family

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 ...

Getting these keys moving again

 few weeks ago I started typing on one of my dad's old typewriters. The arms of each key on the Royal Arrow moved slowly, as if moving through molasses. My words tripped over themselves,  caught in the machine's throat. Dust dulled the dark gray casing of the machine. Another typewriter sat on a table across the room. A portable Corona, its curved black shell was decorated with a gold-colored paint, although the decoration was muted somewhat by the years passed since the machine was owned by the journalist Melville Jacoby, a cousin of my grandmother's who died in an accident in the Pacific as he covered World War II. Also known as Mel Jack, I hope to share his story another time -- I only invoke him now because I can't help thinking about those machines, about what it feels to squeeze words onto those pages and what it feels like at this moment to string words across this screen.