Aletha “Joy” Holloway grabbed a broom and looked like she was ready to use it … on me.
“Not that bush! Not that bush!” she yelled, while scurrying off her back porch toward me with that broom in hand. Bad knees and all, Joy still moved pretty well for 90 years old. She certainly had me back-pedaling.
One of my buddies had just trimmed back an overgrown bush in Joy’s backyard, but I guess she had preferred its wild look. And since I was supposedly in charge of this work session, she directed her frustrations toward me.
About 10 of us were working in her yard and in her house, helping with some stuff that she was no longer able to do on her own. The problem was that Joy’s daughter Barb and I had gotten our dates mixed up and Joy hadn’t been told we were coming.
We were like interlopers — while pulling her old washer and dryer out of the basement, cutting down dead trees and cleaning up her property.
She was agitated, especially when three of us broke one of her ceiling lights while moving an old couch down her second-floor stairway and around a corner.
No wonder she felt justified in chasing me out of her sight with a broom later that afternoon.
Joy was one of the feistiest people I’ve ever known. She also was one of the hardest-working, the most caring and the most unusual (for lack of a better word) individual I’ve ever come across.
So it was sad news when we learned that Joy had died earlier this week at the age of 98 in her Clay Township home in South Bend. She knew her time was near after several health issues had caught up with her.
“Mom made herself get up on Saturday to take her pills and eat breakfast, but she didn’t get out of bed Sunday and died later on Monday,” Barb said.
Joy at least had done it her way — wanting to die in her own bed and the place she had called home for 70-some years.
When I first met Joy, she was a teacher’s aide at Eggleston Elementary School, where my wife taught in the 1980s and ‘90s. I also would see her working as a crossing guard at Clay High School, where my kids attended.
Joy did both of these jobs until she was 83 — serving as a crossing guard for 47 years. She only retired after she suffered a stroke brought on by being dragged by a car when she tried to stop a thief from stealing aluminum parts from her yard.
What 83-year-old woman chases down a car with a young hoodlum behind the wheel? But that was Joy, a crusader against foul play.
She recovered even though she had to start using a cane here and there. She even returned to mowing her yard. “We got her a self-propelled mower and she said that holding on to it was as good as using a cane,” Barb said.
When I would drive by her house and see her mowing, I sometimes stopped and finished the job for her. She didn’t seem all that happy about letting me take over, but she would eventually sigh and look for a cool place to wait me out.
Joy was a tough old gal whose life had been a trial from the get-go. She lost her husband Henry after only six years of marriage, leaving her with two young kids — Barb and David — to raise on her own. But then after growing up in Elkhart during the Depression, she already had a good taste of sacrifice.
Years after that, she didn’t let anything go to waste.
“All of our discarded papers were taken from the waste basket, and Joy would make notepads out of them for us,” recalled Connie Emmons, who taught at Eggleston when Joy was there.
If Joy was a bit of a hoarder, she at least was a neat one. Her house had the organization of a hardware store.
“If a plastic container has a small crack in it, she would still find a use for it,” Barb added. “She had the same refrigerator she and my dad bought back in the early 1950s and she also had all of her wedding linens and towels.”
Joy was frugal without being stingy. She was outspoken without being mean. She was quirky without being odd.
In the winter, she would bundle up like an old-world bushka when serving as a crossing guard at Clay. She looked like she could have been from another century while in her trapper-type hat and her long-saved clothes under a yellow traffic vest. But that was Joy, too, a true classic.
“Whenever I think of Joy, I can see her standing out in frigid temperatures, rain or snow, guiding children safely across the street,” said retired IUSB professor Connie Sprague, whose late husband Chuck taught at Eggleston.
Just before Christmas, we always knew that Joy and Barb would be visiting us with Joy’s homemade and brightly-colored popcorn balls. Those gifts were a labor of love. She was making her rounds to her favorite teachers’ homes, but she always enjoyed taking the time to come in and share her memories.
Joy loved nature and had her own little preserve in her yard where she would watch the birds and other critters. She also decorated her home with paintings she had created herself and was famous among her friends for her cherry pies.
I received one of those pies and a nice “thank you” after my buddies and I had worked around her home and disrupted her day. There was no mention of chasing me with a broom on that afternoon that my wife had to finally come over to settle Joy down.
The broom story has become a bit of a legend within our group. But then, Joy was a bit of a legend herself.
She was the kind of person who made life a little more interesting — and, certainly, a little better. God bless her for that. And God rest her well.
She was truly a joy.