Deepening Connections: Shirlee’s Dream

In the last couple of years, I have made a conscious effort to contact people from my past who made a significant difference in my life. Shirlee Welch was one of them. In the late 1960s and 70s, I was a young single teacher living and teaching in La Verne, a small university town in Southern California. Shirlee and I attended the same church, and she often invited me to have a meal with her family after church. Our friendship deepened to the point where I was invited to join the family on a camping trip to the Grand Canyon. It was an unforgettable trip and seemed to secure our lifelong friendship. Around this time, I began to hand-build with clay, and I would have little sales of my work in my backyard. Shirlee never missed a sale, and though she always purchased one of my creations, it was her encouragement of my craft that made a meaningful impact on my life. 

Time passed, I moved away and lost touch with Shirlee. Then, in April of 2021, after some 30 years, I reconnected with her by FaceTime. At 96, Shirlee still lived in La Verne – but now in an assisted living facility. Just as I remembered, she had short, curly hair, and the gray now took the place of her blond curls. Although currently bedridden, she was just as alert, witty, curious, unconditionally loving, and gracious. I noticed a new squeak in her soprano voice, which meant she couldn't sing anymore, one of her favorite things to do. Lying in her hospital bed, her body seemed to be trying to stay upright as gravity pulled her downward. In our conversation, we reflected on the many ways we had both touched each other's lives. I told her about the many ways she and her family had positively impacted my life. Because of that phone call, our friendship blossomed again. 

In our FaceTime conversations, she wanted to know what kind of ceramic work I was doing. She looked at my website and fell in love with my figures of women sitting on benches. Because she was bedridden, she had lots of time to think, and she came up with the idea of commissioning me to make figures of her family members. I don't often do commission work, but in this case, I was willing to take it on because of the love and admiration between Shirlee and me. Her enthusiasm and our renewed friendship inspired me.