Archive for July, 2013

Matriarchs and Oldest Daughters

July 30, 2013 3 comments

Lindy Boggs — wife, mother, grandmother and public servantdied last Saturday at the age of 97.  The widow of  Majority Leader Hale Boggs who in her own right became a  nine-term congresswoman from Louisiana and later U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Lindy Boggs was known for her ability to rise to whatever challenge life presented and to respond to those challenges with ingrained graciousness.

Her oldest child is  Cokie Roberts —  sister, wife, mother, grandmother, acclaimed journalist and author of (among others) We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters.  Her admiration for and emulation of her mother are widely documented.  It is Cokie who is especially in my thoughts and prayers today, and to whom I send my deepest condolences.  No doubt that’s because of the affinity I feel as an oldest daughter who lost my own mother a few years ago.

A niece by marriage recently pointed out that since my mother has passed,  I am now the matriarch of the family. I was somewhat taken aback by what she said.   “Matriarch” is a title I never aspired to or  — truth be known —  found particularly appealing.    Maybe that’s because the word “matriarch” has such a, well, such an “old” sound to it.  A kind of wrinkled Queen Victoria image.  Or maybe it’s  because I’ve always intuitively known that it can be lonely at the top.

Whatever the case, I decided to follow the advice I give  my Comp I  students.  Check the dictionary. See for yourself if  the word means what you think it means.

According to online definitions, a matriarch can be either  a female who is head of a family or tribe or “an older woman who is powerful within a family or organization.”  Hmmm. Some would say becoming the family matriarch is  a natural progression for oldest daughters.   Growing up  — especially if we’re also oldest children — we often unwittingly set the barre for behavior and achievements in our families.  We are  probably also observed as we lead the way into the higher (I prefer that to “later”) age and life brackets that our culture goes to great lengths to run away from.

And though from my personal perspective, it’s far too soon to actually be one,  I’m willing to consider someday using “matriarch” as a descriptor.  For the time being, I’m  hoping I can live up to an unattributed quote on a guest towel a next-generation, politically active friend gave me:

Here’s to good women.  May we know them,  May we be them, May we raise them.

And when matriarchs, may we use our “power” wisely.