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October 7, 2021 - By Joy Reed Belt

Handwritten Message from John Belt

Last week, on my birthday, I stood in my living room and saluted the works of art and assortment of treasured books that have enriched my life over the years. Each of them triggers powerful memories. As I casually picked up a book about the artist, Georgia O’Keefe, a scrap of yellow paper with a handwritten message fell to the floor. In the note, written by my late husband John Belt, was the phrase “How wonderful life is when you’re in the world,” which he had borrowed from Elton John’s “Your Song.” Apparently, I hadn’t fully opened that particular book since John’s death in 2013. What a wonderful Birthday gift!

Elizabeth Hahn, "The Chicken Dance," Acrylic on Panel, 36 x 48 in.

We all know that birthdays and anniversaries offer convenient occasions to take stock of our lives. We remember our losses, our gains and have the opportunity to establish guideposts for our future. For instance, the O’Keefe book was atop a pile of books which grace an elaborate hand carved chest which John and I purchased from Dorsey Buttram’s estate sale. A couple of months before that sale our home had burned and we essentially lost everything except what we were wearing. Rather than live in a totally new home with all new furniture and accessories, we purchased an older home built in the Georgian style and furnished it with things that already had a history. Finding the “Wonderful Life” note reminded me of the profound sense of loss we felt after the fire, but also of the memories we made in creating a new environment and future.

"A Rock Collection" by Myron Wood

O’Keefe at Abiquiu, the book in which my “birthday note” was tucked was illustrated by photographer Myron Wood. Born in Oklahoma, he spent most of his professional career in Colorado. It brought back another memory. Years ago, John and I visited a remarkable gallery in Colorado Springs where I bought my all-time favorite black and white photograph of Georgia O’Keefe sitting with her rock collection. The photographer? Myron Wood. I keep that photograph in my private space at The Elms and enjoy it daily. Also, looking at the cover of the book made me recall several trips John and I made over the years to Santa Fe. Often, we would drive to and enjoy the serenity of Abiquiu. Many years ago, while enrolled in a University of Oklahoma Summer Session course entitled, “Painting in the Land of Georgia O’Keefe,” ably taught by Carol Beesley in Santa Fe, our class made a pilgrimage to Abiquiu.

Carol Beesley, "The Wave," Mixed Media on Canvas, 36 x 36 in.

It was not unusual for John to send written letters and cards to me during our life together. Often, he would tuck one into my pillow, suitcase, a book or place one on my desk. Those notes made me feel loved and that feeling continues as I remember the messages or, if I am very lucky, find a new one. What a wonderful birthday. What a wonderful life!


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