Joyce Lofgreen: A Granddaughter Remembers

Hello, Gorgeous!

 

“Hello, Gorgeous!” — This is how my Grandma Joyce and I greeted one another in person and with every single phone call we had over the past twenty-five years.

Joyce Lofgreen was born in Ogden, Utah, on October 17th, 1929, seven days before the start of The Great Depression, and she came into this world with a fire in her belly and a spark in her eye. She was creative from the beginning, with her father Roy being a professional masonry engineer as well as a rockhound, silversmith and jeweler, and her mother Donna a beautician who kept a shop in the home—a renaissance woman from the Crabtree line, who lived, breathed, and instilled into Joyce all things fashion and etiquette, from design to dance. Joyce learned to be graceful, keen, and resourceful from her mother and from her father, how to answer that wild call to do as one pleases, like dig in the dirt or float down the Ogden River in a galvanized tub while keeping the crisp white peddlers her mother bought for her just that, crisp white.

Joyce spent her childhood climbing trees, playing along the muddy river, triumphing over older kids in watermelon eating contests, coordinating adventures with neighborhood kids, writing, directing, and acting in plays she created. Her father built a gazebo in the backyard, making for a great stage for Joyce and her friends to perform her plays and musicals. 

Joyce’s Mormon parents eventually divorced after much drama. It was the mid-1930’s in a small town; divorce was highly unusual, deeply frowned upon, and lent itself to scandal, but Joyce persevered. By the time she was in her mid-teens, she was working in a beauty shop as an apprentice in an upscale resort, where she got to take in musical performances and meet many celebrities that passed through. Joyce’s love of theater, dance, and music was the shimmering golden thread that kept her jazzed about life and gave her something to hold onto as she explored this time in her youth.

Grandma met the love of her life at a local dance held for WW2 vets, my tall, dark, and handsome Grandpa Gene from Brooklyn, New York being one of them. He once told me, “I looked across that dance hall and saw this gorgeous redhead standing there, and I knew I had to ask her to dance.”  And Grandma later told me, “We were dancing, and your Grandpa whispered something Italian into my ear, and I thought it was soooo sexy!”  Gene asked Joyce to marry him on their eleventh date, and after Grandma went through the extensive Catholic conversion process, they wed on March 28th, 1950. They were married during Lent—purple shrouds draped over Jesus and all the Stations of the Cross, and as she slowly walked up the aisle, twenty-one-year-old Joyce thought it was because she was Mormon. When she was being converted, she told the priest that she had been baptized for the dead twenty-two times already; she didn’t see why she had to do it again and asked the Father, “Don’t you think one of those other twenty-two times took?”  This is just one of a thousand examples of Joyce’s good humor and grace, the sum of which was her unwavering charm. From then on, she referred to herself as a “Jack Mormon.”

Joyce had to win over Gene’s mother, Julia, who was from the old country. Julia wanted her one and only son to marry a young Italian girl from their village in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, but Gene was in love, and there was no stopping his heart. Julia refused to attend her son’s wedding and did not accept his marriage to Joyce until a year later when the first grandchild came, my dad, Scott, in March of 1951. Julia eventually relocated from Brooklyn to Boise to move in with Gene and Joyce, who by this time had two sons and another on the way. Julia bore down on Joyce pretty hard, often telling her how to rear her kids, launder clothes properly, choose the best ham and make a red sauce from scratch. One day while in the supermarket, Joyce picked up a roast and put it into the cart. Julia promptly removed the roast, telling Joyce it was no good. As she began to put the roast back onto the rack, Joyce grabbed that roast out of Julia’s hands, slammed it back into the shopping cart and said, “THIS is the roast I want!” It was the first time she’d pushed back with her mother-in-law, and from then on Julia backed off.

I’m not exactly sure when Grandma’s love affair with jewelry design and creating began, but judging by the dates in some of her journals and sketchbooks, it was around 1970, just after her sixth and final child was born. At this time, Joyce was 40 years old and the mother of six boys. Gene had become president of the Lithographer’s Union for the west coast region and traveled quite a bit for work. I think Joyce had been collecting beads and stones for quite some time; she had inherited her father’s passion as well as his tools, and one by one, designs came to Joyce, and her hobby turned into a profession for her. She aptly, and perhaps a titch wryly, named her business “JM’s Significant Others: Antique, Collectible, and Signed Designer Bits and Pieces, Redesigned With a Blend That Is Not Quite A Marriage.”  I feel compelled to quote Virginia Woolf at this moment, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Only on behalf of Joyce, I would change it to, “A woman must have money and a room of her own.  Period.”

I look back in wide-eyed wonder how this woman did so much: she ran a beauty parlor in her home servicing many life-long clients, where gossip and hair trimmings fell to the floor in friendly tandem, designed beautiful jewelry pieces and made sales, participated in ongoing church events, kept up with the Joneses (and then some) and managed six boys— she also wrote and copyrighted her life story in a screenplay and musical format! All of this while navigating the moods of my Grandpa Gene, who was a loving, supportive, and forthright husband and father to be sure, but who was also domineering and impatient. I don’t know the details, but a few years ago Grandma shared that she and Grandpa had divorce papers drawn up, twice. I believe one of the things that kept them together was the dance, at times grand and showy, which they both could be, at other times tender and private, something I just sensed.

Once Joyce’s boys were grown and living independent lives, she and Grandpa Gene could spend more time traveling with close friends and family. By this time, Joyce had designed jewelry professionally for William Farrell Jewelers in Seattle and amassed quite a bead, stone, and gem collection from all over the country—from small, dusty southwestern rock and gem shops to century-old attic estate sales in New York City, and many places in between. She had an eye for the eccentric, novel, one-of-a-kind, and eclectic, but also classic, vintage, elegant, and subtle beauties which called out to her. For many years, Joyce participated in some of Seattle’s finest holiday bazaars and gem shows; she sold finished pieces to local shops and boutiques around Seattle and held estate sales out of her home.  Through her beading, she found solace, comfort, and a cathartic way to express herself.

In 2004, my Grandpa Eugene passed peacefully after a long battle with kidney cancer.  My family encircled him until finally, the hospice nurse gently alerted us he’d taken his last breath. I will never forget it; we were all gathered around in this tender holding pattern together for several hours, and we were talking about food, specifically homemade bread recipes. It was at that moment, when we were talking about food, that he sensed we were all going to be ok, and he let go. The service was held at the Catholic Church where we kids had attended grade school and Grandpa had dutifully served many masses. Later that afternoon his life celebration began back at the house. Grandma smiled and gave us a wink as my grown adult siblings and I snuck off to hide behind the house when Father Fox showed up to pay his respects.  Jack Mormon she was, to the end.

My next memory of Grandma Joyce was about a month after Grandpa passed. I came over to the house to visit one evening, and as I drove up, I could see that all the lights were on in the house.  She answered the door, “Hello, Gorgeous!” We embraced, and as I rested my head on her shoulder and breathed in her signature scent of White Shoulders, warm kitchen, and cedar, I could hear the delightful sounds of Peggy Lee ribboning out from the family room on the other side of the house. I knew at that moment that Joyce was free. Free to blast her favorite tunes, free to turn on all the lights, free to turn up the thermostat to 80 degrees if she liked, and let the soup sit on the stove and grow skin. She could do as she pleased. One of my favorite things Grandma used to say when I’d share something about my life—a goal, an idea, a new boyfriend—she’d smile and say, “Whatever pleases you plum tickles the hell outta me.”  She missed her Gene deeply and slept with his driver’s license on her nightstand; she shared when he would “visit” her and the conversations they would have in dreams. But she was ready to be liberated, and it was a delight to watch her find another part of herself, that part which perhaps missed those river rides in that old galvanized tub, this time barefoot and fancy-free.

Grandma and I continued to go to water aerobics classes together and would occasionally wander off at family functions to share a cigarette, “We don’t smoke, Katherine, we sneak.”  We shared wine, old movies, and music; she was there for me through break-ups, moves, career changes as I wrestled with demons and made my way through the turbid waters of my twenties. I trusted her completely. We occasionally played in her bead room, as I would now and again come over to borrow a piece or two when I had a work party to attend or a fundraiser in one of downtown Seattle’s old hotel ballrooms.  I helped her with one holiday bazaar, held at the Seattle Tennis Club where my father worked, and I encouraged her over the years to consider the internet as a way of selling her pieces. Still, she was adamant about steering clear of computers.

In the spring of 2018, Grandma lost the use of her legs. Her post-polio syndrome has finally caught up with her, and with the swelling in her legs due to kidney failure, she was admitted into skilled nursing. I remember visiting her at the facility, and she said to me, “Katherine, a man helped me to use the commode today, can you believe it? At first, I thought this was too much, but then I thought, “What are you going to do about it Joyce?”, so I said to myself, “What the hell? ““  And with that she threw her arm into the air and we both laughed. Several months later, my family and I helped to find in-home caregivers to be with Joyce around the clock, as she needed help transferring and getting to and from appointments. She stayed sharp, wrote in her journal, and kept up with all the current world events until it got to be too much. I’m happy to say she aged in place; Grandpa had worked hard and invested well to ensure she would never have to worry. I made frequent trips to Seattle, we watched JTV (Jewelry Television), and Grandma laughed heartily as I did my JTV spokeswoman impersonations, complete with southern accent and dramatic hair toss.

In late February of 2021, my husband and I were driving to Mesa, AZ to spend time with his Mom, who was dying of cancer, when I got the call from my uncle that Grandma had taken a turn for the worst. As we pulled up to the Mesa house, I was deeply torn about whether to fly back to be with her; there was a good chance that this was it. Two days later, I was walking around a nearby potato farm to get some air; it was just past dawn, and my heart was heavy with rounds of go or stay, go or stay, go or stay.  I stopped walking and paused in the morning glow—I heard my Grandma saying to me “Don’t you worry about me, I’m fine, you stay there with your husband and his family, don’t worry, you need to be with him now, everything is ok here.”  About fifteen minutes later, I got a text from my uncle. Grandma had just passed peacefully, surrounded by family and her caregivers, at 7:11 AM. I fell to my knees and wept. She was free.

A friend of mine shared this with me last year before Grandma Joyce passed. She said, “She who dies with the most beads, wins.” I had never heard this before, but as I went through Grandma’s bead room months later, overwhelmed by the volume of pieces, their energies, the hours that passed in that room day after day, year after year as Joyce sought her own voice and creative expression, I thought, “You won Grandma, you won.”

I was not officially left Grandma’s collection; she knew that while I enjoyed jewelry and appreciated it, I had absolutely no interest in making it. My Uncles were happy to let me host a bead sale at her house this past May, and because she did not want a funeral service, planning this event to honor her and her life’s work was my chance to have some healing, which it most certainly was, at least the beginning of. I desperately wanted to get her pieces out into the world, and now I had the opportunity to do so.  We had quite the turnout—stories were shared, tears fell, hugs took place—everyone who was there, be it family member, friend, neighbor, or collector, was jazzed over Joyce’s beautiful works of wearable art. The appreciation was palpable.

It is an honor for me to present to you now, with the help of the very kind folks at Dusti Creek Beads, the remainder of my late Grandma Joyce’s collection, featuring her one-of-a-kind pieces. There truly is something for everyone. I hope you will come by and take a gander. I look forward to meeting you and exclaiming, “Hello, Gorgeous!“ when you arrive.

All the very best,
Katie