My Grandfather (Gidu in Ukrainian) passed away very early last Sunday after a long illness. I wrote this eulogy as I was flying home from Vancouver:
My memories of Gidu always have been and always will be centred on earth and on the bounty brought forth from it. When I see Gidu in my mind's eye he is frequently in his garden nurturing giant tomatoes, digging in dark soil. I see him in the kitchen biting into the sleek red skin of one of these tomatoes and eating it whole, like an apple, sprinkled with salt. I have been lucky enough to never know hunger but for Gidu, who has known what it is to lack for life's basic necessities, it makes sense that his love has always been tied to the vegetables he has grown and silent toiling in the hot summer sun.
Contained in the Mason jars lining Baba and Gidu's store room are not just pickles, apple sauce, tomato sauce, and fruit cocktail, but a legacy of tradition, care, and loving preparation of food for their family. As so many of us know, Gidu's pasta sauce is not just a careful mixture of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices but a testament to everything he stood for—hard work, patience, and living as sustainably as possible off the products of his own labour.
There came a time when Gidu announced the production of his last batch of tomato sauce. The canning process was too gruelling and he had to admit that he could no longer do it. My mother was in possession of one of these final jars and said to me that she was afraid to finish eating it. Her father was so tied to that jar and the labour that produced its contents that to finish it might be to lose him. If the pasta sauce remained the Gidu would be alive as well. But she did eat it, because who can resist Gidu's tomato sauce? The last jars dwindled but we all had the privilege of knowing what it is to be nourished by food and love all combined in the confines of a single glass jar.
And what I am left with now are vignettes where Gidu is present and I am fed and cared for and loved:
The world's largest blueberry bursting on my tongue at the “pick-your-own” blueberry farm that Baba and Gidu took the grandchildren to each year;
The bliss of perogies fresh from the pot and covered in fried onions;
Gidu shirtless and strong with the sun warming his back as he works to produce a small backyard harvest. Later there will be ham and tomato sandwiches, a game of Euchre that Gidu will win, and much laughter.
We grandchildren have been so lucky to have had this man in our lives this long, to sit with us at the table sharing stories and hopes and dreams. With a good meal spread before us the room is infused with the quiet serenity that comes from knowing you are loved. These are gifts that I can carry on from here for the rest of my life.