Matriarchal Me

I am one of 28 first cousins on my paternal side. (Yes, I said 28.) Of these two dozen-plus people, I am the oldest.

My father is one of ten siblings. He had five children—I am the first-born.

On my mother’s side, from four siblings, there are six surviving first cousins. And you know what? I am the eldest.

Also on my maternal line, I am the senior second cousin.  (So you see what I am getting at here?)

My siblings (bless their little hearts) revel in reminding me of my age. (Yep, I got it: I am the old one. Nuff said…)

Lately, this insatiable need to acknowledge my ancientness seems to be afflicting my extended family, as well. At a recent family event, one of my much younger cousins informed me that I am the matriarch of our generation. Matriarch? (Where are my orthopedic shoes and support hose?)

At first, I was taken aback to be dubbed a matriarch. (Really, I’m not THAT old, am I?) But then, I really started to think about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I will admit that my younger cousin might, just might, be onto something.

It is true: I am the eldest of our generation. It is also correct that I am the current keeper of the family’s history.

Considering that a matriarch is defined as: “A mother, an older woman who is respected or venerated within a family, the female leader in the family”, being a matriarch doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, it sounds sort of like a compliment. (Although, I still don’t like the “older” part…not at all.)

So, for now, I think I’ll just be a matriarch-in-training. How does that sound? Many, many moons from now, I promise that I will embrace my matriarchal persona. (Bring on the gray hair and laugh lines…. well, maybe NOT!) Until then, I will just keep calm, and matriarch on.


Originally published on 13 February 2016, Matriarchal Me

Family Food History

Family recipes are an important part of family history. Certain foods remind me of certain people. When I prepare the food that these long-gone family members had made, it is as if these loved ones are joining me at the dinner table.

When I remember my maternal grandmother, I think of fried plantains, Seabreezes, and rum cake. (Yum… rum… My grandmother sure knew how to whip up a mean rum cake, although I swear, you could get drunk off those fumes!)

The first Christmas that I shared with my now-spouse, we spent the holiday break with my grandmother and step-grandfather. In honor of our visit, she and I made her famous rum cake or, should I say, TWO rum cakes. The four of us polished off those cakes in two days! Although it has been 15 years since my grandmother died, I think of her every time I bake a rum cake and reminisce about that visit and the laughs we share.

When I remember my paternal great-grandmother, I think of snickerdoodles, shepherd’s pie, meat pies, and sweet tea… lots and lots of sweet tea. (So much sweet tea, in fact, that she and my Great-Great-Aunt Carella joked at family reunions that sweet tea flowed through our family’s veins! I think they might have been right!)

Growing up, my family visited my two paternal great-grandmothers on Sundays. My grandfather’s mother always treated us to family stories, followed by baked goods or Sunday supper. One of my favorite memories of her was the day we made rolled sugar cookies together. No matter what my great-grandma made, she never consulted a recipe. (I am pretty certain that she could have cooked circles around Betty Crocker.) I watched, fascinated, as she added a handful of this and a pinch of that to create a perfect sugar cookie dough. As she rolled out the dough, my great-grandmother told me about how she would make these cookies as a girl, around about my age. She then handed me an empty jelly jar and told me to cut out as many cookies as I could from that piece of dough. Press and turn, press and turn… one by one, I cut out those cookies. When I was done, she gave me a smile and told me that I had done well. Even though she has been dead 24 years, I still remember that smile.

On my spouse’s side, I will always equate ham and bean soup with his maternal grandmother. His grandmother often had a pot of bean soup simmering on the stove when we visited. (And, of course, we had to sample bowl or two each time. We can’t be rude, now can we?)

What I remember most about that soup was sitting with her at her 1950’s era kitchen table, listening to her as she shared stories of other family members, both alive and gone, and of herself, both old and young. I learned so much about my spouse’s family at that table. Fifteen years have passed since his maternal grandmother died, but I think of her each and every time I make a pot of ham and bean soup.

My husband’s paternal grandmother was renowned for her cooking. Family lore has that her cooking was what initially attracted my spouse’s grandfather. In 1936, a young, Italian-born Marine was assigned to a post in South Charleston, West Virginia. While in Charleston, he met and fell in love with a young lady who cooked sumptuous Italian food. They married within months of meeting.

When I met my spouse’s paternal grandmother more than 50 years later, her husband was no longer alive to enjoy her cooking. However, their large family—sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—gathered at her table to enjoy her sumptuous foods. What I remember most about those meals was how she never seemed to join us; instead, she waited on us, making sure plates and stomachs were full. And she rarely allowed help with cleanup, even though some of us offered. She did, however, welcome a helping hand and a willingness to learn when it came to preparing the food.

Several times, I joined her in the kitchen, learning to prepare smelts, gnocchi, and ravioli. (Okay, so they were really tortellini, but who was I to argue with her?) While we cooked, she told me all about her very large Appalachian family, how her mother who was given both a boy’s and girl’s name (Willie Alice), and her many, many brothers and sisters. We laughed about funny times in her childhood and wiped away tears when she talked about her sister who died from a car fire and her brother who was killed in a tank during World War II. (She claimed the tears were from the onions.) Although 12 years have passed since she passed away, I think of her still when I make homemade gnocchi.

So you see, family recipes are an important part of our family history. Each of us, especially family historians, should take the time to document this aspect of our loved ones’ lives. Considering attaching family recipes to family tree records. Like census records, these recipes (especially those written in that person’s own hand) tells part of that person’s life story.

Culture and personal preferences are captured when we remember to document the food of our lives. Every time a family recipe is prepared and shared, a part of our ancestors live on.


Published originally on 8 April 2017, Family Food History

Genealogical Guffaw

Some of my family members and friends just don’t comprehend my fascination with genealogy. I am pretty sure a few are convinced that I am just plain boring, while others call me cuckoo. Others label my passion as an out-and-out obsession. (Okay, that might be closer to the truth…)

When I start telling some people a family story or revealing a “new” discovery, their eyes just glaze over. Seriously, I have to prod them to see if they are still breathing. I get it. Some people would rather have a tooth extracted than listen to family history.

I remember one time when I was relaying a funny family finding with one of my relatives. I giggled as I told the humorous parts, whereas she acted as if her funny bone had been extracted. No smile, no smirk…zip, zero, zilch… So, I asked: “Do you believe that our ancestors never did or said or thought anything the least bit interesting? Do you think they existed without living?”

For those of you who contend that there is nothing remotely amusing about genealogy, I would beg to differ. (Of course, I have a blog dedicated to dead kin, so I might be an itsy-bitsy biased.) Anyways, here goes:

One day, a little girl asked her mother, “How did the human race appear?” Her mother answered, “God made Adam and Eve. They had children. From them, all of humanity was made.” Two days later, the girl asked her father the same question, to which her father replied, “Many years ago, the human race evolved from apes.” Confused, the little girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom, why did you tell me that people were created by God, and Dad said they descended from apes?” Her mother smiled before responding, “Well, dear, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family, and your father told you about his.”

“I don’t care who ya are: That’s funny right there!” Oh man, I was just unfriended by an in-law! Okay, before I lose any more family or friends, here is my disclaimer: “In no way is the author contending that her spouse’s family is non-human. So please, no hate mail or divorce decries.”

Although, I have to admit, at times my children do swing from the rafters like orangutans, so…. Oh crap, another relative just unfriended me. Guess I better wrap this up before I am blackballed from family reunions…


Originally published 23 April 2014, Genealogical Guffaw

Half-Past Life

I am standing at the top of the hill, ready to start my descent. Before I begin the second half of my life, however, I would like to take the time to tell the story of my life so far.

I was born in the hippy generation to two non-hippies. At the time of my birth, my father was 17 years old, and my mother had just turned 18 a couple of weeks before.

Continue reading “Half-Past Life”