, Salem, MA

November 20, 2007

Finding hope amid the rubble: The Joyces thankful for family, community's help

Amanda McGregor

DANVERS — Donna Joyce's hope chest is symbolic.

It was the one piece of furniture that survived the Danversport explosion, and now it sits in the parlor window of Donna and John Joyce's new modular home at 9 Bates St.

"Now I have something to pass on to my daughter," she said.

John gave Donna the hope chest more than three decades ago, and during the blast, the chest shielded its contents -- most importantly, the christening gown Donna had made from her wedding dress for their daughter, Jennifer.

After being displaced for 10 months and living in a rented condominium, the Joyce family returned home to Danversport on Sept. 27 to their new pale green colonial with white trim, paid for by insurance.

"I'm extremely happy to be home, and it's more beautiful than anything I've ever had," Donna said. "We sit in the den and I say, 'I love my house,' and John says, 'I love my house, too.'"

The Joyces' old house backed up against the ink manufacturing plant that blew up. The night of the explosion, John was downstairs, awake, when the blast went off at 2:46 a.m. The force separated the stairs from the second floor, so they just hung by the carpeting. Donna, who has multiple sclerosis, screamed for her husband from their upstairs bedroom, while their daughter was in her adjacent bedroom.

Since that night, John said he was determined not to dwell on what they'd lost.

"I adopted the philosophy that all I needed was my wife and kids, and I'm all set," he said. Their son, John, is in the Navy stationed abroad, and was away during the explosion.

The Joyces threw a thank-you party on a recent Sunday for all the help their church gave them in the tumultuous days and months following the Thanksgiving Eve chemical plant explosion. Countless friends offered them food, clothing, money and more.

"You have no food, no clothes, no place to live, no vehicle," Donna recalled of the immediate aftermath.

Dick O'Neill, a fellow parishioner at Cavalry Episcopal Church, took Donna Joyce's hope chest and repaired the exterior blast damage, then refinished it.

"That touched my heart," she said.

"It's been quite a trip, I tell you," Donna said. "It's weird the anniversary falls on Thanksgiving this year."