Friday, December 27, 2013

Our first Christmas without Her

The Muirhead tradition is one that continues from the days of our childhood. We always celebrated and opened our gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning. I'm not sure why, but I loved it that way. Maybe it had to do with all the chores that a cattle rancher and dairyman has to do every morning, starting at 4 or 5 in the morning with milking, feeding calves, chickens, etc. After a break for breakfast, it was time to harness the workhorses to the big sled on runners and load it with hay to carry to the feed yards for the cattle. With snow that accumulated to depths of four, five, or more feet in the winter, that could take until past noon.

After we moved from the Yampa Valley and even after Mom and Dad quit ranching, and their kids had moved away and formed families of their own, the tradition of meeting at our parents' house on the day before Christmas continued. When Mom died, 5 years after Dad passed away, our sister Sharon bought their house and continues to live there so that it is still the place for everyone to come the day before Christmas for a potluck dinner, gift exchange, and camaraderie. Kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids all crowd into the old ranch house* where memories of Mom and Dad are strong. (*When Dad was superintendent of a ditch company, he and Mom bought the house that was part of the old Benson homestead north of Lake Loveland. It's now pretty much in the middle of town as the city has grown up around it.)

As with many Christmases over the years, I have not been part of that nostalgic setting because of the distance I live from my Colorado roots, the threat of bad roads and weather, and the draw of my own offspring to stay here in Montana. And it was a lovely Christmas Day here—relaxed, peaceful, and fun, as I basked in the presence of 3 of my children, their spouses and families that included 6 of my 8 grandchildren and 2 of my 3 great-grandchildren.

Still, I missed Joan very much. Just knowing she wouldn't be with the family for Christmas Eve-day, for the first time—ever—as far as I know, was sad. Ever since she passed away in September, it's been hard to realize that she is not just a phone call away, for we used to talk on the phone daily. So, the day before Christmas, I called my niece to commiserate. When I reached her, she was at Sharon's house. For her it was weird and sad to get there and not see her mom, for Joan was usually the first to arrive.

Oh how we miss her! She will never be forgotten, just as Mom and Dad still live in our memory as vivid as the day we last saw them.

Holidays—times for joy and celebration—are also a time of sorrow as we long for those who have gone to rest. They are a time for remembering, too, keeping the influence of our departed loved ones ever with us. And in that, I take comfort.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The history of a book — and, unfortunately, a disease

(Joan Bochmann wrote this essay in February, 2012, almost two years ago.  She called it the Journey of a Book, but it is much more than that.)

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. This is probably the best known first line of any novel ever written. I have pretty much forgotten the story Dickens was beginning with this line, but the words seem to describe some of the roller coaster rides I have been on since mid-December. January 2012 brought a virtual torrent of good news, bad news, euphoria and dread. I don’t think I’ve had such a tangle of emotions in many years. Unfortunately, the first part of February hasn’t relieved the chaos all that much. 
January, 2012 was the 6th anniversary of the publication of a book that was born in the late 70s. I completed my first novel in, I believe, 1975. After a few rejections, I was fortunate enough to hook up with an editor from Pelican and to work with her in polishing my precious novel for publication. (Best of times.) Unfortunately when my editor, who was by then a good friend, was hit by a car while crossing a Chicago street, Pelican returned the manuscript with the news of my friend’s death and their decision not to do any of her “projects.” (Worst of times.)  

I put the manuscript on a shelf and got on with life. I longed to write again, and found a few opportunities to do short stories and essays for small publications. In 2001, my sister formed a small publishing company and urged me to take another look at the book which would become Absaroka. I pulled the  typewritten (yes, I did say typewritten) manuscript from its resting place and began to read. I fell in love with the story again. I did a little more research and some editing, and my sister’s company (Raven Publishing) agreed to publish the book. (Best of times.) My efforts to sell the book were hampered by the diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. (Worst of times.) God saw fit to heal my illness. (Best of times)
I have spent the last four years in praise and gratitude for God’s miraculous healing. In February of this year, (2012) a PET scan revealed the cancer has returned and metastasized to other parts of my body as well! Really? (Worst of Times.) While having it come back is disappointing, it doesn’t change the joy of those 4 years God gave me.  Contrary to my lifelong dream of a beach house on Malibu, a cabin in the mountains and fans clamoring for autographs, I did not get rich. Still, having a book published, going on a couple of book tours, giving book talks, getting some good reviews and winning two awards filled me with joy and gratitude (Best of Times).

Raven made the book available for digital download on Amazon Kindle and on Smashwords, but I yearned to have the story told well on a high quality audio book.
I wanted this very much so that the people who love stories, but don’t like reading books. can hear it in a very well-done audio version. I remember when I used to commute how much I loved listening to books on tape. When my mom lost her sight, I thought of all the visually impaired people who would get so much pleasure out of listening to a good book.  
It is odd that the new cancer diagnosis came at a time when I was in the process of working with a producer/engineer and a talented reader to get Absaroka made into an audio book. I think God is with me on this. A dear friend I had not seen for several years called me out of the blue. He had just read Absaroka and wanted to know if I was interested in making it an audio book. We began thinking about all the people who could benefit from a book they could listen to and we became more and more excited. Brett had the ability, resources, and talent to engineer and promote an audio book. Sky Dance Mountain had, in fact, already done a couple of small audio books.  
I was right in the middle of trying to do a marketing plan, promotion and other such issues when my health really took a nosedive. Still we all moved on. I realized that the book needed a good, strong male voice to do the voice over. Another little nod of approval from God became evident when Scott Tanner agreed to do the recording. Scott is not only extremely talented, but had begun investigating the possibility of getting into this business as a second career.  

Several recording sessions ensued. We missed a self-imposed deadline because we realized this book had the potential of being really moving and entertaining piece. We decided quality was more important than punctuality in this case. Now it’s here—the official release date of February 18th (2012).  Ah, the joy. A book that was published six years ago has another life, another audience. I know the story inside out; Scott had read it when it came out, but just recently re-read it, and Brett had read it just a few weeks before. Despite this intimate knowledge of the story, while listening to it, all three of us were moved to tears at some touching scenes, and held our breath in suspense as it looked like the protagonist might not win.

{Joan Bochmann fought a good fight, but finally lost the battle against cancer and the accompanying disorder, cachecia disease, September 26, 2013. She outlived doctors' predictions and was grateful for each day of life in which to enjoy her son, daughter, grandsons, and great grandchildren. Before she died, she added one more tremendous accomplishment to her list. She narrated an entire novel in spite of weakness, shortness of breath, pain and illness. The result is her amazingly strong and expressive voice on the audio edition of Miranda and Starlight.

 During her last several months, she volunteered one day a week in the business office at her church, planted flowers and took care of her house, garden, and yard—with some volunteered help from friends and neighbors. She has good days (the best of times) and bad days when the pain and nausea immobilize her (the worst of times). Her life, an inspiration to all who knew her, and her books, a joy to all who read or listen, have been and continue to be a blessing to many.}

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving and Missing Joan

Joan Bochmann by the Madison River, Montana

Joan's favorite season was autumn, her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Many of my best memories are of times spent with Joan in the outdoors. I can't remember for sure when the above picture was taken, but I do remember the peace and joy of that late-fall day when we hiked along the Madison River up the Bear Trap trail near my home in Montana.

This is our first Thanksgiving without Joan and we miss her. Yet she would not want us to be grieving. She'd want us to spend the day feeling and giving thanks. I will always remember her last Thanksgiving and how blessed I felt to be invited to spend it with Joan and her beautiful family—her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The day was filled with love, peace, and gratitude. 

 This year, I came back to Colorado at the invitation of Joan's daughter, Debbie, whom I love with all my heart, to spend Thanksgiving, Joan's favorite holiday with her and her family. Now that I am here, staying in Joan's house, I ask myself, why am I here and what do I need to do for Joan's family, for myself, for honoring Joan's life ,and celebrating her memory? I'm searching for the answer to that question.

One thing I do know is that Joan would want us to be thankful, so in her honor, I'll live this day in gratitude for the love she has shown me all my life. Today, for Joan, I will replace the sorrow that she isn't here with gratitude for the times we had together and gratitude for her family and the love they continue to show me.

To understand what a good person Joan was, one can look at her daughter and her son. I am in awe of their wisdom, integrity, compassion, and honesty. The trait I most admire and look for in people is their ability to be genuine and guileless. That describes both Debbie and Gary—and their spouses. They are conscientious and trustworthy with strong moral ethics. I'd do anything for them, as they have done so much for me. I am thankful to have them in my life.

When Joan and I were children, we often made lists of things we were thankful for by using each of the letters of a word. So here is my thankful list for the attributes and memories that Joan modeled for us—one for each letter in THANKSGIVING.

T is for truth that Joan believed in and truthfulness, a characteristic that she passed on to her children. 

H is for honesty and fairness.

A is for the awe and appreciation that she had for life and creation.

N is for noticing—Joan's awareness of the people and things around her.

K is for knowledge. Joan loved learning. It is also for kindness that she showed especially to children and to animals.

S is for salvation. Joan had a strong belief in God and a love for her Savior, beliefs that gave her hope and sustained her through the agony of losing her health to cancer.

G is for gratitude. Joan was grateful for all she had and for the people in her life.

I is for imagination and ideas and insight, traits that made her a wonderful writer.

V is for value. Joan knew the value of the people in her life. She valued people, nature, animals far more than material things.

I is for inspiration that she gained through reading books and observing life and that she passed on through her writing.

N is for nature and Joan's appreciation of it.

G is for grace. The grace with which Joan lived. The saving grace that she believed in. Her church, Grace Place, and the wonderful support her very gracious and giving friends gave her.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Brief Biography of Joan Bochmann

When Joan's book came out in December 2005, we needed a "bio" to send to reviewers and with press releases. Joan gave us the information for this one, which I want to share, as it reveals things that readers might not know about Joan:


            Joan Bochmann was born in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and grew up in the country, attending a one-room school-house for most of her elementary school years. Horses were always a big part of her life, and she was blessed with a father who patiently taught her to ride and to love these noble creatures. Her mother nurtured her other passion—the love books—and took the time to see that Joan had access to the library and any other source she could find. Joan grew up in a world of reality (horses, hard work, and some hard times) and a world of the imagination—from sharing Heidi’s mountaintop in Switzerland;  solving mysteries with Nancy Drew; exploring Bambi’s forest to rafting down the Mississippi with Huck Finn.  

            She graduated as valedictorian of her high school class, but her college education was delayed when she married, had children, and moved to Boulder, Colorado. While pursuing an education and a career as a paralegal, she attended the University of Colorado at night, taking every writing course she could. Many of her summer vacations consisted of packing up her two kids, a typewriter, and renting a cabin at a small resort in the Colorado mountains.  While the kids enjoyed the amenities of the resort, she typed out stories.

            Recently retiring from 42 years of working as a paralegal, Joan lives with her husband, Carl, on a small acreage that accommodates her two Arabian horses and Sheltie dog. In addition to writing, her hobbies are camping with her family, managing a church bookstore, riding, and reading.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Today, November 21, 2013, is Joan Bochmann's birthday. She would be 79 today if she'd lived to see this day—as I was so sure she would. Of course my certainty had nothing to do with reality, only my unwillingness to let her go.

Joan is on the right side of the table, third from the front
I was with her on her last birthday, 2012. Her children had a wonderful party for her at a very nice restaurant the night before. I am very thankful to have been invited and able to attend. Carl wasn't feeling up to it, but was waiting up when we got home.
Carl Bochmann, eager to hear all about it and see Joan's cards
The cancer had already taken a very big toll by this time in Joan's life, but she cherished every minute she could spend with her family, especially her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Joan was a writer, and maybe one of her biggest disappointments was to have more to write and knowing she wouldn't have time—or energy—to do it. Even though her health was very poor in the last years of her life, she made every effort to go to book events where she could display and talk about her book and interact with other authors.

In early August, 2012, she drove with me to Montana to attend the Madison Valley Arts festival in Ennis. We took a scenic route over the Bighorn Mountains out of Dayton, Wyoming, through Cody and Yellowstone Park.

Ready to go, outside the Lighthouse Cafe and Grace Place, Joan's Church, in Berthoud, CO

At an overlook as we ascended the Big Horn Mountains

Joan in Cody, Wyoming
It was a good time and I'll always be grateful for that trip and the hours we shared. She got tired and had to leave the arts festival, where we each had author tables, a little early. My daughter took her back to my house to rest. She spent a few more days before I took her back to Sheridan where we met her son, Gary, who would take her the rest of the way home. It was that night in our hotel room that I got the call from home that my son, Troy, had been injured in practice for the next day's motocross race. Joan and I had just had breakfast with him that morning. Joan, as shocked as I was, comforted me as I cried in her arms before heading back to Billings where Troy was in the hospital with a spinal cord injury.

Joan came again in December, this time flying from Denver to Billings to the Writers Roundup, where I and fellow author Marcia Melton met her. We shared a table at the Roundup, a room in Billings, and lots of laughs, stories, and good times—when Joan wasn't too sick to enjoy it. She was grateful for the opportunity, though at times of pain and sickness, she missed her own house and bed.

Marcia Melton and Joan Bochmann
We talked a lot about the things we wanted to do together—another book tour—this time in western Montana and Alberta and British Columbia, writers conferences, especially the one in Kalispell, and a visit to Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, her illness prevented  more travel. So—I spent a lot of last year in Colorado just to be with her as much as I could. On a good day when she was awake early, we'd bundle up and sit on her back porch with a hot drink and watch the sunrise. I'm thankful for all the precious moments.

I miss you dear sister. Rest in peace on your birthday.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hunting Season and "The Hunt" by Joan Bochmann

Joan is second from left, sitting between Mom and Dad
While attending classes at CU, Joan was assigned to write a scene—twice, once from each of two different points of view. Joan wrote about a hunting expedition. You can see by the pictures that she knew something about it. She'd been there, done that. I'm guessing these pictures were taken during Joan's junior or senior year in high school.
Aunt "Bud", Aunt Luella, Joan, and Uncle Dick at hunting camp
Hunting success

Now for Joan's story, the one with two viewpoints:

The Hunt

Paul maneuvered the jeep through the creek with almost casual expertness.

"Give me a cigaret, will you, Bert?"

"Yeah sure," I passed the lighted Winston to Paul and glanced out the window. The "road" on my side of the Jeep dropped sharply away, and I could see the canyon floor many feet below. My stomach turned over as I calculated the nearness of the edge of the canyon wall. I glanced away and wriggled my toes, which were beginning to feel cramped in my brand new boots.

Paul was whistling in that silly, tuneless undertone. He seemed utterly unconcerned with the twisting, obstacle-strewn path he called a road.

Strange, I thought, I've worked with Paul for years, and yet he seems like a stranger now. I never realized he was so tall. I sat up straighter and asked, "Be there soon, I suppose?"

Paul turned his head and grinned, "Oh, yeah, another hour or so, if the road stays this good."

I groaned inwardly, clenched my teeth, and wriggled my toes again. Wish I could take these damn boots off. How utterly senseless, I thought, that people in this day and age should deliberately set out to endure all this discomfort. Yet, I had been flattered and pleased when Paul had asked me to go hunting with them this year. For years I had listened with awe at the stories told by the group who, every year, sallied forth on a hunting expedition. I had felt somehow left out and inadequate. I had managed a week's vacation despite Mary's tears and protests, and had spent more than I could afford for a rifle, ammunition, license and various and sundry equipment the clerk at the store had insisted was absoslutely essential.

I jumped nervously as Paul's voice broke into my reflections. "Just up that hill and we'll have it made."

I braced myself for the "hill" that looked impossibly steep. Paul shifted gears and started up. Nothing bothers him, does it, I thought irritably. What the hell is he trying to prove anyway?

We executed the hill without upsetting and came upon a broad mesa-like meadow. The others were setting up tents as we pulled up. As I stepped from the Jeep, I noticed that they were all like Paul—different…relaxed, confident. I felt like an intruder.

I was awakened the next morning by the sound of an ax against a tree and the smell of coffee. It seemed to be awfully cold. I closed my eyes and listened to the voices, subdued and happy. I reluctantly got up to face the day. 


Paul guided the Jeep easily across the creek. "Give me a cigaret, will you, Bert?" he asked. 

"Yeah, sure." 

Paul took the lighted cigaret and glanced covertly at Bert. He seemed kind of quiet. Not the same supremely confident co-worker Paul knew well. Perhaps he shouldn't have asked him to come. Maybe he thought he was above this sort of thing. 

Paul glanced over the rim of the road to the canyon below. The shimmering creek on the canyon floor was a twinkling, narrow ribbon. Paul sighed with contentment and began to whistle softly. Such beauty…such peace.

"Be there soon, I suppose?" Bert asked. 

Paul turned and grinned. "Oh, yes. Another hour or so, if the road stays this good." 

We're making good time, Paul thought. Such perfect weather this year. This one week, Paul mused. One precious week out of each year when he could live as man was meant to live…away from the pressure of civilization, away from crowds and telephones. 

Just up that hill and we'll have it made." He told Bert. 

He shifted to low and started the climb. In spite of the steep, narrow grade, Paul noticed the reds, golds, and browns that made the landscape a work of art. As they topped the hill and leveled off into a wide, mesa-like meadow, Paul noticed that the others were already setting up camp. Paul stepped from the Jeep and called a greeting. Such friends, he thought. A find bunch of guys.

The next morning Paul wakened to the smell of coffee and the ringing of an ax against an aspen. The air was crisp and clean. He rose and embraced the day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mother, by Joan Bochmann

Dorothy Dale (Elkins) Muirhead
Mother, by Joan Bochmann
(Written in March, 2003)
Back row: Hazel, Carroll, Gene. Front Row, Marvin, Dorothy—age 8 or 9, Grandma-Maude, Martha—age 4  

Dorothy Dale Muirhead is a middle child, the fourth child and second daughter of Clarence Claud and Maude Elkins. Another sister and brother were born to this family after Dorothy’s birth. Dorothy is the only survivor of these six children. What a survivor she is!

Born in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, she moved with her family to a ranch near Milner, Colorado. (For those not familiar with the geography, Milner is 10 miles west of Steamboat.) To get to the ranch they had to cross the Yampa River in a wagon. I believe Janet has previously related this story.*

Clarence (I’m going to call him Grandpa from here on out) was in poor health, having been shot with a poison arrow in the Philippines in the Spanish American war. However, he made a valiant effort to support his growing family in what was still something of a wilderness. (Maude (Grandma) learned to fire a weapon so she could defend her family from roving bandits or occasional Ute Indians.)
Dorothy age 4 or 5
However, the harsh winters were probably an even bigger threat. When Hazel, (Dorothy’s older sister) broke her leg in a tobogganing accident, Grandma stayed in Steamboat with Hazel, who was flat on her back for 9 weeks. (Ask Dorothy about how they set legs in those pre-cast days. You had to be TOUGH to survive medical treatment back then. Grandpa took the kids to school by team and sled, but one morning he told Gene and Dorothy—the two youngest—that it was just too cold for them to go to school and told Gene to take care of Dorothy (who was six-years old) until he returned. (By the way, too cold back then was at least 30 degrees below zero)

Dorothy remembers whimpering that she was scared, so Gene, a manly nine years old, assured her he would take care of her. However, he couldn’t resist pointing out either a hole or stain on the ceiling that looked like a big lion. This did little to reassure the frightened six year old, but her brave brother, (who had probably scared himself a bit with his lion stories) got a pistol from under Grandpa’s pillow, and told his little sister not to worry. Just as she may have begun to feel better, the gun went off and Gene shot himself in the kneecap.  Gene, standing in a pool of blood and white as a sheet, told Dorothy that she had to go get help. When she protested that she was afraid, he told her that if she didn’t go, he would surely die. Dorothy put on her coat, but didn’t even think of boots, mittens, or a cap and started across the pasture, up a hill to the nearest neighbor’s house. Mrs. Fields looked out of the window and saw the tiny girl running through the bitter cold morning.

“Something’s wrong,” she told her son. “Ski down and see what’s happened.”
The boy brought the shivering child into the kitchen, and when her story was told, his mother told him to take the horse and go meet Mr. Elkins. “Give Mr. Elkins your horse and bring his team and sled back for him.”

 Grandpa arrived on a dead run, meeting Mrs. Fields and Dorothy at his house where she was tending Gene. Both Gene and Dorothy were transported to Steamboat by team and wagon. They both survived the ordeal, and somehow, Grandma and Grandpa did too.

After Grandpa went to the veteran’s hospital in Hot Springs, South Dakota, Grandma and the kids stayed on the ranch for a while before moving to South Dakota to be near him. After he died of a ruptured appendix when Dorothy was 9 years old, Grandma moved back to Steamboat and sold the ranch to a brother in law.

Dorothy seemed to live in relative safety for a while, except for a broken arm, and appendicitis. She skied with friends all over the Yampa Valley, lettered in girls basketball, played tennis and picked strawberries during the summers.
In December of her senior year, Dorothy was invited to a birthday party for a schoolmate and there she met a handsome young cowboy who lived with his family on a ranch near the foot of Rabbit Ears Pass. He found ways to borrow a Model A often enough to escort Dorothy to dances and other events. (I recently asked Mom if she liked him immediately, or thought he was cute. She said, “oh, yeah!!!) In May, Allen proposed and Dorothy accepted, only to have second thoughts the next day. She wrote him a letter saying they should just be friends.

Wedding Day

 There is certainly a lot more history after 67years of marriage, six kids, 14 grandkids, and the list goes on, but those are stories for another day.

*The story Joan refers to about the river crossing was published, not once, but twice, in a small magazine called “Guide” or, formerly, “Junior Guide.” To make a long story very short, the wagon capsized in the river, and the four occupants—the driver, our great grandfather Luekens; Grandma Elkins; 3-year-old Gene; and Mom (Dorothy), a six- or seven-month-old baby at the time—were in danger of drowning. All survived.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

For the Love of a Son: A Miracle

Yesterday, November 12, when I began this post, was Joan's son Gary's birthday. Not long ago, Joan recounted the story of how close she came to losing him—and the miracle that he is still with us today.

Because of his birthday and because I found these pictures of him and his sister, taken when he was a baby I remembered this story and decided to share it.
Debbie holding her baby brother, Gary Zimmerman with their Grandma Muirhead close by

Debbie, making sure her baby brother is safe.

Now, I'll tell you, to the best of my ability to remember all that Joan told, me with the help of Gary's and Debbie's memories, the events that occurred approximately a year and a half to two years after that picture was taken.

Being a young mother has it's anxious time, but none so great as when a child develops life-threatening symptoms that stump the doctors. When Gary was two years old, his legs began giving out, losing strength and coordination. He was quickly losing the ability to walk, and he was in pain. Debbie remembers her parents wrapping his legs in hot towels to afford him some relief.

He'd been a healthy baby until that time successfully reaching all the usual milestones of babyhood accomplishment: rolling, crawling, walking, and talking. So the sudden weakness and uncontrollable muscle movements were alarming. Joan was terrified.

Gary became a case of great interest at Children's Hospital in Denver. Joan told me about a hoard of doctors convening in a room to observe Gary, making him walk as best he could over and over again, as they tried to diagnose him. (Gary's earliest memories are of his stay at Children's. He remembers getting his finger poked every morning, a rocking horse.) After a lot of time and consultation, they finally decided Gary had dystonia: "a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow repetitive movements or abnormal postures. The movements may be painful, and some individuals with dystonia may have a tremor or other neurological features.… The cause for the majority of cases is not known."

That was probably the hardest part for Gary's parents and loved ones—the unknown. Not knowing what was wrong, not knowing why, not knowing what could be done, not knowing if he would survive.

The doctors finally recommended a very risky brain surgery that could be performed by a neurology specialist in New York City. What an agonizing decision Joan and John had  to make. They wondered if it was the right thing to do even as they tried to find the financial means to do it. It seemed the only hope for curing him, but there were no guarantees that it would work. I know there were a lot of prayers on his behalf.

Sometime after they brought him home from Children's Hospital, Gary began getting well. In fact, as I understand it, his recovery was almost immediate. The doctors had no explanation for this turn of events, but there was great rejoicing by all who knew and loved this precious child and his family. There was never any recurrence of symptoms. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

One Montana Summer

It wasn't always me traveling the long road between Bozeman, Montana and Loveland, Colorado. I cherish all the times that Mom and Dad, and rarely one or two of my siblings, would come visit me. I'll never forget the summer that Mom, Dad, and most of my five siblings traveled together to visit me at my home west of Bozeman, where me and my then-husband, Merlin, were building my dream home.

Joan brought her first grandson, Jason, the joy of her life. Notice the child seat that she and Carl devised for Jason to make the trip in comfort and with a good view. This was before the days of airbags, car-seat laws, and child safety seats.

We visited Virginia City and Nevada City, the Headwaters State Park, and took some drives into the mountains. Joan left earlier than the rest, as Jason had an eye infection and wasn't feeling well so she missed one or two of our excursions. They went home via Yellowstone National Park, got lost, and when they came out the North entrance and then caught I-90 at Livingston, Joan almost turned left to come back for one more night. We all wished that she had. She was embarrassed that she took a wrong turn and missed her chosen route, though she confessed it to all of us later, with much chagrin.  

I was happy and flattered that even Tom, Shirley's husband, was willing to make the journey. A quadriplegic, he wasn't always comfortable away from home. He didn't like cold weather, so, given his "druthers," he'd prefer traveling south, rather than north. But Tom was always a good sport with a wonderful sense of humor and always made the most of every situation and opportunity. I think he truly enjoyed the visit. Thankfully the weather was pretty nice while they were all here.
Tom, Shirley, Dad and Mom at Headwaters State Park
  Their son Shane was with them, but as a preteen or very young teenager, he shied from cameras.

Sharon and Roger with their two little ones, Krista and Trevor, brought a camper. (I'm trying to remember if the camper was Mom and Dad's or their own. I'm not sure. We had a big house, still under construction, and room for some of them, but I don't remember where everyone slept.
Larry on a hill overlooking the Headwaters of the Missouri
Our "baby" brother Larry was also there with his wife, Sharon, and boys, Milo and Tyrel. Somewhere I have pictures of all of them together, but couldn't find it this morning. Sharon and Larry didn't drive up with everyone else. They were already there. They stayed with us for a few weeks to help with construction of our house and garage.

The south side of our house on Sawmill Road with the garage partially in view in front.
I was sorry, as always, to see my family leave. We had such a great time, and being the only one of us far from our Colorado roots, I really missed them. I was especially sad when Joan and little Jason left ahead of the rest, but grateful that they came, even for a short time. I am so very thankful for my family, every one of them, and I'm thankful for the memories.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Joan, a young mother

Four Generations: Grandma Muirhead, Joan (holding Gary), Dad, and Debbie in front
Joan, Gary, Janet and Debbie (in front)

These pictures were taken the summer I was fifteen— the summer I lived in Craig, Colorado, with my sister, Joan and her husband, John. I was hired to look after their two children, whom I adored, while both Joan and John went to work each day. And, because I was there with the kids, they occasionally went out in the evening for a date night

On one such night, after my niece and nephew were tucked into bed and sound asleep, I made sure all the doors were locked before going to sleep myself. When Joan and Johnny came home, they realized they'd forgotten their house key. They pounded on the door, but we all slept through it. They came to window next to the bed where I slept and tapped on it, yelling my name. I slept through it. They finally managed to break into their house.  Shortly after they got inside, Gary began to cry. I awakened immediately, jumped out of bed, and was rushing to his crib when I saw Joan, heading the same way. I guess my brain was tuned for certain sounds—the babies—not the adults.

How honored I was that Joan, such a dedicated, loving, caring young mother would entrust her children to my care—even after that episode. At that young age, I certainly didn't know all that I needed to know in order to be the perfect nanny. I'd had no formal instruction, just the experience of living with younger twin sisters and a little brother—and holding them every chance I got when they were babies. Years of experience and college classes in child development have taught me a lot that I wish I had known when my children were growing up. But I can't remember making any big mistakes (though probably a lot of little ones and maybe some close calls) while watching Debbie and Gary.

I took them to playgrounds, walks around the neighborhood, and 'picnics' at the sandstone rock formations at the end of a street they lived on. I had a little camera and took a lot of pictures. Was I risking injury when I sat Gary on the edge of a merry-go-round and stood back to take his picture? I'm glad he didn't fall off. Did I push them too high on the swings to be perfectly safe? I don't know, but there were no serious accidents. They were fed and rocked and read to and happy, so I guess love was enough, and they survived the summer of the teenage nanny.

Both Deb and Gary have grown to be responsible, successful, caring, compassionate adults. Through the years, though separated by many miles, Joan and I talked a lot. Anecdotes about our children, of course, were frequent topics. There's no doubt about her love, concern, and admiration for her kids. Love carried all of us through their growing-up years of joy, sorrow, worry and delight, weddings, babies, achievements, illnesses, and accidents.  The bond of love deepened even further during the years and months of Joan's cancer as we all got together more frequently.

Joan was always a wonderful mom, and the best big sister. We miss her.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Canning Peaches, by Joan Bochmann

In this essay about canning, Joan remembers the bygone days with our hardworking Mom. Canning was part of everyday life, probably from Mom's childhood, when she helped her mother prepare for the long winters in the Yampa Valley, and continued until the last year or two of her life when the loss of her eyesight made it too hard to do. Above is a picture of our young mother and family when Joan was near the age she probably started helping with the canning. 



Joan Bochmann
©August, 2006

            I canned peaches today and memories of my Mother filled my kitchen. Memories evoked, I am sure, by the feel of the fuzzy fruit, the steam from the canner of boiling water, the sights and smells and the awful mess I made. I don’t like heat, but somehow it was okay today, as I remembered those long-ago August days when God gave me precious time with my mother as she created her art.
            Where I grew up in Steamboat, late August meant a trip for one of my parents, or at least some trusted relative, to what they called the “low country”, or the Palisade-Grand Junction area. I never got to go, but was told they sometimes picked this beautiful fruit right off the trees. Whether they picked or purchased from the orchards, they came home with bushels and bushels of peaches.

            I think I was probably 10 or so before I was allowed to help with the canning process. I had to stand on a stool to peel the fruit which was lifted from boiling water into a colander then into a large dishpan. I remember Mom showing me how to loosen the peel and pull it off in strips so the peach remained smooth. (If you used your nails to loosen a stubborn piece of peeling you were reprimanded for “ruining” the beauty of the peach.) Mom made a huge pan of syrup and after we put the peaches in the freshly scalded jars she would pour the syrup over and show me how to run a knife along the inside so there would be more room and the peaches wouldn’t “float” in the jar.

            We canned them in quart jars and stored them on the shelves in the root cellar. They became a special treat that was associated with a wonderful social tradition. Many a winter night, we piled into an ice-cold car, and snuggled under quilts in the back seat while Daddy drove through the snow to a neighbor’s or a relative’s for the evening. Back then you didn’t need to make an appointment to go “visiting”. You just showed up and if they weren’t home or were already in bed, you just picked another neighbor. The evening of card-playing and music was topped off with a special treat which, for some reason, the hostess called “lunch” It always consisted of a jar of canned peaches, accompanied by either a loaf of home made bread or chocolate cake. To this day I can’t eat that combination without hearing my uncle, my dad and my cousins singing old cowboy songs or having yodeling contests.

I look at my short row of pint jars of peaches and am filled with longing to hear my Mother say proudly, “My, aren’t the peaches especially pretty this year?”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A letter to Joan sent in October 2012

October 8, 2012

To my dearest sister, Joan,

The letter you sent will be a treasure to me forever. Now I’m writing one to you in answer to a question you asked me on the phone.

You asked, “Are you okay?” (Always thinking of the other person, just one of the many reasons I love you so much.)

I answered that I was fine and believed I was telling the truth. But maybe it wasn’t a complete answer. I tried to explain, but since I am not that in touch with my feelings, I didn’t do a great job.

I think we were talking about your cancer. Am I okay with that? Absolutely not!! I consider it an enemy with no right whatsoever to invade your body. And I refuse to yield to it — as if that were a choice I have. I realize it’s not, but I can and do stubbornly refuse to accept that the cancer will win.

But there is something else deep inside me that I choose to ignore. (like I said in the hospital, “I’m hanging on to my denial.”) That something is fear. Fear, not so much that you will die, but that I won’t have done all the fun things, said all the important things, asked the right questions—the ones I’ll think of later when it’s too late to ask them—fear that I won’t have spent the most important and precious moments with you, intimately sharing life, love, laughter—and maybe even some honest grief with you before you die.

Work and other distractions pile up and beneath it all is the anxious feeling that time is not waiting for me to get around to doing what I want to do, which is to be with you and share with you the things we love: Books, writing, words, the outdoors, nature, seeing new parts of the world and the people we want to meet, and doing it together. Sharing thoughts, ideas, and ideals with you. Gleaning more of your wisdom.

Am I okay? I’ll be far more okay when the cancer is gone. …

We will die. We won’t always have a chance to enjoy the things we love to share, which may be no more than each other’s presence. And when one of us dies, we’ll find a way to be okay with that, too. Don’t worry about me. I am okay with my love and longing to be with you. This is how love works, and I love you and will love you forever. I’ll never have any regrets about that.

With Love Always

Almost a year after receiving that letter from me, my sister died—in spite of my hard-held denial. Wanting so badly to beat it and see her well and robust again just wasn’t enough to save her. And so, in truth, I do have regrets. I regret time I didn’t spend with her. I regret that we didn’t get to do more of the fun things we both enjoy. I regret that I didn’t say enough, ask enough, or honestly share my true feelings and thus allow her to do the same. Oh, we talked a lot, but one never thinks to ask the important questions, to convey the critical sentiments. Stubborn denial was a hindrance to my ability to do that.

But there is so much more that I am thankful for. I’m thankful for all the time we did spend together. I’m thankful for the many interests we shared, and for all the conversations we had, both by phone and in person. I am thankful for all the years she loved me and guided me with her example. I am thankful that she wrapped me into the folds of family love, bringing me closer to all of my Colorado family.
Celebrating Joan's 78th birthday, November 2012 

I am thankful that she no longer suffers the horrible pain and illness and sorrow that she endured for so many years since the day the doctors pronounced, “You have lung cancer.”

I have no regrets that I loved her so much that I miss her each day and moment. That is how love works. I will love her forever with no regrets about that.

To answer the age-old question, Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Of course it is. For what she gave me will never be lost although she is gone from my sight.

Friday, November 1, 2013


While pierced with the pain of missing my sister, I wrote this poem.

With stealth, grief prowls
in the shadows of my mind
like a hunter

For just the right moment
to release its arrow
from a tightly strung bow
to pierce my consciousness
mid stride
    I falter
            bite my lip and turn away

to hide my tears
and falling face
until I can smile again,
shoving back memory's dart
and spurning it's bold sting
    and proclaim
            I am fine

Except in the shadows of my mind.

Janet Muirhead Hill

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Death of a Mailbox, by Joan Bochmann

Written in 2006, author Joan Bochmann rues the vandalism of her and Carl's country mailbox.

© July, 2006
Joan Bocmann



Joan Bochmann

            It has served us well, ingesting everything from letters and bills to ads and flyers without complaint. Poor thing has undergone at least three different moves dictated by the U.S. Postal Service. (First it was on the north side of the road; then we were given a deadline for moving it to the south side of the road. About a year later someone decided it should be on the north side of the road after all. We complied, but had to disturb it yet again because it was a few inches too high.)

            It lost its little red flag sometime during this process and one of its black on white numbers fell off. The black paint was peeling a bit, but it was dent-free and doing its duty—until last night.

            I am sure if it had a brain it would be totally baffled by the brutality of the beating. It was whacked not one or two, but three times, battered into a twisted, shapeless hunk of metal lying in the road about 10 feet east of its home. It would probably protest that it didn’t deserve such treatment and, of course, it didn’t. I don’t think it was a grudge against us or our particular mailbox, because too many of its neighbors suffered the same fate. I hope it wasn’t rage— that’s just too anonymous and scary.

            Poor mailbox! I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never really understood random vandalism. I’m thinking that with the price of gas, these box bashers must be fairly affluent. You can’t drive around the countryside battering mailboxes for a few dollars anymore. Maybe they could contribute some of their wealth to a fund folks could draw on to replace the quintessential mailbox. Maybe that would make them feel better. Do you think so?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Smoky, by Joan Bochmann



Joan Bochmann

            I was 16 years old, a girl, and one of six kids, so I lived to impress my father. My Dad was a man of few words but he had a face that expressed volumes. If he was pleased, he lit up and smiled not just with his mouth, but with his whole face. Despite this obvious sign of pleasure, he seldom complimented you with words.  How I longed to see that expression. If he was displeased or I was out of line, he could absolutely wither me with a look.  

            Dad had lots of horses in his lifetime, but his favorite of all was an iron gray gelding he trained himself. Smoky became the epitome of good horseflesh on our ranch, the one you measured all other horses by. You can only imagine my joy when Dad finally trusted me to ride him. Smoky knew more about cows than I could ever learn and when one broke away from the herd, Smoky’s rider became a mere passenger, hanging on for dear life as Smoky chased down and turned that wayward critter.

            Our pasture for the milk cows and extra horses extended across a slough and the railroad tracks. In late summer we pastured them across the tracks where there was still some good grass.  This required riding up a short but steep railroad bed, across the tracks, and down the bed and opening a gate. Dad let me take Smoky to get the cows one day and I was so proud of his trust in me.  I had crossed the slough and the tracks without incident, daydreaming of the day I would have my own horse ranch.  Smoky stopped at the barbed wire gate and I dismounted to open it.  I held his reins loosely, even though he was trained to ground-tie. I had the top wire off the gate post and was ready to lift the post from the bottom wire. To my horror I heard a train coming. I tightened my grip on the reins and spoke soothingly to Smoky. Everything would have been alright if the engineer had not decided he needed to blow the train whistle.

            Poor Smoky reared back, jerking me off my feet, As I felt the reins slip through my fingers Dad’s favorite horse was up on the tracks and running ahead of the train, prompting the stupid engineer to keep blowing the whistle. I could see pieces of railroad ties flying up from his hooves as the panicked animal raced down the tracks. I was about a mile from the house and I still don’t know for sure how I got back home and across that slough, but when I ran into the yard, Dad and Mom were getting the car out. They were on their way to see what in the world the whistle was about. I was bawling my eyes out but they seemed relieved to see me. I guess they worried that I might be hurt.

            We drove down the river road until we could see the train, its whistle finally silent, chugging its way into town. Dad got out and started walking back up the tracks until he found an exhausted, soaking wet Smoky off the side of the tracks. I was so glad to see him alive that I burst into tears again. Dad examined Smokey’s legs and talked to him gently. The saddle was scuffed and Smoky had some scrapes, leading Dad to believe had stumbled and possibly fallen going down the embankment.

            I don’t really remember what Dad had to say, but his expressive face reflected a combination of relief, sympathy and anger. I was sure he would never trust me with a horse again, but he assured me that there was nothing I could have done. It just took me a long time to believe that myself.

Monday, October 21, 2013


This picture of Joan was taken in south-central Nebraska when Joan was about thirteen. We took the long trip by car from our home near Steamboat Springs, Colorado to visit Dad's relatives. With Mom, Dad, and five children (Larry wasn't born yet) the car was crowded, the scenery dull, and I didn't feel well, causing my parents to stop several times along the way. I'd like to think that Joan helped pass the time by telling us stories, but I don't remember it. She would have ridden in the front seat with Mom and Dad, leaving my brother, Duane, me, and the twins to the back seat. (Look closely at the picture and you'll see the twins, Sharon and Shirley, behind Joan.)

My memories of the trip are vague and few. I remember stopping to get gas in Casper, Wyoming and how Mom hated it because of the wind, which blasted us with gale force. But the real adventure began when we got to the home of one of Dad's cousins. There was so much mud in the long lane to their house that it was impassible by car. We were transported on a small trailer pulled by a farm tractor. The cousins we met there and the ones I met later in the little village of Overton were total strangers with whom I, at least, had little in common. My memories of Nebraska are of gray days and mud everywhere.

I love to look at this picture of my beautiful big sister. I especially remember the dress she is wearing because I wore it years later. Most of my wardrobe came from the attic where Mom saved Joan's clothes for me to grow into. Did I mind hand-me-downs? Not a bit. They had been Joan's and I was honored to wear them.

In contrast to the distant Nebraska cousins, our first cousins back in Colorado were also our first (and lasting) best friends. This is especially true of the Arnold family. Dad's sister Violet and her husband, Jack, had kids very close to our age. Lois is Joan's age, Donna, just a little older than my brother, Duane, Boyd is my age, and Jackie, the same age as Sharon and Shirley. We not only enjoyed the company of these cousins, but looked up to them as role models, somehow smarter, wiser, and more inventive than we were.

Joan especially loved and admired fun-loving Lois whose personality was nearly opposite of Joan's reserved and proper, sometimes fearful and shy approach to life. Here, in Joan's words is a description of this beloved cousin. It is the first page of what must have been a thrilling anecdote, but sadly, the rest of the pages have been lost at some point over the many years since it was written.

"It wasn't that my cousin, Lois, was bad—why she didn't have a mean bone in her body. It was just that she was so—so irrepressible. She was born with that special joy for living that you see once in a great while. A zest, a gusto, as they say, that was innate, that transcends any current psychology or Madison Avenue exhortation. My mother used to say she was spoiled. She wasn't. She was immune to discipline. She must have got three times the spankings I ever did. They just didn't have any effect. She couldn't integrate them into her special sense of life. Besides, everybody (especially Mom) loved her. She was fun. She was thin, almost boney, with long blond hair which was usually a tangle mass, and blue-green eyes that sparkled with delight and curiosity. She was utterly fearless. Perhaps it was this complete confidence that made her a natural leader."

This is from the beginning of a story about something that happened in a little one-room country school they both attended the year they had a new teacher who was "old, very, very old…wore flowered silk dresses that came almost to her ankles."

Much to my sorrow,  the pages with the rest of the story are lost. I must ask Lois if she remembers. If she does, I'll post it later.

We still see this set of cousins at least once a year and treasure their company and the memories of our past escapades. I, like Joan, am thankful for these and the many other cousins I have, know, and love.