Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

The Anti-Matriarch ~ Rae

on October 25, 2012

When I was in college one of my favorite professors gave lectures about the need of women writers to delve into their feminine ancestors’ histories.  She hypothesized that no woman could truly write without knowing where she “came from”.  She used Amy Tan as a prime example of this. I do, like I am sure many of you do, have many women in my family who are truly amazing and equally human.  These women have lived full lives full of tragedy and triumph.  I have often thought their stories would be rewarding and helpful if shared with others.  However, I do not plan to tell you about them.

Recently, Jen said goodbye to the Matriarch of her family and it made me realize my family has no Matriarch.  In fact we have quite the opposite (Oh my, I hope any of my family who reads this doesn’t hang me for breaking the code of silence).  My family had the ANTI-MATRIARCH.

How do I put this kindly- my grandmother was Looney.  Not the Looney- let’s lock her in a padded cell but the Looney- OMG how did you make it to adulthood?  She was an alcoholic hoarder who through all her years on this planet never held a job.  She bore 9 children, 2 of which died in childhood.  The stories I have heard of her far from inspiring me, have made me wonder how any of my aunts and uncles are as sane as they are.

Here are a choice few anecdotes I have heard:

My Grandmother used to tell my grandfather she was going to the store or church and in actuality go to the local bar.  She would even take her two oldest children with her as part of her cover story, and then make them wait in the car while she went in and met with other men and drank.

Additionally, she supposedly arranged it up so that my mother could go to the local private Catholic high school on a full scholarship.  A month after enrolling in the school my mother was called into the principal’s office and berated for not paying the bill.  Humiliated, she learned there was no such scholarship.  She then became a live in nanny for a local doctor and paid her own way through high school.

My grandmother wouldn’t allow one of my younger uncles to go to high school because she was “lonely” and “needed” him.  My eldest aunt and mother had to petition the court for custody of him so that he could come live with them and go to school.  My two youngest aunts also ended up living with both my newly wedded parents and my eldest aunt with her family at different times because they were taken away by the courts.

My mother has told me stories of poverty that make me cry.  My grandfather had been a hardworking man but literally broke his back and was unable to continue to work.  After that the family relied on state welfare for income.  All the children shared a bed.  They had no blankets but instead covered up with jackets.  My grandmother had boxes piled ceiling high and moving through the tiny house was like trying to maneuver a maze.  But while the boxes were full to the brim of STUFF, the children went without.  Heaven forbid if anyone touched the boxes or tried to get rid of things to make the house more livable.  There was even no working toilet for a time.  My mother worked picking and peeling potatoes to help provide for the family even as a very young child.  The list of horrors goes on and on.  Truthfully, I even have a feeling the more brutal stories are still kept in secret.

Ironically, my grandmother also was fanatical about the Catholic Church.  The entire family faithfully attended masses and went through catechism etc.  Paradoxically, she ended up divorced, remarried and it is even rumored that some of her children were not my grandfather’s.  Hypocrisy – anyone?  I can just imagine the poor priest having to listen to her colorful confessions…

My personal memories of her are not so horrid.  I never spent much time with her, but the times I did were notable.  Once, my biological sisters and I took her to a local buffet.  She brought numerous Ziploc baggies which she proceeded to fill up to take home with her “classy like”.  Moreover, she had wives tale upon wives tale full of red neck-white trash wisdom.  She told me that to keep a flat stomach, I needed to punch myself in it every single day (hmm- I guess I should try that as I would like to lose some weight).  PS- She was overweight.  She also told me if I wanted to get pregnant with a boy that I needed to have sex by the light of the moon.  This piece of advice was given loudly at my wedding reception with a full room of guests.  I now have 2 daughters… go figure.  She did attend every event I invited her to. And always made the event more…. interesting.

She died in 2005, a horrible death.  She had a tumor that turned septic.  She refused to stay in a hospital.  She instead spent the last few weeks of her life in her small, filthy, jam packed house writhing in pain and at times was barely conscious. There her story ends.

Yet, I also remember her three living daughters rotated through those last few weeks taking care of her.  They made a schedule where she was never without one of them.  They bathed her, fed her, gave her medicine and prayed with her. I only went once and it was excruciating to simply be in the dank odious room.  But her three daughters were there every day, every second until the woman who gave them life and made their childhoods hell left this world.  And they forgave her and prayed that she entered into God’s kingdom.

These daughters, who in spite of horrible childhoods and against the odds, are all currently productive, ethical, decent women; these daughters have become aunts, mothers and grandmothers themselves and have shown this family what true love and life can be about.  None of them drink and they all chose careers that serve others.  These daughters meet once a year for an annual Tea Party with some of their own nieces, daughters and granddaughters.  Everyone wear hats, gloves and frilly dresses.  EVERYONE drinks out of china even the little ones, because it is a REAL TEA PARTY.  There we celebrate each other, share stories and rejoice in our family.

The best laid plans…

So I lied. My tale of my grandmother became the tale of my grandmother’s daughters.  Yet I was right when I complained that my family does not have a matriarch.

Instead we have three. 

2 responses to “The Anti-Matriarch ~ Rae

  1. Stacy Dedeaux says:

    Just read this. It was moving. I’ve seen your tea party pictures posted over the years, and now I know how truly special those day are.


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