A Reunion of Sorts

Mel memorial pamphlet inside front cover

California, here I come, right back where I started from. In a little less than two weeks I'll hit the road for Palo Alto, California, the home of Stanford University. That's where Melville Jacoby earned his bachelor and master's degrees in the 1930s (it's also where his wife, Annalee Whitmore Jacoby Fadiman was the first female managing editor of the daily student newspaper and where other close friends, such as Shelley Smith Mydans, studied). It's a trip I've long been waiting for, and one that wouldn't be possible without the support, encouragement and financial contributions I've received since I first launched my Kickstarter campaign and then launched the current fundraising campaign. Yes, I'll be retracing Mel's footsteps and digging through archives, but I'm most excited for what might best be described as a reunion. One of the more fascinating aspects of Melville Jacoby's life was his relationship with Ka Yik Chan (later known as George K.Y. Chan). Chan was Mel's roommate at Lingnan University, in Guangzhou, where Mel spent his sophomore year of college. The two became fast friends. As is evident in photos and letters home, Mel was quite fond of Chan and treasured the adventures the two took around China. Even my grandmother and her sister -- Mel's younger cousins -- recall the stories Mel told of their travels when he returned home. For example, Chan's father was an influential landowner in Southern China -- what some refer to as a "warlord." On one of Mel's trips with Chan to the family's compound, the two were picked up by a sedan chair. Though Mel came from a wealthy family in Los Angeles, he was modest about his status, and particularly uncomfortable with the idea of Chinese peasants carrying to the compound a young European man who could have easily walked the dirt road.

After Mel died and after the conclusion of World War II, Chan was forced to leave China. His family had become a target of the communist regime that had come to control the country. Chan moved first to Hong Kong and then, after abandoning everything but his wife and children, to the U.S., where he settled in San Francisco in the early 1950s. There, Chan and his wife started a Dim Sum restaurant and raised their family as Americans.

Two Families Meet

My grandmother (Mel's cousin and also Stanford grad, by the way) and I have long discussed how curious we are about what happened to this man who was such an integral part of Mel's life. Had it not been for their friendship and Chan's hospitality, Mel may have had a very different in China, and may not have fallen in love with that country the way we did. You'll have to read the book (and, hopefully, help me afford to research and write it) to learn more about that love and about Mel's time at Lingnan. Last fall, I was finally able to speak on the phone with one of Chan's daughters and learned just a little bit more about their family. Since then, Emmy has been one of my biggest cheerleaders for this project, stressing how much her father would want to see Mel's story told.

Now we'll have a chance to meet in person. The same weekend I'm in Palo Alto, my grandmother plans to visit my aunt (yet another Stanford alum - that side of my family's rife with them). While we're there, we'll meet Emmy and her sisters (all of whom still live in the Bay Area) for the first time in our lives. Though as a young girl one of the sisters once met Mel's mother during a family visit to Los Angeles, over the years the ways of the world meant our families did not stay in touch. Now we will have a chance to reconnect, to get to know one another, and to share stories about these loved ones of ours. My grandmother also plans to bring photos and other materials of Chan's to share with his daughters, some of which they most likely have never seen.

This is one of those amazing things about life: the way we thread ourselves in and out of each other's worlds, the way these oceans of years can still be crossed, the the pages keep turning.

This is one of those amazing things about life: this is only possible because you've made it happen.

California, here I come.

Right back where I started from.