Back to Ham

A member of the QNation scolded me because I was not on the ball and chatting with you all. I apologize, but work has gotten out of hand and thus, the non-paying work slips off the desk. I will attempt to be more sympathetic to your needs, and even if its not much, say hi with a paragraph and or even just post a hint of what is on the drawing board so you know I am still somewhere breathing.

To that, I was cranky coming home from our weekend in Kittyville. It was Easter, I was tired and pissed off at one of the common themes I am often angry about...and pick at it when I am tired. So, my clever husband turned the conversation around and had me laughing and doing research in the way back machine such that I want to share it with you. Be prepared. This roll has to do with Pittsburgh, Ham, Easter, and a very uptight club. Ham is the underlying tie...so hold on tight as we are going to start with the sublime and move to the ridiculous. 

Growing up, we didn't eat out. My mom cooked, packed lunches for the girls (the boys bought their lunch at school and my dad had free range of all the culinary opportunities downtown...with discussion of what was on the lunch menu every night at dinner just to keep the conversational ball going with him). My mom cooked dinner, made soup, made breakfasts and pretty much handled all of the shopping and prepping. She was not raised to cook--having a cook at her house growing up--and even through my childhood with my grandmother she was unable to even open a box or a can to make something to eat. The Cook had Sundays off (poor woman...) so my Grandmother and Grandfather would either take us to the Club for lunch and then have something exotic like a bucket of chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken that made an exquisite add to the melee at lunch at their house every day.

My grandmother made lists, made menus and did a bit of the matching column a with column b to make leftovers at lunch. She knew how to order and how to buy the groceries...but that is where it stopped. So rolling it forward, my mom had to learn from scratch how to cook--and she did with all of us as her test kitchen. Nothing was ever thrown away...so we ate the good with the ghastly (which she would never acknowledge as bad). As we got older, she got to be better and better and we, the kids, learned how to cook from her by acting as her sous chefs from the time we could look over the top of the counter and hold a dull or dull serrated knife. But this is all a different story for a different time.

For a treat we were sometimes taken out for, as my dad would say "a hotdog" which meant either a hotdog or a chip chopped ham sandwich at Islay's. Islay's was a Pittsburgh tradition, a deli counter with prepared foods that had hotdogs, milk shakes and sold a form of shaved, barbeque ham (better, processed pork product) that you could have prepared for you at the store (to eat in) or take home to doctor with your own Ketchup mixture. Islay's also was the creator of that Pittsburgh culinary tradition known beyond the 'Burgh, the Klondike Bar. Islay's was as synonymous with the real deal Pittsburgh cuisine as Lemon Blennd (a personal favorite) and the now well known Primanti's sandwiches with cole slaw and fries smashed in on top of a murder of eggs, capicola and american cheese (which we would partake of after midnight when they would open for the truckers bringing produce to deliver to the Strip). I get off topic. Ham.

So, shaved ham, or "chipped chopped ham" is a mystery meat shaved from a perfectly square block of pinkness. There is absolutely nothing that says ham. It is Processed and about meatness...but reallly it is more about the sauce (combined barbeque sauce, a little vinegar, a little mustard and a ton of ketchup heated up with the meat and generously plopped on a chintzy white, soft hamburger bun (no seeds, nothing interesting please). The styling is simple, white bun, messy hot meat drenched in ketchup (essentially) with the top of the bun smashed on top and the works put on a thin paper plate that was not designed for that endurance. But it was a treat and on those special Saturdays when we would "rubberneck" with my dad and mom or actually have something to do--it knocked the day up a notch to have a trip to Islay's with this poor man's ham barbeque sandwich thrown into the mix. 

Mystery writer, Cleo Coyne waxes about the Chopped Ham sandwich (with a recipe no less and instructions on how to get the ham just right). Here she is for you>>

Back to ham. Know this. Pittsburgh is a big ham town. Why wouldn't it be? It is a town filled with nuggets and neighborhoods of nationalities that rarely leach across the street from one zone to the next, but the Polish, Hungarians, Czechs, Bohemians, Germans, English, Scots, Irish, French, Italian, Slavic, all embrace ham in their own way--and as you all know--there is ham, and then there is Easter ham.

Growing up, there was also the oddity of meat in a can, the canned ham -- sometimes called "Danish Ham". I pitied the Danes as this was the ham they "had to eat"--though god knows if canned ham had anything beyond marketing that had to do with the cool Danes and their good design. Somehow I doubt it. Ham was ham (prosciutto and lovely local ham were not on that horizon until much later when I started to cook). There was cheap ham (the blocks that were found in the deli case at Islay's for chip chopped ham); danish ham and then ham on the bone or boneless from the grocery store. Ham, to my mother's absolute delight, was cheap--and was something that was parsed beautifully into amazing leftovers that were easy to make from soup with the bone, to ham salad and casseroles with canned soup/noodles and bits of ham.

My mother was not limited to the Dorothy Parker famous quip: "Eternity is a ham and two people"--and frankly, with Jesus' imminent return thanks to the promises made that morning at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, it would be a miracle for us to get through the enormous hams that came home around Easter time to feed nations. Heck, who knows, we might have had leftovers to take with us to ascend to be with Jesus on the great heavenly escalator....(just like Joesph Hornes).

So, Easter, at least for my family, is the ham holiday. Thanksgiving is Turkey. Christmas is a Red Meat event. New Years was always pork because "it doesn't scratch back". Sometimes there was sauerkraut offered with Thanksgiving, and black eyed peas offered with New Years. Snopes says confirming this tradition for New Years' food:

"Food:   A tradition common to the southern states of the USA dictates that the eating of black-eyed peas on New Year's Day will attract both general good luck and financial good fortune in particular to the one doing the dining. Some choose to add other Southern fare (such as ham hocks, collard greens, or cabbage) to this tradition, but the black-eyed peas are key.

Other "lucky" foods are lentil soup (because lentils supposedly look like coins), pork (because poultry scratches backwards, a cow stands still, but a pig roots forward, ergo those who dine upon pork will be moving forward in the new year), and sauerkraut (probably because it goes so well with pork).

Another oft-repeated belief holds that one must not eat chicken or turkey on the first day of the year lest, like the birds in question, diners fate themselves to scratch in the dirt all year for their dinner (that is, bring poverty upon themselves)."

This left ham for the Rebirth of Jesus and the big white bunny. If my mom didn't cook, we would do something wild and go to "The Club" for their Easter Buffet Spectacular, or me, the wildest food moment in the universe that no one paid attention to.

So the Easter schedule of events would be that we would go to Church and then follow it up with lunch and then a quiet afternoon at home. "Church" was The Shadyside Presbyterian Church--where an intimate gathering of thousands (no kidding, this place is a Richardson Romanesque Barn (designed by H.H. Richardson) that even today on the Shadyside site they say) (remember, this is marketing):

"Some might see our impressive stone building as intimidating and surmise that it houses an affluent congregation that might be cold and unfriendly, but we’re eager for you to encounter Christ through some of the warmest and most welcoming folks you’ll ever get to know."

Interior: Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA Please note the Christmas Trees in the altar area for scale....

Interior: Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA
Please note the Christmas Trees in the altar area for scale....

I tend to think they are right in the lead in of that sentence. When I was growing up, the deacons wore cut aways and white gloves every Sunday to greet people at the door. With white gloves and white ties, spit shined black shoes,and hands at their backs at leisure. Not super friendly. No, not intimidating at all. These dudes would cruise down the aisles (about 3 in the middle and sides) along with the balcony and pass sterling silver offering plates to the fur coat wearing Republicans who had their self-assigned places in the sanctuary. They would then proceed in lockstep up from the back of the church to the altar (surrounded by bright gold tilework reminiscent of Byzantine {read the Emperor Constantine) tessilation. The huge pipe organ would shake and blast...and the money was laid down on the altar (I assume that was symbolic for the holy blessing with all that theatre). Easter had huge urns of fragrant Easter lilies, and great pious hymns of ressurection and rebirth. The paid choir (many from the Pittsburgh Opera) would soar and herald the greatest day of the Christian Calendar.

And all of this happened on Easter Sunday before lunch--so if your stomach wasn't clenching from hunger, it was out of angst for your inadequacy, oddness or inability to process this odd intersection of conservative people, fur coats, professional choir and organ, silver offering plates and then the discussions on humility and poverty. Never seemed to balance out for me. Loved the theatre and the guilt though. Reality was not present in that sanctuary.  So, rest assured, by the end of that hour or so, you were ready for cold compresses and the fainting couch, but the thrill of being taken to "The Club" for Easter lunch completed the celebration.

So, off we would go to the unassuming "Club" which was less than 10 minutes from the church. We would all peel off to the various cloakrooms adjoining the restroom with chintz sofas, hairbrushes, all sorts of smells and kleenex to "freshen up" and make sure that your knit dress wasn't climbing up your pantyhose clad legs thanks to remarkable static cling or that nothing was hanging out or out of alignment. We would adjust and smooth. We would hang up our coats in the coatroom and progress elegantly on the celery colored carpet surrounded by quiet, tasteful wallpaper and chippendale reproduction furniture.

We would meet the boys and go find our table--reserved for all of us, grandparents or extra friends that would come along. The pre-food activities were drinking for the grown ups and some sort of prescribed "fun" for the kids. The grown-ups stayed upstairs in the dining room area, having drinks and nuts while we where shoo'ed downstairs into the darker regions to make noise and give the grown-ups a break.

The Club would have a person in a bunny rabbit suit there to hand out jelly beans (scary just like a clown) and the other thing for the "kids" was some sort of other "entertainment"--either someone doing card tricks (generally someone not too skilled so it was boring) or a magician but my favorite was the year they had a clown (you know I am horrified of clowns, right?) who also was a stripper during his off "non clown" gigs...and this clown promoted both of his skills openly to all of us "kids". There we were with this clown who had a shaved chest, arms and armpits with big muscles and a tight vest on in addition to the rest of the regular clown stuff (big shoes, makeup etc). Creepy doesn't even begin to describe it. Entertaining, Yes, but not given this particular context and audience.. Not the wholesome, "I have my monogram on everything" kind of way. Let's just say, this was a detail The Club faltered on, but they made up for it in the piece of resistance upstairs in the dining room. I loved it and still do, that this sort of fumble went way over the heads of the grown-ups and many of the kids too. I love it that this way creepy clown stripper ended up in our midst--really off the reservation for all of us...lifting the corner of the tent into a world that did not extend into our prescribe universe framed up by church, school, The Club, Camp and occasional "hot dogs" at Islay's. 

So, when lunch was ready, we were herded back to our table, our home base, first there were the classics. Salad or Vichyssoise? Vichyssoise, of course! Who doesn't like to drink gallons of leek and potato flavored heavy cream with freeze dried chives sprinkled on the top. Then, off to the buffet! The buffet was seemingly miles long--endless lengths of starched white linens with men wielding knives, carving beasts, ladies doling out vegetables and crispy little potato sticks or little swirled piped gems of mashed potatoes, browned with cheese slid onto the side of the plate as a little amuse bouche. Of course there was asparagus with hollandaise. Of course, there was creamed spinach. Of course there was a succinct moment with puff pastry shells and seafood newburg. And then there were the display hams.

"Cold Glazed Baked Ham" www.http://clickamericana.com/topics/food-drink/cold-glazed-baked-ham-recipe-flowers-1965

"Cold Glazed Baked Ham"
www.http://clickamericana.com/topics/food-drink/cold-glazed-baked-ham-recipe-flowers-1965

Stop right there. So, you get the scene...its a buffet line with all sorts of delicate little things encouraged and placed on your plate. There were big strong men carving hams, turkeys, lamb. There was seafood in a cream based stew. It was all very right and tight...and then someone forgot to manage someone's meds, and there was (every year, you could set your calendar by them) a huge arrangement of display hams (and a few turkeys thrown in for fun). This meat art was beyond my wildest dreams--with hams slathered in pastel colored goo and encased in gelatin--with decorations in between of flowers and fruit. The image above is way too tasteful than 2 dozen or so hams at the club that were vertically mounted, standing tall like sentinels in lemon yellow, a bluish pink, pastel orange ('creamcycle"), and even a soft blue with decorations of carrots, peppers in all colors, greens and pimentos to tell the decorative story. A ham backwall to the Easter feast!

Forget the tacky ice carving. Forget frills on the lamb chops. This was the ham version of carved watermelons on cruise ships, or the ham version of carved radishes. And what was this thing called? I was entertained and challenged to find the name and process for this extravagant food art and preparation--but somewhere between Green and Bainbridge NY, I bumped into "Jambon Chaud Froid" detailled by none other than Martha Stewart. Of course, Ms. Stewart makes this Disneyland ham prep tasteful and glorious in her recipe. Then, noodling around some more, found that there was another approach, probably the one the Austrian chefs at the Club used (c. 1965 is this recipe) with mayonnaise (a lovely base for pastel food coloring) and seems a bit less fussy than the approach Ms. Martha suggests.

Who ate these display hams after all the tables were cleared and the clown went home? Who enjoyed the spectacle of hammigoodness that only the very few of us had a chance to witness and only one or two to remember? Who is recreating this marvelous technique today to  enchant our children and friends with all the wonder we can bring to meat?

Is ham still a Pittsburgh hallmark now that Islay's is gone and there is no home for chiip chopped ham? Are we too big in our gourmet boots to relish this culinary folk art? I look back in awe (and shock) at this rare moment that spun around the central moment of the Christian calendar. 

I am totally onboard with eternity with a ham. At least there is enough to keep us all amused.

A second after the Solstice

Can you believe it? The 4th of July is in sight! The enormous moon we had this week which illuminated the evening from sundown at close to 10 p.m. to dawn was extraordinary. The gorgeous wet days, and dry evenings overlooking the lake are a treasure--each and every one of them.  What  a year of change, of transition, of growth, of query, of note. I am stunned each day. Stunned, I tell you. Not surprised, not charmed, not enchanted, not puzzled, nor intrigued. Stunned and shocked. More often negatively than positively. But then again, I should back out the time to see if this is a seven year thing.

I am the queen of mumbo jumbo. I believe in ghosts and past lives, of tarot cards and the unexpected. I do not seek these things out, but I believe. I believe that there are points in your life that are significant "change moments" which, formerly, I thought were on (for me ) a seven year cycle. But now, I just believe there are "change moments" or "change years" that happen to pull your head up from looking at your feet or looking at the clouds to say, "Yo, pay attention, knucklehead (meaning me)!" Regardless of time, we are in a definite change cycle.

Adirondack face, Q. Cassetti, 2010

Adirondack face, Q. Cassetti, 2010

I have been quiet as I have been hurting. Hurting enough to pick up the phone and see if I could start talking and focusing on my hurt--allowing me to box it up, package it, and see if I could put a topic sentence around all of it to allow me to get on with my life without the noose or divers' weight around my neck.  This drag has driven me from talking to you, to talking at all. This drag has stopped me from my public self as I want to protect the soft, squishy me from the rest of the world as I have been hurt, hurt badly, hurt daily, hurt by clueless people who don't even know they are doing this. I do not resent, but are puzzled by why I am the focus of identity theft-- hearing my words, ideas, thoughts and hypothesis come from another person without the grounding of my thinking, experience and understanding.  But, I need to put this all to rest. Let things happen and settle out....and try to rise above it (as I was taught) and be "better than that" which, quite candidly, is a crock. Better than what?

Better than losing all your data and computer in one "electronic moment"?

Since the electronic melt-down, much has changed in my office. I have a brand new computer. I have newly recovered data. I have a wonderful new cloud back up. I have Dropbox and now I have the new Adobe Creative Cloud (which I was prepared to be puzzled by, but am DELIGHTED).  We are selling cards, pins and yes, little sets of nice little things at Sundrees and Etsy. We have just gotten a signed agreement with Cornell to be a certified vendor (a full year in the making). We are throwing work out the door in a passionate, volumetric way for our big client. Our distillery is rolling with the whiskey versions of their labels (and are happy). I am busy with a kraft bag design for our local flour mill soon to be in Whole Foods. My Bee Goddess is on a label for candles in Denver. A new copper bake oven pizza place has my illo on their teeshirts. And there is more in the hopper.

Tomorrow is day one of Cherry Season. Kitty and her friend Walker and I will be picking at seven a.m. to try to beat out the hoards that strip the trees in one day. I like to think of it as the opening day of fishing season for mommies....fresh cherries for pies, preserves,granita and more. We will see what will happen.  I love how gorgeous it is, and the moment in the early morning as the dew is drying and the sun begins to heat up, as the overcast clouds rise up up up over the lake--until at 8 a.m. the ground is dry, the sun is shining and the light is such that each sour cherry glows like a christmas light in the trees. There is quiet in the orchards as we are all focused down on each pick, each cherry, each moment of sorting and picking, gleaning the ripe fruit--a seasonal gift to each one of us. It is more like a holiday this year as last year the cherries and apples were ruined due to a late cold snap that killed every blossom. Not the problem this year...which makes it a bit more like Christmas, or your birthday eve....waiting the delight ahead.

 

Sunday Morning


Still spewing valentines. There is the new Forever one in the cooker. I have a peacock in the wings. I would like to do an angel one, a Kitty one, an Alex one. But I might just stop after the peacock and call it the thesis (with additions as we go later). Am interested in a body of work based on the ideas from the Taschen book on Symbology combined with the current reading I am doing on Frieda Kahlo. Additionally, as a way to save my own bacon in the late summer, perhaps a body of work on the idea of growth and growing. This is inspired partially by Craig Frazier's topics he illustrates to stay in front of the corporate clients who want pretty much the same topics illustrated over and over again. I have the same problems, however, they dont like illustration except for illustration for the nondenominational, cultural bias'downplayed holiday card. They went for the tree of knowledge last year with great happiness...picked from a group of illustrations I was working on for the Garden of Eden. To think about it, growth was what they loved,so if I give it some muscle and have the time to open my head up a bit, this year could possibly be as simple as last. The holiday card has never been easy...so prework to make it easier is okay by me.

I am surprisingly looking forward to finishing the paper for the thesis. I have the peripheral work done, and as I think about the more specific topics--they do not seem insurmountable and once rolling, it should go fine. If I am not roped into a bunch of stuff today, hopefully I can begin to chip away at it. I am hoping to have the loose paper done by tax day to get to the HAS team for review prior to the pile on they will get May 1. Then, once we are back from the college look about tour, I will have a chance to amend, add and change to easily meet the June 1 deadline. After that, all I will need to focus on is framing and output. I converted the Sweetheart valentine to vectors and it is a ton of points and not a quick thing to scale, but none the less, its scaleable... I am hoping that the Love Lock snake valentine, and perhaps Forever might also go big 30x40 inches ish? I think it will be output, mounted to cintra and not framed. That would be big, bold and circus drop-centric. I love sideshow graphics/paintedd signs that are used in the crummy little country circuses that come through here and all the little local towns. Badly drawn but often very compelling...the sheer scale of these things make me very frightened of the poor person/animal on display> I have never paid the money to see the sight. The sign really does the job.

Bought a ton of groceries yesterday--Alice in Wonderland in the produce department. Mushrooms and parsley, cilantro and apples, field greens and scallions, green beans and asparagus. The formerly vacant refridgerator bulges. We have play rehearsals for K. all week with showtime starting Thursday> Saturday. A. is back in training and attempting not only running but high jump for Track. He seems to be intrigued by the flow of how one gets your body going in one direction and then up and over with all sorts of twisting and leaping to get over the bar. He's serious as he has goals already.

More later.

a selection from Laylah Ali






"I’m thinking about formal portraits, but the portraiture that I’m thinking of when I’m making these encompasses a much bigger range than I’m thinking about right now. I’m thinking of them as distinct individuals who exist or who have existed. The idea is for the distinctness of that individual to come through and to speak in some way about a narrative that is not readily apparent. So something about the way the person is dressed or their setting or the weathering of their face tells you a story. The look in their eyes speaks of something larger. Think of society portraiture in the late 1800s, like a [John Singer] Sargent painting. He commissioned portraits of very wealthy individuals and you’re looking at the individual as much as you are at their dress, what they’re holding, what the setting is—the whole picture. With really amazing portraits, the painting of them also plays a role. The quality of paint and something about the eyes, those sorts of artistic decisions become an active part of really good portraits.

The idea of portraiture is a kind of storytelling—a distilled storytelling. I am interested in distilled narratives so the idea of trying to tell a story or hint at something larger than the individual—through the individual—became interesting to me. It’s new for me to do this and I’m not sure where it’s going to go from here. I think this is the first step at looking at these individual characters and blowing them up large. I’ve had individual figures before in my work, but they have been more distant, more distant, more deep into the picture." Laylah Ali from Art 21, PBS

onward!


From TS White's Bestiary

I've been up since five...theoretically lining up my pencils, stuffing my bag with old work, looking at random maps and then looking at MapQuest and back again. I have to get K's lunch done and get her up. Then it's gas and go. Looks like my drive to Central PA will be peaceful and nice--back roads, clear skies and cold still (frost warnings until 8 a.m. today). Chet the Lawnmower man was here and made our verdant grass look like combed velvet. Mandy moved all the "blue" hosta to the front of the house and made us a gift of a mammoth blue one which she split into four and socked in with our small offerings that we have been "cultivating" here and there on the property.

I am nuts for my tree peonies that are about a week away from the big fat buds blowing out into enormous fluffy flowers. I have put tree peonies all over the place too...and as they get bigger and woodier and able to take the deer mano a mano...I think they will be able to survive their nibbling torture. Nothing is quite like what they have at the Cornell Plantations, but we aspire...can't we? We have doubled our monarda (bee balm) as the scent (bergamot...something in Earl Grey tea) is not apppealing to the deer...and they have a nice show or red or purple (in our case) without any interruption.

K and I had a nice dinner talking about her favorite topics: boys, teenage social networkings, biology and art.The collisions of those topics are amusing and it is fun to see K. pick her way through that. I always have such a nice time with her...finding out her passion for chunks in soup, that if reincarnated--she would come back as a cockroach and so on. I came back and finished the last gasp for Carol Elizabeth, so we can have a package done by the end of the week. The night before was late because of the animal client...so a break in the wall of work is opening so we can catch our breaths before the next enslaught.

gotta go.

yap yap yapping.



See what I mean about the wisteria(top)? I saw a pot of these surreal pansies and shot this picture. I think I may use this as reference to create a vector image...that could become a pattern, end papers or just plain scrap for the next vernal job that comes my way.

The boys went off to the LPGA. K watched movies and I spent 4 hours on my animal client and the annual report/ year in review that we do...amending images, retouching, cutting in new copy, reviewing the rags, seeing what works, what doesnt. It was pleasant, almost serene to have the time to putz away on this. The week gets so harried from one identity crisis to another, from one "whoopsie daisy"--rush to the next--that a little buffer of time with no expectation was vacation for me.

I am reading the Dummys book on Wordpress. Wordpress is a blogging environment that I think will be the next step for me. You can host with Wordpress or host at your own ISP. You can set up community sites, or single authored sites. There are a zillion free templates with all the coding all ready done...that a header can be stripped into--and with the right color and type manipulation done with CSS, a relatively fresh looking blog can be created, controlled and modified as we go. Plus, as a bonus, I can port my Blogspot blog from Blogspot to Wordpress and allow me to control my fate, how its saved etc.--essentially not feeling somehow burdened by the who what why and ownership related to the Blogspot empire. And, to reinforce this, I can put my own graphics on the top. Not someone elses. Somehow inheriting a grid with some masterpage stuff is fine as there are a ton of choices and its the content, isn't it? Plus, the other piece is adding widgets to allow the reader's interface to be smoother, more interesting, more responsive, is another component where there are a ton of them that you can strip into your blog and have it operable. I know a tiny bit of HTML, and I am good with looking for bits of code to amend with color binhex numbers, and the flow diagram on fonts--which doesn't in anyway make me any kind of pro--but I can limp along. Lesson from the Vertical Response time this week setting up an emailer, the tools are familiar, the grids simple and when the color wouldn't change to my liking, I went into the code, found the color and typed in what I wanted..and it worked...affirms my thinking.

My thinking on web communications and how one delivers content is...keep it clean, keep it changeable, keep it VERY current and leave it at that. No one is coming to see the most "bent pinky" approach to the typography or the most elegant and stylish treatment of the white space--they are coming for the rant, for the picture, for the link, for the opinion or joke. Good design can be for the less flexible, the website, that adores flash and elegance...and might be a tad lighter weight in the fresh content. They both have a role, the blog and the website--how does a good communicator have them work for and with each other? And then, throw in the emailer? Wow.

So, essentially, its a way to put together blogs in a way that allows the designer a lot more visual, functional and organizational choices that can be delivered via the WordPress site, your own internet service provider that is either for individual authors or communitities. And, oh by the way, did I mention that it's mostly free? Now, all I have to do is read the book and give it a try. Worth it, eh?

Matriarchy

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 bite...so 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 matriarch...one 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.

Saying goodbye.

We had the fortune to attend a friend's father's funeral this morning. It was a very beautiful, pared back catholic service with all the traditions (referred to by my mother as the "bells and smells") highlighting and illuminating the symbolism of the faith, the spiritual and all of those things abstract but tangible during these times. I was very moved to be part of this passage of this quiet man whose strength in his faith, belief in his spiritual journey, a rock for his family and how all of this was celebrated in a manner that honored his life. The priest brought such a focus on the liturgy the way he read and sang it--focusing on the transformation of the wine into blood, and the bread into Christ's body, highlighting the sanctity of using incense and holy water to bless the body and spirit of the man who has gone. The readings were significant as was the homily--with the priest linking the way this man lived his life in his faith to Peter in a reading from the Bible. It was poetic the way he brought the broad and philosophical down to the individual--but did it he did with a gentle grace. I was touched in the almost shaker like simplicity of the service, the absolute heart that was prevalent in the church and the sense of peace in his transition. It was memorable. I am blessed to have been able to be there.

May he rest in peace.