It’s Saturday morning, July 21, 2012. I’m thinking about my cousin Polly Johnson who died at age 24 in 1963. Once you hear the story, you’ll know why I’m thinking about her today.
Polly lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, and was a star in our family. By the time she was sixteen, she had her own live TV show in Rapid, a Saturday evening country western show called The Hoedown. (That was a long time ago, when local stations still did some of their own programming.)
Eventually Polly had a falling out with her manager. She got saved and moved to California where she became a gospel singer. The last time I saw her was the summer before I went away to college. She came to Bisbee with her guitar in hand and spent several days sitting in my sister’s living room, strumming her guitar, and recording hour after hour of music into a Wollensak reel-to-reel. I can still hear her in my mind’s ear singing El Paso, Bimbombay, Five Brothers who left Arkansas. It was an incredible gift, and one I still savor–and thanks to my late nephew, David Lane, I can still listen to Polly’s music–her clear voice, her utterly true pitch.
Time passed. Months. Polly was living in Lodi, California. She was scheduled to go to Washington, DC to receive some sort of Congressional award for her work with youth. In the days before she was supposed to leave, rather than packing for the trip, she sat down and composed long letters to any number of people, including my sister in Bisbee. On the way to the airport that day, she picked up an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of her upcoming album, I Found the Answer.
By now, you’ve figured out where this is going. The plane Polly boarded was one of the first hijackings in this country, carried out by some stupid jerk who blew himself and a plane full of other people over northern California so his family could get the insurance money. I do not remember his name, and I’m not going to try looking it up. As the plane exploded, the record album was blown out of the aircraft, and the record itself was sucked out of its sleeve. It was found miles from the main body of wreckage. It had floated downward and landed, unbroken, in a recently plowed field with only the title showing–I Found the Answer.
And I think Polly had found her answer. In the days after her death, envelopes containing those last handwritten letters showed up in Post Offices all over the country–in Bisbee and in Rapid City where her brother-in-law worked as a mail carrier. Those notes were a final loving gift from Polly to the people who loved her, and the gospel singer who appeared in Beaumont # 4, Taking the Fifth, was my small tribute to Polly, a way of bringing her back.
Now you know why I’m thinking about Polly this morning–because of that other young woman in Colorado who, after literally dodging a bullet at a theater shooting in Toronto a month ago, lost her life in the tragedy in Aurora. Like Polly, Jessica Ghawi, was twenty four years old. Like Polly, she was a rising star. Like Polly, she stayed in touch with the people she loved in life-affirming blogs, tweets, and e-mails even though she had some kind of inkling that something wasn’t quite right–that life was precious and might come to an end at any time.
My hope for Jessica and for the other victims is that forty years from now, they will still be recalled with love and respect while the shooter’s name and the ugly smirk on his mug shot are long forgotten.
Via con Dios, Jessica and Polly.
J.A. Jance is the New York Times bestselling author of the Ali Reynolds series, the J.P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, and four interrelated Southwestern thrillers featuring the Walker family. Born in South Dakota and brought up in Bisbee, Arizona, Jance lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington and Tuscon, Arizona. Find out more about J.A. Jance and her novels on her website at http://www.jajance.com/jajance.com/Welcome.html.
I want to thank Judy for sending us this post.
We are a community of mystery, crime, and thriller writers. Fictional senseless acts are the things we write about. When they happen in real life, we flinch. From Killer Nashville, our thoughts go out to all the Jessicas and Pollys of the world. As writers and thinkers, our thoughts and prayers are with those individuals and their families. Contrary to many of the posts I have been seeing on the Internet and in the newspaper, when we write, we don’t write because we revel in the crime. We write because in our heart-of-hearts, we believe in justice, we believe that in the end, the good guys will win. Most of the time, they do – in our works and in life – but it doesn’t bring back those who are gone. Incidents such as these mentioned by Judy are a reminder to love with all our hearts all of those around us because we never know when someone is going to walk in dressed as a clown and start shooting, or a tree is suddenly going to fall on our heads. For those who are gone, there is peace. For those of us left behind, we only ask why and ache. We seek to understand. And that, speaking for many, is why we write.
Be safe. Be happy. Love.
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)