.MENIFEE: Author turns loss, RV adventure into book
The cover of “Coast to Coast with a Cat and a Ghost," written by Judy Howard of Menifee.
BY PETER FISCHETTI
Published: 20 August 2012 03:37 PM
In November of 2004, Judy Howard left her home in Sun City, now part of Menifee, and drove east, arriving at her girlfriend’s home in Cocoa Beach, Fla., seven days later. She parked the RV, looked out at the ocean and said to herself, “Wow. I drove from the Pacific to the Atlantic by myself.”
Howard, now 66, had done much more than that. She had taken a giant stride — one as wide as the country — toward dealing with the loss of her husband, Jack, who died three months earlier after a two-year battle with cancer.
“I fell in love with the RV experience in 1999 when Jack and I purchased our first motorhome,” she said. It was a two-year-old Winnebago. Their trips were short — up to Santa Cruz, down to Arizona — because of the dog and cat grooming business she owned. They had talked about someday driving across the country.
Then Jack became ill. “When my husband’s story ended, my healing journey began,” Howard said. It began in a parking lot at Lake Perris, where the couple would often camp in their RV. There she practiced her driving, and also spread some of his ashes at their favorite site. “When Jack was sick, I hung on to the idea of traveling in the RV and seeing everything. Maybe it carried me through his illness.”
Traveling in the RV was her one passion at the time; writing was to become another a few years later. Combining the two, Howard has written a book with the lyrical title of “Coast to Coast with a Cat and a Ghost.”
The cat is Sportster, named after a Harley Davidson bike that was a favorite of Jack’s. The ghost is Jack. Howard designed a life-size doll that looks remarkably like her husband, complete with a Harley hat and T-shirt.
The doll, called Jack Incarnate, sits in the passenger seat during her travels and, she insisted, “The doll starts complaining when I make a wrong turn.”
The book weaves two stories. There is her trip across the country, blasting the radio with country music and singing along. Howard describes the terror she felt crossing the 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana, the drama of gazing at the Milky Way alone at Big Bend National Park and the joy of meeting so many people along the way at RV parks and rest stops.
“They were fascinated by what I was doing,” Howard said. “Some of the women were actually inspired.”
And there is the story of her marriage, an imperfect one to be sure throughout its 25 years. Jack was an alcoholic attending AA when they met, and while he stopped drinking, he remained controlling and sometimes abusive. But there were happy times as well, and Howard writes of their final moments together:
“I had grown strong enough to let go and he had grown strong enough in his love to soar to the heavens. I couldn’t help him on his last journey but I lay beside him, breathing in his spirit for the last time.”
It would be some time before those words were put on paper. “I didn’t think about a book until two years ago when I took a writing class,” Howard said. “This is pretty cool, I thought; I might as well write a book.” It took about a year to write, and is available online at amazon.com.
Howard continues living both of her passions. She’s put 40,000 miles on the Winnebago, including another cross-country trip that lasted two months. She picked up her sister at Niagara Falls, and the two rode around the East Coast. (Jack Incarnate ended up on the dining room table.)
She is just about finished writing a second book, “Going Home with a Cat and Ghost,” which is not a sequel but a novel about a woman who returns to her hometown for a 40th high school reunion to face her past. And in the wings is a third book, “Invisible Heroes,” about a puppy growing up to be a service dog for a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
While Howard still owns The Canine Beauty Salon in Sun City, she has squeezed in a new career. At RV rallies, libraries and elsewhere, she conducts workshops and seminars on writing in general and writing memoirs in particular. On Saturday, Aug. 25, she will appear at the Above the Clouds Writing Conference at Mt. Baldy Lodge, and on Sept. 15 she will attend the Glen Avon Library Book Fair. Her website, www.sportsterandme.com, has more information on her appearances.
After her husband died, Howard faced the decision of how to respond to her loss. “Anyone who has lost a loved one says to stay busy,” she said. “That trip occupied my mind; it was empowering, as Oprah likes to say.”
She added, “My life could not be more perfect. I love writing. I love traveling. And I love writing about traveling, so what could be better?”
RESIDENCE: Sun City section of Menifee
OCCUPATION: Owner of The Canine Beauty Salon in Sun City
NOTEABLE: After her husband, Jack, died in 2004, she drove her RV across the country “to stay busy.”
NOTEABLE: Howard has published a book, “Coast to Coast with a Cat and a Ghost,” about that trip and her marriage.
NOTEABLE: She is completing her second book, a novel titled “Going Home with a Cat and Ghost,” and is working on a third book, “Invisible Heroes.”