|Mom, Peter and me, her 81st birthday, 1994|
Eulogy for Erna Metzner by Linda Metzner, her daughter
October 21, 2001
Three times while looking at Mom’s things I came upon the image of Noah’s Ark. I had bought her a bright colored pants set with the animals marching merrily across her chest. I remembered a family project, creating Noah’s Ark for my niece Amy thirty years ago, Dad building and painting the big wooden ark, myself cutting out and stitching the animals, and Mom providing endless admiration. And here was a little brooch in her cardboard jewelry box, gold-colored animals marching merrily into the big-hulled boat.
Suddenly I knew the theme of Mom’s eulogy. I was always surprised, occasionally embarrassed, and often lifted into a spiritual dimension in the most mundane circumstances with my mother. Maybe there was an impression left in her by that long, scary boat ride all alone when, as a child, the wee Erna departed her German home and grandparents to rejoin her mother in Philadelphia: that first flight into the unknown that caused Mom never again to set foot on another ship after once reaching land. To Mom, we are all boarding Noah’s boat, and God wants all the species.
Everyone, therefore, becomes kin. The handyman hanging up her pictures; the phlebotomist collecting her blood; the apple seller at the Farmer’s Market; the mailman; the shopkeepers; the office workers. Mom would, in a minute, know their names, their children’s names, their thoughts of the moment, and, most importantly, their loving smiles. At age eighty-seven, she would get to know a man in the doctor’s waiting room by telling him how good-looking he was. Thus the source of some embarrassment for Mom’s caretakers!
A vivid memory of her, two hours before her passing: she is looking up into the dark-skinned face of my nurse friend Gwen, who is trying desperately to draw blood from Mom’s thin old veins. Mom looks into Gwen’s face, ten inches from her own, and says, “You are so beautiful.”
I remember Mom decorating my stroller with green crepe paper and pushing me all over Elmhurst, Queens, in the church parade. I remember how her stepdad, Dandy, taught me to bow and say “Salaam”, which he learned from the Muslims in his childhood in Guyana. I remember when Dad told me how he’d gone deer hunting side by side with a black man he had met in the field. I remember trying to reach my brothers in Mom’s last hours, and she telling the nurses, “My children are all big shots.” “You’re not at all proud, are you?”, said the nurse, smiling.
I remember Mom taking the only airplane trip of her life, because airplanes were akin to that big, scary boat that had borne her so long ago to America. She sat between my son Peter and me, squeezing our hands ‘til you could see the marks, just so she could be at the bas mitzvah of her granddaughter Emily. Her first and only airplane flight, at age seventy-nine!
She made me aware of the creative and healing power of generosity. I don’t know how many times she said to me, “For you, anything.” The money they would slip to me to further my education. The immense pride as we all graduated, one by one. The yearning expressed in Daddy’s memory of how the doors of college were closed to his capable mind because of the poverty of his family. I remember the power of his phrase to me, “You’re going to be a scientist!”, which translated to this young woman of the fifties, “You can be anything you want to be.” And Mom’s way of expressing pride: “Daddy will burst his buttons.”
The briefest of events can affect one so strongly. I remember leaving groceries in the back seat of a car and asking Mom, “Should we lock up?” She said, “No. If someone steals our food it’s because they’re hungry.” I had the privilege and the culinary delight of accompanying Mom and Dad as they carried a full course hot meal to Dad’s brother with his three kids, fallen on hard times. The smells in that car were intoxicating. I think the word “generosity” to me secretly means “pork chops and gravy.”
And cooking with Mom was phenomenal. When was there not a pflaumekuchen in the oven, a chicken to be plucked, a soup stirring in the pot? She could have written an encyclopedia entitled “Comfort Food.” And I’m sure that my penchant for music, dance and ceremonies of every description was born in her delight for baby showers, weddings, graduation parties, get-togethers filled with family and friends stretching from the backyard to the basement and out to the garage.
“Holaderia, holadio, holaderia, holadio!” Our favorite beer-drinking songs rang through the air.
Mom’s parents, my grandparents Nana and Dandy, lived with us all their lives. I can only now begin to guess the amount of care and responsibility Mom had in their well-being to the very end. I can only remember how utterly respected and important they were in every aspect of the household, and the big warm lap Nana had ever ready for me to curl into at every need. Here’s where I learned the commandment with the most direct influence upon my life: honor thy father and thy mother, yes, that thy days may be long upon the Earth.
How this one small life with the gigantic spirit could draw so much of the very best from all she knew. How she inspired devotion in people who knew her only minutes. How she made something “click” in people that said, “We are all human, we all love, we all need love, we all have the same needs.” I thank my Goddess for letting her educate me again, at the tail end of her life, when I was capable of seeing the broader import in all the tiny daily occurrences.
We are as funny, as tall, as short, as lumpy, as beautiful as all the creatures in the ark. We are all going to float together on this big boat, and God wants us all, every single one. All species, all minds, all religions, all colors.
I know you can hear this, Mama.
I love you so much, and I thank you.
October 21, 2001
Seldom do I publish prose in the pages of this blog, but these words I wrote for my mom on her passing in 2001 seem strong and tearfully relevant for our times today.
|Mom, Tante Martha and Tante Elsie, about 1933|
|Mom and me, musician for the clowns, about 1995|
|"Mom the Bomb," by Lake Susan, Montreat, two months before her passing.|