She came to America because she felt like God was telling her to go. Her home was at war. Buildings within sight from her window were bombed by the Nazis. Her people were devastated. They were the living among the dead. Others were missing. They just seemed to vanish. Her own cousin ventured out of his home and never came back.
So Jenny disappeared too. She boarded a plane with a one-way ticket from Belgium to New York City where she would meet and marry a man she met by chance seven years prior in an orchard near her home in Belgium.
Jenny was picking apples. Clifton, a US Army photographer 20 years her senior, was developing photos in the makeshift darkroom—a shed next to the field of apple trees. The door was ajar and the wind rushed into the room carrying papers on its back to the outdoors. His white papers destined to be masked in black and white scenes of war, of devastation, drifted through the air in a trail that led to Jenny’s feet. Clifton ran towards her, collected his papers and then stared into the eyes of this Belgian beauty. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. All that he had witnessed on the front lines through his lens was blinded in that instant. The terrible things he couldn’t erase from his mind were gone because in that moment all he could see was the girl and all the girl could see was a man God had placed in her path to give her a chance of a new life—one unfilled with brokenness.
After Clifton returned to the US from the war, they wrote for seven years. Love letters and finally a voyage across seas to wed would seal their fates. They’d live in the white two-story house Clifton lived in as a child where they would raise seven children of their own. They would get by on Clifton’s photography, a bit of writing and farming a field of veggies they called The Patch. They had no hot water and heated bricks in the wood stove to warm their toes at bedtime in the winter. But they were happy with what they had, with each other.
Today marks 90 years of life for Jenny. Despite the fact that she endured and survived one of the greatest tragedies known to man-kind as a girl, took a leap of faith to follow her heart and gave birth to three girls and four boys, Jenny has lived 8.8 years longer than the average woman in the US and she’s made life possible for 21 of us—including her first great grandchild Bellamy Fallais Alston, who took her maiden name as her middle—just like me.
As birth order has it, I was first in line of 13 grandchildren to be my grandma’s namesake. And with a name like Jenny, I can’t help but believe in fate, to find depth in the understanding that out of great tragedy comes the sincere privilege to be truly alive, to listen to what the world tells me, to believe in it, to trust and, more than all else, to love.
This is the story of my Grandma's life as it has been told to me. It is all based on fact. However, like any story, this is my version of the truth.