit card or any cash, all I had with me was checks. (and to tell you the truth I probably was playing the "I'll write the check now and hope like heck that it doesn't hit the bank before I can cover it" financial game) [It was before the days of cell phones.] My mother's telephone service was such that she could not afford to receive collect calls from telephones not owned by her service provider, and I pretty much was stuck. I was trying to convince the clerk to bend their policies and allow me to cash a check for the amount the telephone company had quoted me for the long distance telephone call to my mom so she could have someone come pick up myself and my son, who at the time was four. I was exhausted, upset, frustrated, and having a hard time not sitting down and crying, so I'm quite sure that while I was very polite to the lady behind the counter (it wasn't her fault that it was against their policy) I probably wasn't being as private in talking to her as I could have been. A customer came to the counter, so I stepped aside, and when he went to leave he gave me two dollar bills and said here, call your mom. I just stood there dumbstruck as he started to leave, but I remembered my manners and asked him for information on where I could send his two dollars back to him. He laughed and put his arm around my back and gave me a squeeze and said don't worry about it, it meant more to me than it did to him, or something to that effect, I can't quote him exactly because I did start crying at that point. Here someone I had been married to for 6 years had so little regard for our childs safety that he would do something that would eventually strand us on the road, and some stranger was being so NICE to me. My son got very concerned when he saw me crying, as a young child will do, and by the time I had calmed myself and him down, the gentleman had left. All I remember about him now was that he was about as tall as my brothers but a lot thinner (my father and 4 brothers range in height between 6'1 and 6'5 and are all around the 230-250 mark) he was about my age (I was 27 at the time, about to turn 28) and that he had brown hair. I am not saying that this was your son Jos. I do know that he was in the area during that time frame, and he has the same general features, but after two and a half years I do not remember any more details. It could have been Jos, if he was on his way to or from the Sheboygan area from Chicago, he'd most likely have driven that route. If it wasn't him, then it's nice to know that there are other tall, thin, generous men out there with a penchant for hugging complete strangers.
Thank you for listening to my little humanitarian story, and thank you for sharing your son Jos with me.
Jos' dad writes: Your guess is correct. He, his brother Andrew, and I drove twice on that road past Kenosha about July 1-7, 1999. We made a few short stops. This was the only trip ever that we flew to Chicago and thus passed Kenosha. You have the age, height, and weight about right. It is exactly the sort of thing he would have done.
Thank you for your kind words which I will share with Jos's mother and brothers.
Jos' mom writes: I just wanted to add my words of thanks to those of Jon. You can't imagine how deeply your letter touched me. If you had just written about the toessel site that would have been very nice. It helps us knowing that people are still enjoying and using Jos' work.
However, reading about the possible encounter you might have had with Jos gave me shivers. It would have been so like Jos not only to give you the money but also to give you a hug. I always felt that Jos had been born in the wrong era and would have preferred the age of chivalry. He really would have hated to see a woman in distress. I am sure that he really felt good being there at the right time.
I sincerely hope that your life is back on track and things are going better for you and your son.
Thank again for taking the time to write such a beautiful letter.
Jos' dad writes: Hello Again, E.K.,
I have spoken to my son Andrew about the possible coincidence you mention. I think I can pull out a few more tiny details to try to build (or maybe destroy) the idea.
One of the last days in June 1999 the three of us, Jon, Andrew, and Jos Claerbout arrived at O'Hare airport mid-day, rented a car, and drove past Kenosha. Somewhere within about the first hour of the drive we stopped for a meal at a nice clean roadside restaurant. We required no other services at that time.
A few days after July 4th we returned passing your area again. Somewhere around the state line we stopped to fill the car with gas and use the facilities. It was not especially clean. It was close to the road on the right (west) side. We were not there very long. I know shortly after the stop we arrived at O'Hare and had lunch. That would put your meeting, if it happened, between about 10am-1pm.
The strongest indicator it was him is that he hugged you. He hugged people all the time. Not many people do that. It was absolutely natural for him to give hugs and for people to receive them with no embarassment.
I can show you a 40 second movie of him with his arm around his mother discussing a planned activity. A few snapshots from the movie are here: The movie is here.
His appearance changed quite a bit in the five years from the movie until the time you saw him within days of this picture but his voice and mannerisms changed not at all.
Thank you for writing us and helping keep memories alive.
--Jon (and Diane) Claerbout
EK writes: I went into my storage and dug out the old reports that I have from that time frame I'm going to guess that would have put me on the road around 12-1pm normally. It might have been a little bit earlier, but not too much later because I really needed those naps.
I can tell you that it was definitely in the Kenosha/Racine area, because I was hoping to make it to Racine from the outlet mall in Gurnee IL with the gas I had. I do not remember if it was before or after Mars Cheese Castle and the Bong park sign or not. I'm THINKING it was probably the main Kenosha exit near where the grocery store is. [many details of the area omitted] I wish I could remember more, but all I really remember was the kindness that was given to me and not too many of the details around it. Everything sort of blurs together a bit. I would like to think it was Jos, I would like to be able to tell you every last detail so we could know for sure, but all I can say is that it's an awfully close coincidence if it wasn't Jos.
Jos' brother Andrew writes:
When I read EK's letter, a light bulb lit up when I read "Mars Cheese Castle". I am sure that we stopped there. I remember going in there and looking around. I think I recall a gas station nearby....
--aa (Jos' brother)
E.K.! Well, maybe this is it! --jon
EK writes: I do not remember if it was before or after Mars Cheese Castle and the Bong park sign or not.
Jos' father Jon writes: It seems we have done all we can to put the pieces of this story together and I wonder if we will ever know.
We seem to have the time within an hour but neither of us has a very precise idea of the place. I'm glad you said you were coming from Chicago because I'm not real clear which side of the state line I was on. In the last 43 years I believe I have driven that route only twice, once in 1999 and again in 2001. If I do it again, you can be sure I'll make a bunch of extra stops to see if I can work it out. You'll hear from me then.
EK writes: I would think that he might have mentioned helping someone to you when he got back in the car?
Well, he might have. But if so, he didn't make a very big issue of it. Frankly, Jos and I were both more interested in communicating with his brother Andrew who we rarely saw and who would soon be flying the opposite direction we were. [These were their last conversations before Jos died.]
jon claerbout, Jos's Popalop