Story by Dorris Heffron, photos by Eugene Dworecki

This area astounds me. Yes, we all love the beauty of the Lake Huron shoreline and the Escarpment with its forests, waterfalls, river, trails, wild life, ski hills, and farms. But most astounding to me is the variety of people in our community. I live on a country property in Beaver Valley. My neighbours are multi generation farmers and new Icelandic sheep farmers, young architects, photographers, landscapers, the Executive Director of Beaver Valley Outreach, a helicopter pilot, small business owner of natural skin care products, retired university professors of education and musicology now developing music and relaxing chairs that help Alzheimer patients, a wrought iron artist, a school bus driver and children of all ages. This is not a community of inactive retirees, yet I want to focus on a 97-year- old woman, Joyce Goode, who officially retired at age 80 and learned to fly small airplanes at age 85. She still flies small planes, but not solo.

In the winter before covid struck, I was invited to a Christmas cocktail party at Joyce Goode’s. She lives on her own in an attached house in a new community on Cranberry Trail near Collingwood. Her home backs onto a pond bordering a golf course. That day in December had begun with a snow storm. “Will the party be cancelled?” I asked my companion Norm who has been a longtime friend of Joyce and her late husband. “Never!” he laughed. “With Joyce, the show must go on. This is an annual event. There will be some regulars but you never know whom you’ll meet. Joyce likes to throw people together.”

So do I, I thought. I’m going to enjoy this. Only the determined, the foolhardy and close neighbours are likely to show up. Can’t wait to meet Joyce.

I had dressed for this. Considering her age, I imagined Joyce would be old school formal. I hauled out a bit of finery I’d worn years ago. Joyce was probably quite elegant. I wore a shiny jacket, lace skirt and faux leopard skin heels. We came out of the blowing snow into Joyce’s house. Joyce greeted us from the top of the entrance steps. “Come in! Come in!” she waved both arms. I had got it wrong! Joyce bounced, chuckled and gestured like a delighted, excited leprechaun. She was in a comfortable leisure suit. Sporty shoes and socks. Informal as they come.

Being a writer, I like to observe a person of interest and the whole scene before I approach for conversation. I found that her grown up sons and daughter were present. Her older son is the renowned cardiologist of Collingwood, Dr. Goode who keeps many people ticking, including me. Her daughter, a corporate consultant, had come from Alberta. Her younger son, also from afar, is in charge of the sales people across Canada for a commercial lighting company.

Joyce bounced around kitchen and sitting areas leaving people to refill their drinks and help themselves to good food snacks. The wine was very good. Towards the end of the party, Joyce sat down on a chair near me, with her glass of rye and water. I asked if it was true that she flew airplanes. “Still do,” she retorted, looking me in the eye, chuckling impishly. With little prompting, she proceeded to entertain me with tales of flying and golfing. She no longer sails or skis, but she sure loves flying. There was no attitude of bragging. It was all sheer joy in the sport.

Her talk is peppered with swearing. Definitely unladylike but strikes you as comical rather than vulgar. She doesn’t have to search for words. She’s quick and articulate. I left wanting to know much more about this high-flying feisty babe.

The covid year clamped down on us. Joyce came through it unscathed. Before the third surge, Joyce invited us for drinks on her back deck with her younger neighbor couple. Joyce wore a warm jacket and cruise captain’s cap. Daffodils were in bud. Swans swam by on the pond. “How about Canada geese?” I asked. “Any problem with them?”

“They don’t dare!” Joyce laughed and swore. “I’ve come out in my night gown, yelling and wielding a broom. They fly off in (expletive) fright. Daffodils are my favourite flower. No geese are going to crap on them.”

The couple left and we had private time with Joyce. She claims never to have felt fear in any sport. I thought of my fear of heights and speed. How they had to be conquered or controlled. The sport Joyce excelled at when she grew up in Drummondville, Quebec was high-jumping. She also loved to ski jorg; being pulled behind a car with a rope. Until her parents put a stop to it.

I learned that her career was in science. She first worked in a research lab with a team studying viruses and vaccines. Especially today in covid times we can understand her excitement at the importance of this work. Eventually she became a microbiologist researching and teaching pathology.

This was a woman worth writing about. When I asked her if I could do an article on her, she looked seriously at me, sized me up and consented to an interview. I asked her to write me a bio and I gave her some written questions ahead of time. Hitherto, she had entertained me with amusing anecdotes. How would she respond to serious questions about dealing with life’s conflicts and blows, how she got to be so independent thinking, her advice to others? Would she close the door on solemnity and invasion of her privacy?

Joyce showed another side of herself when she sat me down at her long dining table. Her home is immaculate, neat, completely devoid of any clutter. Not a typical old person’s home with souvenirs and photos, books and the newspaper at hand, as in my house. Her decor is white walls and modern furniture with blue cushion accents. She was in command of this meeting, though as usual she looked right into me with her large blue inquisitive eyes. A good-looking woman with a becoming hairdo, wearing a black vest inscribed with ‘Flying Gran’. A gift from one of her many adoring grand kids.

Her bio told me her father was a research chemist who had invented an important protective substance for aircraft. Her mother was the home maker. Joyce was a teenager when her family moved from Drummondville to New England.

Joyce chose to continue her education at schools in Montreal and Ottawa then to go to McGill University in Montreal. There was no rift with her family. It was Joyce’s independent choice. She moved from arts to science because she likes to discover, find the cause and how things work. She got into exciting research work before and after graduation. “I never minded being one of few women in a class,” she said. “There were a lot of handsome sailors to work with.” Then she married John Goode. “The best-looking engineer at McGill,” she informed me, chuckling.

They were moved to Asbestos, Quebec where Joyce’s only work choice was to be wife and mother of three babies born within a year of each other. Engineers were poorly paid in those days after the War so they had to be frugal. Did Joyce get frustrated and depressed? No! “It’s what women did in those days. Raise the kids.” Joyce was never incompetent. And she got along well in the Quebec community. But she did have challenges. Her younger son had serious illnesses which held him back in school. Joyce’s philosophy of raising kids is: don’t push them. But encourage the good stuff. When they need help, pitch in in every way possible.

When they were moved to Montreal and the kids were in school, Joyce went back to microbiology work. She worked in hospital, taking specimens for the identification of infections, diagnosing the causes. It was dangerous work as it is for frontline workers today. She also taught pathology. It wasn’t easy after a decade away from the science but Joyce never sought the easy.

They were more prosperous when moved to Toronto. They joined the Royal Yacht Club and Joyce learned to sail and race. Although women never took the helm in those days, Joyce did. “If something happens to you when we’re out on the lake,” she told John. “I have to be able to bring the boat in myself.” So, she learned to do that, with only a few incidents of banging into the dock.

They took the kids skiing at Blue Mountain, making day trips. As happens, Joyce decided day trips were too much hassle. She wanted to buy a small condo at Cranberry. John didn’t want another property to manage. John was so adamant he called it ‘grounds for divorce’. Joyce considered herself a better negotiator. She bargained to pay half and bought the condo one weekend when John was away on business. He was irate for a very short time. He quickly grew to love having a home in our community and readily agreed to live here when he retired.

Joyce never stopped getting into things. She became President of a Probus Club and participated in everything from The Collingwood Cinema Club to Life Long Learning. She became an expert stock market investor. Still is.

Some things are too painful to recall or dwell upon. I saw this was so with the death of her husband from lung disease after 60 years of lively, loving marriage. Right after that, when Joyce was 85, she made the decision to learn to fly. And she did. It is her philosophy of ‘get out of yourself ’. When she herself got lung cancer, they removed a quarter of her lung. It was so painful, Joyce wanted to give up. Her doctor urged her to take the further treatment. “It won’t work,” Joyce argued. “You can’t know that if you don’t try it,” her doctor replied. “That made sense to me,” said Joyce. “So, I tried it and it worked.” At 94, she underwent radiation for lymphoma. It worked.

As she saw me out Joyce said a most personal thing. “It isn’t easy to live alone.” How I wanted to hug her!

But her final remark was vintage Joyce. I had forgotten to ask her birth day. “It’s July 1st,” she laughed. “Couldn’t be better. There’s always a party. And lots of fireworks.”