22″x 30″, Watercolor
Other than a few portraits of my boys, this is the only portrait I have ever painted. I have added Josie to the Tribute To Venus category because I can think of no other woman who so embodied the lovely attributes of the feminine Venus. Her name was Anna Josephine Timbers, and she became one of my best friends. She came into my life in the summer of 1972 when my soon-to-be-husband was photographing her. I had not been very close to my elderly grandparents so elderly people were foreign to me. I was a sprite eighteen years of age, and I could not imagine what I would possibly have in common with an eighty-seven year old black woman; even though I had been cared for by black women growing up. I was so unexpectedly surprised, and delighted. I fell in love with Josie; it was hard not to. She was kind and compassionate, and soft, wise, funny, sad, deep, vulnerable with a huge heart. Her grandmother was part Cherokee and her mother had been a slave. She had lived in this part of Virginia all her life, raised six children, one she had now outlived and she spoke mostly of the past. My friendship with Josie lasted eleven years wherein she spoiled me with her southern cooking; fried chicken, stewed tomatoes, corn pudding and homemade pie. We sat on the porch often after meals where we rocked and jawed: her word for talking. My husband and I planted her vegetable gardens, and loved spending time with her. She scooped up our babies when they were born saying,” Come on here, let me give you some sugar.” Sugar was her loving.
The day came when Josie at ninety-five had to leave her country home where she had lived much of her life. One of her daughters took her in…into a shack behind her modern home where Josie had to use an outhouse. One day she asked us to check under her mattress for some money, but none was there. She started to cry saying her own children were stealing from her. Josie was mostly blind in one eye and struggling with the other eye. I wanted her to come live with us, but she was determined to stay close to home as I think she knew her time was near. Not long after, her daughter moved her to a nursing home. I went to see her there several times, and my heart broke at how unhappy she was there. The last time I went to see her, I went alone without my boys. It was August 1983. I stood in the doorway to her room for some time until she called my name. She knew I had been standing there. She asked one of the nurses to find another rocking chair, and we sat and rocked and jawed for hours. She told me what I had already suspected, but dared not ask. Her husband, Henry, had a tendency to drink and womanize. She confronted him once when he came home drunk, and he punched her in the face, hitting her eye; the one in which she had now gone blind. She cried about the sorrows and injustices of life, and the betrayal by those she loved. I tried to cheer her up, but she seemed determined to make some peace with the past. So I cried with her.
In late September of that year, just a week or so after her 98th birthday, her family had a reunion. Josie must have said her goodbyes for she departed the next evening. I knew the last time I saw here that she was saying her farewell to me when she shared the depth of her soul. What more can I say? I miss one of the best friends I ever had…Josie…Josie Timbers.