Town Crier: Montclair family’s memoir details recovery from tragedy

MONTCLARION: May 8, 2015

Pain and suffering. We all experience it. Some more than others. In August 2002, Nancy Johnson, her husband Arthur and their 7-year-old son, Wally, were driving home to Montclair when their car was struck head-on by a Chevy pickup. What the family went through to recover from this near-fatal accident was nothing short of hell.

The couple had no memory of the crash or the fact that their son had been pulled from the burning wreckage by a stranger. It took another two hours to extricate Arthur, who was trapped inside the crumpled car frame. It took him five years to recover — an excruciating process managed by Nancy at a time when she had wounds of her own to heal.

“The Rubber Orchestra” is Nancy’s newly published memoir about the tragedy, being hailed as a masterful work with great emotion and surprising good humor. Sadly, the poet and essayist died of cancer before seeing her book in print.

It was husband Arthur who picked up the mantle and saw that the book was published and promoted. He and several of Nancy’s colleagues will read from the memoir May 15 at Book Passage in Corte Madera. They are honoring a woman of courage who left an indelible impression on her friends, family and fans who see the message of love and resilience in her work.

Book it: This past week was Independent Book Week. How lucky we are to have two independent bookstores (including A Great Good Place for Books and the 31-year-old Book Tree) plus a sweet little storybook library in Montclair. By the way, Montclair Library has local crime writer Steven Gore (“Night is the Hunter”) at 6:30 p.m. June 16. Gore will share some tips on how to write a crime novel. A possible bucket list item for you?

Email bag: Mail continues to trickle in about the old number 18 … a bus I contend is too big to be routed through the heart of Montclair 68 times a day. Reader Walter Ohlemutz says we need frequent service but the bus should avoid the center of Montclair Village, instead traveling up Moraga Avenue, turning around and coming back for its trip down Park Boulevard. “But where can the bus turn around?” he says. “Maybe the great minds at AC Transit can figure this out.”

Reader Richard Solomon agrees that the number 18 is too long and wide to fit “comfortably” on the narrow streets of the Village.

“On more than one occasion, I have white-knuckled my way down my side of the street as one of the buses comes around the curve by Starbucks,” he says. “Likewise, when they park in front of Safeway, they block the line of sight of drivers trying to exit the parking lot.”

Solomon would also like to see the number 18 run along Moraga Avenue.

Audio event: Oliveto is staging a coup, of sorts, with its sure-to-be-sold-out Chanticleer concert Tuesday. The award-winning ensemble only plays in acoustically excellent venues, and Oliveto certainly has that with its new Meyer Sound system. The Chanticleer performs as part of a multicourse benefit dinner in the upstairs restaurant. For information, go to:

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by email at or on the web at


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