Stephani E. D. McDow

Stephani E. D. McDow

Ode to Majestic Matriarchs — Past . . . and Present

Woman Around Town | November 3rd, 2010 | Visit the original article online

Remembering pound cakes, care packages and quilts is easy. Being able to close your eyes and go back to that place in time where colors were the most vivid they’d ever been and memory-laced fragrances possessed you with unfathomable joy. When love embraced you so tangibly that you could describe, down to the opaque stockings, what it looked like — what she looked like when she stole your heart the way only a grandmother could. The matriarch of your family: When she instilled in you those bits of herself that her own children, your parents, may have forgotten or overlooked. When she poured into you her experiences and realities, her heritage and culture, her truths and stories. When her cheeks were at their fullest, smiling down on you with the most biased belief that you were the greatest thing she’s ever seen. Remembering is easy. “When I grow up, I want to be an old woman . . ."

And when she’s gone, it’s the missing and losing that’s hard. While you know in your heart of hearts that she is in or heading to sheer glory, peace and pain-free joy — you can’t help but acknowledge your need for her to still be here in the way that you remember her best. Doing the things that helped shape who you are, assisting you through life’s beat-ups and let-downs. Cheering you through your successes and keeping promises. Being that irreplaceable matriarch that was such a solid constant in your life. Everyone wants grandma to live forever.

Its days like this that I wish Grandma Lois were still here. When I was younger, whether she knew I was ailing or not (truth is, I’ll never know) she could always comfort me. I’d bounce my way through DC city streets, making my way home from school (as, urban city life and its demons can sometimes wreck havoc on a young girl’s life) and I’d find her laid across the bed watching Oprah or the news that followed thereafter. I’d kick off my shoes and climb up on the bed and lay next to her with my head resting just beside her bosom. And she’d take her heavy, aged, hard-working, Monroe, North Carolinian hand, undo my hair bow and just stroke my hair . . . long, weighty, meaningful, loving strokes. As if, with the mere motion of her hand moving from the roots at the crown of my head to the strands’ end, she grasped whatever it was that was on my mind or panging my heart and pulled it away from me with her love and strength. Then letting it go and keeping it away from me. Remember? Remember when Grandma could just make everything right?

Sometimes, life can whip us relentlessly. You know? I know that you know and that you can relate when I say. . . It can make us feel as though we’re standing on the edge of a cliff, of sorts. The depths at the cliff’s edge are unknown–endless, perhaps. We’re wearing platform, high-heeled shoes–Giuseppe’s even–with our toes (setting just atop the cliff’s edge) pressing firmly down into the shoe’s base to steady ourselves: Pressing so firmly that the toe joints have gone white and numb. The earth beneath the shoes is so gritty — pebbles, sand and dirt make for a foundation less than firm. But we’re standing.

In our hands are many plastic bags full of eggs–oversized, highly sensitively, shelled eggs. So many and so full are they, that the weight of the bags makes the handles cut into the flesh of our palms and fingers–purple, bleeding members now. They are so heavy, and we can’t put them down because the eggs will crack and it’s somehow our responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. If that isn’t enough, on our shoulders are books stacked high. Ancient books. Forgotten books. Thick and varying in size. Can’t let them fall, we want them, need them: we’re told that the knowledge in these books is ours to have if only we can pull them down and open them to receive it. But, how without letting the eggs go? How, without neglecting our responsibilities? How, when any movement that we make may cause one of the books to fall off the cliff or worse — will cause us to fall off the cliff? How? Our spines feel like they’re going to break in two from the pressure of it all. But we’re still standing.

How I so desperately need the stroking of Grandma Lois’ hand in my hair when life’s whip has welted me raw. She’d fix it — somehow. Grandmas have that power. But the mere fact that in spite of all that — the imagery of life’s beating – I’m still standing and reflect upon the memory of her taking my pain away. That is a testament to the importance and grandeur of the matriarch. She matters. And when she’s gone, we long for her.

So how is it that we find that place — that ‘happy’ middle — between the easy and the hard? How do you cope with needing your matriarch in life when she can’t be there in that same way anymore? Here’s what you do: You remember her story and her way. All that she taught you — directly and indirectly. You remember and laugh at her flaws that are perfectly imperfect. You remember everything that resides in your heart. You close your eyes and remember the smell of pound cake baking in the oven, or hear her humming some tune you never knew the name of. She’s still there. Living in what she gave to you and your memories.

And, I’m sure, that if I close my eyes and squeeze them shut just hard enough — I’ll feel Grandma Lois’ hand in my hair. For the Bettys and Mediels still here to feed you that love and wisdom and for the Ruths, Loises, Lorraines, Eloises, Merlices who’ve gone on ahead and are waiting to hold you later . . . I want to be like you when I grow up — Matriarchs, majestically.