NANA’S HOUSE by Teresa Kindred
The full definition of “matriarch” is as follows:
A woman who rules or dominates a family, group, or state; specifically: a mother who is head and ruler of her family and descendants.
When I think about matriarchs, I think about Queen Elizabeth or Dame Maggie Smith, who played Lady Violet Crawley in Downton Abbey. While those women fulfill a visual image I have in my mind of matriarchs, I know that in reality one doesn’t have to look like Lady Violet.
One day I looked around and, except for some aunts, I realized that I was the oldest woman in my family. A matriarch! Good grief, Charlie Brown, how did that happen? Of course I know how it happened—just like I know why I have wrinkles around my eyes and why my knees sound like Rice Krispies when you add milk to them.
Following in their Footsteps
When I was a young girl, I was convinced my mother and grandmother knew everything. There was no problem they couldn’t solve, until one day my mother was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. During one of our last conversations, I promised her I would look after Grandma, and I did. She lived with us the last few years of her life and it was an honor to care for her. Grandma was the greatest matriarch I’ve ever known. She ruled her kingdom with kindness and love. All her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were in awe of her humble heart.
Wearing the Crown
Matriarchs are supposed to have all the answers to all the family questions. Like, “What is Grandma Layne’s recipe for stuffing?” Or, “Why did our great-great-grandfather shoot someone on the town square?” And while I happen to know the answer to those two questions, there are so many things I don’t remember. I want future generations to know the stories of my parents and grandparents.
Because I love writing, I’ve started writing letters to my children and grandchildren and sharing my memories. In one letter I told them about the night my parents eloped. In another letter I shared stories about Grandma Layne—like the day I came home from work and saw her staring at the television. She was mumbling something under her breath, so I snuck up behind her to hear what she was saying. “Dot com. Dot com. I wish I knew what a dot com was!” I burst out laughing and tried to explain it to her, but she never understood and that was okay.
She was born in 1913 and had seen so many changes in her lifetime. It didn’t really matter that she didn’t know what a “dot com” is. Technology just wasn’t her thing. Numerous times she would pick up the television remote when the phone rang and say, “Hello? Hello?” She never touched a computer, nor did she want to. Her favorite television shows were Wheel of Fortune, Andy Griffith and Walker, Texas Ranger, and to this day I still watch them sometimes when I want to feel close to her.
The Perfect Gift
The gift of memories is one of the most precious gifts you can give to your children and grandchildren. No matter how old or young you are, I encourage you to record your memories for your loved ones. Memories make the perfect gift! Here are some ways to share yours.
1. Write them down on paper or type them up and print them out, then put them in an envelope, draw a heart on it and give a copy to each of your children and grandchildren. If your grandchildren are very young, then share your memories of the day they were born or their first year.
2. Use a tape recorder and tell your stories, then have copies made to put under the tree.
3. Have someone record video of you telling family stories. If you get tired of talking, you can always pause and finish later. Have someone put them on a DVD and get enough copies made for each child and grandchild to have one.
4. Maybe you have copies of old letters you wrote to your spouse while you were dating (just the ones you feel comfortable sharing) or letters from your parents while you were in college. Make copies and share with your children and grands.
5. Find your favorite family photos, make copies and create a scrapbook of your children’s childhood.
It doesn’t matter so much how you share your memories as it does that you find a way to share them. It’s a gift they will cherish and pass on to future generations.
And one more thing: enjoy your role as a matriarch or patriarch … you worked hard to earn your throne!
Teresa Kindred is a freelance writer, former teacher, and author of several books, including The Faith-Filled Grandmother, from which this article was adapted. She’s the mom of five grown children and “Nana” to seven precious grandchildren. She and her husband live in Kentucky. Her blog for grandparents is at NanaHood.com.