I first met Lois Leardi in 1979 at Venture Inn, a group home for retarded adults around the corner from my house in Nanuet. She was banging a nail into the cinderblock wall and turned to me and said "The whole fuckin' wall is coming down"; it was love at first sight. We worked together at Venture until I went off to school in '81. I would escape upriver to her little cabin in the woods outside of Peekskill, an area off Jacob Road called Fox Den (now a McMansion tract), and, when I was feeling brave enough to face the wrath of my mom, I would spend the night. We'd listen to records and drink coffee and eat macaroni by her little kerosene heater. Lois was (and is) an artist in the purest sense of the word. She attended Columbia's masters program in creative writing, and wrote one--only one--book, "The Red Shirt," and decided she didn't want to write another.
"The Red Shirt" reads more like a poem than a book. It tells the story of Hannah, an elective mute as an adolescent, her broken down folk singer father, and her mother, who escaped down to the city. Hannah's retreat into silence is eventually broken, and her life passes to a new phase.
When I go home now, I still drive up the Palisades across the Bear Mountain and take the winding Bear Mountain Road to see Lois. She will always be a part of my family.