The news of my mother’s death came from Marian Ewing, the daughter of my uncle, Jack Joyce. She said the viewing would be Friday, January 20, 1993, and burial would be on the 21st.
“Your mother was very strange,” Marian said. “She never gave of herself to people. She always loved you and your kids, though.”
Bully, she said, was in the hospital with cancer and it didn't look good. I said I was sad to hear it. She asked if I would be at the funeral. I replied I didn’t think so, because…well, I’d already made peace with her, and had said goodbye during my last visit to Youngstown. Marian said she understood.
Later that day I got a call from my step-brother, Wally Orzechowski, Bully's son. “Your mother passed away today,” he said. I said I’d already heard. “From who?” he asked, surprised. “From Marian,” I replied.
“Your father was a good man,” I said. “More than good. He took care of my mother all the time she was in dementia, he never left her, he wouldn't put her in a nursing home. He changed her diapers, gave her baths. He fed her, dressed her, took care of her right to the end. I just want you to know how much I admired him, Wally.”
“Yeah, thanks,” he said.
Wally—like his brother Ralph—never forgave Bully for “killing” their mother by taking up with that whore Betty Joyce Palcewski. The poor woman died of a broken heart, that’s what everyone said. So my words of praise for his father's devotion to my mother wasn't exactly what Wally wanted to hear. But nevertheless I felt obliged to tell him anyway.
Then came another call. “You don't know me, Johnny, but I'm your cousin Patty. I'm the second child of your uncle Jackie Joyce, and I thought I'd give you a call.”
“Your mother,” Patty said, “was a tormented woman. It began when Betty’s first born daughter, Roberta, died. Of meningitis.”
[Roberta’s death certificate says: “Principal cause of death: Brain abscess, benign, secondary to pneumonia. Contributory causes: Bronchopneumonia.”]
“Did you know your grandmother told everyone that Roberta’s death was your mother’s fault?”
I said I did.
“Well, Johnny, that was a lie, which your father went along with. He was a momma’s boy, he never dared to contradict that nasty old, ignorant woman. Anyway, Betty left your father and got an apartment right across from the cemetery, and from her bedroom window she could see Roberta's grave. She was there a long time.
“Then your father showed up drunk one night, and he wanted her, and she just didn’t have the strength to say no. That’s when she got pregnant with you. She still hadn’t gotten over Roberta’s death, she was still deeply, deeply depressed. She had to leave, and she gave you up. But Johnny you have to know she never could forgive herself for abandoning you. When you called her when Lara was born, she couldn’t believe you wanted her in your life. Oh, she loved your kids, her grandchildren. She talked about them all the time, she had all these pictures she'd show to people.”
The Joyce family, Patty said, loved poetry. “We always had a lot of books and we read all the time. And music, we loved music, we sang and played records. Your mother loved opera, too.”
“One time I ran into an old man whose name also was Joyce,” Patty said, “and the told me about the county of Joyce in Ireland where we all came from, and he said he would bring me a lot of pictures and old newspaper and magazine clippings about that beautiful place, but he never did. Months later I got word that he died. I wish I could have seen what he wanted to show me.”
* * *
That was the last contact I had with anyone on my mother’s side of the family. Now, years later, I am going through all the old photos Bully had given me. My Irish ancestors.
The old man might not have given Patty that pile of clips about the Joyce clan in Ireland, but just a couple clicks of the mouse on Google brings up a massive collection of historical material.
One site says:
“To the west of the Lough Mask, beyond the isthmus, extends Joyce's Country, a hilly region traversed by green valleys and lonely roads which takes its name from a Welsh family who settled here in the 13th C. It is an area of great scenic beauty with rivers, mountains and valleys lying between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, adjoining Connemara and Iar Chonnaught.
“The area is called "Joyce Country" after the colony of Joyce who came to live in the barony of Ross (County Galway). Thomas Joyce emigrated to Ireland from Wales at the beginning of the 14th century and settled here. His son married an O’Flaherty and thus the Joyce clan took control of the whole barony of Ross.
“Excellence appears to be the great challenge to the Joyces. The Joyce motto exhibits this life long desire: ‘Mors aut honorabilis vita’ meaning Death before dishonour.
“The family name Joyce has both ancient Irish and Norman antecedents. It comes from a Brehon penal name. The Brehon name Iodoc is a diminutive of iudh, which means lord. It was adopted by the Normans in the form Josse. The first Norman bearer of the name in Ireland was Thomas de Joise, a Welsh Norman who settled in Connacht on the borders of counties Galway and Mayo toward the end of the 12th century. The name may also have been derived from the Norman personal name Joie, which means joy.
“The continuation of the Joyce name in the west of Ireland can be seen to this day in the area of Connemara known as Joyce's Country. Many people with the name still live there, and Renvyle House, now a luxury hotel, was once a Joyce stronghold. The most famous Joyce is, of course, James Joyce, born in Dublin in 1882, who died in Zurich in 1941. He is widely acclaimed as the leading writer in the English language in the 20th century.
“The Joyce name has been deeply embedded in Connacht since they arrived there by sea in the wake of the Norman invaders. Joyce comes from the French personal name Joy. They quickly intermarried with strong local families like the O'Briens, Princes of Thomond.
“A huge clan, they owned vast territory in the Barony of Ross, known today as Joyce's Country, and were admitted into the ‘14 Tribes of Galway’. There were Joyce bishops and crusaders to the Holy Land. One who was captured en route was shown buried treasure by an eagle. When he escaped with this wealth he used it to build the walls of Galway city.”