Over the course of three books, Chico businesswoman Judi Loren Grace has been charting her life story. “The Third Floor” (2010) tells of giving up her child as a teen mom; “Dreamscape In A Minor” (2013) is about the loss of her second son, Jeff, at twenty-one. Her new book focuses on an unruly bunch of lifelong compatriots from the Sixties who shaped the author’s understanding of true friendship.
Divided into two parts, “Rita’s Road” takes as its central subject Rita Marie Simpson. “We have a similar background,” Loren Grace writes, “which borders on dysfunctional, and everything clicks with us. … Our friends are crazy, wild and easily bored. We do whatever it takes for a good laugh. Rita is our leader in crime and she alone teaches most of the people in our small town how to inhale and blow smoke rings. She is full of bad ideas with no boundaries. She is impulsive and the epitome of a true prankster. Her side kick is her Austin-Healy.”
The story begins in the mid-Sixties with a small band of girls, including Rita, the author, and Judith Murray Schmeichel, looking ahead to life after high school in Porterville. Loren Grace opts for Beauty College; Murray for modeling school in the Bay Area, and Rita—she “works for a loan company” in a back room with “a dead fly stuck on the wall.” Rita and her co-worker “name it Sidney and talk to it every day.”
What follows are not a few shenanigans instigated by Rita.
Then, suddenly, an accident puts Rita into a months-long coma. Emerging, her memories shredded, she must relearn everything. In the book’s second part, Rita’s growing demands on her friends test everyone until Rita is in her own sixties.
With family photographs, the book is a moving tribute to a friend who provided plenty of laughs but who struggled mightily. Murray’s words about Rita ring true: “One in a bazillion.”