Friday, October 31, 2008

Melvin G. Rowell, Jr.

My cousin, Mel, died today from cancer. My dad said that when the nurse came in to insert a catheter just a day ago, even heavily drugged for his pain, Mel was still cracking jokes for her. And that was pure Mel: a generous soul who always saw the humor in life. It's surprising in some ways because he was someone who was plagued with health problems for as long as I can remember. Some people allow their obstacles to turn them bitter and angry; others refuse to give into that (understandable) impulse and instead focus on the needs of others. In Mel's case, he became a pastor at a small, rural church outside Dallas—so small that he had to work as an electrician in order to pay his bills. But I don't imagine he minded it all that much: he was someone of great faith and I have no doubt that he felt this was where he was needed most.

When we were kids, my sisters and I enjoyed the times when we went down to Houston to see my dad's brother and his family or when they came to visit us in Fort Worth. Some of that was our ages: Mel and his sister, Naomi, were almost exactly the same age as me and Kelly; I think Melody may be right between Heather and Ellen, my two youngest sisters. We also got to see each other more often than my mother and her siblings (they all lived further away, in Missouri and California). I don't remember any awkwardness whenever we were all reunited: it seems as though we all jumped out of the car and started playing, picking up again where we'd left off in our last visit. Even as teenagers with fewer common interests, I still looked forward to seeing Mel and catching up on where his life was taking him.

Since we've become adults, however, we've had few opportunities to be together: my uncle Gene got a promotion that took the family to Florida while I was in college and although Mel eventually moved back to Texas, that was around the time I came to New York. Mel was at Catherine's and my wedding in 1993 and I have a silly photo of him posing "drunk on champagne" (he wasn't, of course). The last time I saw Mel and his wife, Pam, was in 1995, all too briefly, at our grandmother's funeral.

And still, I'll miss him more than I can say.

No comments: