Joanne Konig died October 22, 2014, on Martha’s Vineyard. She was 75 years old, and would have wanted no fuss over remembering her.
Most of her life, Joanne was a teacher: to her three daughters, her 10 grandchildren, and the hundreds of elementary-school students who rotated through her classroom, with its hand-culled collections of shells, bird nests, sand dollars, and its bulletin boards under perpetual reconstruction. During summer vacations, Joanne’s family used to search for monarch caterpillars, and carry them back to the class so her students could follow their life cycle. She taught that way for 28 years.
Joanne was one of six, and while her other siblings moved south, west, and even north to Alaska, she stayed in Massachusetts. She met her husband on a ski trip, married young, and worried devotedly about his health to the end, even though the largest medical problems were hers.
Around the time she began teaching, Joanne noticed the first symptoms - thickening joints, disfigured hands, fragile and breaking bones. It was scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease. She rejected her handicap-parking placard, asked her daughters to help thumbtack the classroom bulletin boards, and never mentioned how hard it must have been to spend all day keeping pace with energetic youngsters. The closest she came to disclosure was when she told a daughter that the children didn’t want to hold her hand anymore.
An intensely private person, she was forced to live with an increasingly visual secret. It didn’t stop her determined life, though. When friends and family called, she changed the conversation immediately from her to them. She read prolifically, and found her way back to an early love of painting watercolors.
With an educational focus (of course), she and her husband travelled from a Frank Lloyd Wright House to The Forbidden City. Crossing the Somalian Sea, their cruise ship was attacked by pirates. That drama was widely covered by media, but Joanne took a more characteristic view. “The press made such a big deal of it,” she said.
There was no photograph on the mass card at her service. Instead, there was a picture of a hydrangea she had grown. Gardening was a passion until the weeks before her death, even when she could only reach her perennial beds in a golf cart. Joanne would have disapproved of her own picture — too attention-seeking. But the hydrangea, unbowed, was an accurate portrait, too.
Did you know Joanne Konig? Share your memories in the comments section.