Stuff We Collect and Then Let Go Of

November 2018

My father in 1947 at the South Boston Yacht Club at age 21.

I am the daughter of a WWII Army Air Forces veteran … a once eighteen-year-old, Thomas John Joyce, who shipped out of Boston with an Infantry Regiment to fight an enemy in Italy. My father possessed many wonderful attributes—loyal to family and friends, highly skilled crafter (he could design, build, wire, plumb and decorate structures without instruction), artistic, ardent sailor and swimmer, impeccably stylish, honest, kind, always willing to help others, and I rarely heard him utter a curse word. He was, however, flawed by his stoicism—a man scarred from his wartime experience unable to express much affection or offer the paternal interaction his six young children desperately needed. 

Despite my father’s emotional wounds, he worked tirelessly after his time in the armed services—first as a laborer at the Boston South U.S. Postal Annex and then rising to an office position in the postal service. In this later role, he would don the finest Italian-made wool suits paired with Manolo Blahnik shoes … a fashion statement made well before they were wildly popular. (I wasn’t kidding about his voguish taste.) I’m proud to say he soldiered on through life with bravery by seeking professional help for more than 25 years to treat the myriad effects of post traumatic stress syndrome—at a time when a member of the Greatest Generation rarely hinted that they were suffering.

If you wanted to read age-appropriate books in my childhood home, you would need to set off for the public library. The bookcase in our home was limited to my father’s large collection of well-worn volumes that graphically documented the war—both horrific and compelling for a child’s consumption. Few remnants of his war experience remained in my childhood home—a khaki-colored shirt (which I wore as a teenager), an Army Air Forces badge (which he gave to my son), and his helmet, which had found it’s way out of his sight, but not forgotten, stored in the basement of our home. 

The murky green helmet with a web of canvas strapping inside was unbreakable. The helmet provided hours of fun as my young siblings and I took turns siting our then-tiny bottoms in it, lifting our legs outward and being set off spinning on the cement surface of our basement floor. This game with the helmet went on for many years until we outgrew its novelty and our butts got too big to fit in it. And then one day, like so many of my parent’s possessions, the helmet was gone.

One of my father’s treasures.

I’m still holding onto one of my father’s Oxford cotton dress shirts, a silk tie, and a stunning landscape oil painting he purchased by a studied European artist (I can recall his beaming face the day he brought it home). In truth, the winter-scene painting is a bit gloomy, but the memories attached to it are the essence of all he was.

Thank you for reading this.

—Maureen Joyce