QUINCY -- Arthritis, two shoulder surgeries and failing knees, Joyce Job works through the pain as she tends to the flowers she plants at the entrance of the Holiday Hill subdivision each season.
Raised by her grandmother on an isolated 80-acre farm north of Quincy, she watched as the aging matriarch of the family wordlessly assumed the bulk of the chores after Job's grandfather died. By 6 years old, Job already had lost her father and her grandfather. Most of what she learned about life came through the way her grandmother conducted herself.
"I always felt a little different," she said. "Everybody in the school had a mom and dad, brothers and sisters."
She did have a brother, but he was 12 years older and moved on to college the same year she began grade school, leaving her and her grandmother on the farm.
"Grandma was a super grandma," she said. "She had arthritis so bad, but she just kept getting down and milking those cows. She broke her arm one time. She pulled it, set it herself and drove into the clinic. They put a cast on it, and she drove right back home and kept busy."
Family, cancer and a sense of purpose
Although she refuses to liken her gardening to her grandmother's running of the farm, the similarities are there. Also a widow, both came to realize life had to go on after their husbands had died.
Homer, Job's husband of 25 years, has been gone for 14 years. He saw her through her first bout with breast cancer, and she fondly remembers how he would do small electrical or carpentry jobs for older women in the neighborhood and wouldn't charge them.
"Everybody liked Homer," she said.
Her 46-year career as a daycare provider kept her preoccupied until she retired two years ago at 72. Now she realizes it's probably time to give up the house -- her three children have since left and started their own families -- and transition to something smaller.
Looking back, though, she was able to give her kids something she never had as a child.
"Being raised, basically by myself," she said, "I decided I was going to have a big family."
Operating the daycare out of their home for several decades, her children were never alone. She doesn't know the effect she had on the hundreds of children she watched over the years, but a recent wedding invitation indicates she may have left a mark of some sort.
"My house was a happenin' place," she said.
Job has been diagnosed with cancer four times -- breast cancer twice and uterine and bladder cancer, in that order. She credits catching it early each time and receiving good care to her survival.
"It makes you wonder why you're here," she said. "What am I supposed to be doing? I ask God, and I think he has pointed me in a few different directions."
After her first diagnosis, she was terrified. By her fourth, she looked back on the three times she already had beaten it and drew comfort from her past triumphs. The experience has given her a new sense of empathy and helped her to appreciate the relationships she has.
"I just try to be kinder," she said. "More thoughtful."
Forging a friendship
The year Homer died, the woman two doors down, Sharon Zehnle, became a widow as well. They had always been neighborly. Out of the common bond of loneliness, Job began inviting Zehnle to dinner, and the two forged an extremely close friendship.
"We got to be just like sisters," she said. "Anything I need, she's there."
Zehnle and Job have worked together on the flowers at the foot of Holiday Hills for over a decade. What began as an idea to fix up a rusted flowerbed has grown to become a yearly endeavor and a point of pride for the two friends who often receive thumbs ups from neighbors who appreciate their efforts to brighten the neighborhood.
"When I first went down there to work, I would always look around, waiting for someone to come down and say, 'You can't do this,'" Job said. "Then I just got a little braver."
For years the duo filled the trunks of their cars with water jugs every night -- except for when it rained -- and drove down to the entrance to water the several flower beds they had planted. Decorating the beds for holidays became a tradition, and one Christmas, they incorporated an artificial Christmas tree, many presents and even a pink children's bicycle into the scene.
"That bike was there the whole time," she said. "We wondered if anybody would take it, but nobody touched it."
Zehnle recently had to bow out from the gardening. Both were looking for smaller homes, ideally in the same complex so they could continue living close to each other, but Zehnle recently moved into Bickford Senior Living.
"We would drive around different subdivisions looking at condos," Job said. "We both thought it would be cool if we could live close enough to keep getting together."
Job has had arthritis since her early 20s, and it has progressed over the years. She hopes to keep planting as long as she lives there, but decorating for holidays will have to go.
"I enjoy seeing people look at the flowers when they drive by," she said. "A couple people have stopped and said they don't even live in Holiday Hills but always drive by."
Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.