A piece of lint versus peace of mind

A family photo taken in 1955 of my grandfather (General Joyce), my grandmother (Mary Drury Joyce), my aunt (Innes Hollis) and my dad (Manyard Drury). (Photo provided —Jack Drury)

Last week as I was cleaning up my excuse for an office (a tiny corner of our bedroom) I came across the obituary of my grandfather Kenyon Joyce.

I met him only a few times, as he and my grandmother lived in San Francisco, and he died when I was young. I remember him being formal and friendly, but not the kind of guy who pals around with young kids. I saw him maybe four times. On Christmas Eve we’d go into New York City at my dad’s sister’s home along with her family, my grandmother and General Joyce. We’d have a formal dinner, exchange gifts and call it a night. I have few recollections of those gatherings, but I was impressed just knowing he’d been an U.S. Army two-star General.

He joined the Army as a private during the Spanish-American War and rose through the ranks. His Army biography mentions he saw his first combat with the cavalry during the Philippine Insurrection.

In 1906 he served with an Army detachment that captured a band of hostile Ute Indians on the Little Powder River in Montana. What little I could find about this was contradictory. The Utes were just looking for a place where they could live as they wished, and not be forced to farm on a reservation.

As a Colonel in World War I he was seriously wounded by a trench mortar and lost the use of one hand, something I never noticed as a kid and only read about years later. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Croix de Guerre.

A photo of President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed to my grandmother and grandfather. (Photo provided —Jack Drury)

In a fascinating tidbit of history, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as chief of staff under my grandfather when he was Commander of the 9th Army Corps in Fort Lewis, Washington. Eisenhower of course, later became Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, was responsible for D-Day and became the 34th president. Eventually the roles flipped, and my grandfather became an aide to Eisenhower when he became deputy president of the Allied Control Commission for Italy in 1943. The Allied Control Commission for Italy was a British-American body set up under Eisenhower to enforce the Italian Armistice.

As a note of interest: In the 1930s my grandfather was commander of Fort Myer, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. He supervised the construction of the chapel where, ironically, in January 1960 his funeral service was conducted. Although I was too young to attend the funeral, my dad, my mom and my brother (in the Air Force at the time) all attended. The event generated one of my favorite family stories.

My dad commuted on the Long Island Railroad into New York every weekday for 15 years. My mother dropped him off in the morning and we all picked him up in the evening. While waiting for the train to arrive in the evening my mother would sing songs and share all sorts of stories, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. Until 1960, that is. Then the stories changed because we got older, and thus my favorite …

“We traveled to Washington, D.C. for your grandfather’s funeral at Arlington Cemetery and met your brother who flew in from Montana. He looked so striking in his uniform. It was grand. There was a military procession, and all sorts of dignitaries were there including President Eisenhower.

“We were shown to our seats and guess what? I was right behind the president, and next to him was First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. It was thrilling and I was nervous.

“The ceremony started. It was very solemn with hushed voices and speeches by various military dignitaries. I tried to follow along, but I got distracted … distracted by a large piece of lint on the back of the president’s suit coat just inches in front of me. I was just dying to pick it off.

“I reached for it … then I’d brought my hand back. I waited a few minutes and I thought of doing it again. A couple of minutes later I almost did it again. I tried a couple of more times but chickened out each time.”

I said, “Why didn’t you just reach out and pick it off?”

She paused for dramatic effect and continued. “I knew if I did, I’d immediately be arrested by the Secret Service.”

As a young kid this left a strong impression on me and all I could think of was what if my mother had picked the lint off the president’s coat? Well, then (at least according to her) the Secret Service would have arrested her.

If that had happened all I could think of was this: Me with a carton of her favorite smokes clutched in my little hands, as I took the boat to visit her at Alcatraz.


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