Memories of Joy were unalloyed: a maternal warmth and instinctive kindness; a genuine interest in what might be said by a shy, unimpressive boy from the council houses at the edge of the village. Living in the farmhouse of the Manor Farm might have been associated with an aloofness in some communities, but Joy had no regard for one’s social class. The criterion by which Joy seemed to assess people was whether they worked hard.
It had been six or seven years since I had lost spoken to Joy, a few words after the morning service in the parish church she so much loved. Sundays being a difficult day to be absent from the parish, visits to the village in the years since then had been on weekdays. Each time I had visited, I had promised myself I would call with Joy and, of course, I never had.
So it was, one evening last June I walked through the village. It was nine o’clock when I passed her house, a light shone from her kitchen. Beside her garage, a door was open, Joy herself sat looking at her garden. The opportunity could not be missed.
Going through the gateway, I greeted her. “I’m Ian Poulton.”
She looked at me with immediate recognition. “Peter Poulton’s son, sit down there.”
I pulled up a chair and we sat and talked, I had never been able to guess what age Joy might be. Her recall of a neighbour who had recently died gave me a chance to guess. “He wasn’t ninety, was he?”
“No, he was not! He was only eight weeks older than me, and I won’t be eighty-eight until later this year.”
Her being only eighty-eight this year meant she had only been in her forties when I had first known her, it seemed extraordinary that I had regarded her as the great matriarch of the village for over forty years. Joy asked about my family, about my work, and talked with enthusiasm about her children and grand children. The summer light stretched long before slowly fading. The church clock struck ten and I bade her goodnight, promising to return.
Joy never reached that eight-eighth birthday. Yesterday, her funeral service took place in the church that had meant so much to her.
Only when looking at the obituary notice did I discover that she was not called Joy at all, her names were Abigail Louise. Joy seems a much more appropriate expression of a life lived well.
I am glad Joy had decided to sit looking at her flowers on that June evening.