Cover photo for Elda Z. Davis's Obituary
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Elda

Elda Z. Davis

d. February 3, 2021

Elda died peacefully in her sleep of natural causes and she will be buried alongside her husband, Jim, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Elda is survived by her three children, David (Susan), Daniel (Yvonne) and Miriam (John) and six grandchildren, Nathan, Leah, Kevin, Lauren, Kristen and Gabriel. In light of the pandemic, the funeral will be private. For more on Elda’s life story and photos, see her online memorial: http://EldaDavis.virtual-memorials.com A TRIBUTE FROM ELDA’S CHILDREN: Mom was blessed with an extraordinary life. While she grew up in a tiny, remote village and lacked material wealth she would frequently reminisce about her childhood and say “we didn’t have much but we were happy”. She picked flowers, made necklaces out of ivy leaves and dolls out of corn husks; in fact she slept on mattresses made of corn husks. And she learned all the skills that were extremely important for young girls to learn… to sew, make lace and cook. The stove she cooked with was powered by firewood. The village didn’t have electricity and there were no cars. The house did not have running water but her family was especially lucky to have the village pump across the little road in front of her house. Her goat lived in the house with her but luckily, the house had a coop for the chickens attached to it. In later years when she would return to her parent’s house with her own children for the summer, we children had the privilege to learn how life could be so simple and so rewarding. We learned that having a bathroom in the house, not next to it, was a real luxury as the house there wasn’t equipped with one. And having a bathtub was a luxury too but you can get by bathing in a washtub. And not all milk comes pasteurized in a carton from the store. Each night, after dinner, we would walk to the neighbors who would milk their cow for us then return home to boil the milk. Some of the most fun we would have would be when friends dropped by unannounced after dinner and everyone would sit around the table and sing. How blessed we were to experience this culture that was so very different than what we were used to back home in the US. And as happy as Mom was with her life later in the states, part of her never stopped yearning for the culture and people she left behind. And though her childhood life was simple and good, it wasn’t always easy. Mom’s beautiful, picturesque tiny village lies barely inside the Northern Italian border, just a couple of miles from what is Slovenia but was then Yugoslavia and also less than a mile from the beautiful cliffs overlooking the Adriatic sea. It’s villagers were ethnically Slovenian though historical events placed them inside the Italian border. This village found itself in an epicenter of World War II and was occupied by Nazi Germans during the war. Young men, including her 16-year-old brother, fled the village to fight with the partisans in the surrounding hills. One sister was forced into local labor by the Germans while another sister became a courier, riskily carrying letters between partisans. Many villagers were killed by the Germans or taken away never to return. Her mother was briefly taken, then released. Mom had many memories of running into the fields while bombs were dropped around them. But perhaps the memory that haunted her most was running from her burning village. In order to prevent the Nazis from bringing in munitions and supplies, her villagers blasted the local railroad tracks apart. In retaliation the Nazis surrounded the village at 5am with guns and a plan to shoot everyone. The local priest convinced them to allow the villagers to flee. Mom, then 14, ran alone into the woods where she watched as the village went up in flames, including the houses, burned to the ground by the Nazis. She heard the pigs squealing and the cows mooing and was not united with anyone from her family for hours. Needless to say, like all of us, Mom was staunchly opposed to war. For most of us it is intuitive but for her a deep understanding of the ravages and senselessness of war borne out of raw exposure at such a young age. Perhaps the war made her a strong and courageous woman because years later she would make an enormous life-changing decision. Post-war, the area surrounding her village would become a free territory while the US helped arbitrate whether it would become part of then-Yugoslavia or remain under Italy. Our father was stationed there as a US soldier and it was there that they met, fell in love and much to her parent’s chagrin, decided to make a life in America. So, at age 24, Mom and Dad married and months later she boarded a US army ship, along with other ARMY brides, and headed to a country she had never been to, whose citizens speak a language she did not know, and to be with family she had never met. It may seem crazy but she was a lucky woman because she chose a truly wonderful man and things worked out well. But her first impression of America was not a good one and led her to momentarily question her decision. Having just arrived exhausted and hungry after a long boat trip, and meeting her in-laws for the first time, her new mother-in-law fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. With disdain, she did not consider this to be real food. She never, ever, ever, forgot that sandwich but she soon realized she hit the jackpot of mother-in-laws. Until the end of her life Mom would bring up both the peanut butter sandwich and the fact that her mother-in-law was a wonderful person. Ironcally, we do remember, as children, having been fed a peanut butter sandwich from time to time. In fact, Mom was guilty of having them be fluffernutters. Perhaps a notch below jelly on the real food scale. But peanutbutter sandwiches notwithstanding, Mom was a truly talented cook. If you asked for a recipe it was a little of this, a little of that. And much of her food came from her own, large garden. Mom’s thumb was as green as could be with both vegetables and flowers. She loved to spend time in the garden because she loved fresh vegetables and enjoyed the flowers so very much and the added perk of a neighbor walking by… as anyone who knew her knows she LOVED to talk. Despite her thick, heavy accent she made friends with everyone she came across. And speaking of her accent, it remained heavy despite her 66 years in the US. When we were little we would have to sometimes translate or clarify for our friends. And endearingly, there were some words that she never quite mastered. Following her lead, Miriam thought it was breakwist that we ate each morning until she was probably 10 or 11 and saw it spelled. And one of Mom’soft-used, favorite expressions is “as a matter of fact”, however she said it as one word… “mannyfact”. And Mom had a habit of taking something out of one container and storing it in another. One of those people who think the breadcrumbs will fare better in a clear plastic container than the one in which it came in from the store. Once she gave Miriam a container to take home and it was labeled ‘bread crums’ (c-r-u-m-s). But perhaps it is unfair to make fun of someone’s English when she took such a brave step into a new world not knowing the language then proceeding to teach herself to speak, read and write English and adding it to her repertoire of Slovenian and Italian. And, after all, ‘crums’ makes sense. Why should the ‘b’ be on the end? Mom taught us to speak Slovenian growing up. Slovenian is a hard language and there is a severe shortage of people who speak it in the United States so practice and experience is hard to come by and the language only comes in handy when speaking to your mother. But she expected us to speak to her in Slovenian, not English. In our house there was English, Slovenian and Italian but Mom was the only one who could speak all three. So, when she and Dad didn’t want the kids to know what they were saying they would speak together in Italian. There were also quite a few times when she spoke to us in Slovenian not wanting Dad to know what she and the kids were saying. However, Dad was a lover of words, written and spoken. He took it all in without letting on. Years later we learned that he had picked up the Slovenian too, so no pulling anything over on him anymore. Miriam wishes she had paid closer attention to Mom’s cooking when she had the chance. For some reason Mom let her get away with that even though Mom thought good girls are supposed to learn to cook well. Sewing was another story. Miriam didn’t like it, but couldn’t get away with not learning it. Mom felt it was important for Miriam to learn to sew things so she could repair clothing and also to embroider and make things for her hope chest… like the very useful potholder Miriam sewed together and embroidered and still has to this day that simply says “P-O-T”. Sadly, it does not get much use. But Miriam does have what are now fond memories of sitting next to Mom in the living room, often with a fire in the fireplace, and embroidering. It used to make Miriam mad when Mom made her rip out and re-do sloppy stitches but there’s a lesson in that that is not lost on Miriam now. Mom remained a foreigner for a long time but many Philadelphians will appreciate that she planned to become a citizen so she could vote and could help in the effort to recall then-Mayor Rizzo. She didn’t follow through and unfortunately contributed to Philadelphians paying the price. But she did finally become a citizen in 1994 and has since been a dual citizen. And speaking of Rizzo, there’s a great old black and white family photo of David and Daniel, as older teenagers, waving a giant Rizzo flag mocking Rizzo. It was taken at a stage in their lives when they both had long hair. Long hair tied back in ponytails. Very much to Mom’s dismay. She hated that hair. A lot. For years and years, until the end of her life, she would reminisce about the time she was walking on a sidewalk somewhere behind them. Another person, whom she did not know, came walking along and not realizing they were all together, made a disparaging comment to Mom about “those two boys” and their “awful” long hair. Mom did not admit to knowing David and Daniel, much less being their mother, and instead engaged in a conversation and agreeing that “those boy’s hair is a disgrace”. But of course, she loved them nonetheless and a while later Daniel cut his hair as a best-ever birthday gift to Mom. Mom was clipper of coupons. She loved seeing how much money she saved even if those coupons sometimes got her to buy things she otherwise would not have. The lack of print newpapers these days sadly antiquated this mode of fun. She also was fiercely devoted to recycling and a bit ahead of her time. In our house all paper was recycled way before curbside pick-up became a thing. She was devoted to recycling and would drive paper, aluminum and plastic to the recycling center no matter the inconvenience. Junk mail creates lots of wasted paper and nothing can compare to Mom’s war on junk mail. Mom used to save little scraps of metal or other junk that was non-recyclable in one of her containers. She would then use it to stuff the prepaid return envelope that came with any junk mail with her own collected junk. She’d mail it back on their dime and that was it – no more junk from sender of said junk mail. Mom had a very strong sense of what it means to be honest and trustworthy. Growing up, in the West Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, our houses were close together and we knew all of our neighbors well, young and old. Next door were the Scheiners. We have memories of occasionally being sent next door to the Scheiners to borrow an egg or a half cup of sugar. In time we would be sent back with an egg or half cup of sugar to make good on the original loan, no matter how small it was. That was honest. That was trustworthy. In later years Mom and Dad moved to Chestnut Hill where they were lucky to have another great set of neighbors and many happy years. Mom planted another large garden of vegetables and planted flowers and bushes on almost every remaining inch of the property. Eventually they would make their home at Cathedral Village in Philadelphia. Once the children were grown, summers were spent in beautiful, coastal Sistiana, next to Mom’s village of birth. Throughout her life Mom relished the time spent in the old world. This remained Mom’s happy place. You can take the girl out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the girl. Perhaps what we will remember most about Mom is how very much she missed Dad after he passed and how time never helped her heal from the loss of him. It was extraordinarily painful to watch but at the same time an affirmation that she made the right choice courageously many years ago despite never quite letting go of her childhood home and her culture. We will always be grateful to Dad for recognizing how important it was for her to keep a foot in that world while enjoying her life here and making that happen. He embraced her culture and her people overseas and the two were blessed to spend much time abroad there and have an extraordinary life with family and friends in both places. It is said that hugs are extremely important. Mom was a giver of hugs more than anyone else we’ve ever known. How much we will miss those hugs. David, Daniel and Miriam SOME MEMORIES FROM ELDA’S GRANDCHILDREN: KEVIN LALLY (grandson) I remember… When I was young, Nona observed that I loved to eat sugar wafer cookies. Nearly every time we visited, she gave me a package to take home. This continued throughout my entire childhood and adolescence. My love of sugar wafers waned as I grew older, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her, so I continued receiving them well into adulthood. To this day, whenever I see a sugar wafer, I think of Nona. Seeing Nona in terrific spirits at Christmas in her home, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Nona’s large garden at the Gravers Lane house. Visiting Nona at her home in Sistiana. It was such a great experience to see the village where she grew up, Visogliano, and later spent her summers. I particularly enjoyed meeting and seeing her interact with all of her local friends and neighbors – especially when she would sing in Slovene! Nona and Da’s 50th anniversary party, seeing them surrounded by family and friends. Nona’s 90th birthday party at Cathedral Village “That’s good coffee”, “Mannyfact” Calling Da “Jim Davis” (including the last name) to get his attention Lamb shaped Easter cake Nona’s interactions with Chainey. Not sure why, but always found it funny when she would get what I’d call “humorously annoyed” (as we all often did) when Chainey misbehaved. KRISTEN LALLY (granddaughter) As someone who has always loved to dance, I never had to question where I got this inclination. Whenever there was music on, preferably Polka, Nona would dance around the house with a youthful energy unlike anyone else. She loved to share stories about all the parties she would dance at growing up, demonstrating the joy and friendships to be had no matter one’s circumstances. NATHAN DAVIS (grandson) While staying in Sistiana, we went with Nona to visit her cousin Marica. Marica's son Alen brought out an accordion, and Nona and Marica sang Sloveniansongs together late into the night. The amazing dinners Nona used to cook for everyone when we came to visit for Christmas. When we were kids, Kevin once asked if I wanted coffee and I answered "You know I don't drink coffee!". Nona got a kick out of that, and would tell that story years later whenever someone offered me coffee. LEAH DAVIS (granddaughter) There was nothing Nona enjoyed more than taking care of the people she loved, and she always wanted to make sure her family knew that. Whenever we would leave their house in Philadelphia for the trip back to North Carolina, Nona would make sure that we didn’t leave until she had given us something to fill every last square inch of the car. Every time Dad would assure her that the car was already full, she would ask “well, what about under the seats?” Nona was also very practical gift-giver. When we were kids, Santa would leave us tape, socks, etc. in our stockings at Nona and Da’s. I don’t think that’s what he left most other kids… Elda died peacefully in her sleep of natural causes and she will be buried alongside her husband, Jim, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Love for family and friends, close and extended, near and far, was always her priority, and she wanted nothing more than to be with all. Elda's life story is told throughout this memorial website. Please sign Elda's guest book and let us know you came to visit. We would love for you to share your favorite stories or memories (tab at left) and photos of Elda for us all to enjoy and remember just how she touched all of our lives. LAUREN LALLY (granddaughter) Nona was an excellent cook and throughout our childhood we constantly reaped the benefits, enjoying countless meals that she prepared for us. She also possessed an inability to stay sedentary as she served us these meals, or in between when she constantly circled the living room with plates of Jordan Almonds, chocolate covered espresso beans, pizzelles, and other random snacks I have only ever encountered at her house. One year it was decided that for Christmas dinner she would teach her grandchildren to make gnocchi. It didn't seem like such a daunting task as we had an expert on our hands. I set out for the challenge overconfident, but soon discovered that while Nona's culinary skills were unparalleled, her pedagogical ones left something to be desired. As someone for whom this was second nature she apparently couldn't fathom how anyone wouldn't have an automatic sense for the production of gnocchi, and so her instructions mainly consisted of telling us to mix certain ingredients together "until it looks right". I for one had no idea what it should look like, which became abundantly clear within the first couple of minutes. As I epically failed at each stage I received ample criticism and judgmental looks from Nona, was quickly demoted from one task to another, until eventually ending the lesson as the figurehead "kitchen supervisor", contributing very little to the final product. I haven't attempted to make gnocchi since. I'll always miss Nona's cooking, but not as much as I'll miss her. She was such a unique and vibrant person. I always felt so lucky to grow up with such an incredible grandmother with so much wisdom to impart (the making of gnocchi notwithstanding). While the knowledge that I'll never see her again saddens me, I'm happy she's finally reunited with her husband, because as I've heard countless times in my life "they were perfect together". I hope they're dancing to polka music somewhere while the Adriatic glitters nearby. Or perhaps they're watching Oklahoma and singing along to every word. I hope that place serves scotch at 5 o'clock, but never creamy Italian. Maybe one day I'll find out what proportions of flour and potato pass as gnocchi, but either way I'll always cherish this memory and all the others I have of this couple I was lucky enough to call my grandparents. Elda would wish that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in her name to The Arthritis Foundation at arthritis.org.
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