I met Joe just moments after he won the top three awards at a car show in Orchard Beach. His car, a 60-year-old Ford, is blue with airbrushed purple flames and covered in gems, stickers, letters and chains. Joe was the image of throwback glitz: saddle shoes, a bedazzled shirt and belt, purple sunglasses and slicked back hair. It’s a lot to take in: the car, Joe, the tourist town.
He told me about finding Jesus, his faith, and his love of his late wife and cars. I can’t begin to understand the way he might have felt when his wife passed away, or when he decided to start a new career. But I do understand what it feels like to trust in what supports and sustains you and to use creativity to honor what you love. I think we each have our own ways of removing the ballasts from those heavy places of our heart. Joe and his car are testaments to that.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON CARS?
I’ve been doing cars all my life. I owned a body shop in Rhode Island for twenty years. I grew up parking cars in dealerships after school, when I was 13, 14 years old. I just- I just loved cars. I used to wipe the cars off at the doctor’s parking lot, I just loved cars so much. It’s crazy.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON THIS CAR, BETTY LOU?
About six years. This is an old 60’s custom, it was customized in the 60’s and I bought it about six years ago and I just re-did the whole car over with my personality. All the jewels on it, all the chains on the plates. Nobody’s got them chains. The skulls, the bullets, the bullets on the hubcaps. The engine, it’s loaded with chrome and jewels.
THIS CAR IS LIKE A SHRINE, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
Well, it’s dedicated to my wife. This car was inspired by her, we bought the car together in 2006, she was dying of cancer. But we, we were in denial. I thought she would live. We bought this in October and I had her name put on the side and she died in January, just fourth months later. She had cancer from 2004 to 2007. I just decided to dedicate the car to her, that’s the real Betty Lou- it’s just personified Betty. I think about her when I drive the car, I think I wish she was here, I miss her so much. It’s been six years since she died and I don’t have a girl yet. My daughter says “Dad, it’s okay.” And I just say “I can’t find anybody like mom.” I was with her 47 years, that’s a long time.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
It’s important to me where people go when they die. I’ve been a pastor for 27 years. I left the body shop to come up here and be a pastor at the Auburn Baptist Church. I just retired in April. After 27 years of pastoring.
WHERE DO YOU THINK PEOPLE GO WHEN THEY DIE? AND WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
They make the choice, Greta. God gives us a free will to make a decision about where we’re gonna go. A lot of people say, “I’m going to heaven because I’m a good person.” If that was the case, Jesus wouldn’t have died on the cross. He went to the cross so we could go to heaven. That’s what I teach people- it’s not by works you’ve done, it’s the works he’s done. On the cross he said, “It is finished.” Not him, he came back three days later. IT is finished, what he came to do. He came die on the cross for Joe and Greta and take our sins and pay that debt. We can’t be good for more than an hour! I’m a pastor and I keep looking at you! So, I mean that’s human nature.
TELL ME A MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOU HAD CLARITY ABOUT SOMETHING.
On May 29, 1975 on a Saturday afternoon at one o’clock, I gave my heart to Jesus. I knew at that moment that when I died, I was going to heaven. I just knew, no doubt in my mind. The holy spirit gives you that blessed assurance. We sing Blessed Assurance in church (singing) “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine”, it’s because the Holy Spirit gives you that. It was a big life changer- it caused me to sell my body shop and move to Maine and be a pastor! And I fell in love with all the people in Maine, there’s a lot of nice people here. You can’t classify everyone by a few bad apples. Most people are good here. Just like here at the show, so many people are glad I won, and that just blesses my heart because some people get jealous or get mad but it’s just a lot of good people here.
WHAT DO CARS MEAN TO YOU?
This is Betty personified. I have a Mercury convertible that would have won trophies today, but I took this one because it’s her. And everybody says “Why don’t you take the Mercury?” Well, because it isn’t Betty, it came along after she went. I have three cars, this, the Mercury and a Jeep that is covered in chrome.
WHAT DOES ELVIS MEAN TO YOU?
Elvis knew the lord, and it breaks my heart that his life was shortened because of him. He chose to go his own way, and the lord took him home early. I believe that. Elvis knew the lord and he was raised in a Christian home and made a lot of beautiful gospel songs. What he means to me is that he is my brother in the lord and I’ll see him one day.
TELL ME ABOUT A DIFFICULT CHOICE YOU HAVE HAD TO MAKE?
Leaving Rhode Island and coming to Maine. I mean I love the lord and did it for Him, but it was hard leaving my roots, my family, and my business. But it was a good choice, a difficult choice. But it was the right one.
WHAT DID IT MEAN TO YOU TO WIN TODAY?
It was humbling, because there are so many beautiful cars. And I picked the winners, I did, I walked around and I knew that retractable was going to get first place because it was so beautiful.