Joy -- Teaching me to Enjoy!

Joy – Teaching me to Enjoy


Daily, I walk past the portrait of a lovely young gal who looks like she’s smiling while sitting for her high school graduation picture.  She’s got a WOW smile!

She is facing me every day.  She’s sitting on top of my bedroom dresser with my clothes in the drawers below her and my billfold and car keys resting on top with her.  Rare is the day that I walk by without noticing her.  Rare that I don’t recognize her image with it triggering some memory – usually one of my camping trips.  Recently, I realize she’s helping me be a better person.

“Joy” ‘entered’ my life during the fall of 1970 when Barb, pregnant with our son Erik, and I moved to Springfield, Illinois, where I was starting my twenty-seven-year career at Lincoln Land Community college, as was Joy’s husband.  At first, in those ‘early’ years so long ago, Barb and Joy’s new friendship was the reason I got to know her, and not her husband, my colleague, nor her son.  A decade later, I’d have time to visit with Joy’s family and other faculty family members.  Two decades later, I’d know every one of the 211-faculty and most of their family members.  But for a few years, I had to put proving myself ahead of all social activities.

That period ‘lives’ in my mind as my “trial years.”  I was nervous, being a new faculty member at a new college.  I was “untenured” and would be for three years.  I hoped to be ‘invested,’ being added to the permanent faculty.  Also, being new, thus unknown, I was keenly aware of the need to perform well in two ways: of course with my students resulting n classroom success - but also, as a valuable resource person, a worthy fellow faculty member for committee duty.  New colleges, as ours was, are very busy establishing guidelines for conduct and all sorts of other working requirements.    

Additionally, in spite of the administrators doubling the faculty each year for several years, the surprising large enrollments resulted in teacher shortages requiring current faculty members to teach ‘overloads,’ two or three more classes over the normal load.  Consequently, we teachers had little time for anything else, including families – and certainly no social time for others.  Mostly, I was at school, in class; if at home, I was shut away, in my office, door closed, evaluating student work or preparing lessons.  

During those years, the wives of the faculty provided the social activities for the teachers and administrators.  Each semester, the ladies had planned activities for all the wives.  Also, they sponsored activities for the entire family and, at least once each semester, they throw a party for the adults.  It was as faculty wives active in the LLCC Faculty Wives Club that Barbara and Joy got to know each other and become friends.  Just as we faculty members had committee duty, so too did the members of the faculty wives – otherwise they would not have been able to offer activities to the school employees.  So, they were often together working as committee members.  I remember one of the Halloween events when our sons arrived dressed up in Walt Disney animal costumes. 

Mostly, my time with Joy was with her as a voice ‘filling’ time until the intended audience arrived.  (Note that at that time many of us had one telephone in the house.)  When Joy called to talk to Barb, she always talked to me, too -- especially if I answered the phone.  If I called her house, Joy, in my memory, always answered the phone, and I loved her cheerful voice.  She initiated the short ‘visits’ that came to be a permanent part of our telephone calls over thirty-some years.  Afterwards, depending on the nature of my call, I’d talk to her husband, whom I’ll name ‘Scotty,’ and or both him and their son, whom I’ll name 'Tom' or ‘Tommy.’  (See note below.)  When I remember those early phone visits, I remember her as sharing happiness.  It’s as if I could see her smiling. 

Yes, smiling in the exact way I see her daily now in her picture on my chest.

Tonight, I paused to look at Joy’s picture while in route to the kitchen from our master bathroom.  I was trying to remember the best examples of what we shared over the years.  I do not want to forget.  Trying to remember got me thinking of the changing stages of our lives.  I am still working on this, but I am thinking of three active periods and a late inactive one.  I’ll call these the "Scouting Years," "the Hiking Years," and the "Adult Sons' Years."  And for the last twenty-two years, the "Retiree Years."


The Scouting Years

Richard, Nature Director, Buffalo Bill Camp, BSA, 1989


Joy supported her men during the “Scouting Years” as a cheering mom supportive of their interests, such as attending Cub Scouts meetings and, later, troop “family nights” when sons got older and joined the Boy Scouts, in Troop 9. 

As the Cub Master, I got to know all of the young Scouts; naturally, I got to know the grade schoolers in son, Erik's, den best.  Joy and Scott's son Tommy was a standout, a natural leader.  When the pack got busy with some task, like learning map use skills, he cheered the group on!

In time, the boys grew older and graduated from Cub Scouts and joined together Boy Scout Troop Nine.  Many of their cub friends did as well.  The troop's Scoutmaster was a super leader but not free to expand the scout program to include camps and national parks locally and out of state.  Scott and I stepped up as troop committee members free to take the boys. We had much more available time to help the troop.  Our college’s academic calendar paralleled the one of the school district our Scouts attended and so what began as a temporary sponsorship, in time, became permanent.  

I soon learned that the boys shared few details of the camping experiences with their families.  That led me to act.  With Scott’s help, and with various interested boys, I started a troop newsletter, "TNT" (Troop Nine Trips), with articles about the activities of the Scouts. 

An aside: Including the parents in the troop's nature trips was important, not just to keep our program a family one, but also to encourage their participation in our fund raising program to pay for the traveling.  Our sole fund raiser was selling yard fertilizer annually.  We got many families involved helping the boys sell bags in each of their many neighborhoods.  Part of the challenge was that we had no warehouse: all the bags shiped to us had to be pre-sold and deliveried during one week-end!  The result was that the profits paid for the the nature program:  It was free to all Scouts.  I am not claiming that the newsletter was a direct, major promoter of yard fertilzer.  No, it helped by being a tool of sharing and resulting in a very strong sense of community: Helping us be a close family troop!  

Joy helped, too!  She "worked" the troop mothers!  She shared her joy of the scouting program at all family gatherings of the troop during its family nights.  You could see her gather mothers and hear her recounting some experience of one, or more, of the mother(s)'s son(s) on a recent trip.  Maybe it was food preparation.  Maybe the youth won first prize in a first aid skills contest in an area campout meet involving many area troops.

A close family troop!  The parents loved our little newsletter, "TNT."  Joy especially!  After the first trip, of many, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, when the boys were very young, I called to ask Scott something.  Joy answered the phone as usual.  She thanked me for sharing the experiences of the young and very inexperienced Scouts on their first out-of-state real camping experience.  We got to taking in more detail about the trip as I recalled more specifics of the events.  I told her about the night a skunk walked through our camp fire circle during Scott’s and my evening campfire program.  I told her about our sons ripping out the side of their tent the first night, an event that the boys never did explain but which they sowed back together the next morning.  About the Scouts swimming ‘all-natural’ in a very remote place below a waterfall, an event that surprised her as she thought it remarkable that the boys could get that, THAT, comfortable with each other under any circumstances, especially their first trip. 

As I say, that Smoky trip, our first one of many to that park, was our first major trip.  That telephone visit of Joy and me was the first of many ‘post-camping-trip’ talks that became a “Joy-Richard Tradition.”  I told her much over the years.  Over and over, I experienced her smile somehow traveling to me over the phone!  Always the smile.  The joy. 

Typing the last words connected me with Tom’s Eagle Ceremony; with it Joy’s smile and laughing voice.  Tom’s, like all Eagle projects, required a lot of planning of a sequence of events involving many people over months. That meant I was in their home often in planning sessions, hearing Joy’s happiness of the course of events:  her son becoming an Eagle Scout! 

We titled his Eagle program the “Senior Day Camp.”  We invited senior citizens living in assisted-living residencies to join Scouts at the local BSA camp.  We connected busloads (usually three or four from different 'homes') of them with Boy Scouts, partnering them together, one-on-one, as patrols going through various normal camping activities, like preparing a meal over a cook fire.  The ladies were amazed at both watching the cooking of chicken, in a paper bags hanging over coals, and then how good it tasted.  Tom’s role was as a Senior Patrol Leader (event chairman) each of the Saturdays (I’ve forgotten the number, my just remembering that it was more than one).  The guest campers, mostly ladies, loved spending the day with young men.

A year or so, after Tom became an Eagle Scout, while he was a college student, he became an adult volunteer.  He spent three summers serving with me.  First, he joined me in the Nature department Camp Buffalo Bill (BSA) Wyoming, near the east gate of Yellowstone.  We were responsible for taking Scouts on the “50-Mile Trip” with our being together 24-7 in the backwoods of Yellowstone National Park. 

Someday I want to write about one of our most difficult 50-Mile Trips.  We had taken the trails for several weeks before, but a massing snow storm hide our past paths and we ended up off trail, creating a new one, actually lost. We were leading the Scouts up the side of a steep hill, in deep snow, each of us steping in the same steps as the Scout before him  -- except for Tom and me, the leaders, who switched off as each in turn got tired.  The distance may have been less than one mile but it was exhausting.  More details about that some other time.  I was exhausted by the time we got out of that.  Another time.

Both he and I wrote letters home, often co-writing them:  try to see us leaning against our backpacks with pen and paper in hand but talking back and forth, more than actually writing, asking each other, “What are you writing?”  One result that much of the content was the same.  Joy caught that and shared her humor in return letters to both Tom and me.  That continued for years.  The last service Tom and I shared was as “Nature Directors” for the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch, BSA, where we served for two summers.  The camp is located in the far north-western area of Colorado, near the village of Red Feather Lakes, CO.


Tom (Left) and Richard (Sunglasses), 1980, BSA, near Red Feathers Lake, WY


The Hiking Years 

Joy never complained about the many times her husband and I went on extended hiking/camping trips downstate in Illinois and in the Tennessee Smokes and in the Colorado Rockies -- nor the expense such trips cost.  For over twenty years, he and I went camping whenever we could - - which was at least two times a year.  We have seen the sun come up in places where few humans have been.  Miles and miles into national forests. 

Richard (red cap) and Scott, 2002,  Pass, near North Rawah Peak

of the National Arapaho Wildlife Refuge, NW Wyoming


Our Hiking Years were vital escapes from our consuming roles at the college.  Such trips took planning and so I’d be sitting in her family room with her husband, both of us looking at topographical trail maps.  She stayed in the background, coming out to offer coffee.  Her smile filled her face and her voice.  I remember both when looking at her portrait on my dresser. 

Between hiking trips I’d call to ask about something happening with her son and I’d get the same joy.  Recently her son shared with me on Facebook a picture he had showing the two of us putting on a skit at Ben Delatour Scout Ranch where we were Camping directors for a few years.  Also recently, I found an old picture of her son and me, not her husband, together leading boys on an outing at Camp Buffalo Bill, near Yellowstone National Park. 

These were experiences that were important to me as part of the background of my career as an educator.  They, as I think back, were not escapes, but a sort of medicine.  They were many things to both her men and to me.  They were perhaps “Soul” times to us.  I know they were to me.  I will always believe I was a better father, husband, and teacher as a result of these key times that connected me to me.  You see, when you hike ten or more miles, you experience a sense of disconnect with the real time in which you place one foot after the other, over and over and over and over.  In time, your mind goes into some form of free play, free associations.  The results were both relaxing and fulfilling.  It is relaxing as it’s as if you have become free of clock time; it is fulfilling because you have connected what seem like random acts of your life and got a fresh perspective.  Without Joy, little or none of this would have happened.  And so when I see her smile today, it is for me – not for the photographer who captured her wonderful smile. 


Adult Sons Years

Joy, you may have guessed, passed recently.  She died in last June, 2018.  I remember the last time I talked to her. After I retired, I started giving “Destination Talks” on cruise ships.  Both Scott and Tom got interested and I helped them get started with the talent company that arranged my assignments.  And so Joy was again on the phone with me.  We had great, however short, talks when I’d call to share details related to coming cruises.  I still remember her praise for my slideshows on my Alaska cruises.  What had happened is that I’d sent Scott a copy for his review, and use if he wanted, and then Joy and Scott on their cruise, ended up on the same Alaskan locations.  Joy called me while they were on a day trip in Juneau and was laughing as she told me where she was standing – in the same spot where I had taken a picture.  That was just about the last time I heard her voice.  I can think of only one other time but I was hearing her voice in the background while talking to Scott. 

Years passed – maybe around a dozen of them -- and I had phone visits from Tom and Scott, but never Joy.  Scott recently told me the reason:  Joy had dementia.  I had/have periodically asked her husband and her son about her.  “How’s Joy?” And Tom would answer in words expressing grief.   “She's not good.”  And later, “She doesn’t remember things.” And then, “She doesn’t know me.”  These were expressed to me during phone visits.  Tom was talking to me, but I would see Joy.

From Scott, “The last time I had a logical discussion with her was over a year ago.”  At the time he meant 2017. 

Of course, the years are passing, and we're aging, changing.  What about the memory?  It does too, as we own it.  It 'changes' in reaction to our thinking.  Our, may I say "growing wisdom," changes both.  (We own it!)  And this 'alters us.'  Maybe sometimes, maybe if we are lucky, that change 'enriches' us.  (This article illustrates such for me.) 

And, then, a phone visit that June, from Tom, ‘I’m going up to her funeral.”  These years later, I repeat his words, "Her funeral."  I think, yes, but.......  But what?  John Donne's poem, "No Man is an Island," comes to mind: Ask not for whom it (church bell); it rings for us.  I am paraphrasing.  Donne said it much better.  His words I quote below in one stanza.   

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne 

And, then, most recently, from her husband: “Richard, the children are trying to keep me busy.  They are being so good to me.  They are trying to help me adjust to a life without Joy.” 


The picture I am looking at is one of two on a remembrance card announcing her death.  I am looking at the picture of a dead woman.  I see a smiling lovely teen-ager, a graduating high school senior who hopes to enjoy life.   I choose to think of her in that youthful joyful state now.  I choose to remember the joy she always had for me.  I look at her, and realize that unlike her, I’m alive and with a sound body and mind (reasonably so).  So Richard make the best of these years.  And every day, when I see her picture, I can say, “Thanks Joy!”




Note #1:  The above is a pretty good summary of my adult camping experiences.  And I owe a lot to my friends (called Joy, Scott, and Tom above).  I really do not think “Scott” and “Tom” will mind if I use their real names.  I am not, for now.