Her hands were always in motion as she sat on the sofa across from us, looping yarns over a crochet hook and pulling the strand or strands through other loops, and so on, and so on. Her daily masterpieces always lay across her lap, as she added rows to them, chatting at the same time.
Aunt Joyce was a multitasker. She could crochet half of a large afghan in an afternoon while watching television and carrying on a casual conversation. Crocheting was one of her things.
I think everyone in the Jarriel family has at least one afghan Joyce crocheted for them. I’m special. I have four. She made the first one for me in 1990, the year I married. It’s a large off-white afghan showcasing an exquisite seashell design. After my husband and I married, it occupied the backside of a big cozy chair in the great room of our first home. I curled up in the warmth of Aunt Joyce’s afghan on many nights as I watched television or read a book.
In 1991, she sent me a pastel pink baby afghan—a hint, I guess. I put it away in my cedar chest. Two years later, she made another one for me. This time, the baby-sized afghan was mint green. A year after that, she made me another pink one. Our babies never came, and so Joyce’s tiny afghans stayed hidden in the darkness of the cedar chest until last year after she died. I pulled them out one by one and looked at them.
I’m sure I thanked her for them, or did I? Surely she knew how much I appreciated everything she made for me, gave to me, said to me . . . Surely she knew.
Born in 1928, Joyce Valentine Jarriel was my mother’s oldest sister.
“She was almost ten years older than me, so she was already grown and living away from home through most of my childhood,” Mom remembers. “She’d always bring us a little something when she came home. She made me and Gloria dresses sometimes.”
She stood tall at 5’11” and had bright blue eyes and golden blonde locks. Lee Roy Anderson of Reidsville eventually won her heart. They married in 1946 and had four children (Dawn, Pam, Roy, and Yancey) before I ever came along.
She and Uncle Lee Roy ran a furniture business from a store behind their Richmond Hill house. Along with furniture, they also sold knick knacks and housewares.
One year, she gave me solid oak stool with a slit cut into the top that could be used as a handle. Another year, she sent me a little saucepan with a note that read, “This is good cookware. You’ll have this little pot forever.”
It has simmered gallons of gravy and boiled hundreds of eggs through the years.
Her gifts were practical and meant to last. So were her conversations.
She called me in 2009 after my father-in-law, George, died.
“Hey Honey. I was going to send you and Gene a sympathy card, but I decided not to,” she said. “All of those sympathy cards are just too damned sad, you know? They all talk about death and resting in peace and loss. You start feeling a little better, then you get a sympathy card in the mail, and you get sad all over again, so I decided not to send one.”
She was right, you know. Sympathy cards are really sad.
“I want to tell you something,” she continued, her words flowing like water. “I’ve always loved you, you know, since you were a little girl. And I love Gene, too.”
“Now, you and Gene did a lot for his daddy, and that’s important. I know how hard it is to take care of someone—especially a parent. You did all you could for him. Gene was a good son to him, and you were a good daughter-in-law, and that’s that. He couldn’t have asked for more.”
“How’s his mama?” she asked, and then we talked about Gene’s mother for a few minutes before she ended the conversation by asking us to come see her soon.
Her phone call made me feel better.
The last time I saw Joyce was in 2015. Mom, my stepfather, Gene, and I drove to Richmond Hill to visit her, stopping in Pembroke to buy a big carrot cake with icing so sweet that the first bite broke me out into a sweat. We sat at her kitchen table and talked for an hour. She told us a story from her past about a gas station down the road from her that had a big billboard on the highway that read, “Gas, Monkeys, and Beer.” At some point, some of the monkeys escaped, but no one knew.
“Yancey ran inside one afternoon yelling that there was a monkey swingin’ around outside, and I told him to shut up and stop lying, or I was going to spank him,” she said. “He convinced me to step out on the porch, and there it was—sitting in a tree. I couldn’t believe it.”
We laughed and laughed, but then it was time for us to head home.
“Please don’t go,” she said.
Her faded blue eyes welled up with tears, and she clutched my arm.
“Stay for a while longer, or . . . take me with you.”
I felt the power of loneliness in her pleas. Walking out of her house and driving away that day was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Those afghans mean the world to me now. They envelop me in love. And she was right—that little pot’s going to last forever. So will my memories of Aunt Joyce.
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