Every day I am moved by roadside memorials to people who weren’t ready to die. People who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’re a constant reminder of how fragile we are—bits of bone wrapped in a flimsy shroud of a ridiculously unsuitable hide. We’re anything but fierce when up against poison, bullet, disease, or 3,000 pounds of steel, glass and chrome.
These two women touch my life almost every day. I did not know them but their memories live on. We should respect that.
Rose Johnson was a Bisbee artist who was enchanted by the island of Bali and traveled there in 2009. She died in a hospital in Denpasar on May 31, 2009 at age 48 from acute alcohol poisoning after consuming arak, a local alcoholic drink, which had been laced with the industrial solvent methanol. Twenty other people died a slow, painful death along with her that week. She does not have a traditional roadside shrine, but as a noted painter and muralist she has become a legend in Bisbee.
Stacia Barrett was a young rodeo rider. She died on March 30, 2005, one day before her 16th birthday. I can’t find an obituary for her, which is odd, but homemade roadside shrines are usually for victims of automobile accidents. This shrine, on a rural road in Hereford, Arizona, is very emotional, and always makes me think about her family, her friends, and her horse, and how very much they must miss her.
In some states it’s illegal to construct roadside shrines, and other states want to abolish them. They say the shrines are a distraction to drivers, and the crosses which many of them display offend some people. Bullshit. Cellphones, texting, superloud music, fighting with your kids in the back seat, sleeping at the wheel, drunks and idiots are distractions. Building shrines to our dead is what humans do and have always done. The shrines become part of the scenery and should be honored.