The Jolly Green Giant is on the Move

In 1964, the Creative Writing professor at the University of Arizona denied me entrance into his class by telling me, “Girls become teachers or nurses. Boys become writers.” So I took what seemed like the only reasonable option and graduated with a teaching degree in English.

After two years of teaching high school English at Tucson’s Pueblo High School, I was ready for a change, so I signed up to take six units of library science at summer school—Cataloguing and Selection of Materials, both taught by Eleanor Saltus. Believe me, she was one tough and demanding teacher. The two male students who had signed up for the two courses dropped out after the first week. Six of us, all female, hung in for the duration.

By fall, my husband had obtained a teaching position at Sells on what was then the Papago Reservation. By the way, that name was a derivative of what the Spanish Conquistadors called the Tohono O’odham, the Desert People. I was scheduled for another year at Pueblo. Then, a few days before school was due to start, the school librarian at Sells quit, and I was offered the job along with a provisional librarian certificate.

So off I went to Sells, still driving sixty miles round trip twice a week to take night classes in Tucson toward my library science certificate. During the spring semester of that year, my night class was Children’s Literature taught by Helen Renthal. It was there I learned, for the first time, that part of my job as a librarian was telling stories—telling them as opposed to reading them aloud.

Suddenly I found myself in my element. For the following four years I told 26 stories a week in K-6 classrooms. On Thursdays, which was storytelling day, I would use the thirty-mile drive from home to school to memorize that week’s story.

The way my wardrobe was organized back then, on story telling day, I often wore a bright green knee-length sheath with a slightly flared skirt. Anybody remember that old radio commercial for Skippy Peanut Butter? “Look for me in my bright green dress?” My storytelling dress was just like the dress on the model featured on the label of Skippy Peanut Butter jars. If you don’t remember Skippy Peanut Butter, think of the color of newly-leafed cottonwood trees.

Tohono O’odham kids are not tall. I’m six-one which meant that, as far as they were concerned, I was VERY tall. They all knew that whenever I came to their classrooms it would be to have fun so, without my knowledge, they referred to me as the Jolly Green Giant. I didn’t learn that until years later when one of the kids I had inspired to start reading sent me a fan letter after he began reading my books.

Right now, I’m on vacation. The edited manuscript landed in New York early last week. I leave on tour this coming Sunday. So last week I went to lunch with a good friend, Bonnie Abney—you all know her from reading Second Watch—and one of her good friends who happens to be a diehard J.A. Jance fan. We were scheduled to meet at the restaurant in Nordstrom’s in Bell-Square. On my way there happened to glance into the Eileen Fisher shop, and there, on the far back wall, I caught that wonderfully distinctive color of newly-leafed cottonwood trees.

You guessed it, the minute lunch was over, I went straight back to the store and bought two things—a silk blouse and a long-sleeved sweater in that glorious shade of green. They’re both already loaded into my suitcase, so when I say the Jolly Green Giant is on the move again, I really mean it, and I’ll soon be back to doing my favorite thing—telling stories.

By the way, in 1970 when I completed work on my Masters degree in Library Science, my husband said there was no reason for us to bother with my going through graduation, so I didn’t. My diploma came in the mail. His complete dismissal of that accomplishment caused me to devalue it, too. I have no idea where that diploma is now. It disappeared without a trace, somewhere along the way.

By the time the University of Arizona awarded me an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2000, both my first husband and the Creative Writing professor had been dead for close to twenty years. My husband didn’t attend that graduation, either, but you can bet your sweet bippy I did—and so did my second husband, Bill.

Sometimes living well is the very best revenge.

51 thoughts on “The Jolly Green Giant is on the Move

  1. Ok, Judy, I look forward to seeing you wear that color of green next week on your tour. Love the fact that your students called you “The Jolly Green Giant” because they loved you. It was a term of endearment. One of my sisters was very tall when she was a kid. She’s 6’1″ now. All through her school years she was, also, called, “The Jolly Green Giant”. Only she wasn’t jolly. They didn’t love her. They were making fun of her and, unfortunately, she let those mocking words darken her entire life. How strange that the same phrase can be so happy for one person and so devastating to another.

  2. I know one thing. Mystery writers have an advantage over the rest of us mortals. If you want revenge on someone, you make them a villain in a novel. Too bad that creative writing teacher didn’t live long enough to read the Walker family books.

  3. I love looking forward to your Blogs on Friday. Before seeing yours on Facebook, I hadn’t even known what a Blog was. My daughter does, so I know they’re popular. I have loved your books for many years, your Beaumont series is up in my small library. I’ve loaned them out, I’m even listening to them this time!

  4. If you’re driving to your appearance in Salem down I5, wave after you pass the Al’s Garden Center sign in Wilsonville. I live in one of the apartment buildings on the east side of the interstate. I saw you years ago at the Borders in Oak Brook, IL. Hubby and I moved to the PNW after he retired a couple of years ago. Looking forward to buying Blessing of the Lost Girls next week.

  5. Sometimes living well is the only revenge – and you have more than accomplished that! Also, they say revenge is a dish best served cold…
    PS – will you be wearing that green outfit in Tucson?

  6. I have read everyone of your books. When will have another Joanna Bradley book. Stay safe and maybe I will see you in Tucson.

  7. I am very glad that you overcame the lack of validation you got in your first marriage and persisted in following your heart. What’s running through my head at this moment is a line from a Heather Alexander song: “Hey, Storyteller, pull a tale from your pocket….” You oblige your readers on a regular basis, including a weekly story on this blog. Thanks!

    Do you have a green dress for this book tour? Wishing you safe travels and I’m happy that you are coming my way this time.

  8. Reminded me of my experience when I was about 22. I worked for an insurance company as an accounts receivable clerk. An opening came up in the audit department and my boss suggested I apply for it. I was told by the audit folks that since I was engaged I would soon marry, and have children, and stop working. Therefore they couldn’t train me to do the audit job because I would just quit on them. I ended up divorcing with no kids and eventually became finance director for another company.

  9. HO HO HO GREEN GIANT!! It’s not just for Santa anymore. No matter the topic reading your Friday blog always gets the end of the week off to a good start. Those many weekly storytelling no doubt contributed greatly to your telling stories on the printed page and video screen. I’m glad that in varying degrees your characters maintain your jolly outlook and even JP expects life to be full of fun.

  10. I’m sorry you missed that first graduation ceremony. I attended my college graduation a bit nervous as people usually mispronounce my last name. Thankfully the man who was handing out the diplomas got it right. As the graduates in my row sat down again someone passed a bottle of wine down the line. We each took a swig and passed it on to the next person.

  11. You have the best stories. We should never let anyone devalue what we do, no matter what it is. Thank you for this great story. I have a supportive second husband who would never have done that to me. What a great accomplishment and your 1st husband didn’t want to share in your accomplishment as he would have to recognize your value.
    Have a great tour.

  12. Your cottonwood tree reference brought this to mind for just this morning I was walking amongst some cottonwoods here in Yuma County.
    Best advice from a TREE…
    Stand tall and proud.
    Go out on a limb.
    Remember your roots.
    Drink plenty of water.
    Be content with your natural beauty.
    Enjoy the view.

    Can’t wait to see you via LIVE STREAM on Tuesday, September 19. I am SOOO excited!!!
    Just noticed the address… Goldwater Blvd…another memory synapses fired… do you remember Goldwater’s Department Store ? My family used to shop at the Park Central Goldwater’s. Every Christmas, before age 14, my father took me and my sister, separately, for a lunch and shopping trip. We would get a winter and summer pajama set and a pair of shoes. My favorite lunch spot was Miracle Mile Delicatessen. AND then from age 15 forward, my father gave Estee Lauder perfume. My sister received Youth Dew and I was gifted White Linen. My mother’s signature scent was and remains Cinnabar. A few years ago, my vintage mother gave me a near empty bottle of Cinnabar so I shall always have a bit of her around.

    Miss Judy… YOU are a beautiful, brilliant, accomplished, and alluring woman of substance AND style!!! I want to be YOU!!!

    • Love the advice from the tree! I’ve got a magnet with some related advice from an otter:

      Take time to play
      Keep your whiskers clean
      Cherish clean water
      Stay Active
      Be otterly amazing!

  13. The kids came up with a “Pet Name” for you- There is no higher compliment!

    Too bad Janc was so threatened by your accomplishments that he dismissed the very idea of celebrating your graduation- He dismissed your value in so many ways-
    For narcissists like him the world is a zero sum kind of place- Your gains are his loss- I have had such people in my life, and they were the ultimate wet blanket when things were going well for me- They just cannot stand anyone else’s success and happiness, and are ingenious in coming up with ways to destroy the good feeling-
    Putting others down is a twisted way of building themselves up-

    • Thinking of the “Green Giant” reminds me of other advertising classics that I miss:
      “Mr. Clean” aka “The White Tornado” “Speedy Alka-Seltser” and the “20 Mule-Team Borax” Which brand of Tooth Paste created an “Invisible Shield?”

  14. I’ve always thought there were authors who were able to convey to their readers far more than just the written word. These writers express to their readers a myriad of emotions and the reader feels each of those emotions. You’ll never know how much joy you bring your readers.

  15. I read an article a few years ago from a very famous author. He said he couldn’t write short stories because he wasn’t good enough. You CERTAINLY don’t have that problem

      • He was a professor of library science at UCLA. Before that he worked at the Library of Congress. He revolutionized the cataloguing system. He is known as the “god of cataloguing”.

  16. I absolutely abhor that you did not go to your graduation! It was a honor but your husband was not a kind man and I am very glad you are living a good life now with Bill. Or as I like to call men with that name, Billiam. You surpassed them both!!! And we LOVE YOU!

  17. Congratulations on all your fine achievements as an author, story teller and especially doing what you enjoy as a woman of the world.
    I’m so proud of you, enjoy your books and am grateful that you never gave up always pushing forward never looking back!

  18. Hello from Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada. I live about one hour from the birth place of the Fuller Brush Man, which is Berwick Nova Scotia. J.P Beaumont would love the place. I hope to be added to your list of die hard fans as I have read every single book you have written on the Beaumont and Ali Reynolds and the Joanna Brady series. When an avid reader and long time friend was losing his sight, his reading stopped. After surgery when his eyesight returned, I gifted him with not one but thirty of your books. I made sure that I started him off with the first books in the Beaumont, and Brady and Reynolds series so he could fully understand their beginnings. He is now, just like me, fully hooked on your writing. I can’t wait for the release of your new Beaumont novel. My wife calls me a Janceaholic…lol. Thank you for all the lovely books that you have written, and all the enjoyable hours spending reading them. Regards. Alex Leonard

    • Dear Alexander, please send me an email at I’ll be happy to add your name to my new book notification list, but as long as you’re tuned into the blog, you don’t really need to be. The newsletter comes out three or four times a year. The blog posts weekly. And thank you for sharing my books with your friend. As far as I know there are no Twelve Step programs for people addicted to J.A. Jance–and thank heaven’s for that!

  19. Read this one to my hubby. Think I’ll try reading your books to him. He’s really picky. But your experiences interested him so he agreed we might have fun with your books.

    • Reading books aloud to each other is fun. Bill and I found that we both took away different aspects of the same material.

  20. I thoroughly enjoy your Friday Blogs. Your adventures erase my stress and I am immersed in your storytelling. T
    hank you!

  21. I am glad to were able to get to a graduation with a husband that supported what you did.

    Looking forward to more riveting tales from you.

  22. Amen to your last sentence sister! I bet that green looks great on you with your coloring. Looking forward to the new books!

  23. It sounds as though you have had a very amazing path in life. I think that I will always keep in mind your cool name. The jolly green giant ?. I was ill when you made it to Utah and I hope I will be able to get to meet you some day. I have enjoyed your works very much and am waiting for your next story. Thank you for making my life so much more enjoyable. PAT

  24. Good for you!
    Can’t wait for your book to hit the shelves! I am struggling through some book that is just a plodder. Boo.
    High five! Take care!

  25. Have been a reader of your Arizona books. My husband went to the UofA, with two little kids. I worked at Davis-Monthan while they were putting in the missiles around Tucson. Lived in q-hyt on campus. Please keep on writing the Ariziona books.

  26. I can’t begin to tell you how much I look forward to reading your blog every Friday. (I knew there was something “missing” yesterday, so I went in search today!) Thank you for all the books, thank you for all the blogs.

  27. I love the way you view life and how you know that sometimes the best really is worth waiting for. Like Bill. I love your enthusiasm for loving your best life!

  28. Sweet revenge indeed! My brother, my sister and I all had unfortunate first marriages. We did not alwasy recognize pure evil (the lies and pomises) or the imaturity or severe lack of strength and perserverance in our partners. I was the first in the armed services to go into non-traditional field of mechnics/electronics and then chose aircraft related missile systems. North Dakota was the only place with a base that welcomed me and supported my decision, the rest said no way regardless of Congress. i am a Cold War Warrior with no Veteran group that fits my life in the military. I eventually got out almost 11 years later and stayed in the same area to go to school at University of North Dakota. Boeing hired me on the phone after I finished my degree.. This move and new career set me in the Computing Security, Security engineering and more classified work. In hindsite I see the hand I was given gave me more opportunities than any other way that was more traditional. I love how you show strong women and standalone people of all sorts in your books. The Walker series touched me to the core. I bought the reference books you used. I write poetry to be the voice of some person past or present or something that is not a person but an object or tree or mountain. It is like fingerpainting the sky to read your books. Thank you always.

  29. Just finished your latest. It is your best, by far. Sure wish I were out in in GV to get an autographed copy.

    • Dear Ben,

      If you would like an autographed copy, order one from either the Poisoned Pen or from Mostly Books in Tucson. I’ll sign them while I’m here in Arizona.

  30. I am so glad you became “The Jolly Green Giant”! Sorry your fist husband and that Creative Writing Professor were both dismissive of you! Glad you had stick to it genes! I love all your books!
    The “real people” in “Second Watch”. After I read that book, I read a portion of the back information to my husband. He has dementia and had read the book, but I didn’t think he read that part. Thanks for the history of Lennie D.

    • Mine arrived at the local bookstore this morning. I will pick it up tomorrow and to heck with library books that are due soon. I know what I’ll be reading!

  31. I love your stories they make me feel good. I got your new book today. My eyes are bleeding because I haven’t stopped reading. I’m enjoying every second of it thank you thank you thank you have a super weekend. Now I have to reread all the Walker books as I’ve forgotten some. Of the story line ..

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