The Matriarch and Traditions, Death and Change – by Cheyenne S. Lemm. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
(A four generation picture. [left to right] My grandma holding my niece, my mom, and my sister.)
Like so many other families, the planning and celebration of holidays was dominated by my grandmother. She was in charge of deciding the menu, which didn’t often change much. She would delegate tasks to other family members and we would fall in line. She would decide when to begin eating and when the celebration was over. She was the glue that held different parts of the family together and ensured we got together a few times a year to eat well and enjoy each other’s company. For some of us she was a second mother. She seemed to always be making sure we got something for our birthday, Christmas, or Easter.
In her older age she relinquished the role of doing the large share of cooking for our gatherings. Some years it was a combination of my mom and older cousins, sometimes my sister was involved. In the last few years of her life, my sister and her fiancé moved in to help with her end of life care, this seemed to hand the task of cooking holiday meals at grandma’s house to my sister. This is where I come in, I was co-cook for a few of these meals and I always was home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The job is easily adoptable because my grandma taught all of us to cook her recipes, we know them by heart and without measurement.
My grandma passed away last August, days after her 83rd birthday. Fortunately we were able to care for her until the very end. A loss of a loved one so dear to us left us reeling. Many firsts were now in the form of “first _____ without grandma.” We didn’t have the energy to hold a large family Thanksgiving. I didn’t celebrate my birthday, I wouldn’t have a wacky cake or brownies. I was a little apprehensive about Christmas and New Year’s, two holidays I had almost always spent in the company of my grandma. Christmas was a time to spend time around loved ones and eat an unreal amount of food, while New Year’s was always celebrated with a thimble full of brandy to bring good luck in the upcoming year.
(Christmas cookies galore.)
Christmas was different. It wasn’t bad, but it was new. My mom, sister, and I made many batches of cookies on Christmas Eve. We decorated the tree, and this year it featured “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments. Our Christmas was very much about us being together as a family, but also about my niece. Spending so much time watching her open her presents made my top 10 most memorable holiday memories list. New Years was fun and goofy, my sister and I had a few drinks to celebrate my new legal rights as a 21 year old, and we even took a family picture complete with cheap, sparkly crowns.
([left to right] Me, my brother in law, my niece, and my sister on New Year’s Eve.)
The role of patriarch skipped a generation, as my sister now seems to be the one to take on the full role of organizing holiday gatherings, though I am always available to stir things and ‘baby sit’ a turkey or ham. I know that because my grandma is gone, our family gatherings will not be as large as they used to be; rather they seem to be more intimate, immediate family celebrations. As I look forward to Easter with my sister, brother in law, brothers, niece, and parents I am both nervous and excited. No longer will I see 20 plus cousins at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I am grateful I have my parents, siblings, and my niece to make new traditions with.
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