The Stuff of Novels
Calaveras Enterprise Column 08/03/04

By Antoinette May Herndon

“ The Stuff of Novels “

You can say Irene Perbal Boylson’s life has been filled with excitement. Happy and sad times, but never dull ones.

It began with a drama that might easily have been scripted by Coppola, but was instead up close and tragically personal.

Six-years-old, Irene lived with her family in Amsterdam when the Nazis invaded Holland.
The Perbals, staunch patriots, took an active part in the resistance. Irene’s father hid a Jewish family in the house and was discovered. The child saw her father hauled away by German soldiers. He never came back.

When the war ended, Irene’s mother married a Belgian and the family moved to the Congo. “I was 14,” Irene recalls. “It was a grand adventure. Africa was a beautiful country then. People were happy and friendly, the wild life was plentiful.
I loved everything, though going to a new school was a challenge—I didn’t speak a word of French.”

She learned and learned very well. Four years later Irene returned to Belgium speaking four languages—French, Dutch and two African dialects. (“I’d discovered by then that I really liked language. I wanted to train to become a translator.”)

The only “problem” was Irene’s sweetheart—back in the Congo. Not too surprisingly, she returned to Africa. The couple was married and bought a tea plantation in the hills. Once again, a movie script life only this time a romance.

Elephants, buffaloes and three children. It was a busy life—Irene taught hygiene and first aid to employees and nearby families—but an idyllic one until the Congo received its independence.

“Suddenly things got scary,” Irene recalls. “Several of our friends were murdered. All around us people were running for their lives. It was a sad time for me. I loved Africa. My husband, certain that things would get better, insisted it was only a matter of time before I could return. Instead it was he who joined me in Belgium.”

What to do next? “My husband hated Europe,” she recalls. “Suddenly an agricultural co-op in Brazil looked awfully good.”

For Irene it meant learning another language—Portuguese—but by this time she was good at it. So good that she began working as a translator at the Netherlands Embassy in Brasilia.

Irene went on to translate at the Treaty of the Amazon Countries in 1980 and founded a cultural institute. “It was a wonderful, exciting time,” she recalls. “I worked with heads of state, members of royal families, all kinds of movers and shakers.”

Irene’s life in Brazil ended with her marriage. “My daughter, Magali McGreevy, was living in Glencoe with her husband, Patrick. Moving to the Gold Rush country seemed like one more adventure. Of course I had to learn another language, but what was English after Swahili?”

Irene moved to Jackson four years ago, started an alternative medicine business and remarried.

After only eight months of marriage, Irene’s husband died. “I believe that somehow we were meant to meet so I that I could help him through that time,” she says today. He died in April 2003.

The following November—on Armistice Day—Irene met Michael Boylson, a retired Naval officer. The couple connected via the internet through a mutual love of classical music.

Boylson is an adventurer in his own right. He joined the Navy at 17 and became a dive gunner. Later, Boylson too, enjoyed a worldly, cultural life, in his case as an admiral’s aid in the Mediterranean.

More recently Boylson was technology coordinator for the Manton Joint Union Elementary School District. He, also, has suffered a tragic loss. Boylson’s wife died last August.

“Neither of us has to be reticent about discussing our previous spouses or the grieving process. We each understand perfectly,” Irene says, “besides we have so much in common.”

It looked like a bingo for both of them except that Irene had to return to Brazil in December to take care of business. “You can’t leave now. We just met!” Boylson protested. Then he considered, “I always wanted to go to Brazil.” The next month he followed her.

The two toured Brazil together for a month, came back home, and married in April.

Irene and Mike Bolyson live now in a charming hill top cottage in Mokelumne Hill. Just one more adventure. With another to follow. Next month they leave for an 11 week tour of Europe.