Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

How I Came to New Mexico and learned about Art and Life



Do you ever ask yourself “what if?” – What if my husband had been faithful and true and we never had to escape to New Mexico?  What if my father was open to helping me when my husband threatened the four of us and I had packed up my babies and moved back to Chicago?   My teenage dreams for my future had been very simple.  I pictured having a loving life partner, three or four beautiful children.  I would be a stay at home mom – cook good Polish meals and, when there was a little time left over, I might be able to paint at the kitchen table on Sunday afternoons.  There is an old saying that whenever humans make plans, God laughs!

Now the four of us were alone in our house in Casa Solana.  At the ripe old age of 30, I finally learned how to drive.  I began my new job at the law firm of McKenna, Sommer & Lawler at the old offices in La Posada.  My heart broke every morning when I had to leave for work and there were tears and screams for Mama to stay home.  John was three and the twins were two.  There was nothing I could say or do to make them feel better about the monumental change in their little lives.  Their worlds were shattered and so was mine.

There was no time to think.  Learning a new job as a secretary to three very busy lawyers took all my energy.  Trying to get through dinner was a challenge – we all had to adjust to this new schedule – this new life and it was very sad and difficult for all of us.  My husband still insisted on secrecy regarding the separation.  He definitely did not want his mother to find out.  Much later I discovered that she had regularly been sending him huge checks in order to “feed his children” – these payments were secrets he kept from me.   His visits to the children were sporadic.  Promises of visits were broken and my babies didn’t understand that sometimes adults didn’t keep their word.  Nothing sadder than a little boy standing at the front window in tears waiting for his daddy who just “forgot”!

Time for a reality check.  A fearless and thorough financial inventory.  My monthly salary was $400!  The monthly house payment was $250.  The mortgage was $21,000 with a balloon payment of $5000 looming.  The babysitter was $40.00 a week.  Overdue bills were stashed all over the house.  Sorting through them I realized they were my responsibility – about $15,000.  I couldn’t live in the same town owing money to people who had trusted us to pay them back.  Groceries, doctor bills and three little bodies growing out of their clothes every day!  My only consolation was that I felt strongly that the financial bleeding had been stemmed.   I took comfort in the separation.  Whatever made me think I could do this alone?  Truth is I had always been alone in this marriage.  Was I afraid?  Yes!!!!  This was not a time for “common sense”.  It was time for an empty-handed leap into the void!

All was not hopeless.  I had a car.  My job was at a Law Office!  Divorce requires good lawyerly advice and I was working for three of the best.  One day when I was freaking out about filing divorce papers, Mr. McKenna said “Donna, you can either tear off an infected arm, or you can remove it surgically.”  Much cleaner that way.  I filed the papers.  I still had my art supplies and the experience of Jan Herring’s workshop at Cloudcroft.  She supported her family with her art.  Had to go to the pharmacy down the street to get medicine for one of the girls.  Walking back to the office, I decided to cut myself loose from this man.  It sounds crazy, but instead of fear, I felt free for the first time in my life!

The doorbell rang one afternoon.  Two fellows from the Los Alamos Credit Union with very serious looks on their faces were standing at the door.  They were there to collect all my furniture, including the baby cribs!  My husband had defaulted on “our” loan for $25,000!  What loan?  They produced a copy of the contract and pointed to a signature which wasn’t mine!  Told them my name had been forged and I was not responsible for any part of this fraud.  Also mentioned “my” law office and they left without my furniture!  Sometimes divorce is the only answer!!!  This was my wake up call.  Any doubts I had about moving forward evaporated.

God is still laughing!