Joan Holcomb wears many hats. She’s a painter, capturing the beauty of the world on canvas. She’s a writer, capturing fascinating historical stories in words. She’s a wife, mother and grandmother who has experienced loss but has turned it into an opportunity to see everything more beautifully.
Holcomb was born and raised in Yadkin County. Her family lived in a small town called Dog Trot. While she was still young her father had to leave the family to find work in South Carolina, leaving her with her grandparents.
“I lived with my dad’s parents and went to school at Courtney,” Holcomb said. “Then I went to Harmony School in Davie County and lived with my mom’s parents for a year. And then my mom came back, and she kept us kids while my dad traveled back and forth.”
At an early age Holcomb discovered her love for painting. She first remembers putting paint to paper in first grade. She recalls loving to drawing ballerinas and creating masterpieces on meat packing paper so her grandmother could display her work.
“I started going to school at Yadkinville in seventh and eighth grade and I remember taking art there and that was a big part of my life,” Holcomb said. “Today art is still a big part of my life.”
While she was in high school Holcomb’s life changed. She went to board her school bus one morning to be met by the love of her life.
“I met my husband when he was the driver for my bus,” Holcomb said. “I really feel we were soul mates. If you ever meet anybody and have the kind of relationship we had it will be the best thing to ever happen to you.”
Holcomb said that her husband, Wayne, had unbelievable strength in his arms and hands. In January 2011 he complained of weakness and he immediately knew something was wrong.
“In January he started getting weak and by March he couldn’t use his arms and by May he could hardly pick up his fork,” Holcomb said. “It was a disease that nobody in our family had ever had. Wayne was a strong, robust man but it was 16 weeks from the day we realized something was wrong to the day he passed away.”
Wayne had been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Holcomb said that while it was extremely difficult losing her soul mate they were able to come to terms with it together, and she is grateful for their relationship.
“We just had a wonderful relationship, and I am so glad that we had that,” Holcomb said. “He didn’t fear death. He and I worked through that together before he died.”
Holcomb said that she and Wayne had two children together and she gave birth to both of them before going off to college to start her career. She graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a degree in English and humanities.
She went on to Forbush High School to teach English and journalism.
“I loved my subject, and I tried to teach my students as though they were my children. And I always hoped that other teachers would teach my two children the same way,” Holcomb said. “I knew that so many of the students didn’t have a home life or didn’t have parents.
“I tried to build life lessons into my school lessons, and I tried to pick literature that had those life lessons built into them. I didn’t moralize, but the lessons were there.”
Holcomb said that she struggled during her professional career because of the emphasis she felt the schools placed on athletics over academics.
“I became the department chair for several years without any pay, and that’s a shame,” Holcomb said. “I always wonder why it is that school systems value sports and athletics so much that they’re willing to do so much for the coaches, yet they do not do anything for the academic department chairs. It’s a shame.”
Holcomb’s passion for English went beyond teaching. She has spent the last 10 years of her life completing her first novel, a historical fiction piece based on love letters left behind in the Issac Jerrod estate.
“I was in an antique shop and I heard someone talking about three love letters at this sale,” Holcomb said. “It was a historical house in Yadkin County, and there were five or six generations of the Jerrods that went back to the Civil War, and I just thought it was fascinating.
“I knew I had to go and find those letters and read them,” Holcomb continued. “I couldn’t buy them or I didn’t think it was worth the money I had at the time to buy them. Nonetheless the man who bought them gave me permission to photocopy them and said that I could use them any way that I wanted to. That was the genesis of my first novel.”
Today Holcomb has completed the novel and is working with a fellow novelist and magazine editor with her final edits before she must decide how she’ll go about publishing it.
“It’s going to be ready for publication, and I just have to make up my mind if I want a traditional publisher or if I want to do an e-book,” Holcomb said. “Publishing has changed so much in just the last two or three years. I always thought I wanted a large, New York publishing house, but now I just don’t know.”
Holcomb said that her husband asked her to continue her writing and her painting, and he had big plans for their lives when she published her first novel.
“He told me we were going to get a new Explorer and we were going to travel all over the country for my book signings,” Holcomb said with a smile. “He was with me so much when I was writing and he’ll be with me one day when I get to travel for my book. I’ll have to buy us a new Explorer.”
While she waits for that time, Holcomb stays hard at work perfecting the novel and painting. She wrapped up her first commissioned piece this past summer when she created six pieces for Piedmont Federal Bank in Winston-Salem.
She said that her painting puts her in a peaceful place. She’s currently working on getting her art professionally photographed so she can potentially sell prints in the future.
“[My painting] just comes out of my heart and that’s when painting is the most fun,” Holcomb said. “I just let it come and do whatever it wants to do. You just lapse into another world.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.