Sometimes your best friends are those who knew you before you were born. She is the baby sister of my father and has always been more like a sister than an aunt.
My earliest memories of my Aunt Joyce are when my mother and I moved in with my grandparents, in 1965, when Dad was deployed to Vietnam. I was four; she was 12. Before I knew my ABCs, I could sing the lyrics to Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini; Louie, Louie by Paul Revere and the Raiders (or, as I called them the Radars) and all the songs by the Monkees. I watched American Bandstand every Saturday morning. I know having a preschooler in the house wasn’t all fun and roses, and we had our squabbles. Like the time she promised if I let her play with my new Barbie doll that I could later — after her friends left — play with her Barbie doll house; but she reneged on her promise and I still tease her about it 57 years later. And she has her own gripe — about how I got first choice from the jewelry boxes that Dad brought back from overseas and I chose the one she wanted.
Growing up, since we moved away from the Norfolk area, I would only see Aunt Joyce on summer and Christmas vacations. Even though she was at the age where she was busy with her own life and friends, she would let me tag along to a friend’s house.
When she got engaged, she wanted me to be a junior bridesmaid, but our recent move to Hawaii prevented it. When we moved back to the East coast, after I graduated high school, I would drive down from northern Virginia to visit. She helped me pick out things for my hope chest. She was one of the first people I called when I got engaged. She went with me to try on wedding dresses. She hosted a large family bridal shower. She splurged and bought me a set of Revere Ware copper clad cookware. She trusted me to babysit her newborns. When were moving to Florida, she learned to drive a stick-shift so she could help me drive; however, she got sick a few hours into the trip and slept the entire time. She was one of the first ones I called both times when I got pregnant and both times when I miscarried, when I started fertility treatments, and when my marriage ended. Twice, she bought me airline tickets to come visit. She did her best to heal my broken heart. She tried to play matchmaker. She found great pleasure in embarrassing me on my 40th birthday, when we were in the First Ladies exhibit in the Smithsonian (where you’re supposed to be quiet!) and she recruited strangers to loudly sing Happy Birthday. She introduced me to collecting depression glass. She shares my love for family genealogy and has willingly trudged across Carolina farmland and dug in heavy brush to visit centuries-old cemeteries. Whenever I visit, she always asks if I want to visit my grandparents gravesites. She doesn’t mind pulling out old scrapbooks. She got me interested in quilting and taught me how to sew quilt binding. She challenges me in my faith-walk and prayerfully encourages me when the going is tough. Her home always feels like home.
As I write this, I am sitting on her living room sofa as the morning sunshine is peeking through the window. Last week, after she visited my mother, the two of us drove back to Virginia from Pensacola, kind of like completing the road trip we made 38 years ago. It was a laughter, music-filled, conversational journey. She tried to embarrass me, but I just laughed and rolled with it.
This week, she turned 70. I knew I could never successfully embarrass her, so I decided instead to write something sappy and make her cry — and to share her with you. Aunt Joyce, you are one of God’s greatest gifts to me! And I love you most!
A friend loves at all times ~ Proverbs 17:17a