Unlikely Matriarch

by admin

Unlikely Matriarch

I’m a matriarch.

Hard to believe I’m the female head of a budding dynasty, but I find myself mothering a brood of ten (including my own) and feel the weighty responsibility of instilling sense of family and pride of “Southerness” into a questionably receptive, rather motley crowd. 

My sister is out of the area, so her two children, daughter-in-law, and six grandchildren have turned to me for family pictures, memories, and history. They, along with my own daughter, only knew my Dad—“Gramps.” My Mom died in 1980 and my grandparents followed shortly thereafter. I have become family historian and realized on reflection just how Southern and, dare I say it, “odd” my family is! I have been busy handing down various, but sparse family treasures, and have scraped up a few old pictures, one which shows my grandmother, grandfather, and mother in native Indian garb on the lawn of our ancestral home in Central Florida. I have no idea why they and four of their friends are staring solemnly into the camera, dressed to the teeth in feathers and rawhide. I think I might have made up some story about founders day and the tradition of honoring Central Florida’s Indian heritage(?). My mother looks to be in her early teens, so I would guess the picture to be in the mid-1930s. Apparently this is a tradition that has been allowed to die.

My grandmother was a genteel beauty, youngest in a family of nine children. She was born and raised in Black Mountain, North Carolina, fussed over and adored by her older siblings. She never remembered her father, but her mother was strict. Gran would amuse me with her stories of leaving the house for school, then removing her dreadful black stockings and scandalously arriving at school barelegged! I grew up revering this petite, totally white haired woman with her fancy painted nails and silver cigarette case. She never wore “breeches,” slept until at least 11 every morning, loved jangling bracelets, and never said anything more harsh than “hells bells.” Gran in her later years developed emphysema, so switched to smoking black cherry tobacco in a corn cob pipe. She would not smoke it in public though, keeping cigarettes and case in her purse to pull out at her Tuesday night bridge games.

Mother was nothing like Gran in personality. She, too, had been a teenage beauty, graduated at the age of sixteen, proposed to by many of the boys from her high school class of 1936. Mom was the gadget queen. She didn’t drive because of poor eyesight, so became an aficionado of catalogs. Mother was not much of a cook (Gran had “help” who handled the household duties as Mother grew up), so anything that made kitchen duty easier was quickly purchased by Mom. She had various and sundry articles in drawers, instructions long lost, leaving me intrigued in finding a way to use said item. I recall Mom’s experiment with “meatloaf bourguignon” (meatloaf simmered in muscatel) that even Dad was not being able to stomach after the first bite. Mom was outgoing and gregarious, who adored and was adored by my Dad. She, my sister, and I formed a family trio, labeled “two chicks and a hen” by Mom, and would warble a few old favorites at the least of invitations. I remember we were a real hit at one of the American Legion hall’s holiday bashes, even performing two encores before the crowd would let us go. 

My brood finds me a little “eccentric” with my love for the color purple, affection for vintage hats and gloves, and my total devotion to my mix Siamese cat. 

I think it’s a Southern thing.