In Memory of Grandma Shankey & Grandpa Leroy
by admin / Rabbi Frankie Sanmdel
A few weeks after celebrating his 96th birthday, my grandfather, Leroy, passed away. He died on March 21st, the 28th of Adar, just shy of three months after my grandmother, Shankey passed away - January 7th, the 14th of Tevet.
For the past nine months that Elaina and I have been kicking off Base, we’ve also been counting down the final days of my grandparents’ lives. My grandfather entered hospice in August, and from then, our lives have included frequent trips to Florida and my parents spending most of their time there. It’s felt painful and scary to lose a loved one, and to watch my mother lose both her parents - even after full and blessed lives. Needless to say, every day that we’ve been building Base, I’ve had at least part of my mind there. At the same time, I feel a lot of gratitude for the ways that their lives, and end of life, have made this time especially meaningful. I wanted to share some of the things I learned and noticed in this time of transition:
My grandparents modeled a loving partnership that inspires us as we are building our own home and relationship. The first year of my marriage coincided with the last year of theirs. They celebrated their 72nd anniversary in September; we celebrated our first in January. When we were hanging out in their apartment after my grandfather's funeral last week, we found two separate boxes of letters, one Leroy’s and one Shankey’s, all from the first few years of their courtship, sharing words of love, flirtation, vulnerability, honesty, and extremely dry humor.
These letters set the foundation that held true throughout their lives. Though I won’t claim they were always sunshine and butterflies, as far as I can tell their mutual love and commitment stayed strong; especially towards the end, it was amazing to see how fiercely and tenderly they cared for each other and doted on one another up through their last moments.
The depth of my grandparents' kindness, the respect that guided their relationships, and their commitment to family shone particularly bright in their final months. People of all stripes loved my grandparents. Whether it was friendships they maintained over decades, that time they met someone in line at a play in London and learned that they were literal cousins, or the care depth of relationship they built with their care team over the past few years, they fully and unpretentiously embodied the value of seeing the divine spark in every person.
I felt this personally, as I got queer married in a queer suit to my queer love, and my grandparents have embraced it fully. They embraced Elaina as a member of the family (I think Leroy was sometimes more excited to see her than me…), did their best to remember my name, and said beautiful, affirming things about the way I’ve settled into my body in the past few years.
Fun fact: my grandfather founded Arby’s. Like, the fast food chain. You can read the details in his obituary. The week of his funeral was full of stories about the ins and outs of creating the business which, whatever you feel about roast beef and/or capitalism, is a pretty cool thing to do. One element of the journey that got a lot of attention was the company filing chapter 11 bankruptcy in the 70s, and then my grandfather’s work to bring it back to life, which he did.
Base Bay and Arby’s are very different initiatives, but from hearing his stories, it’s clear that they both stem from creativity, vision, and grit. The values at the heart of Arby’s in its early days, according to my family, were “high quality, take good care of customers, and treat everybody nice” – values that also drive us in building Base (though we don't call y'all customers). And, hearing the way a massive struggle became the crowning jewel of his success story feels particularly inspiring as we wade through the many challenges of building community. I am grateful for a model of holding onto struggles and continuing to tell their stories alongside the victories.
Plus, have you ever had a Jamocha shake? They’re excellent.
There’s so much more to say about the epic forces that were my grandparents and I’d love to share with you. I particularly appreciate specific questions (like, what’s one thing you learned? Or, do you have a memory from childhood?)