I am the last surviving member of my birth family. My sister died in 2008, followed two years later by her husband. My brother died in May, and I am not close to his wife or their children. I am, however close to my sisters two offspring, so for my 80th Birthday part 2, I found an air BnB and invited my three daughters, three sons-in-law, four grandchildren and my niece and nephew to spend a few days together in the North Carolina mountains near Asheville. Despite some ups and downs, it was a really good experience, one I promised to repeat next year. A good mix of outdoor stuff, swimming and hiking, lots of interesting food, and city stuff in Asheville, an oasis of liberal and folk culture in the South.
I grew up with family reunions on my father’s side on my Uncle Duane’s farm, My Grandmother was the matriarch, sharing that role with her two sisters and their descendants, including some relatives that I never quite figured out–I think maybe they were my grandmother’s cousins. We shot off fireworks and drank water from a tin cup at the well and picked corn in the garden only when the water was boiling. This year the fireworks were courtesy of the city of Asheville and there was corn and burgers and watermelon. I am convinced that the 4th of July celebration is really a modern embodiment of the summer solstice, which was celebrated with bonfires at noon.
My uncle died in 1969 and there were no more family reunions until a single one in the 1990s on his sister Olive’s farm about a mile away–and a generation away, because the planning was done by my cousins,, the matriarchal great-aunts were all long dead and only a few survived from my parents’ generation–now they are all gone. So for my children, niece and nephew (who graciously offered me his arm on a fairly rocky hike!), I as the youngest in my birth family have been promoted to matriarch. Which means I am now responsible for planning family reunions (but not for cooking!. There are, currently 13 of us, but we expect an addition to the family in November 2022 when my #2 granddaughter gets married. I try to maintain a link to the eight people in my children’s generation with a weekly email newsletter and an invitation to reply. Growing up, most of my relatives lived in my home town, but we rarely saw them except at the reunion. Now because only two of the five families are close by–the others are scattered in Washington DC, New Jersey and Connecticut. My niece and nephew have children, but I’m not sure they are interested in being included.
I am new to the matriarchy thing. I like the fact that it apparently means that my adult children and my sister’s children are stepping up to the plate, letting me provide the venue but doing the driving, planning the expeditions and the meals, and cleaning up the kitchen. I accept the fact that not everyone loves everyone else, that there is sibling friction and accommodations for different eating styles and needs (including allergies and vegetarians), and sharing two bathrooms among nine people in the main building can be challenging–especially when one bathroom has four doors!.
In the Olympic sprint from birth to death, I have become the torch bearer, looking behind me to see to whom the torch will be passed. For all of my readers who have reached that pinnacle of matriarchy (or patriarchy in the positive sense!), welcome to the club. Old age has its frustrations, but also its celebrations. May yours be joyous and memorable in knitting together across the generations.