August 1999 – The Babe slips quietly out of the big brass bed that has been in her family for four generations now. She goes into the kitchen and starts the coffee, then into the bathroom to turn on the bathwater in the deep, old claw-foot tub. Back in the living room, she runs her long, delicate fingers over the white cowhide stretched across the regulation-size pool table as she moves toward the far corner of the room.
“Good morning Juan Carlos,” she says to the inscrutable iguana that takes up most of the length of his six-foot-long aquarium enclosure. Juan Carlos just blinks.
Freshly bathed she pours a steaming mug of coffee, steps out onto the second-floor deck and sits at down at the table. Absent-mindedly she watches the play of sunlight through the leaves of the cottonwood trees down by the river. Had she said too much to that gal from the local paper yesterday? She wonders, no, she has nothing to hide, not really.
She’d been a wild child, yes. Born Tammy Lynn Spohn back in Ohio, genetically she had a mixed heritage of mostly Anglo blood, but with enough Shawnee to account for the high cheek bones, a strong jaw and well-defined nose on her sculpted face. Her family had relocated to California in 1960 when, at two-and-a-half, she had pigtails, dark sparkling eyes and dimples, perfectly captured in a studio photo taken at the time. It was one of several she had loaned the reporter to use with the story.
But the family didn’t hold together. There were what seemed like countless moves, culminating in a divorce. By age 14 she felt her father was a stranger and she took off for Hawaii where he was then living, to get to know him better. She didn’t get to know him any better, nor, she reflected sadly, was she ever able to please him. The wild child dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and married an Islander, a Hawaiian whose Polynesian blood, primarily from the Asian sector, was as mixed as her own.
Twenty-three years later she would get her GED, mostly to please (impress) her father, because she thought her life was on a track that a high school diploma, or the lack thereof, would have no significant bearing. But Dad didn’t seem to care.
Motherhood at 16—her daughter, Fawn, was so beautiful, so precious—the former wild child became a determined young mother. Sadly, her Hawaiian marriage ended before the birth of her second daughter. Tammy returned to the mainland. Daughter Nicole was born in Porterville. It had been a struggle, no two ways about it. But she is so proud of them now, Fawn is living right here in Springville with Tammy’s adorable grandson, Xavier, and Nicole, now 22, is teaching school in San Francisco and going for her doctorate. Who’da thought. . .
About the only recreation and relaxation Tammy had managed back in those difficult times was participating in a little sport she picked up as a wild child—shooting pool. She was good, really good. The guys saw a babe. She saw a game. She beat them royally and walked off with trophies. It wasn’t for money. She never bet. The guys bet between themselves over her. She just loved the game.
Eventually she landed a sgood job at Sierra Forest Products in Terra Bella. She put in ten years of hard work, aiming for lumber grader, a solid position with a serious paycheck.
To master the art of lumber grading, a person must learn how to identify each of the species of trees; and each of its characteristics—if they’re natural, or the effect of manufacturing, or of seasoning; the allowable sizes and amount of characteristics permitted in the different grades and where they are permitted in each piece—known as “flipping boards.”
Tammy was tutored by Dave Edwards, the best in the shop. Dave was a twenty-year veteran and sixteen years her senior. They worked closely. Dave fell deeply in love. Tammy wouldn’t give him a tumble, no way José! He was previously committed, as they say. But Dave wouldn’t, couldn’t give up. He dissolved the commitment and then began seriously pursuing Tammy.
This August morning Tammy sees Dave as he exits the house, and blows him a kiss. He waves and heads up the path toward his car, on his way to that same job he will be retiring from in another four years. She would have fixed him breakfast, but Dave doesn’t do breakfast, hasn’t for the ten years they’ve been married.
She’s been musing long enough. It’s time to go to town. In her bedroom, she slips into a svelte, floor-length sleeveless blue dress with slits up the sides, puts her feet into matching blue sandals and deftly selects the perfect pair of earrings from the 500 pairs (that’s not typo) she has hanging from lace trim tacked to several shelves above her dresser. She checks herself in the mirror. Not bad she thinks. She laughs softly as the thought flits through her mind of the birthday party her daughters threw for her last year. Everyone wore black—as the invitation requested—in appropriate attire for celebrating Tammy turning the big four zero. A little fun on her daughters’ part.
Up the path, she gets into her hot red Camaro and tools into town. The vanity plates read “Tamz Kam.” She loves this town, Springville, knew she wanted to live here the first time she laid eyes on it. And the house by the river—she knew she would be living there, sensed it, on her first walkthrough. Back in Porterville, when she would mow a neighbor’s yard for mad money, special money she wanted to put down on antiques she had collected her whole life, she had paid off that beautiful Belgian tapestry that fit so perfectly, like it was meant to be there, on one living room wall.
She parks the Camaro on the street across from her shop, Tammy’s Country Crafts—In the Hills. She always knew she could make some kind of living with her sewing machine. Since her mom taught her to sew on their old Kenmore, she took to it like a duck to water. She was so adept that in her seventh-grade sewing class, the teacher ran out of assignments for her by midterm and had to invent projects for her to do. She didn’t plan this—she planned to be a lumber grader. But her back gave out. She could no longer do the heavy work involved. “Our bodies get older even when we don’t,” she’d told the reporter.
Tammy’s sewing area is so tight, she has to move display items outside to make room for customers. Customer friends, crafter friends and just plain friends would be stopping by to pick up sewing repairs, drop off handcrafted gift items on consignment or simply to chat and gossip. Before they start arriving, Tammy goes out back to open the annex, The Backyard Boutique holds the overflow, including greeting cards, dried flower arrangements, dolls, t-shirts, pillows, quilts, steins—all handcrafted. The new coat of paint looks sharp. Inside, the pleasant aroma of dried flowers fills the air. Friends had done it all. Her sewing work was too backed up for her to have time for the Boutique. Tammy gets a stipend for providing space for craft classes including beading, dried flower arrangement, crocheting, doll making, knitting, tole painting and scrap-booking. She also sells craft supplies.
Now it’s time to get at it. The sewing is, as always, backed up. What with customers not only from here in town, but also from neighboring communities all the way to and including Visalia, a fifty-mile trip, each way. The word is getting out and she is getting more new customers all the time. She knows she’s not going to get rich but that was never the plan. She just wants to get to the place where she can afford help so she can spend more time with her husband when he retires.
As five o’clock rolls around, Tammy brings in her outside displays. With an armload of sewing projects to take home, the babe locks up and crosses the street to her Camaro. She spins a U-turn and heads up the hill toward her own beautiful home.
“Will the reporter embarrass me? Probably. Will I care? Nah,” she laughs and hits the gas.
Afterword: Tammy’s business, like almost every other small business start-up, including the antique business to her right and the Sweet Shoppe to her left, folded (or changed hands) within three years (usually less). Such is the nature of small, resort-like towns in the southern Sierras, the ones that don’t particularly cater to tourism beyond holding a couple of weekend public events (in spring and fall) each year.
This story originally appeared in the now defunct Tule River Times, gratis.