Saturday, September 26, 2015

Missing Joan

It's been two years, and all week long, I've acutely felt the loss. I have written about my grief, the sadness I feel for a life, that in my mind was far too short. And I thought I might share those feelings in this post today, on the anniversary of her death. But I've changed my mind. Instead, I want to share a happy memory of precious time spent with my sister. To do so, I've chosen a piece she wrote about one of the stops we made on our author tour of eastern Montana and into Saskatchewan in the summer of 2007.


Joan Bochmann

The house is small on the easternmost street of the little town called Circle. It reminds me of a cottage, small, painted white with a porch and a peaked roof. The porch has a swing and a couple of plants. The yard is a bit messy and there is a detached garage that holds the clutter that families in disarray accumulate. A board, upon which the words “Vintage House” are neatly lettered in black paint, hangs from the roof of the porch.

She meets us at the door, frowning slightly and I feel she is angry that we are late. She is dressed in a pretty summer dress with a ribbon at the waist, a dress that makes you think of the 50s or of the Stepford Wives. Her hair is dark blond, with sun streaks, and falls loosely on her shoulders. She has a very pretty face with sad, brown eyes. Her name is Candy, and I don’t think it fits her at all.
 We explain our failed attempts to call about our tardiness, blaming the lack of cell phone service in the area. She nods and a fleeting smile transforms her face for just a moment. As we enter, she gestures toward paintings covering every inch of wall space, and many leaning against the wall and furniture. They are good—really, really good. She takes us from room to room and suggests we look around upstairs while she finishes up something on the laptop open on her kitchen table. The upstairs is as magical as the lower floor.

As we drink our tea, she explains that she has sent out invitations to lots of people to come to the book signing. She even put a notice in the local paper that she works for part of the time—trading work for the ad. She seems embarrassed and almost ready to cry as she explains that she hasn’t been in Circle long, although she grew up not too far from here. She tells us about her son, who will be back soon. He has just finished his second tour in Iraq.

Aha, I think, that is where the sadness comes from—at least part of it. She refills our tea glasses and I marvel at the grace with which she moves, almost like a dancer. We ask about her art and learn that she used to travel from show to show, but after the divorce such travel became too hard and too expensive. She doesn’t live at Vintage House, she says. She lives on a ranch near town, where she raises Black Angus cattle and quarter horses. She shows us some pictures of her horses and for the first time her eyes light up a bit.

We hear a motorcycle and a huge young man with a bandanna on his head comes in the door. He is tanned and strong and looks like he could lift his Mom with one hand. Now her beautiful eyes really light up. He looks at Candy as if she, herself, is a work of art, and I can see he loves her very much. He is charming but doesn’t stay long—says he’s off to pick up his sister who graduates from high school tomorrow.

She picks up the phone and calls Wanda. Wanda had promised to be here, so she must have forgotten, she explains. Sure enough, Wanda has been out in the wheat field and has forgotten, but is washing off the dust and is on her way.

We look at more paintings and she shyly asks us to read some “stuff” she has written. She explains that she has been taking night classes at a community college in Miles City, and her professor arranged for her to have this laptop, and she is trying to learn to use it.

Her stories are good, she uses language well. They have the same haunting, sad quality that surrounds her. We are in the middle of reading some of her stories when Wanda arrives. Candy introduces us and explains that Wanda writes for Guideposts. She questions Wanda with a strange intensity. It seems Wanda had “ghost written” a story about our artist friend and put Candy’s byline on it. Candy can’t understand how this could be right. Wanda explains that it is Guidepost’s policy to put the name of the person the story happened to on the piece, even though it was written by someone they paid to write it. Candy seems troubled by this.

Wanda expressed her delight over our books and bought three or four autographed copies. We have more tea and Candy admits that she is seriously thinking about closing the gallery. She said no matter what she offers in the way of sales, discounts, entertainment—no one in the town had been out to see her gallery. She is apparently being royally snubbed, though I don’t know why.

We left, and as I waved to the sad lady in the pretty summer dress standing under the Vintage House sign, I prayed silently that she would find a way to sell her art, but prayed even harder that she would find her way to bright smiles and laughing eyes once again.

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