My mother sketched out the Joyce family tree, and then rummaged in a drawer to get her photo album. We sat side by side at her kitchen table, turning the pages.
“The man at the left,” she said, “is my grandpa, Frank Joyce Sr., who worked on the railroad.” Grandpa always told her stories about his own grandfather, or maybe it was his great-grandfather, who lived in poverty and starvation on a small plot of land bordered by low white stone walls in the Maum Valley, near a small village in the northern part of County Galway, Ireland.
“During the famine great-grandpa was arrested, tried and convicted for sheep stealing and was transported to the penal colony in New South Wales, Australia. After his sentence he married, and moved to America.
“So you can say you came from a line of Irish criminals! But stealing sheep was the only way they could survive. Dad used to tell us that both the Irish government and the Catholic Church just looked the other way. They pretended they didn’t see the white skeletons with gaping skulls with green-stained teeth lying on the ground. These desperate people ate grass before they finally died.”
“You can recognize this lady in white, can’t you Johnny? She’s Edna, your grandmother, who still hasn’t settled down. She’s always had her own mind and has never allowed anyone to push her around. After dad died, she and I used to go out, have a few drinks, and dance.
This is my mom and dad when they were young. See how happy they are?
And that’s me, in the middle with my aunt Grace, and her friend. We always had company over, and we sang and laughed. You should hear your uncle Jackie sing Deirdre of the Sorrows. He’s got a pitch-perfect tenor voice.