My great aunt Joyce died this week. She was my grandmother’s sister and the last of all my grandparents’ generation. Joyce married very young. Her parents were reportedly uneasy, but happily they were proved wrong. Andy’s US army career took them to many places. Joyce & Andy were married for over 70 years before he died in January of this year. They had one lovely son and daughter-in-law.
Because they lived in America, we didn’t see them regularly, but my grandmother and her siblings were unusually close for a generation who were not usually so. Like so many Irish people born in the 1920s & 30s, 3 of the 5 were in the UK and America. They wrote letters every week. When calling became cheaper, they talked on the phone every week. The emigres visited when they could, and later, we visited them when we could.
I last saw Joyce at her brother’s funeral in Oregon in 2010. He happened to die just before I came to visit, so I ended up representing the family at the funeral. Joyce always had a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous attitude – perhaps because she was the youngest in her family. At Cyril’s funeral, they sang When Irish Eyes are Smiling. Beside her, I was silent and she turned to query why I wasn’t singing. ‘Joyce, I don’t know the words, we’d never sing this in Ireland!” I whispered. In that moment, I saw 60 years disappear from her face as she exclaimed “Oh yeah!”
This story is not told to denigrate the Irish-American experience. The Irish diaspora has forged their own path and although diverged from Ireland, they are important to us. But it amused me to see, for a short time, the Irish girl who’d become an American woman.
They say no one is ever gone while anyone remembers them. Joyce was pretty unforgettable.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.