Virginia Ryan was a matriarch -- and I mean that in the best sense of the word. In the eulogy I prepared for my mother's Celebration of Life, I wrote the following:
You were born a Ryan. Remember how we would joke about coming from a long line of strong women? Your mother shaped our family identity and participation in family life was not an option. My childhood is filled with the memories of large family dinners on each of the holidays, visions of a beautifully set table with Grandma’s crystal and china, and the cousins singing as we did the dishes. How many hours we could spend watching old movies which recorded the ever-increasing size of our families as we scurried about on the front lawn collecting Easter eggs. Who can forget the aroma of the freshly baked pecan rolls or the trip to Clifty Falls?I know that it is not unusual, if a choice has to be made, for husbands to defer to their wives and spend the larger part of the holiday with the wife's family. However, in this family, it didn't make any difference if the wife was a Ryan or the husband was. You just knew where you were going to spend the holiday. No questions asked. I used to wonder about this as a child, but there was no place else I'd rather be. Where else could all of us spend the holidays with cousins of the same age -- we came in "cohorts".
Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years (until that became too much) and Easter was spent at Grandma and Grandpa's. I often think that not everyone would be so welcoming to families that arrive with 4 - 8 children. If I had to pull something like that off, I'd shudder.
Until Great-Grandpa Vonderheide died in 1959, he had the prize position at the head of the table. Grandpa inherited it after that. All of us share common memories:
- red or black cows made with vanilla ice cream and either red "pop" or root beer
- butter cookies made with a cookie press that had little sprinkles on them
- presents for each of us grouped by family
- a group picture of each family to give testament to our ever-expanding family sizes
- the bottom drawer of the buffet that held toys -- but whatever you did, you were not to touch the dining room table
- sneaking into Grandpa's workshop in the basement which was off-limits
- singing as we did the dishes and cleaned everything up
- believing that Grandma had "eyes in the back of her head" and that she'd catch you for sure.
- knowing you "belonged" and were loved
I was happy to find a picture in my photo album that was labeled "Dan". Notice the age of the cars in the background. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.
Nothing would give me more pleasure than my dear siblings and cousins adding some of their remembrances in the comments box. They will then become a part of "our" record.
We had an unmatched childhood -- one that has served me my entire life.