Stanford

I Shall Never Forget Our Friendship

I Shall Never Forget Our Friendship

"I recognize our father immediately," Susie Poon says as she stares at a weathered black and white image of a young Chinese man. is Chan Ka Yik, Melville Jacoby's roommate while the latter was an exchange student at Lingan University in Canton during the 1936-37 academic year.

Poon and her sisters, Emmy Ma and Eva Cheung, their husbands, and three generations of my own family pass ancient photos around the room. The pictures show a prized water buffalo and grinning friends on balconies, boys jumping into swimming holes and old men steering sampans, classes arranged for group photos and candid snapshots. They contrast an elaborate family compound in Guangxi with peasants toiling in the countryside. And they feature handsome young men in three-piece suits, their smiles filled with excitement, adventure and friendship crossing two cultures, two continents, and two countries.

"Mel looked like a movie star," Emmy says, echoing a sentiment many express when they see pictures of Melville Jacoby. But the star today is my grandmother, Peggy Cole, who holds court with a folder full of letters, a pile of photos, and a sheet of notes to which she refers while recounting the adventures Mel, Chan and their classmates took together. Many of the tales she shares she heard from Mel's own mouth when he returned home from his first trip to China and visited his adoring cousins. The others she pieced together from letters and memorabilia she inherited from Mel's mom, Elza. For the first time in half a century our two families connected. As we exchanged memories, new stories took shape.

A Reunion of Sorts

A Reunion of Sorts

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 when we meet the children of Mel's best friend from his time in China ...

A Letter From Melville Jacoby's Best Friend

I was digging through the collection of materials I have at my place related to Melville Jacoby and found a photocopy of a lovely letter written to Mel 74 years ago today. The note was sent by Chan Ka Yik, one of Mel's best friends. The two were roommates at Lingnan University in Canton (now Guangzhou) while Mel was an exchange student there. The letter responds to an earlier mailing Mel had sent. It describes Chan's fondness for his roommate, and, in many ways, is the sort of letter anyone might send to catch up with an old friend. But these greetings are described against a backdrop of war. Though calm seemed to have returned when Chan wrote the letter, it was clearly still a presence.