Monday, May 02, 2011

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grandma Jenks with two new grandchildren (me on the right, cousin Aaron--twice as big--on the left)

Grandma Jenks died yesterday evening, the day of her husband’s funeral. Emmaline and Gordon Jenks were married 66 years and died within three days of each other. Death is never pretty, but it doesn't get much more perfect, or romantic, than that. It’s fun to do the math—how long would I have to live? How much must one love another person to have that strength of will, a will that holds strong against death?

The family has spent the last 24 hours poring over the box of photographs we brought over from her house, a box filled with photos most of us have never seen—some from as early as 1895. We’re sharing stories, whatever we can remember. My main regret is that we didn’t take the time to record her telling us the stories. If you have grandparents, go right now and ask them. I always thought I’d have time, somehow. Even six months ago would have been soon enough.

This morning I broke down when I found two packages of lemon jello in the cupboard. Last year, she asked me to make a lemon cake for my dad. She said, “He really likes it.” I ran out of time during my visit, though, and finally went to my dad.

“Do you really want me to make some cake?” I asked.

“I never liked that kind,” he said.

So the truth came out. “Does Dad like that cake?” I asked her. “Or is it you who wanted it?”

“I had a bit of a hankering,” she said, bashfully. That was Grandma all over. Unwilling to ask for things for herself, whether for good or for ill. If she had told me, maybe I could have made it earlier.

But I never baked the cake. I left, flew back to Chattanooga or Chicago or Maine, wherever I was headed. I ran out of time. The lemon jello’s still in the cupboard.

I’m happy we have a record. The pictures, and each other. Our memories. I grieved yesterday, but today I’m joyful. She’s not in pain. She doesn’t need morphine. She’s gone, but so is her cancer.

Grandma and Grandpa Jenks. Happy.


Moxie said...

Our hearts are with you, in sadness and in joy. We think of you so often.Please e-mail us at we are leaving in 30 days to paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (.org) goggle it sometime....we end in Ft Kent Maine,We will think of you and your incredible Gramma and Grampa as we set off on another epic adventure (((((HUGS))))) Love Miss Daisy (Justine) and ATK (TOM,TK)

Melissa said...

Thank you so much, Miss Daisy J and ATK!! I think of you often, and was following your blog for a long while, before I ended up with dial-up internet. I am jealous of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail... The coastal Maine canoe trail has been a desire of mine for a long time. Do you come through Bridgewater? You'll have to stop in for burgers and a shower!

A LIttle Birdy said...

I am so sorry to hear about the death of your grandparents. You and your afmily are in my thoughts. Thanks you for sharing their stories, though. I enjoyed hearing about them.
---A Little Birdy

Melissa said...

Thanks for your condolences. I love telling their stories--I'm not sure why I haven't told them before...

Red Sonia said...

This one is so perfect. My grandmother took up Fritos in her 90's after my granddad died. She said she would not buy them prior, because he didn't like them. I love reading about the complexities of your grandma and your dad in relation to cake! the dialogue is brilliant!

Melissa said...

I love these stories, and we do idolize women like that... It's difficult, too, because I wish my grandma had stood up for herself a bit more often.

Melissa said...

I love these stories, and we do idolize women like that... It's difficult, too, because I also wish my grandma had stood up for herself a bit more often.