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.}