30 Days of Thanks: Thanksgiving without Mel
Today is a melancholy day for me. Yes, on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for so much – family, friends, faith, health, career – all the usual blessings we tend to reflect upon this time of year.
But Thanksgiving Day is different this year, and probably will be for years to come.
You see, since I met my wife nearly 20 years ago, I’ve spent most Thanksgivings with her family, usually at her aunt and uncle’s home in northeast Iowa. And each visit was made memorable by my wife’s grandfather, Mel.
I experienced Mel fully each Thanksgiving Day, usually through a barrage of questions and curiosity. That was his thing. The conversations helped Mel connect people through relationships he’d forged in life.
Despite his small stature and quiet presence, Mel built big things. From the ground up, he constructed the story-and-a-half house he shared with his wife of more than 60 years. Mel made his living with his hands, too, most notably as a carpenter and handyman for one of Dubuque, Iowa’s largest department stores.
Mel created with his heart, too, forging countless friendships that lasted decades, often through unselfish acts of kindness, like ringing bells for the Salvation Army, or volunteering at his local church.
His favorite questions started with, “Do you know so-and-so?” Or, “Have you ever met this person?” – Mel's sparkly blue eyes making him impossible to resist. It wasn’t that he was necessarily interested in my answers as much as he was in using my reactions to learn more about me – or anyone else he approached – during those November gatherings.
For an introvert like me, the conversations were uncomfortable at first. But after a few visits, it was old hat, and we would play the “do you know?” game, all the while getting to know each other better.
Sadly, Mel passed away in September after complications from a stroke. He was 91, and is dearly missed on this Thanksgiving Day by those who got to know him best.
I’ll miss those blue eyes, which would draw you into conversation and force your guard down.
I’ll miss trying to connect the people in our lives, and the opportunity to learn more about each other along the way.
I’ll miss visiting Mel, and spending time in his neat-as-a-pin home he built with his hands some 70 years ago. The house is still there – nestled among a sprawling university campus – but it’s not a home without Mel.
Yes, I’m thankful for the time I knew Mel and the conversations we had, but melancholy about having to spend today without his presence – and the opportunity to know him better.
Rest in peace, Grandpa Mel.