The journey to ones self
The journey to find ones self is never ending. It is a winding road often traveled without knowledge that the twists and turns it takes will render the seeker grief stricken, wounded yet victorious. Such has been the journey of Joyce Poche’ Bernard, long time resident of Orange. Her path has lead her to many discoveries of not only herself but also the long past of Acadians. Even at her present age of 90, her wealth of knowledge and love of the subject of her Cajun heritage has not waned.
Her personal victories are as fascinating as the stories she oft wove in pen.
With respectful submission being honorably established, one cannot speak with this nonagenarian without grasping the reality of all the changes her eyes have witnessed. Though this is no revelation, what is profound is the vivid and stable memories that are housed in her mind.
“I have a photographic memory,” she says, “and I can relive what I remember as if it just happened.” Some might agrue this ability is a gift and a curse, but Joyce has used it to write. “Writing has been my sanity!” She confides, “Even though it wasn’t something women were supposed to do.”
The majority of what she has written for the public consumption has been about her Acadian heritage written from the memories of a childhood and her rearing in and around the area of Breux Bridge, La.
“I have memories from when I was a year old. It’s a good thing we don’t know what were are going to have to go through when we are young.” She sits shaking her head, a smile fading from her lips. One can only imagine the trials her trip through 90 years has seen. She doesn’t speak of them with animosity or sadness.
Moving to Orange after her marriage to Paul C. Bernard is one of those memories.
“We moved here like so many others. To help with the war effort they called it,” she says of what brought her to Texas in 1941.
She remembers that many of the ship builders didn’t even speak English, only the Acadian-French of her childhood.
“They interveiwed many of them and had to have someone interpret for them.”
She tell of a much different Orange than what the youth of today see.
“It was so crowded there was no where to sleep. Some slept in tree houses, on people’s porches, even in chicken coops. We were patriotic and proud. We have been called the greatest generation, we experienced the Great Depression, and World War II, but we did what needed to be done. We didn’t know if our children were goin to be speaking German.”
Memories bring what they bring but are, after all, only shadows of what has been. Memories bring hurt as well as they sustain. Her sorrow is more evident when speaking of the losses. The mother of nine has lost her husband in 1981 and her mother not long after. Her two living siblings have also since passed away. Through it all her writing and the thoughts of her childhood and hertiage has been her comfort.
“I went on a bus tour to Nova Scotia three years after my husband died. I stood in harbor where the ships left Acadia to sail to Louisiana in 1765. I could just see them there, even hearing the cries of the children who had been seperated from their parents.”
Long before this bus tour she began writing for a local paper. As one of the first writers of the Penny Record, she has also had a life long love for news. Everything she submitted was done in her hand writing as she didn’t know how to type.
“One of my biggest fears was falling on my face in print!” She laughs wholeheartedly. “It took courage for me to write,” Joyce says, “Many people still didn’t receive the thoughts women had to offer back then.”
There were times those negative voices were quelled. In the summer of 1999 her essay A Cajun Childhood was published in the magazine Country Home. “It was just the way the times were before, children were to be seen and not heard. Women were property and no one wanted to hear their thoughts.”
Joyce, who authored under her maiden name of Joyce Poche’, has known the decades of struggle it has taken those who were looked down on in society. She also knows and understands victory. Because of her love for the Acaidian History and her diligence at penning her memories in vivid detail, the city of St. Martinville, La., the first Acadian Settlement in America, recognaized her as a honorary citizen, also giving her the key to the city.
“To my knowledge I am the only one they have ever honored in this way,” she says smiling.
It is truly an honor to one who has spent the better part of 90 years researching and loving their people’s past. She has evidence of the event around her.
“There is a beautiful life-sized mural there that relives the landing of the ships. The first community of people to live there. It was painted using faces of the people of St. Martinville. Very wonderful to see, to imagine.”
Joyce’s imagination has been her saving grace. A Journal of Remembrances is a compliation of her articles and essays tell her life story, her nostalgic whimsy and fellings about life and living.
Some of the messages are buried deep between the lines, others clearly stated. But she has learned to be careful. It was the way things were when she started out.
Her latest creation, a novel, recreates the environment and experiences she knew as a child. Though not an autobiography, she drew her characters, their nature and their surroundings from all of the places she knew growing up in Louisiana.
“Reflections in a Winding Bayou” is a tale of a young, hard working Acadian youth whose mother hopes to find a way to get him educated.
Joyce laughs and says, “My son is typing it up for me but I can’t decide if I should try to publish it. I don’t want to hurt anyone. They may want their key back!”
When life has handed you more than your share of troubles, as it will in a 90 year period, you deal with it. Cancer and a mastectomy in 1995, deaths, rejection, abandonedment has also been tempered with births, joy, family and purpose.
As the people of the Bayou Teche often said, “La vie est dur,” (life is hard), but “La vie est bonne,” (life is good) as well.
She has nothing to regret, nothing of which to be ashamed. She has taken the journey and still holds on to the future. She worries about our nation, she worries about her children. She is ‘une grande femme’.
Taking a quote from another cajun author from a book about the Acadian struggle to protect their lives, and tweaking it a bit her story is, “an epic of woman’s alienation from her heritage…of her struggles…failures…and triumphs, and her unending determination to establish herself anew.” And for her, that is lagniappe.