The found wisdom of a Northern Michigan neighbor, Joyce Groleau Lundberg, 93 years old.

I have moved 37 times. You heard me, thirty-seven times. I wasn’t an “Army brat;” I am a builder’s daughter. We danced the spec-house dance. Build, wait, sell, repeat. Later, moves came with college, internships, jobs, more college then more jobs. I lived with families, roommates and alone. Finally, by my mid-thirties, I was ready to find my own home.

My dad suggested we build something, but I wanted a place with history. I looked for two years until I found my piece of the Traverse City pie. From the minute I walked in the door, I knew: It had a story, the solid bones and the 1950’s grandma’s cottage vibe I was searching for. What I didn’t know is it would come with the best neighbors. Joyce’s house is located stage left. She was a “Navy brat” by marriage. Originally from Williamsburg, Michigan, her husband Andy’s career took their family of nine around the globe. They settled back home, like so many of us do, eventually making us neighbors. Lucky me; Joyce was the first neighbor I met. Andy’s health had taken a turn and I would meet him at their 70th wedding anniversary party at the nursing home right before he passed away.

Over the last 30 years on the block, Joyce had become best friends with the next-door neighbor, Marilyn Byers; some knew her as “Brownie.” Marilyn’s husband, Jim, was quiet but loyal. He brought Joyce her mail every day. If Marilyn left for the night, she would leave a vase in the kitchen windowsill that faced Joyce’s bedroom to let her know she was away and okay. They watched out for each other the way neighbors should. When I asked how Joyce knew Marilyn passed away, she said, “She was gone and the vase wasn’t in the window. I knew.”

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When I bought my house, I didn’t join a neighborhood, I joined two families; the Byers and the Lundbergs. I’d like to think that Marilyn and Jim were looking out for both of us. Or in the words of Joyce, “Shea is finally home.”

Since not everyone is lucky enough to be Joyce Groleau Lundberg’s neighbor, I thought I’d share some of her wisdom. After all, perhaps the best way to be a neighbor is to listen.

How did you stay married for so long?

When you get married—it’s for life. We both knew that. You drift apart, you come back together. You must accept the changes in others and yourself because it affects everyone. Also, we both got out of life what we wanted. Andy got to be in the Navy, and I got to travel. That’s important.

You raised seven children and they all get along; how did you accomplish that?

We traveled from base to base and they got along because they needed each other. I also kept family traditions. We ate every breakfast and every dinner together. We accepted each other for who we were that day. And whatever you earned, that was yours. I let them fight. That’s where you’re supposed to fight—with your family. That’s where you learn to adjust to the real world. I never killed their curiosity. Kids want to come to you—not the other way around. No one is short on love.

You lost a child when she was 27 years old to cancer. What advice do you have for parents who have lost a child?

Let the tears flow, let it all out. Feel all the pain. I cried four years straight. I cried for her son who wouldn’t have his mother. Before that, I never felt old in my life. But I felt old when Patty died. I was 52 when that happened.

What was the highlight of your life?

(Joyce lights up and smiles.) The summer I spent working at Yellowstone Park. I was 55 years old and went by myself. No husband, no kids. I packed up the truck and drove alone. I cried the entire first day wondering what I had done. It was hard to leave, but I had to do it. I love the mountains and how they make me feel small. I climbed 11,000 feet that summer. When I reached the top, I was overwhelmed. There is nothing you can compare to the joy of having a baby, but that experience was the coolest.

When did you lose your independence?

I absolutely love to drive, but I gave up my license. It’s the most isolating experience. I don’t like to rely on anyone but myself. My dad raised us to be independent.

How can someone be a good neighbor?

Respect boundaries, time and privacy. No matter where you live, respect your neighbors and they will respect you.

Last words?

What women can’t do physically, we can figure out mentally. Most difficulties aren’t catastrophes.

Photo(s) by Michael Poehlman

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