Letter to my Grandma

posted by Tim Nafziger on 11/23/08 at 09:12 PM

This morning at 6 am my grandmother, Mary W Hess passed away at the age of 88. This is a letter I wrote to her this week after it became clear she would only be with us for a few more days.

Dear Grandma,

I’ll miss you. You’ve meant a lot to me over the years. Here are a few of my memories from your time with us.

I remember sitting with you so many years ago reading from The Miller Five and other classic Mennonite morality tales. You passed your love of reading on to mom who in turn read with me every night as I grew up. In other words, I can trace my own love of stories straight back to you.

I remember the scrapbooks you made for us with poems interspersed with those rich old style illustrations of covered bridges and boys and girls from many years ago. I learned to value the eloquence and elegance of poetry. The images of other times and places were part of what fueled my own experimentation with poetry starting in high school.

I remember sitting beside you as we looked through stamps from countries all over the world. When I started my own album, you shared stamps with me to get me started and encouraged me. But your interest in other countries wasn’t limited to stamp collecting. You sponsored refugees and brought people from many different countries over your home. It’s no coincidence that so many of your 11 children spent significant chunks of their lives working overseas.

I remember your garden. It pre-dated the current sustainability trends by half a century. You fed your family with tomatoes and rhubarb and green beans through summer and winter. There are many family stories of shelling beans with you and grandpa on the front porch or helping with canning in the fall.

I remember the Hess family Christmas gatherings at your house up the hill from the farm. The Pinata that you always filled with peanuts and candy. The youngest kids always got the first chance and then the blindfold and bat worked its way up through all 33 cousins til the cardboard gave way and we were all showered in sweets.

I remember the water battles that sometimes erupted at our summer family gatherings. You weren’t about to let your children and grand children have all the fun to themselves. Dad tells the story of you surreptitiously joining in with an accurately thrown cup of water through the kitchen window.

I don’t remember the 61 years you lived before I was born, but I’ve heard stories. By my age you were already raising 5 kids and running a farm with your husband. The family had survived a barn burning down. You had a jar on your counter where your tithe went every week. Even through the hardest times you kept this discipline. You occasionally had borrowed from you always paid it back in full. This lived faith rings clear through the generations of our family.

We talked for the last time at Christmas. You were hunched over in your wheel chair as we walked along the lake and past the geese, but your questions told us that you were still following our lives even though your eyes were focused on the ground. Even in the last stages of Parkinson’s you made it crystal clear how much you loved us.

I love you Grandma.



I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention this moving tribute by my sister Abby and this delightful description of Grandma’s life by cousin Gina.

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