I began an essay several years ago with this line: I am grandmotherless.  Now, of course, I am grandparentless.  But that’s new.  At my college graduation I had four healthy grandparents (see above), and at our wedding I had three.  I’m fortunate that my grandparents were well into my adulthood, and I cherish the relationships I had with all four of them.  I wish my grandmothers had met Grace and Whit.

I know my grandmother Gaga (who was married to Pops) would have loved to have met the first-born daughter of her first-born granddaughter.  She mothered four boys, with a keen sense of humor and a frankly brilliant mind.  A few years ago, after Whit was born, Pops sent me several pages of thoughts on raising boys that she had typed years ago.  I learned a lot.

Gaga, however,  made no secret of her enthusiasm when her first grandchild (me) was a girl.  There were a lot of dolls, ruffles, and skirts at my grandparents’ house in Long Island with the curving driveway and bench-style swing in the back yard.  And I loved it.  I wish Grace could meet her, pull out the huge wicker basket of dolls and doll clothes, play with the mirror that simulated outdoor and indoor light in her dressing room, curl up against one of her pillows with arms to giggle at her reading Erma Bombeck, admire her fierce intellect and interest in medicine, which she’s inherited.

I also wish Grace could have met Nana, my mother’s mother, who was tall and elegant and who, it seemed to me, glided rather than walked.  I wish she could sit in the deep white chair on the screened-in back porch, smile at the zinnias cut from the garden that were always on Nana and Ba’s boat, Fleetwing, and eat corn that Bad had cut from their garden once the water on the stove was boiling, heard stories about her passionate love for her alma mater, Middlebury.

So much about Nana’s personality, and her quiet but powerful faith, is summed up with the hymn we sang at her funeral, Simple Gifts.  When I look up at the ceiling above the altar in church, it’s Nana I think about.  I wish Nana could know that Grace, my first-born child, carries her name, the name that is both Mum’s and my middle name.  Maybe she does know.

There’s something primal in my visceral sense of my grandmothers’ and mother’s blood beating in my veins, and in Grace’s.  Hand over hand, generation to generation, we pass down more legacies than we can count.  Big and small, conscious and not, these lessons accumulate and shape our sense of the world.  I’ve written more than once of my powerful awareness of matrilineage, of the importance of naming the chain of women from which we are descended.  I come from Susan, Priscilla, Janet, Marion, Marion, Elsie, Eleanor

I will always remember these names.  They are where I come from.  Where do you come from?


15 thoughts on “Matrilineage”

  1. How beautiful. My grandmother knew Caroline but only for a moment. I am quite sure she waited to meet her before she left this world. And how strange, I write today about my dad. He died 6 years ago now. What I would do for the girls to know him today.

  2. Hmmm, lovely. I come from Joy and Bunyan, who preferred B. Davie, which made me feel ok preferring to be Amanda Day until I had the courage to wear Davie proudly. And from Annette and Severne.

  3. Love that your grandfathers were whiskers and books … mine were books and pipes and rockets and orange-cranberry juice in the fridge in the garage. They were Henry and Lawrence, and my father, Kirtland.

  4. This post hits close to home for me!

    I come from Grace (known as Peg), for whom my daughter is named. This Saturday I will catch a plane, just for the day, to celebrate her 96th birthday with her. (It will also be my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.) My daughter’s middle name, Victoria, comes from my other grandmother. My mother is Marianne, named for her two grandmothers (Maria and Anna).

    I am so lucky to have known my grandmothers and all 4 of my great-grandmothers. They’ve all influenced me in so many ways. Wrote a little bit about my grandma here:

  5. I encourage you to consider sharing some of Gaga’s thoughts on raising boys.

    Now, it’s off to You Tube to listen to Simple Gifts. Sorry, I don’t know how to italicize in comments.

    Thanks for another wonderful post.

  6. I lost my Granny early (11) but her influence is strong. Not one of my grandparents got to see my wedding, though my Grandma knew I was engaged at the end. However, I was lucky enough to marry into more grandparents, three and a great-grandma! I treasure a picture of my firstborn at three months with her great-great grandma (101!) and another with all five generations of women.

  7. I LOVED this! I was lucky to grow up with so many great women in my life. My mom was widowed young (with 3 kids), remarried, and had me. I was blessed with another family. In fact, I get along much better with her late husband’s family.

    I have also been doing some research into my grandmother’s birth. She was adopted, but found her birth certificate as an adult. Her birth mother was not married. My granny never looked into her family because she was afraid she would be shunned. Times have changed and I have discovered that the family of the birth mother has done genealogy but never knew of my grandmother’s birth. Still researching, but I would love to know more about my great grandmother.

  8. Ditto, would love to hear your Grandmother’s wisdom on raising boys (I have three myself).

    Lindsey, this was a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing with us a glimpse about the strong and beautiful women of which you descend. Hearing about your grandmother’s wonderful traits comes at not surprise. You are such an accomplished women yourself who is sending a loving message daily to her children and those around her. (and did I mention you are so smart with words– thanks to you, my vocabulary is expanding – had to look up visceral).

    February 2nd would have been my Grandfather’s birthday so when I read your post Tuesday morning I was in tears. Our Grandparents bring us so many simple gifts as children and later as adults when they are no longer with us physically but with us in our heart daily. I find myself doing silly things because it reminds me of my grandparents. For example, I actually buy Palmolive dish soup because it reminds me of my Grandma Helen.

    I come from Maddalena, Filomena, Eufenia, Bonita, Rose, Helen, Bonnie

  9. I often think about the women in my family who have gone before me but there is great power I think in thinking about them collectively and naming them – thank you for this Lindsey.

  10. When I found your writing a couple of years ago, I could not believe the way it spoke to me. I thought I had found some soul sister. Now I realize that everyone who reads you thinks that.

    BUT now I know why I felt so connected…… my Daddy’s mama is my GAGA and my mama’s mama is my NANA! Wow. I don’t think I know anyone else who has a Gaga.

  11. I have such powerful, vivid memories of my grandmothers. They taught me so much that I still use everyday. I’m sure that’s why I end up writing grandmothers into so many of my stories!

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