The Matriarch



When I was born - in that ancient primordial age, far, far away - I had four great-grandmothers. There are literally dozens of four-generation portraits in our family photo albums, so I assume the older generations understood just how unique this multi-generational configuration was, and felt the need to record it for posterity. My maternal grandfather’s mom died when I was four and, other than the photos, I have no personal recollection of her. But I remember the other three well. In fact, when I got married two were still living (ironically the oldest and the youngest of the original quartet.)


So, growing up it slowly dawned on me that - barring any unforeseen accidents or diseases - my genes were likely to carry me some distance. As a teenager and young adult, this realization actually prompted me into - shall we say - some questionable behavioral decisions. By this reasoning, if I was going to last to ninety or a hundred years, what difference would it make if smoking reduced that number by a mere five or ten years? There are other examples that we won’t go into here. But take my word for it: my adult self has been grateful that that stage of my life was short-lived!


So, anyway, back to the longevity thing. I paid close attention to these elders and noted how they dealt with adversity, health issues and generally conducted their lives. They were, understandably very different women, but the overall lesson that I learned was that the happiness - or perhaps general contentment - of each of them waned at a pace with their own usefulness - or lack thereof. As their joints stiffened, their eyesight failed, or their attitude deteriorated, they became understandably discontented and even ornery! They knew they were moving toward complete dependence, and one often wondered aloud to me why she was even still here!


Young as I was, it didn’t take much to convince me that this was no way to end a long and generally productive life. Nevertheless, I didn’t spend a great deal of time wondering how I would handle this same feeling of helplessness - until now. After all, I am a Boomer, and we were going to change the world and live forever. Wrong - actually, on both counts.


Be that as it may, and young as I still feel, I now find myself in the rarefied position of being the matriarch of my own family. My great-grandmothers, my grand-parents, my parents, aunts and uncles, even some cousins - are all gone. And, though I am loathe to admit it, more and more of my peers are disappearing each year as well.


I have three grown children that - alas - gave me only two grandchildren. But those two girls - bless their hearts - have given me four great-grandchildren (and counting)! I have celebrated every single one of these arrivals, but still find it astounding that I am now THE MATRIARCH! Me. The youngest one in all those four-generation photos. How did this happen??


Much as I enjoyed being a grandmother (mind you, the actual word is banned in my house. I am “Bubbe” to all these little ones and their mothers). I have noticed some unexpected bonuses that come with the Matriarch title. Only one granddaughter grew up nearby, but I babysat her regularly, picked her up after school and later, after work, and she even lived with me for seven memorable months. You see, she came along rather unexpectedly and, as it turned out, nobody had taught her mother how to cook, so I found myself giving instructions over the phone at dinner time surprisingly often. Some serious responsibilities here.


But nobody asks me to babysit this newest generation (age 7 years to 6 months), I get invited to family dinners and get-togethers without having to bring anything! All I have to do is show up! I don’t go visit them, their mothers bring them to me! And they even take the pictures! Or for the occasional T-ball game, I don’t even have to drive; somebody picks me up!