Memorial Day Remembrances

Sixteen years ago Bill and I had downsized and were living in a condo in downtown Seattle. Our daughter was married and living in Redmond on the far side of Lake Washington. Before I continue, here’s a little background about our son-in-law. When we met him, his name was Jon Barbaro. He and our daughter, Jeanne T., met and became good friends when they were both attending Pima College and doing volunteer work for Special Olympics.

Jon was from Tucson originally and had done two tours of duty with the Marine Corps in the Middle East during Desert Storm. When he married his first wife, Jeanne T. was an invited guest at the wedding. Years later, when Jon and Jeanne T. reconnected, that first wife had taken her goods, bailed on him, and filed for a divorce. Jon, then in the Coast Guard and left with nothing but a bar stool and a phone book, was living in Alameda in a stripped-bare apartment. Jeanne T. and Jon started out as friends again, but that quickly changed to romance. Then, shortly after they began dating, Jon was diagnosed with melanoma and given the grim prognosis of maybe five years. At that point, Jon tried to break up but she said, “No way.” A year and a half later they married.

Theirs was and still is one of the happiest weddings I have ever attended, despite the fact that the wedding rehearsal was delayed for an hour and a half due to a police chase from a failed bank robbery that came to an end a block and a half from the wedding venue. My mother watched the drama play out from her hotel room window as one of the robbers got shot in the butt before cops loaded him into a squad car. I’m pretty sure it was a memorable wedding for Evie, too.

At the end of the wedding ceremony, when the minister presented the newly married couple, he introduced them as “Mr. and Mrs. Jon Jance.” That was the first I knew that Jon had decided to relinquish his last name, one that had come via an impermanent stepfather, in favor of taking Jeanne T.’s name. Believe me, that’s one way of finding a permanent place in your mother-in-law’s heart.

By then Jon was two years into treatment, including multiple surgeries and chemo. He and Jeanne T. had been told that, due to the chemo, it was unlikely they’d have kids, so they had golden retrievers and bought a small house. But then surprise, surprise, something our daughter first thought to be food poisoning turned out to be a serious case of morning sickness. That’s when our grandson, Colt, appeared on the scene.

With Jon in and out of the hospital, Jeanne T. found herself dealing with a newborn almost singlehandedly. As a result I was spending a lot of time commuting back and forth across Lake Washington and shuttling either to hospital rooms or to their house in Redmond. At that point, Bill said, “Our daughter is going to end up being a single mom. We need to live closer.” And that’s when we purchased this home in Bellevue, three miles or so from where they live with no Lake Washington in between. We bought the house in May and moved in in June. The first family event we held here was the reception following Jon’s funeral that August. Colt, our grandson, was nine months old at the time.

When we bought the place, the near backyard was all hard surfaces. There was zero shade around the pool where the border was planted with yucca—ouch! The far back yard was all hard surfaces too, including an astroturf putting green, a go-cart track, and a fishpond that wouldn’t hold water. We soon discovered there were water damage issues with the house, and it took several years to sort those. Finally, when Colt was five, we decided it was time to deal with the back yard and hired a landscape architect named Alan Burke of Classic Nursery to handle the job. Which he did, beautifully.

The first thing that happened in the garden remake process was the delivery of a truckload of boulders for the new fishpond. Colt looked at that rock pile and said, “Grandma are you only going to grow rocks in your garden?” Once the rocks were distributed and thanks to Alan Burke, we now have a lovely fishpond that doesn’t leak. And at the bottom of the steps leading to the lower back yard Alan satisfied my life-time’s worth of wisteria envy with a lovely arbor.

In the ten years since then, the garden has become far more than a pile of rocks. These days, I love sitting on our heated back porch in the springtime and looking downward at layer upon layer of different shades of greenery—the dark green of the vines and palms in the hanging baskets; the wisteria arbor which, depending on the season, is sometimes lavender sometimes chartreuse; a red-leafed Japanese maple on the front side of the pond; and the shiny fronds of the palm trees planted on the fishpond’s island. In the back ground is our neighbor’s lush stand of towering Douglas firs.

For years my favorite pieces of the garden have been the fishponds and the wisteria arbor. Originally we stocked the ponds with twenty-five cent goldfish from Pets Mart, one of which grew to be a koi I called the Big Guy. Another out-sized goldfish was named, Big Orange, and the two of them actually had an orange and gray offspring. For Father’s Day each year, Jeanne T. and Colt usually restock our fish population.

At the beginning of spring this year we had 30 or so fish In the back pond and almost as many in the front, but then a marauding heron came calling. Now there are no fish in the back pond and I thought the same was true of the front pond as well. I hadn’t seen any fish there for weeks. Last night I dreamt I went down the the pond and the Big Guy was there, so today, just for argument’s sake, I threw some food into the front pond. Later, while I was sitting here writing, the heron showed up and I was able to fire off one of my handy-dandy Nerf gun whistling bullets at that fish-eating creature. He took off like a shot. Since he still believed there were first there, I went down to check one more time. Low and behold, there was Big Guy and Big Orange, too!!! YAY!!!! You can bet that we’ll be sitting guard on the porch every afternoon from here on out. (By the way, the Nerf Gun was a Mother’s Day gift several years ago from Jeanne T. and Colt.)

As for the wisteria? It hasn’t fared so well. Last week the beams that serve as cross braces in the arbor collapsed under the weight of all those lovely magnificent lavender flowers. Kerblammo! The accompanying photo was taken by a visitor named Karen Hugg the week before.

And so, as our fifteenth Memorial Day without Jon comes around, all those memories are intertwined, not unlike gnarled wisteria branches. We live in this house because of Jon and Colt. Things change and life goes on. The ponds are still beautiful even without the fish in the back one. The arbor isn’t what it was before, but the wisteria, although somewhat broken, is unbowed.

As for Colt? Because of Jon’s melanoma, his mom wanted her son to participate in a sport that didn’t require sunscreen. She chose bowling, and the kid took to it like a duck to water. A couple of weeks ago, at a regional pro/am tournament, he bowled a 278, a 242, and a 279. Not bad for a fifteen year-old.

As so many other families in this country are all too painfully aware, Memorial Day isn’t just for picnics and hot dogs. It’s a day for personal reflections and remembrances, and these are mine.

PS. Here’s the link to the Seattle Times article featuring my garden.

Seattle Times

43 thoughts on “Memorial Day Remembrances

  1. What a nice way to remember your son-in-law. I am still trying to figure out why somebody would be growing a yucca in Washington? It looks beautiful in the desert but that is where it belongs. I hope you have a great Memorial Day.

    • Your garden is beautiful. Only now can I understand how you could leave Tucson for Bellevue.

  2. I remember some years ago there was a story in a Seattle newspaper about your garden. I think it was in a Sunday magazine. Could you post a link to that? You have a beautiful spot.

    I had an uncle who died in the Battle of the Bulge and a brother who served in Viet Nam. He came back fine, but was killed in a work related accident. My former husband served in the Navy in peace time. I spend the day quietly at home remembering.

    • I too remember the Seattle Times Sunday magazine article about the Janice backyard that included some nice photos.

    • I have just discovered the link to the article in the Seattle Times about your garden. Thank you for posting it. It is such a lovely spot.

  3. Very moving memories. Brought me to tears. And I laugh at the thought of you standing guard with your Nerf gun. Thank you.

  4. What a lovely heartwarming story. I too have service related memories for Memorial Day and wish that the general public would truly recognize the day for the reason it was created. I feel it has become a day of vacation and not recognition for those who served our country.

  5. Thanks for ‘opening’ your home’s landscape to your followers!
    I lived in NE Seattle in ’80 and conquered a bilevel garden (I was younger then!) and still remember it fondly!

  6. Oh the heartache of the ravages of cancer break my heart. Wishing happiness and health to your daughter and your grandson. Your letter made me cry. My happy spot today is your book is on the way. Live to you all this holiday.

  7. I had to laugh at Colt’s comment about growing rocks. 40 years ago my wife and I had purchased a new home in Ahwatukee, a Suburb of Phoenix. We landscaped the front yard with a black plastic liner covered with decomposed granite. After smoothing it out, we hosed it down to settle the dust and compact it, a common practice. As we were hosing it, my sister from Wisconsin drove up. She told me that I had been in the AZ sun too long, as no matter how much I watered, the rocks would not grow.
    Looking forward to Unfinished Business.

    • Some years ago I visited Coronado Island, California, as my husband was in the Navy. There were several front yards that were planted with ivy instead of grass. I thought it was a good idea altho people said that snakes tended to live in the ivy. I live in Connecticut where I think ivy would die in the winter and never come back.

  8. This brought tears, and laughs picturing you with the Nerf gun.
    Thank you for sharing your memories . I look forward to reading your blog every Friday .

  9. Every time I hear the story of Jon, Jeanne and Colt I am incredibly moved. It’s a beautiful story and you tell it so well. It definitely comes from your heart.

  10. Loved your writing today and the beautiful picture! Sometime ago you sent a picture of a yellow butterfly bench in your garden. I was so enthralled I went online and ordered myself a butterfly bench. Thanks so much for your Friday updates. Jo

  11. Thanks for a glimpse of your life and your beautiful garden. Would you be fun to sit and have a visit with you watching the fish in your front yard.

  12. “As so many other families in this country are all too painfully aware, Memorial Day isn’t just for picnics and hot dogs. It’s a day for personal reflections and remembrances, and these are mine.”
    Thank you for sharing deeply personal and beautiful memories with your readers, reminding us of what this day should be about.
    Do I look forward to the Indianapolis 500? Sure, but I also take time to remember my Uncle Ernie who survived a grenade in his WWII tank. Until his death, he always honored his fellow soldiers, quietly and humbly and always with gratitude.

  13. What a lovely story
    I lived in Bellevue for 17 years. Still.miss the pacific northwest.

  14. Thanks for sharing your memorable story and beautiful pictures of your wisteria and backyard.

    • Ah, wisteria! What a beautiful sight! I love a glimpse of your backyard! Thank you for allowing us to know your amazing life stories!

  15. Thank you for this essay today. Many of us can relate to the loss of loved ones because of war ad it’s aftermath. For my parents it was WWII, for my step-dad it was Korea, for me Viet Nam, and for my daughters the Gulf Wars.
    So enjoy these essays and the wisdom contained each week.

  16. I have to agree with Jonathan about the yucca. We live in Las Cruces but are from Seattle. I don’t have yucca or cactus in our yard , too many stickers and they both collect plastic bags and trash from all the spring winds. Loved the picture of your wisteria. I do miss the plants of western Wash. but not the gray days. Thanks for sharing your memories and reminding us of the importance of Memorial Day. My Dad was retired navy and in WW2, my husband is retired Air Force, and one son is also retired Air Force. I put our flag out early this morning.

  17. Thanks for sharing. Glad to know that there are still bowling places around. The two we had in the Ballard area of Seattle are both gone.

  18. Really enjoy your Seattle and Arizona based series, they make me feel like I am there! Today’s blog remembering your son in law’s death from melanoma came on the 16th anniversary of my red haired sister’s death from melanoma. Darn sun.

  19. We know Colt and Jeanne T through bowling, this is such a beautiful story.

  20. Thanks for sharing that Memorial. Never stop writing…you have such a gift.

  21. You write good blog… we lost one of our nephews to the same cancer you sone in law had it’s a sad illness .
    This holiday is for reflection and thank you’d to all the men and women we lost in war … I hope you have a wonderful family celebration .

  22. Judy, you always bring a smile and you always bring up memories. I must admit, though, I don’t remember hearing about the wedding delay because of a police chase. Thanks for your memories and for mine.

  23. From an Army wife and a family who was heavy into military service – thank you Jon Jance and God Bless! Memorial Day is special to me and we will celebrate Monday with a very close Gold Star Family. Thank you for this post – perfect!

  24. What a beautiful story. Jeannie and Colt are so lucky to have you and Bill helping them get through such loss. I’m pretty sure you and Bill feel that you are the lucky ones to have a wonderful daughter and grandson in your lives. Your garden sounds lovely. It makes me happy that you have beautiful surroundings. You are so deserving for all the wonderful hours of reading you provide to us, your fortunate fans. I loved the wedding story…I’ll bet Evie enjoyed all the unexpected excitement!

  25. Sometimes you make me laugh….sometimes you make me cry. Thank you for this story and I pray for a good Memorial Day for your family.

  26. This was a beautiful memory of your son-in-law. Your wisteria arbor looks beautiful from the picture. I wish I could have read the article. Your stories are very good, as are your books. I enjoy them very much.
    Have a wonderful holiday with your family!

  27. You are one blessed lady and you bring joy to us through everything you write….keep sharing, please…???????

  28. We are celebrating Memorial on the patio looking out over a low tide…. . A long line of American flags are vigorously flapping on poles all along the bay, we can see Rainier and downtown Seattle from here… my parents met in Finchhaven New Guinea on an Army base in 1942. Dad was exec officer and mom led a group of young nurses from Virginia into an uncertain new field of service…. they were both issued machetes and pistols..and were also in Manila in the Phillipines. they were brave, and dedicated 30 year olds… service to defend our freedom… they survived 4+ years of quinine water and injured young troops…they were Veteran’s… they did what our nation requested….

  29. Only you and your family could have a bank robbery delay a wedding rehearsal!! I think you should work that into a book. I’m sorry for your family’s loss of Jon.

  30. Years ago when I still lived in Lexington MA, the local paper printed a series of crime report anecdotes about the theft of valuable (expensive) koi from local residents’ fishponds. Then one week came a slightly longer article. One of the owners of said ponds had installed a camera, and caught the thief on camera. The great blue heron was not arrested, and that was the last we saw in the paper about fish theft!

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