1. A social system in which the mother is head of the family. 2. A family, community, or society based on this system or governed by women. In both senses also called matriarchate.

My cousin Liz called last night about a memorial dinner she is having to celebrate the life and spirit of my Aunt Jean, my father's sister, who died on the verge of cousin Liz's daughter's wedding. So, the family postponed Jean's gathering to her birthday in April for the appropriate send off. Interestingly, the wedding was a bit of a tribute to Jean, her humor, her love of all things common in Pittsburgh, her edge and this memorial dinner seems like the other bookend in this experience. Tribute and Memorial. They are really two different things. One is a salute, the other wrapped in memory of things past, a life lived.

In that spirit, I have been thinking. Liz said that there would be speechifying (no pressure but somehow as the group is going to be small...) and I was musing in that zone between awake and actively awake. We are as a family, on my father's side, a very matriarchal group. We have, in each little sector, little subgroup, an organizing, opinionated woman making plans for the larger group. I don't know how it happens, but it does. One becomes the matriarch. In my subgroup, and that of my husband's family, I am a matriarch. I make plans. I cook dinners (and serve them). I make holidays (when I can't avoid them with holiday travels etc.). And when I flex my muscles, some people wince (including me)--so I keep that rare and brief. I didnt get voted into this job--it just happened with a significant funeral, wedding, party, holiday--and everyone calls you. "What's happening?" etc. and surprisingly, a ton centers around food, eating and more food. And often, it is a now thing. Not a lot of planning--but 24 are coming for dinner--you fire up the engines, chop everything in sight, get out every plate in the house and start backing a plan out of what is hot, what is not, wha is for the vegetarians, the heart unhealthy, the picky and the foodies. When is the food on? Who sits next to who? Who can I rely on to be pleasant? fussy? prickly? And where does everyone sleep? Breakfast? Decaf or Caf. And then there are the rules and rulings that real matriarchs make. I have yet to do that. Judgement for others is rancorous...that maybe this matriarch will shrug it off.

Liz is an impressive I bow to. She is a planner, organizer extrordinaire with tact, taste and style that existed (from her Mother) wayyyyy before that upstart, social climbing Martha Stewart made an empire from her matriarchy.Liz is kind. She listens and hears. She weighs and balances. She knows she might step on toes and yet in her sheer worry, makes everyone understand none of this is easy and is taken lightly. She is considerate and funny. She is someone I respect and wish to emulate...though, I fear, I am meaner than. Don't get me wrong...Liz has an edge...but it is softened with love. Jean, Liz's mom, was a matriarch...but not to the degree Liz is as she was the child of the Queen of our Matriarchy Clan, Grammy. If Grammy was a viking, her name might have been Jean, the Emasculator. She was matchless in her terror. It took a generation for the tribe to calm down from her. And now, her granddaughters have taken up the scepters and are wielding them in their respective clans.

Jean was often referred to as a bad child. I have always been bothered by that. Bad in opposed to good. I would like to think of her not as bad, but as strong minded, singular maybe a bit willful. And she grew up strong minded, singular, and a bit willful.And, that is what we loved. She was a women with her own mind--not giving a hoot for what other people thought, for social conventions that were so important in Pittsburgh (of the time and currently). She liked to smoke, drink coffee, speak her mind in a very forthright way and live on klondikes (an ice cream confection made by Isleys in Pittsburgh)--waking up late, and going to bed very late amusing herself with crossword puzzles and talk shows. She fiercely loved her children...and those she hand selected. Fiercely. And in that close group, the prickles on this rose unfurled to show us the beautiful bloom that this willful, stubborn child grew to. She allowed all of us to be a bit stubborn, a bit singular and a bit ourselves...and held up a mirror to encourage us to continue on that path. She laughed a lot...and told stories with sharp insights and messages...with absolutely no candy coating. She too, had great style from her backhanded, eccentric handwriting, to perfectly wrapped packages at Christmas that looked like a professional did it. Small details were her gig...and she was excellent at it. And, you know, Liz is focusing on the details to make her memorial just perfect.