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JOHN AND DONNA JOYCE

Kindness, faith got them through

On the verge of retirement before the explosion, the Joyces had planned to sell their house, but decided to stay and rebuild. On the verge of retirement before the explosion, the Joyces had planned to sell their house, but decided to stay and rebuild. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / November 18, 2007

What does a middle-aged couple do after nearly all their possessions disappear in a matter of seconds during a horrific explosion?

"What I can do is move forward," explained John Joyce, who along with his wife, Donna, and daughter, Jennifer, survived the factory explosion that forever changed their close-knit Danversport neighborhood.

A year ago, the Joyces knew their lives were about to change. John was planning to retire from the MBTA and the couple had decided that, after 26 years in their Danversport home, it was time to sell the house, travel, and downsize.

But on Nov. 22, change came before the Joyces had a chance to follow through with their plans. That night, John was scheduled to work one of his last overnight shifts, but called in sick instead. He was still awake around 2:45 a.m., watching TV in his den, when the electricity went out, the room went dark, and glass and doors flew around the house.

He thought a nuclear bomb had exploded, and ran upstairs. Guided by the glow of the nearby inferno, he pulled ceiling tiles off his daughter and wife in their bedrooms, and then led them into the street, where they joined other stunned neighbors. As the fire raged, they learned that no one had been seriously hurt.

Within days, they realized how much their neighborhood had meant to them, and scrapped the idea of selling the house. Instead, they would rebuild. Meanwhile, they rented a condo in Middleton and spent most of their time dealing with adjusters, surveyors, builders, and insurance company representatives.

Thursday nights were spent at the Maple Street Congregational Church, where Danversport neighbors met for a meal each week. "Since the explosion, the neighborhood's gotten that much closer," said Donna, who added that the meetings gave neighbors a chance to discuss and process how the explosion affected their lives.

The Joyces said kind words from neighbors and a strong faith in God helped them deal with the emotional aftereffects of the explosion.

"We're basically normal again, so to speak," said Donna, who praised church members who volunteered to refinish her hope chest, salvaged before their house was torn down. The chest is the only piece of furniture that the Joyces have from their old house. "I was happy because that piece of furniture will be able to be passed down now to my daughter," said Donna.

In late September, the Joyces moved back to Danversport, settling into a new two-story, vinyl-sided modular home on the spot where their old house stood for more than 100 years. The day before they returned, John made a request to the Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas of Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers. "I asked her to bless the house," he said. "She blessed every room, including the bathrooms."

On Thanksgiving they will be home this year, but with a new ritual that began last year when the family ate at a Chinese restaurant on Route 1.

Said John, "I told my brother when he comes for Thanksgiving dinner he's got to stop at the Kowloon and pick up an order of fried rice. It's part of the Thanksgiving tradition."

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