I try to keep this blog to topic: farming and sustainable living anecdotes from Nicaragua and Latin America. But this time I’m stretching that to include something much more personal. My maternal grandmother passed away at the beginning of November, prompting a last-minute ticket purchase back to the states to be with my family. This being the month that starts with the Day of the Dead in Latin America, and also being Thanksgiving time, I’ve done a lot of reflecting about her, my late grandfather, several other family members who have passed away, and how they have all contributed to who I am. Much of the time I spent growing up with my grandparents centered around family agriculture: working in the garden, preparing food from the garden or nearby farms, preserving fruits and vegetables, and even special trips to the local tourism attraction, a dairy farm with a kids “petting farm.” Even though my grandmother never came to Nicaragua, she lived many of the values that I and so many others work to promote here. Talking about it helps to instill pride and value in what has historically been viewed as a humble means of subsistence, and so I want to share the eulogy that I wrote for my Grandmother, Virginia Elizabeth Kavash Metz, who passed away at age 90 on November 5th:
“Our grandmother was an ideal grandma, in the sense that she knew exactly what grandkids liked: fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, lots of stuffed animals, singing and games, and trips to the petting zoo and the ice cream store. When we visited her and Poppop in Pennsylvania she was the heart of the house and most often, I remember her in the kitchen. There was always something wonderful happening there. Pickled beets, canned tomatoes, freezing 100 ears of corn at a time, and making peach custard or ground cherry pie. She kept the top left hand corner cabinet of the kitchen stocked with candy and marshmallows that could easily be accessed once you brought a chair over and climbed up on the counter. Once banished from the kitchen for being underfoot, there was a world to explore. A patch of woods with a dirt bike track in the back yard, a lawn to play baseball, and a vast garden with strawberries, string beans, peas or tomatoes to pick. The piano in the living room is lined with pictures, and after family dinners Grandma and her brother, Uncle Herbie, would play. The piano bench was filled with sheet music – hymns and popular songs from the 1920’s onward. She taught us how to play chopsticks and would play the left hand part with us. Years later, struggling with hands knotted with arthritis, she still loved sitting at the piano, Ginny in the middle of her family, picking out the melody to her favorite hymns.
Our lives have been greatly influenced by time we spent with our grandparents in Pennsylvania. My brothers and I chose to study German at school because of Grandma’s family. Her father emigrated from Austria-Hungary, and Grandma grew up speaking German with her grandmother, and shared her bed-time prayers and table graces with us. When I lived in Germany for a year, Grandma was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of going to Germany. I’ll never forget proudly listening to her labored but successful attempts to relay the stories of her childhood to my host family in German she hadn’t used fluently for years.
Our grandmother was born and raised in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. She had 4 much older half siblings and a mischievous younger brother Herbert. Herbie remembers her as a very caring sibling, and recounts how when they were young she found an injured robin, tended to the injuries and after the bird was healed, trained the robin to eat from her hand, come upon her call and sit on her shoulder. She loved animals and enjoyed the companionship of pets for her whole life. More recently, her morning routine in our house included slipping bits of her breakfast to our dog at her feet, calling the cat to sit next to her, and happily watching the birds at the feeder.
During World War II Grandma joined the Volunteer Medical Service Corps where she enjoyed being part of the Color Guard and especially having the honor to carry the American Flag in parades. We continued to hear stories of the military balls she attended years later. She met her husband, Stanley, while in the Medical Corps and they were married in 1949. For ten years they lived with her family until Stanley finished building a house in Hatfield, where they raised their daughters and established the garden that we knew.
Grandma was a hard worker and supported her family. After high school she worked at a local Hosiery Mill, and for over 30 years she worked at the North Penn Water Authority in the billing department where she hand-wrote entries in the company ledger in her elegant script. Although she retired when I was small, I remember going with her to the office to visit her colleagues, as well as to sewing circle and Sunday services at Lutheran and Mennonite Churches. Her friends called her “Ginny”, and she loved to dress up and go to social events and parties, greeting everyone with a brilliant smile and sparkling blue eyes. She had a great sense of humor that grew more wry as she aged. In the morning, when you asked her how she slept she often would answer nonplussed, “With my eyes shut”. Even as she later struggled with Parkinsons and the mood swings that come with it she always enjoyed making a good joke.
The German table grace Grandma always said roughly translates as, Come lord Jesus, and bless what you with grace have shared with us. Our grandmother shared with us her love of music and animals; the joy and satisfaction of transforming a garden’s harvest into exquisite dinners, pies and jams; her sense of humor; and our heritage. We are so blessed to have all these things that Grandma has given us to continue sharing amongst ourselves.
Komm Herr Jesu, sei unser Gast, und segnet was du uns aus Gnaden besheret hast. Amen.”