In some families with children, parents try to raise their children to grow up to get good jobs, be good citizens, be parents themselves someday, and hopefully carry on family names and traditions.
Each parent in those families assumes a role and takes on different tasks to try and make those scenarios become realities in their chapter of the family history. When one of those parents passes away, the other one tries to assume both roles, working toward keeping the family legacy alive for future generations.
Recently, I was able to share in the 90th birthday of a woman who has taken on said responsibilities, a woman who I feel is a true matriarch in every sense of the word.
My great-aunt Mary, a resident of Frewsburg for all my years on Earth, serves the Lombardo family as a counselor, an encyclopedia of family biographies, history, past events, and she's the family's genealogical expert.
Even today, at 90 years young, she is sharp as a tack. Ask her any question about a family member or past event, and she'll give you a picture-perfect explanation of who that person was, or the who, what, when, where, why, and how of each event.
My father worked for many years at my Uncle Joe's Frewsburg Pharmacy in the early years of my life, and we shared many years of family traditions with Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe's family. My sister, Sandy and brother, Lou, were very close in age to their first three kids: Greg, Jim and Anne. Their daughter Christine and I were born in the same year, my cousin Steve came along when Chris and I were 5, and my brother Tom made his family debut six years after that.
All of us remember Christmas Eves spent at their home at 109 W. Main St., in Frewsburg. I picture vividly each room of Aunt Mary's home, beautifully adorned and maintained, and the decorations so perfectly complimenting their home.
I can smell the Korv and Italian sausage just finishing up in the oven as we arrived. I remember the taste of Aunt Mary's cheesy potatoes, meticulously diced in cubes, each almost to perfectly exact size. I remember the beautiful tray of cookies placed on the table after dinner as the adults enjoyed their coffee while we kids finished and went into the living room or sun room to play.
When Mom, Dad, Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe were finished, the table was cleared, and the dishes were taken care of, then we all sat a while in the living room. Maybe Christine was "asked" (told) to play a few piano pieces, and the adults talked before it was time for us to leave and their family to get ready for Midnight Mass. Some of the traditional pieces of decor, which weren't really meant to be decorations, were the crisply ironed cassocks and surpluses which hung by their front door, ready for use by Greg and Jim at that mass. Later on in years, the site of our Christmas Eves shifted to our house in Jamestown, but many of the traditions continued.
Other fond memories I have are summertimes when Dad and Uncle Joe would get cabins at Allegany State Park, and both families would spend a week enjoying the great outdoors.
Of course, Mom and Aunt Mary would make sure we had everything we needed, food-wise, entertainment-wise, and even feeding-the-animals-wise. I remember that Mom and Aunt Mary were not fond of the facilities (outhouses), so, if memory serves me correctly, they would get in the car and drive to the nearest "real" bathroom. Great times ... great memories.
Since those days we've lost Dad, Uncle Joe and Mom, but Aunt Mary is still with us, still serving as a family adviser, family historian, and she's watched her family grow and grow.
Not only is she a mother, she's a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a grandmother-in-law and great-grandmother, not to mention an aunt, a great-aunt and a great friend.
She's still active, getting together once a week with her friends, usually Thursday night wing night at the legion. She never minces words. If she wants to tell you something, she does. She's an avid Buffalo Bills fan, and she's joined the world of social networking, keeping in touch with many family and friends on Facebook.
She loves television, she doesn't miss holiday get-togethers, and maintains great concern and interest in what every generation of the family is doing in their lives. She has willfully taken on the role of "family matriarch" and willingly taken on the responsibilities of what that title carries.
As we sat there watching her at her 90th birthday celebration, so many memories of times spent in her company came back and were so clear, it seemed like they happened yesterday. We were so grateful for the invitation to share in her special night, and it didn't end with dinner and the singing of "Happy Birthday."
After we left the restaurant, Aunt Mary led the post-dinner celebration at the Frewsburg Legion, where she had a drink, played some tickets, and conversed, and laughed, way past midnight. When we left, she appeared to have more energy than many of us celebrating with her.
I'm sure each family has their own matriarch or patriarch and can tell their own stories or recall their own memories. I urge all of you to do so, especially younger members of families. As a history teacher, I always encouraged my students to refer to primary sources if they could. There's no better primary source regarding a family history than the person who has seen and lived the most.
For us, it was a memorable night sharing our matriarch's birthday. Can't wait to see what she'll do on her 100th.