Becoming the Matriarch
Being the matriarch is a bittersweet responsibility, reminding me of my parents' passing and my own mortality, but also presenting the opportunity to create new family traditions and memories.
This is my eighth Thanksgiving without my mom and although I’ve missed her terribly each and every day, this is the first holiday I feel the weight of taking over the helm as the matriarch of our family. I credit the arrival of our first grandchild with my self-proclaimed elevated status; adding a third generation to our family somehow lends more substance to the role of matriarch. Although Callister is too young to understand the significance of history, traditions and celebrations, I feel as though we are beginning anew and there is a responsibility associated with establishing happy memories and traditions.
My parents had a natural talent for making holidays feel special. If I close my eyes I can visualize walking into my parent’s crowded house on Thanksgiving and being enveloped in a tantalizing aroma, a sweet and savory fusion of turkey and dressing, pumpkin and pecan pies. It’s easy to envision my parents working together as a well-oiled machine: chopping, mixing and stirring on the gold Formica topped cabinets. Unlike most men in his era, my dad was hands-on in the kitchen and together, they made a feast for us. I’m embarrassed to recall the paltry contributions I made to holiday dinners, a bag of rolls or a bottle of pop and almost always bringing along extra mouths to feed–several friends and later, a husband and kids.
My father was the main chef, but my mother had two specialties, gravy and pies. She made the smoothest, most delicious turkey gravy and incredible pies of all types–apple, cherry, pecan, pumpkin and the one no one admitted to liking but was always devoured by the end of the day–the dreaded mincemeat (what the heck is in that thing anyway?!). The summer before she died, my mom coached me in the art of pie-making. Despite making at least ten pies under her tutelage, I was a pie-making failure, my crusts disintegrating into crumbs before they made it into the pan and the ones that did hold together sadly lacking the buttery flakiness. Accepting that cooking is not my forté, I have resorted to ordering pies from local restaurants and foregoing the gravy unless I can talk a guest into making it. This year I even resorted to having a friend smoke the turkey for me. I obviously won’t be leaving memories of wonderful food, so I need to create a different legacy, my own yet to be discovered niche.
My reluctance in assuming the role of matriarch can be attributed to a bad case of aging denial. How could I possibly be old enough to be the oldest generation in my family? Despite my birth certificate, the box of hair dye hidden in my cabinet and photographs insisting on the ugly truth, I think of myself permanently frozen somewhere in my thirties. I’m lucky enough to be very healthy and active, so when I catch the image of an almost 60 year old staring at me in the mirror I am shocked to realize it’s my reflection. You hear old people say it and you roll your eyes until you experience it for yourself, life goes by in the blink of an eye.
There is something about your parents dying that forces you to confront the reality of aging. Intellectually, I knew that someday my parents would be gone but my emotions lagged behind, blissfully believing life would never change-until they died within a year of one another, leaving me dazed and grief stricken. Our parents’ death is also a reality check into our own mortality. Our parents are an imaginary buffer between us and death, and with them gone, we’re next in line. The holidays tempt me to escape into the past. I fantasize about pulling my car into the gravel driveway, climbing the old cement steps and walking into a smell of Thanksgiving dinner and my mom calling out, “Come in sweetheart, we’re in the kitchen.” How I’d love to hear that voice one more time and share one more holiday with them, but who am I kidding, one more would never be enough. I like to think I wouldn’t be that fifty year old woman-child I always reverted to in my childhood home and instead I would help them cook, wash the dishes or at least express my love and gratitude.
Since I live in the real world, I’ll don the figurative apron of the matriarchy and fake the role the best I can. I’m thankful for the women who came before me, my grandmother and my mother who forged strong family ties and left a rich, colorful multitude of memories. I’m thankful for my family, especially a new grandson to add a third generation to our Thanksgiving table once again. There won’t be smooth, savory gravy or homemade, flaky crust on the pies, but I’ll discover a new way to create warm, wonderful memories made with love!