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.

Joy Call

Joy Call, age 72, on her property in Salmon Creek. [Cropped from a photo by Kym Kemp and adjusted for exposure.]

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.

Joy Call’s t-shirt showed her mugshot. [Photo by Kathy Fraser of a t-shirt she owns]

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.”

“What?”

“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.

  • Laytonville Rock
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53 comments

  • Rambling Radish

    Beautiful! Thank you!

  • Brings back many memories. Thanks for the story. One of many in them there hills.

  • this is a wonderful story; the kind we all need more of these days. The lady lives up to her name and you profiled her perfectly. Thank you, Kim and thank you, Joy.

  • Delightful! Thank you Kim.

  • Joy is remarkable.. She is (or was) a member Of MENSA, the ultra high IQ organization.. Her interest in place names involved her in a national organization dealing with the topic and she once presented a paper at a convocation.. She is a trained chef and was a farrier.. Her occasional letters to the editor are delightful.. I’m glad to have known her for all these years.. A sparkling mind..

  • Lake County Not So Bad

    Beautiful lady and wonderful story. I studied her picture for a bit before reading and convinced myself she was holding a six-shooter. I knew this would be a good story and it was, even if she was only holding a silver cane.

  • Still have my Joy t-shirt: “Good woman, Bad law”! She’s been through some dark times; nice to see her honored here for her perseverance and positivity.

  • Kym
    I loved your story on Joy. She is aptly named. I had the occasion to work with her several times.
    The conflict between her naming “BooB Butte” and John Benbow not liking it brought back some memories.

    Of the times and places that changed the culture of America it was San Francisco in the sixties and Humboldt county in the seventies.

    As one who witnessed both times and places I am privileged to have a perspective that few can have. As a college student I saw how the culture in San Francisco was changed from “Fisherman’s Wharf, crab sandwiches on sourdough French bread, cable cars, Ghiridelli’s chocolate, fine dining and panoramic views, to Haight Ashbery, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Summer of Love, Flower Children, VW buses, and, yes, Drugs.” Then the people of the San Francisco Bay Area discovered Humboldt county.

    I saw Humboldt and Menocino County when the hills were covered with sheep, cattle and deer. There were no predatory animals, because they were eliminated by all means possible. There was a lumber mill in every canyon and a beer bar by every stump. The waitresses wore uniforms, the service station attendants also wore uniforms. Most all the people and their families had been here for generations. They knew each other by name, or they knew how they were related to each other. It was considered rude if you didn’t question them about their family or their jobs. They were proud of their family and their family names. Their name was as good as their word, as the saying goes.

    The “Newcomers”, as we called them, because what else would they be to people that have lived here for, not only years but generations. The Newcomers were strange and different, they had no rules, they had no family history, they even had made up names. The men dressed like modern day Daniel Boones, complete with long hair, beard and Jim Bowie knife. The women looked like they were dressed in nightgowns. Silks, flannels, paisley plaids, beads around their necks and flowers and stuff in their hair. Some of them used patchouli oil to cover the scent of the marijuana that they smoked. And, you didn’t dare ask them what their real names were, who they were related to or what they did for a living. – Oh My God! Talk about culture shock!

    The local culture was almost completely rejected by newcomers. And, the newcomers were almost completely rejected by the locals. They had great difficulty understanding each other. It was a common plaint by a recent arrival – “what do you have against newcomers?” It was a common reply for the locals to just stare in stunned silence as all of the thoughts in their heads rolled through their minds.

    Like cream in your coffee, a culture needs a little stirring before it can become palatable. And, stir we did… Now, most of the folks in the Mattole and Eel River canyons can see, and understand, each other’s points of view, even if they don’t always agree. We all work together on community projects, we protect each other with our first responders. We fundraise for worthwhile projects, we build parks, we saved our hospitals tax base, much to the consternation of some, but we understand their points of view and try not to be bitter. Most of all we have dropped our prejudices.

    We have come to understand that the Newcomers need to rename everything. We know the Indigenous People names of things, the Locals names of things and the Newcomer names of thing. We understand that to name things is to love it. The Great Poet, Deerhawk not only renamed himself but renamed our area – “The Mateel”. Like it or not, there is no better name for our “place” than The Mateel. It encompasses the Eel River and the Mattole River canyons. There is no other culture or place like this in the world… and we get to live here.

    We have moved from one point of view to many points of view. The Newcomers have brought us knowledge, music, conflict, “medicine”. Showed us that they can also disagree amongst themselves, and still work it out. The many, many new people and new ideas that have come here has made our beloved area like all the colors of the rainbow. You may have your favorite color, but when seen as the rainbow that we are… Damn, It’s beautiful…. And we get to live here.

    • Ernie…sitting here dripping tears. Beautiful, beautiful words.

    • Thank you Ernie! All so true. After 44 years here I still feel like a ‘Newcomer’ but am so very happy to be here, everyday. And I love my Joy Call memories too!

      • I also love the family lineages, right down to cats & dogs being related to your friend’s & family’s dogs & cats. And whose homes used to belong to whom…Is it now the time to make heritage plaques for all the older homes around here? Our area is so ripe for a new day- one where we connect the dots to each other& our local homes and homesteads. Visitors love to read histories of areas, like Mendocino, Ferndale, etc. Our history isn’t very old around here and we can easily make this happen. I have an elderly neighbor who knows lots of settler/Indian stories that are fascinating! And a whole clan who have had their group of summer cabins in their family for 90+ years, with new babies each generation.

    • Thank you for this Ernie, so true! And thank you Kym for such s wonderful heartwarming story about Joy❤️

    • Sweet Stories, both Kym and Ernie. One of the funniest stories I had from Joy was when she started taking apart the cabin that her husband David Poland had built. Took off a couple of complete walls so the wind just whipped through (fortunately he had built it with big timbers so it didn’t fall down…) She retreated to a tiny room in the loft that she kept for her personal living quarters. “What the heck, Joy, why are you tearing up your house?” I asked. “So my %$#@** relatives can’t move in with me”. Haha.
      So strong and resilient, so smart and thoughtful, Joy has a special throne in my heart. We met at Firhaven Coop repacking cheese in the back room, and life has never been the same. Cheers.

    • Thanks Ernie. I learned alot right there.

  • What a lovely idea, Kym, and I’m glad you started with a Joy! I bought that tee shirt, too, and have picked her up a time or two. Like you, I’m usually in a hurry, but I can’t pass by a neighbor needing a ride. I remember her selling those plants on her tailgate…and being concerned for her. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”, I asked. Nothing was legal back then! She has lived her life on her terms. I suspect it doesn’t get better than that.

  • Yes Kym! Bring it back….there use to be a feature in Redwood Times about 15 years ago rightly titled “The Life and Times of……”

    Would love to see this feature continue. I fall in love with people all the time; shining eyes and colorful stories. What a gift to make time for such exchanges…and of course Joy-full interactions 🙂

  • Joy picked me up hitchhiking in the early ’90’s and told me the story of CAMP raiding her place when she was in her garden garbed in her birthday suit and a pair of red high-top sneakers. As she described it… when they dropped down from the helicopter, she ran downhill– “I was all ass and elbows!” — a line that has persisted through a few decades of memory leakage.
    ps. Ernie– that was an epic comment-thanks!

  • Angelo is my dad, this post made me smile😊 Thank you Kym and Joy!

  • Covelo or busted

    What a women, her name said it all.We would talk for hours when our paths crossed.. We talked often about good food and horses, her eyes would sparkle.

  • Like everyone else, I like this greatly Kym. What a great idea to celebrate a beautiful person while they’re still with us. You put smiles on faces with this piece. 🙂

  • Christine Rogers

    Loved the story about Joy but especially loved what Ernie had to say. I’m so glad we had the luck to be part of that story and this community.

  • Happy Trails to you joy.
    One half of the couple that got me my first cabin caretaker job in 1977.
    I’ll miss you and thanks for your help.
    I miss you to Mr.Poland.
    I remember Boob Butte well.
    It was a running joke.
    I remember the charming one log bridge over Kinsey Creek.
    One night I partied pretty hard at one of the many parties on the Early Ranch ( Early Raunch ) and my flashlight died coming home after dark and could barely find it.
    I crawled on hand and foot over it and thankfully made it back to the cabin.
    There was another guy with a tiny, tiny cabin on they’re land who I hate to say who’s name I forgot.
    He was very small with dark long hair and shaggy beard.
    He always cracked me up when he did his Chris McCurdy impression, “ I’ve got a never ending love for me. From know on, that’s all I want to be. From the first time I fell in love with me, I’ve had a never ending love for me!!”
    Done in signature booming McCurdy voice.
    Good times

      • Well thank God for that Kim!!
        I thought it was many of the many obituary’s I’ve read lately.
        So many old friends are gone now.
        He Joy you probably think that’s pretty funny.
        I just ran across my old drawings from Franks class.
        You have been immortalized I like to think.

    • Having been a close friend of Chris McCurdy through the forty-seven years we’ve lived here, I have to say that the above comment hardly describes the whole person. Chris is deeply loved by those who really know him; he’s a golden soul.

      Thanks, Kim. Thanks, Joy. Thanks, Ernie. Thanks to all you guys at the Farmers’ Market for singing Happy Birthday to me! This is indeed a special and wonderful place to live.

      • I’m not so sure about the happy birthday singing, Peter. It must have been torture for a talented musician like you to hear.

        But I agree on the Chris part. I love the music you two recorded together. It feels like it captures some of the outlaw magic of this place.

        • No, no! It was sweet and in tune; worthy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Touched me heart; a lovely way to help remember my eightieth!

  • Loved thre story, Kim and loved Ernie’s as well!

  • This was great I very rarely make it through the comments. It was a pleasure

  • Awesome story and must be an awesome woman. Thank you.

  • Maybe someone else has already mentioned this, but she is also a trained chef. We’d recently moved here and she invited us to the house she was building, bare wood walls, no windows, and made us a gourmet meal, three courses. Always a master story teller she told us about the time CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) was coming in one door while she ran out the other door, arms full of her crop, I don’t think that was the time she was arrested. And when we all belonged to the MIranda Grange she requested that the grange present a resolution regarding Boob Butte, I don’t remember how the voting went on that one but most of us signed the petition. She also volunteered to give a talk (a very well attended talk) about being a pot farmer, this was in the mid-80’s and a bit of a culture shock for some.

  • I wandered into a birthday party for her some years ago..had met her at shop smart a few times..anyway..i think she was celebrating 60 or 65..and she mesmerized the celebrants with a twenty minute performance of the poem ” Casey at the Bat’ from Memory!! I will never forget it..Great tribute to one of our own..I also was amazed at her plant sale by the bulletin board when the helicopter visits were all too routine..Bless you Joy, and thanks Kim

  • What I remember about Joy is that she used to have a turkey named Dwayne, who rode everywhere with her in her pickup truck. Then one day, much to her amazement, Dwayne laid an egg . Lol!

  • Great stories My sweet husband Jim moved up to Humboldt after Joy and he met in So Cal Joy said “Come on up and Visit “Jim took her up on the invatation and has been here ever since. Thank-You Joy … Thanks Kym and all of you who added to this story . A remarkable woman .

  • At first…….. I saw Joy’s picture! I held my breath!! I thought the story might be an obituary. I quickly scanned it looking for ‘is’ and ‘was’. Then, PHEW! Felt so much better!
    Joy Call is a treasure! She is a legend! And she has no ego or attitude about herself.
    I know few people who have lived such an AUTHENTIC life, with (yes), such JOY!
    Or, to say it in French, such, joie de vivre!!!
    I too have many times been the beneficiary of her humor, wisdom and culinary delights! Yum!!
    She also has been a true friend, through thick and thin.
    This woman has been through tough, tough times, and still stays positive. She IS a great role model in that way!
    A wise elder used to tell me: ‘Flowers for the living’. Meaning – ‘Honor people while they are alive’. Your profile story does that, Kym. Thank you!
    And if I re-Call correctly, she bred some legendary strains of ‘cannabis’ back in the 80’s. Not surprised that her plants sold quickly off her tailgate!
    I believe that some people have disrespected and maligned Joy. Think she has felt that. So, let’s……
    SHOW JOY OUR LOVE AND RESPECT
    ….Especially as an elder now, she has much to offer a world and community that is otherwise rather challenged.

  • Now THIS reminds me of the SoHum I almost died of longing to live in thirty years ago. The wonderful people I met, how they all felt like my family before I was born, how hard it was for me to tear myself away, how I never stopped wanting you back.

  • Joy is an amazing woman ! Always added something special to the Mattel meal , great company , entertaining stories ,and many culinary delights and tricks ,,, I mean who ‘d o thunk you could make rue in the microwave? What a character,, love you Joy

  • What an amazing character Joy is ,, always had something special to add to the Mateel meal ,, entertaining stories , culinary delights and tricks ,,, I mean who’d o thunk one could make rue in the microwave ? Folks would leave with joy in their hearts as well as their stomachs,, thanks Joy

  • I have my Joy Call T-shirt too. Like her, it lasts, and lasts. I was a baby lawyere when she got arrested, and I almost got to represent her. But clearer heads prevailed and she got a more experienced lawyer. Probably just as well because pot charges were serious in those days. Joy got mad at me some years back for never answering her communications, quite rightly, and has been out of touch since. But she is still one of my favorite people.

  • Great lady! Always enjoyed visiting with Joy when she would stop by on her way up the hill for a Diet Coke. lol. Always had her two pet turkeys, Dwayne and Duane with her. Such a character. Kind person. Thanks Kym for this tribute to her and Ernie’s comments were interesting too. Enjoyed all of this. Love the photo of Joy!!

  • It takes all kinds

    What a great story and series! I am very much looking forward to the up and coming stories. People are awesome! You especially Kym!

  • Wonderful, wonderful story Kym. Thank you. Although I have never really lived in SoHum for any real length of time, our family had some cabins down on the Redway flats that were built in the early 30’s by my great-grandfather, G. W. Cartwright. “Forest Camp” was a haven for our family up until just recently. Your story re-kindled the memory of some wonderful characters I came to know and love over the years who visited during the summers.
    Now that I’m retired from the media, I can enjoy your site a lot more! Keep the stories coming!

    All the best – Brad Curtis

  • If you haven’t picked Joy up, while she’s hitchhiking to town, you’ve missed a treasured local experience! We love you, Joy!

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