Jane Cottonwood started lifting spirits as a coffee shop waitress in Beatty, Nevada. While attending horse shows with her little barrel racing daughters Jane came to find out there was a real shortage of award ribbons for those little winners she was raising.
‘Janey’ came to know how the world worked by living on Highway 95. North of town was the brothel, west the ghost town Rhyolite, and just south and east the atomic test site.
Atomic tests always went off at 7 in the morning before school. Shook the town to kingdom come, but nobody complained much. People who lived here owed their living to the atomic bomb experiments being undertaken in the name of defending our country from the communists.
Brothels and Beatty are practically synonymous. Friends worked there and most of the best gossip in town is about the married men who ought not to be purchasing services there. Still it’s Nevada and expectations of what any man may or may not be at his core has been revised considerably to fit this particular place on earth.
Jane gave the world her all. When I met her she’d already had six decades to practice this artful gift of giving. We met at the Rocky Mountain Fairs Association meetings. I’d sit with her at lunch, or we’d drink whiskey in the hospitality suite in the evening while we whittled away time smooth talking clients.
I think some women are made to give young men a nurturing maternal kind of loving. Jane was such a person in my life. Told me I had to stop if I ever passed through Beatty. Put another notch in our friendship when I did.
Her business had grown to employ 90 workers. Award ribbons it turns out are made by hand. The workers do utilize machines in the process, but most of how a ribbon is manufactured comes from the labor a person puts into the thing. You stencil, you stapled, you cut, you sew. All those first place ribbons have to detail whether you won an award for a rabbit or a horse, for the Oregon State Fair or the Modoc County Fair. There was first place to third place. A big fair can require a whole truckload of ribbons.
Jane died of congestive heart failure. She died back in 2001. Her two daughters have kept the business going. Her husband is still alive. When Jane sat down next to you and gave you the pleasure of her company it was an experience of the highest order. I can’t quite explain how good she could make a person feel, how welcomed, how supported, how happy and funny life could be when she was around, but that was her way. Making a business out of giving people a good feeling about how good they can do something turned out to be her work. Next time you see a ribbon hanging off a jar of best of show pickles you could be looking right at what Jane has left behind to mark her having been here.
BANKRUPT HEART THE SECOND NOVEL
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