A Woman Ahead of Her Time – With Her Own Style
The Roaring 20’s
The era of the Roaring 20’s puts to mind wild women in flapper costumes, speakeasies for the consumption of illegal alcohol and machine guns firing out of mobster car windows. All that is accurate of the big cities and movies romanticizing the “wickedness” of that time period.
But, what of life in the small communities filled with average working folk? Just as today, it wasn’t nearly as glamorous or exciting. It was into such a small town Ada Joyce Fields was born in April of 1920 to a family of modest means. With her parent’s first daughter being eighteen years old and her father having been pronounced infertile after a bout of mumps “went down” on him her arrival was quite a surprise to one and all.
Though they lived far from the Roaring cities, Ada Joyce was anything but the demure little girl most were in their town. Adoring her father and playing the surrogate son she developed a strong sense of self-confidence and self-reliance. She was far more outspoken and opinionated than any child should have been, especially a female child.
Even though her Mother decked her out in handmade delicate dresses, a flapper style hat, dress coat and shiny shoes; it did not tone down her daughter’s personality. Ada Joyce knew how to act properly and did so, but did not allow herself to be relegated to a lesser position than anyone else.
By her early teens Ada Joyce was sporting short hair, slacks and dark laced shoes. She was as adept at carpentry as she was sewing and cooking. She had a flair for all three. She would not be pigeonholed because of her gender.
Married at Fourteen
At the age of thirteen, a mature and physically developed Ada Joyce met a man of twenty-three. Her platinum hair, her strength and physicality captivated him. His name was Harold. His Mother was an acquaintance of her Mother and her parents adored him. He began to court her, hopelessly smitten. She humored him in the beginning eventually developing a strong affection for him. When she was fourteen they were married in her parent’s home. It was later in their marriage that she truly loved him.
Ten years his junior, in her early teens, she was the stronger force in the marriage and remained so throughout their forty-seven years together. There were a few areas in which she respected his preference, but it had to be her choice. No demands were to be made.
Detroit – Big City
In 1937 jobs were hard to find. In his teens Harold had “rode the rails” hopping trains in search of employment anywhere it could be found. His stepfather had refused to support him, so her left school in his junior year and hit the road. The urge to move on was in his blood thereafter.
The young married couple had lived in an apartment in her parent’s house from the beginning of their marriage. After three years, Harold was ready to move on. He took off on his search for a new opportunity. He landed in Detroit, found a job and sent for Ada Joyce and their baby girl after saving up enough money for them to rent an apartment.
The Roaring 20’s had given way to the Stylish 30’s. Harold and Joyce, as she was now known, happily transcended from townies to city dwellers. Neither one was intimidated by the new lifestyle and they loved dressing to the nines. When they stepped out into those cold city streets they wore full-length dress coats complimented by hats and shoes in the style of the day. Joyce had become an expert seamstress allowing them to dress this way and stay within their meager budget.
All the neighbors were in awe of Joyce’s sewing talent. She made her own patterns and designed clothing for her whole family. At seventeen, she was a woman about town as well as the ideal homemaker. She could whip up curtains or draperies in no time. A time worn chair was transformed into a coveted piece of furniture after she reupholstered it. No one surpassed her cooking and baking. Better yet, in her mind, she didn’t have to wait for her husband hang curtain rods or make repairs around the apartment. She had her own tool set.
Detroit was the first of many stops as Harold gave into his itchy feet and searched out new jobs in new locations. After their second daughter was born and they had moved to a town in mid Indiana Joyce put down her foot telling him if he moved on he’d better be able to support two households, because this was a permanent home for her and her daughters.
Home At Last
Harold was not about to live separate from his beloved wife and daughters, so at last they put down roots. Thinking their family was complete they were in for a happy surprise when daughter number three made her entrance into the world. Two years later, their eldest daughter followed her in mother’s footsteps and married at the age of fifteen following her new husband to South Carolina where he was stationed with the Army.
The couple and their two daughters still with them finally bought a permanent residence; a tiny house in a rural area. They bought it on contract for $40.00 a month. This tiny house became the artistic outlet Joyce needed to quell her frustrations over not yet being able to make her husband feel comfortable with her getting a job outside the home.
Over the next few years they added on two rooms with both of them pitching in on the carpentry work. With a still limited income Joyce had to be inventive in her decorating. Inventive she was!
By now the youngest daughter was in school. Each day she got off the bus she wondered if there would be a new discovery in the house. A person just never knew what experiment in interior design might have taken place in their absence. A wall might be covered in animal print fabric. Lampshades might be covered to match the draperies. The upright piano might suddenly be faux French Provincial having been painted a vanilla cream color and accented with gold.
Joyce would paint anything. The small rounded refrigerator boasted layer upon layer of paint. It always had to match the current décor. It started out white, of course, but was at one time or another beige, black, brown, turquoise and magenta. The same could be said for other items in the house. It was said that once Joyce opened a can of paint she didn’t stop painting until it was empty.
Don’t think she limited herself to the house. She also painted cars – with a brush. The Nash Rambler station wagon was painted maroon, except for the wood paneling. The Buick coupe was painted a two-tone cream with a red top. Oh yeah, had to be the talk of the neighborhood.
But, seriously, in today’s market, this woman would have had her own cable television show and she would definitely be running the show! She could take what most people would consider tacky and transform it into a unique piece any boutique would proudly display. She was fearless in displaying her own style.
Joyce always lived modestly, but she was never embarrassed by nor did she ever apologize for her position in life. She was as comfortable having successful and prominent people in her home, as she was anyone else. She didn’t get nervous or fussy when they were coming to visit. No visitor ever condescended to her, in fact, every visitor hoped for another invitation.
The Latter Years
Eventually most women began to assert themselves. Harold finally set aside his pride and Joyce entered the workforce. She thrived in her new role as a workingwoman. She utilized the same skills she’d used at home. Her areas of expertise were much in demand. There were occasions when her strength and opinionated nature worked in her best interest and times when they didn’t. In the end she became her own boss working out of her own home.
Just before he was eligible for retirement and the life of travel they had long dreamed of, Harold had a severe stroke that left him paralyzed on one side and unable to speak. At first this catastrophe sent Joyce reeling. Though she’d always seemed to be the stronger of the two, it soon came to light she counted on having Harold to lean on. Not one to be
kept down for long Joyce quickly rebounded and built up a sewing and alteration business she could work on while still caring for her husband. She sold their little house and they moved to an income base apartment.
It was in that apartment they finished out their lives. Joyce outlived Harold by the ten years he had on her. She was still taking in alterations when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A year and a half later several items had to be returned to their owners unfinished when she left her apartment by gurney for the last time.
Ada Joyce was an inspiration to all who knew her, even teaching her daughters how to die with dignity and good spirit. Her spirit remains with them still and lives on through their children. Just as the cycle of life through grace intends it to be.