JANE of the oasis : GRACE and GENEROSITY

Jane Van Lehr

later Grunt, and Smith  –  in memoriam

As I write these two words, ’‘in memoriam,”  my brain moves to details I remember, about meeting Jane and becoming friends to the end of our days. Yet, single facts are the opposite of what I want. Here I’m only bringing up my “brief little dreams” about her, hoping they can explode like flowers of dandelion when a child blows on their fragile globes: heads covered with tiny soft stars, white, that spread everywhere in the wind not far from the ground.

That’s what Jane was, a field of energy planting seeds inside people around her, into the ground of the desert.  Her attachment to the land, and to her family history as a blooming garden of humans and trees, moves the past into the present and gives roots to the future. Her memorial was the epic of an extraordinary figure of a woman never tired of learning, giving, and improving the juice of life. And, at the same time, the least conventional. She was dancing by the pool with her daughter the evening before she died. Friendship was a secret pleasure without embellishment, or explanations. A sharing for real, no safety belt.

Even during the memorial it wasn’t possible to elude the impression she was sowing a new garden of connections  passing me on to her five sons and daughters, and to their proliferation as fathers and mothers. For the first time I met her two sisters. They are equals to Jane in intensity, grace and generosity. One had eight children, the other nine.

29 Palms Inn, The Pond

A long time ago Jane decided to produce bread for the Inn, family and guests, sourdough bread of course, but how to make it? She found a French chef, invited him to teach the technique, and the Inn has fresh sourdough bread every day since. All the facets of women’s lives dismissed or underestimated because careers and professional skills -by necessity- erase them from the personal storyboard, were valuable, intact treasures in Jane’s hardworking days. One day in August, 120 degrees in the garden, I helped to clean a big quantity of mesquite pods, because Jane wanted to  transform them into flour like Native Americans do. Her oasis is an ancient Native American site.

29 Palms Inn, Oasis

The wave of energy that for me started with Jane, became an ocean after she moved to eternity. Waves follow one another gently overlapping, they never stop. Same bad habit time has. The memorial turned into an island of kindness. Running tears and smiles and enchanting youngsters: one of them, a five year old girl with dark hair and big open dark eyes, not afraid to shoot them in my face, touched my heart. The same fearless gaze as Jane. It was, it is, a face to face conversation stripped of words: who are you as a human being?

 Little Gwyneth helped my pick up colors and paper to make washi flowers for grandmother’s ashes. Behind the couch where we were working, the box with the ashes was looking at us. It had migrated from the main house to another residence of the Inn. I was surprised and pleased seeing Jane’s remains move through the oasis where she was born, lived and didn’t say goodbye. With them next to us, we all worked as much as we could. Jane gone? not at all. Each inch of the garden, each step of the cabins, the old friendly furniture reverberate her figure, they will keep her myth alive.

Myths are the souls of our actions and our loves. We cannot act without moving toward a phantom. We can love only what we create.  —Paul Valéry

The garden of Jane is unexpected in the desert. The metal gate was designed by an artist. The soil grows mint, thyme, basil, parsley, grapes, lettuce, cabbage, pumpkin, zucchini, fava beans, figs, and pears. This year grapes were promising, I took a picture of her hand thanking the plant. With Jane I picked zucchini blossoms and cooked them for her birthday. Exchanging recipes, stories, and cooking together we built friendly moments of happiness from which time flies away, and the beauty of being human stays.

29 Palms Inn, Boat in the pond

I’m dreaming that early in the morning, when she squeezed her soul out of her body, she flew to the boat house in which she had spent years with husband and four children on the ocean water. Moving back to the oasis with the whole family to continue her father’s  commitment in keeping the Inn running, she brought the boat with her, and placed her in the pond. It is the only monument in that place, a boat impregnated with the growth of young lives. On July 22 she took the boat with her one more time, likely a light aerial replica, and happily left, to explore infinity. 

Holding her hand, I thank every second of my present, past and future. Sometimes I think back, in some fleeting delusional  flights, on the smell of African and oriental spices of my favorite drugstore in Paris. I know she would love it.