She eventually located her mother, whom the Canadian family had tried unsuccessfully to contact after the war, so that arrangements could be made for Clara’s return home. In London, she eventually located her mother, now divorced from her father and living in a run-down apartment. Clara found work to help with expenses. Her mother liked to party and there was a constant stream of men coming and going at all hours. Clara told me she decided to return to the family in Canada – as confining as her life there had been – after her mother tried to make her a prostitute.
And return she did to Canada -- to resume the life she had hated. She tried to put memories of her mother behind her. She was convinced the war and the evacuation was a perfect excuse for her mother to be rid of her daughter.
But one day about two years later she received a letter from her mother, who had married an American GI and was now living in Georgia. She begged Clara’s forgiveness and pleaded with her to come to Georgia, where she would have a good life. Clara bought a bus ticket and traveled there to reunite with her mother.
But when she arrived, her mother said her husband had tricked her into marrying him with the intent of bringing her to the States to care for his ailing old mother and to serve as housemaid in an rundown plantation house on a farm miles and miles away from anything. Clara helped her mother with duties of the house. At night she could hear her mother’s screams, apparently the victim of beatings at the hands of her husband. Clara said he was a violent man and she, too, was beaten by him on several occasions.
She urged her mother to leave, to come with her to the city, where they could finally try to make a life together. She would not agree, but urged Clara to go. And so she did.
She got a job in the city, eventually attended nursing school, married and became the mother of three children. By the late 1960s they had divorced and it was at that point that Clara began painting, apparently doing well with it financially, making enough income to quit nursing and pursue her artistic talent full-time.
It was the mid-1980s when I met her and about a year after than she became restless. She withdrew all her paintings from the galleries who displayed and sold her work. She felt they were “doing her wrong” and she wanted to get away -- move from the city, start over. She bought a house in a mid-sized town in central Georgia and moved. I visited her there a few times. During one visit, she said she was quitting painting altogether and would devote her time to writing a book to tell her life story. She called me one day and invited me for the weekend. When I arrived she made it clear why I was there: I was to edit the large stack of pages she had already written. She had changed, was no longer the carefree and happy person I had known. It was not a pleasant visit, but I was glad to help her if that was what she wanted.
I was summoned two more times to her home for the weekend for the same purpose, but she said she was struggling to find the voice with which she wanted to tell her story. I knew it was going to be a long slog for her.
About a year later she came to my house for the weekend and we had a pleasant visit, or at least I thought we did. I had brought home a new eight-week-old puppy just days before her visit. Young puppies can be annoying, of course, trying to climb legs, making puppy noises---you know the drill. I didn’t detect that any of my puppy’s behavior was bothering her although I knew she wasn’t a “dog” person.
On the morning she was to leave, I awoke to the sound of a car starting up outside my open bedroom window. Someone was leaving in a great rush, I could tell from the sound. I got up and went to the window just in time to see Clara’s car speeding away, her long red hair disheveled and flying out the open window.
What was going on? I rushed into the spare bedroom, saw all her things were gone and walked into the kitchen and saw a letter on the table addressed to me in Clara’s large and flowery handwriting. When I picked up the envelope, I would tell it was a very fat letter. I opened it, unfolded the thick pink sheets and began reading. How could I be so insensitive? How could I allow that animal to ruin her visit? To allow it to jump on her? What kind of person was I? She had never spent a more miserable evening, all because of me and my puppy!
She went on to tell me all the reasons she wanted to end our friendship. She said things that I had no clue of what she was speaking. I read on and became angry myself, thinking this was the ranting of an unstable person.
I mulled over the situation for a few days and wrote a long letter myself. Told her how ridiculous all this was. Gave her a piece of my mind as well! I read over it many times. It stayed on the desk several days. I finally destroyed the letter, feeling better just for having written it. I talked to our mutual friend about it. She told me other acquaintances of Clara had been worried about her for some time – they felt she was sinking into something and they didn’t know how to handle it with her, or if at all.Time passed. I didn’t hear from her. And I haven’t unto this day. I wonder what happened to Clara. Did she ever finish her book? Was it ever published? For years I would check out the new releases table each time I went into a bookstore. I have searched the Internet for her name and her paintings but have not found a trace of her.
She was a friend I needed at that time in my life. And I think she needed my friendship as well. But it ended and I’m not sure why it did. I hope that she found peace and reconciled her past and has had a good life in her later years. The good Lord knows she deserved it because she had more than enough grief in her past life.