Community Character: Joy Call Edition
A probably sparse series that I’ll offer sometimes about the fierce and funny folks that live in our area.I fall in love with people–little boys with mud on their butts, grumpy old men with soft hearts, and Saturday I fell in love with a 72-year-old woman named Joy Call.
After going to the grocery store, I was headed home out into the remote hills of Southern Humboldt. When I pulled onto the small bridge above the mouth of Salmon Creek, I saw Joy, black hat, black coat, emerald green dress, and silver cane. One thin gnarled brown thumb stretched out calmly indicating she’d like a ride but she didn’t appear to be in a hurry although the sun was pushing against the western hills.
Joy moved to Humboldt in 1972 and became a marijuana grower. She’s sort of a neighbor in the rural Humboldt way where she lives a long distance out another dirt road off of my dirt road and I sort of know her from having seen her at community events for years.
She’s a particularly well-known character in our area because about 15 years ago (give or take five years in either direction, my memory isn’t so good for dates), she was arrested for growing and she raised money for her defense by selling t-shirts with her mugshot. It said, “Good woman. Bad laws.” Almost all the neighbors bought some. I laundered the one my husband brought home for years before it fell apart.When I parked my beat up Toyota and jumped out to move the groceries from the front seat so she could sit beside me on the way home, Joy smiled shyly and asked, “Did you stop for me?”
Of course, I did. I was going to be late to my son’s 16th birthday dinner but, my dad didn’t raise me to pass by neighbors needing help especially one with brown gnarled hands holding a cane.
I gathered Joy’s black handbag (color coordinated with her hat, jacket and shoes–it wasn’t so long ago that Joy hitchhiked in stylish high heels but now her footwear was snazzy black flats) and, put it, along with a bag full of her purchases from town, in the back seat.
As we headed out the winding road into the setting sun, Joy warmed me with her smile and eased my hurried rush up the hill into something a bit slower than normal with her words. She laughingly told me that hitchhiking was quite a bit easier now that she had her silver cane. “People pick me up quick,” she said with a mischievous smile. She used to hitchhike into town every week to help with the Mateel Meal but, now she said sadly, it was gone.
She gushed about “her” Angelo, a Bulgarian equipment operator, who had helped her clean up an area of her land. Putting her hands to her heart and grinning she rhapsodized about how handsome he was. “Oh, my, his eyes are so blue!” she said. “He was a true angel to me.” I knew him, too, he had been an advertiser and laughingly agreed his eyes were gorgeous.
“Ooo, he makes my heart thump,” she said with a happy sigh.
As we slowed even further, we reached the spot where our roads diverged, Joy tried to insist I let her out there. She’d be sure to get a ride soon, she said and she gestured to her cane with a grin.
I ignored her and we stopped to watch a neighbor’s little girl holding a friend’s hand while practicing tightrope-walking as she crossed a strap positioned about a foot off the ground. We rolled to a stop for a moment marveling as her brown bare feet found their balance points below her brightly colored dress.
“She’s lovely,” said Joy. And I agreed–though I was unsure which I found more beautiful- Joy’s smile or the little one’s small but sure brown feet. Other neighbors waved as we rolled by where they were sitting on chairs chatting. The curl of smoke rose as a tan blunt passed from hand to hand.
We were miles from town but here where our roads diverged we were connected to our community and each other. She didn’t argue again as I rolled out the long dirt road that led to her home. Every half mile or so we passed neighbors’ driveways as she reminisced on about the time “Hanson arrested” her.
“Lt. Wayne Hanson?” I questioned.
“Sergeant then,” she reminded me. “He told me when he arrested me that he was tired of arresting mom and pop growers. He wanted to catch real criminals.” She sighed a little. “He was really sweet. He scolded me, told me to quit growing and I did.”
I wasn’t really confident that it had happened exactly that fast. I was pretty sure that I remembered her standing beside the road in beige 4-inch heels, cream slacks, and a pickup bed full of waist-high female marijuana plants for sale at least a few months after her arrest. They were beautiful and other neighbors snapped up the valuable plants quickly. I believe she told a friend that the money was to help her pay for court costs. But my memory is bad, maybe it happened the other way around.
“There,” she said pointing to a chocolate chip shaped hill. “That’s Boob Butte.”
“Boob Butte,” she repeated calmly. She told me how she had tried to get the breast-shaped hill named. “I was attending county meetings and got fascinated,” she explained. “I just wanted to name something so I sat in front of the grocery store and gathered signatures…But it was on John Benbow’s land and he said he didn’t think it looked like a boob from his side.” She said she could tell he didn’t want it named Boob Butte so she tore up the petition.
In a few more minutes, we were at her house. I snapped Joy’s photo and got her permission to meander on about her here before I left her to hurry home. She seemed shyly pleased to think she would be the subject of a story.
And, I…I was grinning like a lovesick teenager.
A community, and its culture, is built around the characters who live in it and on Saturday, I got to know and fall a little bit in love with one of the women who was woven into the fabric of Humboldt.