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Western Union

Stories, we are all full of them.

A number of years ago, my mother’s youngest sister drove to Oklahoma to visit us at the Big Pasture, which is the pasture ½ mile from the mailbox where my parents moved into a house she never liked. Lorraine had barely arrived when she opened the trunk of her car and pulled out a small canvas oil painting to give to my mother. Lorraine had decided awhile before to try her hand at oil painting and to do it in a most efferent way, she had gone to the thrift stores in Cocoa Beach, Melbourne areas in Florida to find canvases to paint over. It was on that quest that she found the small painting that she brought to us. She had not painted over this one. Why? Because she thought it so unusually looked just like ME. We agreed it surely did! But I had never been to Florida. So, it couldn’t have been my image. But maybe. After looking at it more closely. It was me. Because I recognized the clothes. My mother made many of the clothes I wore all through school. I was wearing a red wool jacket and a white blouse she had made. Handmade clothes are distinguishable. But then the mystery. Who had this painted? Who had taken a photo and had painted this from it? And who had decided to be rid of it so it could be purchased for a single quarter?

A few days ago, I think the answer emerged. To continue feeding the Little Free Library, I do occasionally like many of you, purge a book shelf to share them with you. For a random moment, I flipped through one of the volumes of paperbacks. With me, everything can become a bookmark. Maybe you are like that too? And out fell an envelop that claimed to be Western Union. Over the years, advertisers have stolen that logo. So, after the books were packed into a carrying bag, I picked that envelope up to find it had been dated June 18, 1970, and addressed to me while I was living in Spearfish, South Dakota.

You might never have found yourself living in a situation you had to escape and wondered how and where you could go to be safe. Much of the life I had while attending Black Hills State made memories that have stayed with and birthed any of my organizing abilities. But relationships can become toxic when a partner’s full-blown alcoholism consumes any waking moments. It was at that very time when an opening to escape had come and before I answered that Western Union message, I stuck it in that book and took it and me away to start life elsewhere without the constant threats of harm and distrust.

What was in the message? It was a plea from a dear young man who loved me. I had met him in the middle of the era you won’t remember and your history books never get to. During the Viet Nam War young men had few choices because the draft was taking them. Few chose Conscientious Objector status, while others took their chances with the branches of the service, they felt might hold safer years. This Western Union message came from a young surfer who chose the Air Force. I grew up in Big Spring, Texas with an air base. And that it where I met Jerry while he was stationed there. He didn’t stay of course, and later while stationed in Thailand, he sent me a quilt made out of an available material: an orange parachute. It has gotten me through many bitter cold winters in my life. I used it while in Taos in my artist quest, actually had it at Black Hills when I received that telegram. The comforter has a bit of oil paint on it from a painting I did while living in Ignacio, Colorado while at the Indian dormitory during my first year in Teacher Corps. It gave me comfort for decades and actually went to Standing Rock in the back of the 1972 Shasta Trailer that harsh winter Obama stopped the pipeline.

The message was a plea to call him right away. He was home from the service and living again in Florida. He never received my reply because I never really fully read it until it fell out of the book these few days ago.

I will assure you Tar Creek would not have had her champion in me and life’s challenges and joys may have been much different if it had turned on that answer.

And never hearing, I believe he tired of seeing my face looking back at him from the painting he had done himself or had commissioned and sold it at the thrift store for the quarter century he had waited.

I have the painting and very snuggly in the back, I will attach the Western Union message with the 6 Cent stamp on the envelop, still folded like it had been all those years. Unanswered.

Thank you for allowing me to share another peek into the life that brought me here to do the work for this damaged place for the people who very much deserve a better life.

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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I have had free time today to look at so much about you, Rebecca, and Tar Creek, and Loren Waters (how truly named; I bought a beautiful pair of beaded earrings that she made, and will wear them with joy.) I think you had told me this story when I was visiting Oklahoma with Larry and Molly. And I’d been stunned. I had to hear it a second time, this time written, to fully take it in. To fully understand that this boy’s love saw you and yet had to transform into another love (yours for Tar Creek, yours for the many you bring together and connect) to be fulfilled in purpose. This brings tears forming so far within it…

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