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.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Joan Bochmann—early adult years

In the previous post, I shared the first part of Joan's Toastmistress's speech where she told about school days up to her graduation, which took place in the spring of 1952. Although she was valedictorian, she didn't go to college—at least not right away. I never knew why, and guess I still don't, exactly. But here, I'll let her tell you, in the rest of that speech.

"Shortly after I was offered a scholarship to Colorado University, a family crisis arose and I was forced, or at least I thought then I was forced, to turn it down. I tell you this with much pain, as it was one of my greatest disappointments."

(I don't know what the family crisis was. I suppose at age 10, I didn't need to know, and my family shielded me from it. )

"So, I went to work for the County Agent. Now, for the benefit of any of you city lasses, a County Agent is the man who tells all the ranchers how to vaccinate their cows, dip their sheep, rotate their crops, etc. I worked exactly one year until June, when I was married and entered an entirely new dimension…service life."

(This is when, as I mentioned in an earlier post, her brand new husband, John Zimmerman, took her to faraway California, breaking my heart. The many months that passed before she returned seem like forever to me.)

"My husband was sent overseas and I returned to Steamboat to give birth to my daughter, a lovely feminine replica of her absent father. Two years later, the family again intact and civilian, my son was born.

"In 1959 we moved to Boulder and I found my second home. Not quite so safe and sheltered, so small and cozy, but alive and part of the world, a place to grow and live. 

"Perhaps it is because I love the mountains, because they have been such a part of my life, that I think of my goals and values as a range of glittering, shining peaks. Not goals attained, but prizes I still have to earn. Let me show you my majestic, mental mountains. The oldest peak in the range is called, 'sheepskin.' It represents the diploma from C. U. which I had to give up when I was 17. But I'm still going to get it. It may well be after my children have received theirs, but I am going to do it. Next, snow-capped and a little remote, we have 'Writer'. The day I stand on its summit I will have published something…not necessarily famous or best-selling, but something I know is good. But wait. A new peak is arising on the horizon, perhaps the highest, most formidable of all. It's title is 'Speaker'. It represent the day I stnad before you all and Dazzle you with my eloquence." 

"Thank you." 

Joan and I talked a lot, when not face to face, then on the phone, but now I see there was still so much I could have asked her if I'd only known the questions. I am grateful beyond words for the folders of her old college papers and other writings that give me further glimpses into the life of my sister, Joan, the person I most admired in the world. I am proud that she stood on the summit and saw the publication of many short stories and essays as well as her novel, Absaroka. Her many fans will attest to just how good it is.

Janet Muirhead Hill

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

School days with Joan Bochmann

Joan, by her own testimony, was so painfully shy during her junior high and high school years, that she had no desire to repeat that part of her life. We didn't talk much about what went on, other than to commiserate about how self-consciousness and lack of self-esteem made those formative years uncomfortable. How nice it would have been if Joan could have seen herself as others saw her. Recently, our cousin, Lois, who was Joan's classmate, told me that she always looked up to Joan as being very sophisticated and smart.

Years later Joan joined a Toastmasters group in Boulder, Colorado, in an effort to gain more poise and confidence. I was delighted to find a speech she wrote for one of the meetings. I'll share it in two posts, as in the first, lengthier part she talks about her junior high and high school years.

 "Up and Over the Mountain." 

Madam Toastmistress, members and guests. You will be pleased to learn that you do not have a rank novice before you tonight. Ah, no! You have before you the battle-scarred veteran of ONE speech. That experience almost cured me of opening my mouth in public for the next twelve years. 
       Let me take you now westward, up and over the mountains to the place I delivered that speech, and some of the events leading up to it. The setting is... oh, let me describe the setting. You drop off a mountaintop into the loveliest little valley this side of paradise. A valley that's like green velvet in the summertime, green velvet with a silver ribbon of river winding through it. A valley that is a sparkling, white fairyland in the winter.  The town in this valley is small and sheltered. No matter which direction you look, you see mountains. It was in this safe, cloistered town that I was born and raised—Steamboat Spring, Colorado, Or, as we natives and the Chamber of Commerce proudly proclaim—Ski Town, USA. 
      Now, I'm going to be honest with you. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, not every child growing up in Steamboat learns to ski well at the age of 5. I did not learn to ski well at the age of 5…or…10…or 20. However, that's not reflection on the abundant snow, wonderful slopes or general "ski atmosphere"…I'm simply uncoordinated, looks like I always will be. I still love to ski and do it at every opportunity, but I still ski badly. I still barely make it down the intermediate slopes, still fall off the tow, etc. 
         At any rate, it was lots of fun wearing ski pants and sweaters to school all winter and getting out of school to make snow statues for carnivals, and I loved every minute of it. 
       When I was in junior high school, I was selected as one of two delegates to attend Girls State, which was held at Colorado Woman's College in Denver. Her I was fascinated by the study and actual practice of our system of government. My most lasting impression, however, was the incredible realization that there was another world outside my sheltered mountain valley.
        Later that same year I visited my future home, Boulder, when I attended Band Day. You know, I think it would be very dramatic at this point to say that I fell in love with Boulder at first sight. However, the truth of the matter is I became so hopelessly lost on campus, that I spent my entire time trying here trying to find the Stadium. I finally made it for the last quarter of the football game and the boarding of the bus for home. You see, I was too shy to ask anyone for directions and was too confused to understand them if I had. See how badly I need Toastmistress training?
         My next sojourn into the "outside" was a glamorous one. My parents gave me a trip to California to visit my favorite aunt, who is a fashion model in Hollywood. I went to a real nightclub and met several movie stars. I was quite impressed. However, the best thing about the trip was the prestige I gained…not so much with my peers back at school, but later when my children learned that I shook hands with the star of Wells Fargo and actually talked at length with "Temple Houston." Made me quite a heroine at my house for a while. 
        I returned from California at the end of Spring Vacation and soon found graduation approaching. That brings me to that first speech I mentioned earlier…the valedictory address, delivered with shaking knees and tremulous voice in the High School Gym.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Storytelling on Long Winter Nights

The winter nights in our high Rocky Mountain valley were long and cold. I don't remember that I ever minded or complained about that. I was surrounded by warmth and the security of a family full of love.

We had no TV, thank goodness, leaving us to rely on togetherness and imagination for our entertainment after all the evening ranch chores were done, supper finished, and the kitchen cleaned. With hours left until bedtime, my brother and I often played on the living room floor where the coal-burning stove kept the room toasty. Sometimes we gathered around the radio to listen to an episode of Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, or one of my parents favorites like Amos and Andy or Red Skelton.

My favorite times were when my big sister, Joan, would say, "Let's tell stories." She would go first, weaving an exciting tale of beautiful horses, danger, and rescue. Young as I was at the time, I still remember bits and pieces of her stories. It was a dark night, with snow falling thick and fast. The man on the horse was injured, cold, and completely lost. Try as he did, he could not find a way out of the dark woods—until at last, he came to his senses, let the horse have his head, and the magnificent steed took him home. Of course the story was longer than that, told with much more suspense and excitement, claiming my rapt attention.

Then Joan would tell us to take a turn. Duane, three years younger than Joan, would go first. I don't remember his, but didn't think they were nearly as good as Joan's. Mine, the preschooler at the time, were no more than a faint echo of the one Joan had just told. As first the twins, then our baby brother Larry were old enough, they joined the story-telling circle. Somewhere along the line, Joan added another storytelling game. One person starts a story and then has to stop and let the next person take it up where the first person left off, and so on it goes around the circle, with each person adding to it, until someone finds a way to end it—or until our time was up. 

Several years ago, Larry, remembering these good times, suggested we take up the game again, and he started "the story." Each of us had email, so we passed it from one person to the next, each adding to it. It is a convoluted, but exciting, suspenseful story, as others of our extended family joined in, but a story finally waned and died. With Joan gone, our time is probably up, and the epic story that began with the words, "It was cold. Bitter cold," will be the story that never ends.

What a lot we owe to our sister, Joan, for the good times, the love of stories, and the gift of imagination.

This picture was taken couple of Christmases before Larry was born, but the rest of us are there, from left to right, me (Janet) tugging at my stockings, Joan, with Shirley in front of her, our cousin Jean, with Sharon in front of her, and Duane.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


When on November 21, 1934, Allen and Dorothy Muirhead of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, had their first child, they had a first name, Joan, picked out but couldn't decide on a middle name. Dorothy's sister, Hazel, who had recently given birth to a daughter she called Jean Carolyn, suggested a rhyming name for the baby, and so she became Joan Marilyn Muirhead, the pride and joy of this young couple.

Being first in a family has its upsides and its downsides. A first child is adored and doted on, given much attention, and watched over with care and caution. Parents are controlling, following every rule they know, and yet learning through trial and error. Not being there, I cannot say for sure how extreme these typical traits were in our parents. However, I know that Joan felt a big responsibility to be the best she could be. And I know how much our parents loved her and that she always strove to please them and make them proud. And as her siblings came along, she loved each of them and helped with their care.

As I read about firstborns I compare their traits with Joan's. It is said that they often tend to be:
  • Reliable
  • Conscientious
  • Structured
  • Cautious
  • Controlling
  • Achievers
Joan was all of these things and more. Coming from parents with a strong work ethic, she proved her reliability by going to work at the age of fourteen. She began by taking care of other people's kids and as a clerk in a grocery store. I don't know what all of her jobs were, but she told me she always worked until her retirement from a long career as a paralegal. But she didn't really retire, but continued to find work here and there. At any and every job, including volunteer work, she could be counted on to be there, never late and often early, always giving her best. Yes, she was as conscientious as anyone I've ever known.

Structured? Yes. By comparison to her younger sister, the middle one, she was very orderly, tidy, and, yes, structured. She could hardly stand an messy house or things out of place. However, her creative side—from which her natural love and talent for writing and storytelling came—probably made being structured and organized challenging.

And she was certainly cautious. She was quiet and shy, never quite certain that she could measure up to the expectations of others. It was hard for her to put herself forward where she might face criticism. But the fact that something was hard never stopped Joanie from doing it anyway. Controlling? Yes, I believe she was, though she may never have seen herself that way. How can anyone so conscientious not want to control their environment?

And Joan was an achiever. Oh, yes she was! As this blog goes on, you'll see many of the achievements of this wonderful woman.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gratitude, by Joan Bochmann

I'm skipping forward in Joan's life story to share the words she wrote after she learned that she had lung cancer the first time. What a shock it was to us all! It seemed so unfair. After all, she'd stopped smoking some 20 or 30 years before that. It was the beginning of some very trying times. (After this writing, she beat the cancer and lived in remission for a few years, before it came back with a vengeance.)


By Joan Bochmann

I am grateful for a warm bed with soft sheets and a puffy comforter on a cold morning.  I am even more grateful that I have the ability and the will to crawl out of that bed and take steps to warm the house.

I am grateful for winter sunrises.  Grateful for eyes that can watch the eastern horizon as it turns crimson, painting the clouds just above the earth’s curve with shades of magenta, violet and pink.   It takes my breath away and part of me wants it to stand still, to stop its inexorable journey, but it continues to lighten with a brilliance that man has never been able to duplicate. The higher clouds grow pinker and the foothills are bathed in a luscious rose.  At this moment there is such a beautiful light in the atmosphere that I long to be a painter or a photographer.  But it is fleeting.  The sun has risen fully and God has graciously given me another day.

I turn to my Bible and spend the next hour in the lap of my Father.  I am grateful for the glimpses of wisdom he gives me—a little more each day.  I am grateful for inspirational resources and teachings that affirm or alter my beliefs.  Like my reaction to the sunrise, I want more—more of this peaceful, prayerful hour. 

I am grateful that He came to this little planet, a blip in his gigantic creation; that he came as a baby and lived (and died) as an example, a living pattern, for his beloved creatures and that he devised such an elegant plan for the rescue of doomed humanity.

I am grateful that He walked with me when the doctor delivered the dreaded news.   I wish I could say that I was perfectly calm and my faith and trust was so great that I felt no anxiety.   I can’t.  That took a little while.  I walked through the valley for a few days with all of the “why me questions?”   

I am grateful, though, that He hasn’t deserted me for a single minute and never will.  That He gives me friends and family who care, who help, who remind me of His love (and their’s.)

Most of all, I am grateful that he gives me HOPE.   Only He knows if I will beat this thing, but even if I don’t, I still win because I am His child and when He decides my work here is done.  He will take me home.  How amazing is that?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Joan Bochmann, Author, Sister, Friend, and My Hero Forever

She was seven when I was born, and according to all she has told me, loved me from the start and adored and looked after me as only a big sister can. And I adored her back. I couldn't believe that anyone could ever find fault in her, and when once I heard my brother argue with her, I was shocked. Didn't he know? She was perfect and she knew everything. She was my role model and my idol.

She taught me a great love for books and storytelling by reading to me when I was too little to read. Not just kids story books, but full length novels by such authors as Jean Porter Stratton, Ralph Moody, Will James, Felix Salton, Dean Marshall, Mary O'hara, and many, many more. And on the long winter nights as we were growing up on a ranch in the Yampa Valley in Colorado, she'd gather my brother and me, and later younger siblings, too, to tell stories made up on the spot. We'd take turns with Joan leading. None of us ever came close to telling such exciting stories as she did.

When Joan graduated from high school as head of her class, I was not surprised. Of course she was smarter than everyone else! Yet she was very modest and humble and more than a little shy. When she married a year later and prepared to leave with her sailor husband to far-away California, I thought my world would end. I behaved very unattractively for an eleven-year-old. I cried hysterically and held onto her new husband, begging—demanding—that he not take her from me.

Once grown up, it was my turn to move away, and we were separated by hundreds of miles for most of our adult lives, but we got together as often as we could. When we couldn't, we still felt the bond of our mutual love for the things most important to us. family, horses, and books—both reading and writing them.

Once again, Joan is gone from my sight, slipping away Thursday evening, September 26, 2013, finally escaping the ravages of cancer. I miss her, but I'm happy she is free of pain, for she will never be gone from my heart and memory. Her influence will be felt forever.

Janet Muirhead Hill