Meet… the grays

Oma, Ester, and Vava

Left to Right: Gabriele (Oma), Ester and Sofia (Vavo)… the three grand-matriarchs

If you’d like to listen to this post, click ‘play’ right above…

Apparently, I’m a matriarch, as my son Graham reminded me last weekend. 

Until this Thanksgiving, I thought this was holiday code for  “Are you gonna bake some pies?” because I’ve noticed the matriarchal handle typically kicks in on occasions involving turkey, relative(s) arriving or leaving, and a room overheated by a pile of bodies belonging to family and friends.

Cue Thanksgiving 2015…

This year, the Halifax holiday body count was high, nineteen in total, and there were five matriarchs in attendance, though none of us baked a pie.

Aside from me, Sara’s mom (Heidi) was here, and with her came her mom (Oma), mom-in-law (Vavo) and aunt-in-law, Vavo’s sister, Ester. We subdivided the matriarchal posse into The Grays (grand-matriarchs) and The Moms (mid-matriarchs) to keep things straight.

Added to the crew were another fourteen, all in their early 20s, comprised of family (Graham, Warren and nephew Spencer for me, and Sara’ s Grays, mom Heidi, sister Steff + boyfriend Zach and cousin Cloe) and then assorted friends, old and new.

Confused yet? Not to worry…

See, I thought the 20s posse would have dominated this post, by sheer volume alone. But, nope. This is about the three grand-matriarchs , who stole this holiday show.

The Vavo, Oma and Ester edge began, for me, with the turkey, which was supposed to be part of my contribution. But I hate cooking meat that doesn’t come in parts. I’ll gladly take a pile of breasts or thighs over a whole carcass because my imagination puts feathers and a head back on the carcass, and I just get sad.

Happily, The Grays volunteered to cook the turkey, so I dropped it off to them in a plastic grocery bag Saturday afternoon. (When I saw it again on Sunday, it was on my plate, with gravy.)

The dinner plan was to gather at Sara’s, which was the only house big enough to accommodate all nineteen of us, and by the time I arrived mid-afternoon for dinner preparation, it was clear who the bosses were…

Aproned up, bearing knives and potato mashers, The Grays owned the kitchen, moving with ease and confidence between sink, stove, fridge and table, commandeering ingredients, implements and people.

I stepped aside and meekly slid my other offering, pork roast, into the oven to keep warm. Then I watched Oma attack ten pounds of hot potatoes and turn them into mashed buttery heaven, while Vavo and Ester twitched their noses like Samantha Stevens in Bewitched, and the kitchen was magically clean and food ready to serve.

The Grays led all of us in a rousing rendition of Johnny Appleseed sing-along grace, frat style, and then we broke Thanksgiving bread together, just about all of us fitting, elbow to elbow, around a giant make-shift table, and we gobbled up the bounty.  (PS See Video #1 at end of post.)

Now, we all know the warm fuzzies that follow multi-generational gatherings at turkey-time, but some extras accompanied this gang of grand-matriarchs. They provided entertainment.

The unexpected show came post-dinner, when most of us were lounging on the-biggest-couch-in-the-world, in Sara’s living room. PS… thank you student-landlords for finding monster sofas to populate gathering spaces…

Believe it or not (and take a note of this to everyone my age), the younger posse stacked their phones on the table, and agreed not to touch them, so we could enjoy each other’s company, rather than stare at tops of bent heads and fingers jabbing away at screens all night. (This was evidence, indeed, that maybe this generation is gonna figure things out after all.)

Minus the customary distractions, we were left with the antiquated art of conversation…

I got things started with the brilliant idea to play an old-fashioned game of “Telephone.” Everyone was in, and three rounds later, we were suitably warmed up for The Grays second act: Vavo.

“Vavo, tell us the joke about Shakespeare,” Heidi said to her mother-in-law.

Then Ester, who’s on the quiet side, gave Vavo a sisterly elbow in the ribs and a knowing look.

“Well then,” said Vavo, taking over the stage.

…and she was off with a routine that would rival Danny McBride in “This is the End.”

In fact, he could probably take a lesson or two from Vavo’s delivery, which included accents, facial expressions and liberal use of the ‘f’ bomb, not to mention words such as ‘erection’ and ‘balls’ and phrases like “I’m coming,” only not meant in the clean way. (PS See Video #2 of “clean” joke at end of post.)

Half an hour and many jokes later, Vavo glanced over at everyone on the couch, arms held over sore abs that were aching from laughter, and took a well-timed break. It was clear this woman knew how to read her audience.

Satisfied with her work, Vavo settled back in her seat, taking on the unassuming look of an innocent grandmother.

I glanced at Oma and Ester, sitting on either side of her, and read their matter-of-fact expressions which seemed to say, “What, you think that’s all she’s got? You ain’t seen nothing.”

Oma, Vavo and Ester—they owned.

Later that night, when I was home, I looked up the word “matriarch” in the dictionary. According to, a matriarch is:

  1. the head of a family or tribe;
  2. a woman who is the founder or dominant member of a community or group;
  3. a venerable old woman.

Hmmmm…. interesting.

The next day, I visited with the grand-matriarchs and asked them many questions about their lives and families.

Oma told me about leaving Germany, in 1952, by herself at the age of 16, to come to Canada, barely even knowing English, but with the conviction that this country could offer her a chance for a better life. When she was in Halifax, she visited the place her boat, the MS Italia, docked all those years ago, Pier 21, for the first time since the young woman she was stepped on foreign soil. Oma made her way to Ontario, married Eugene and had two children. And decades later, my son is dating her daughter Heidi’s child, Sara.

I talked to Vavo and Ester, about their early lives, living in the Azores. They spoke of their father, who left when the youngest of their siblings was only a baby, to set down roots in Bermuda. Their mother raised her five children, alone for seven years, until  the entire family moved to Bermuda to join their father, who by then, was a virtual stranger. Esther moved to Belgium, while Vavo stayed in Bermuda. She married Michael, and bore seven children, a daughter who passed, and six sons. In 1973, she and her husband moved the family to Canada, for their better life. And decades later, my son is dating Vavo’s son Dan’s child, Sara.

As they answered my questions, they told funny stories, sad stories and sometimes Vavo slipped in a quick one-liner. One fretted bout her iPad batteries not being charged enough for the plane ride home, one shared secrets of her apple pancakes recipe and another reminded me—she was the younger sister.

Yes, Oma, Vavo and Ester are matriarchs, in every wonderful sense of the world. They are heads of tribes and dominant members of a group. But what I think of even more, after my weekend with them,  is the definition of the word “venerable” by Webster’s:

  1. calling forth respect through age, character and attainment; conveying an impression of goodness and benevolence

Yah, Graham, I get it. Being a matriarch… it’s not so much about baking pies, though I don’t mind doing that too.

PS Vavo’s name is Sofia and Oma’s is Gabriele and Ester… is Ester…

Video #1 

Video #2 

PPS Music Credits: Jaakko Eino Kalevi – Don’t Ask Me Why and John Lennon – Mother

PPPS If you like what you read, please follow me. There are two boxes… Click the “follow” box at the bottom of the screen, and  NOT the one that has a little ‘w.’ Pop in your email, and you will be sent a confirmation email. Open it, okay it and bish, bam boom… you will get an email with telling you I’ve posted… which is once a week, whether you need to hear from me or not. Hmmm… kinda the same schedule as my showers… Yah… I know… joke is getting old… but so am I.

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