Oral history of Joyce Hill
Interview Conducted By: Ashley Stack
Joyce Hill Interviewed by Ashley Stack on March 22, 2008
Joyce Hill, a talented and determined woman, has lived an inspirational life. With all the hardships she faced, it is amazing to see how far she has come. Joyce's family originated from Texas and Indiana. Her maternal grandparents were Dilly Thomas and Shirley Thomas. Her paternal grandparents were Calvin Ross and Bell Adams. Joyce's parents were both born in Texas. Her mother, Grace Elizabeth Thomas, was only 15 when she married Henry Graham Ross, Joyce's father. At 17, Gracie had twins, which at that time came as a surprise. Women didn't know if they were having one baby or two until the birth! The couple had 12 children altogether. The family lived in Peacock, Texas and tried to make a go at farming.
Joyce was born on June 21, 1929. She remembers going to Double Mountain Baptist Church in the family's horse-drawn wagon. She also remembers going to big church picnics. "The thing I remember most is I used to sit in the lap of this first grade teacher when we went to church. In 1982, I went back to Peacock for a reunion and I got to see the teacher again. I asked her if she remembered a little girl named Ross who used to sit on her lap at church...and she did!"
With ten brothers and sisters, two having died a year after they were born, the family did not have much money. Joyce remembers it was hard for her father to feed the whole family. "We lost everything in the Dust Bowl," she explained. The family decided to move to Arizona and live with her aunt and uncle. Joyce explained that Arizona was considered the place of promise in those days; people talked that Arizona had land, opportunity, jobs...whatever you wanted. Joyce says the family "looked like the Grapes of Wrath" as they packed up and headed west. They made it as far as El Paso before they ran out of money. Her brothers were musicians and had played in a band at social events in Texas. They sold their musical instruments so that the family could have enough money to make it to Arizona.
When they reached their aunt and uncle's house in Queen Creek, there was nothing but tents for the farmworkers to live in. For several years, the family lived in tents that had dirt floors. Joyce's mother would wet the dirt floor each morning and night, trying to keep the dust down. When the family first moved into the tent, they didn't have money for an oven. The older boys went to a local junkyard and got the parts to build their mother an oven so she would be able to cook. Joyce recalls," Mom had a rough life, a very rough life." The family worked in fields picking cotton in order to make money. After several years living in the tents, the family finally had enough money to move into a house in Queen Creek. There, they continued to work in the fields and pick cotton to make money.
As soon as Joyce was old enough, she too joined her family in the fields. Since picking cotton was a full-time job, Joyce did not get to start school in the beginning of the year until seventh grade. Joyce always worked through until December and then would start school for the 2nd half of the year. She remembers her father would give each child half of the money he/she earned and would keep the other half to support the family. The children could use their half of the money to buy school clothes or other things they wanted.
Because of the large size of Joyce's family, her parents did not spend much time with their children. "I wasn't close to my mom or dad, either one," she explained. She was very close to her older brother Sam; "He was my hero. He was more of a father to me than my own father was". Sam was the one she went to for advice and support. When her parents followed the farm work to California for an extended time, Joyce lived with Sam and his wife so that she could experience a stable home in Gilbert.
Joyce remembers Gilbert as a nice place to grow up. "You felt safe here; you never heard of crime; you never locked your doors." However, there was not much for young people to do. Joyce said she and her siblings would walk to town 2-3 times a week to go to Weber's Drug store to meet up with other kids. They went to dances on Saturday night on a large outdoor platform where bands played, and people listened to music.
Everyone in her family who had gone to school had ended up not graduating, and Joyce quickly followed in her family's footsteps. "I was a good student until I got boy crazy," Joyce said laughing. Joyce met a man named Gerald Hill at the age of fourteen and quickly fell in love and married him in November of 1947, her eleventh year of schooling. After they married, Joyce dropped out of school and became a full-time wife. Gerald had already bought a house before they had married, and they moved in there along with his brother and sister in-law. By the age of twenty, Joyce had two kids fourteen months apart. Her eldest was a boy named Grant and the next child was a girl named June. She recounts how with "sixty years of marriage, we never were alone in the house; we always had children or family with us".
After Gerald retired, Joyce became an aide on the special needs bus for Gilbert School District and did that for fourteen years before finally retiring at the age of 72. Joyce then decided to run a thrift store in the Gilbert Historical Museum. She ran the thrift store for three years, and raised $37,000 for the museum in the process.
Joyce now has ten grandchildren, twenty great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. She lost her oldest granddaughter to cancer and her oldest grandson to a motorcycle accident. These days she enjoys lunching with a group of women she's known since school; they call themselves "The Old Ladies' Club." She also spends time working at the Gilbert Historical Museum on the war veterans' memorials.
Joyce states that she lived a good life
and that "they may not have had everything that they wanted, but they always had what they needed". Now at the age of 79, Joyce is living a healthy life. Even with the tragedy that has happened in her life, she has managed to live her life to the fullest and has survived all of the struggles with dignity and grace. "It's been a good life," she explained, "a rough life but a good life."
Photos courtesy of the family.
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