She was as a matriarch of old. She had erect posture with refined ways. Even when she was doing physical labor she remained perfectly groomed. Her manner was calm, and her speech was erudite with a strong dash of authority. She came from money and married a lawyer which increased her status. She viewed herself as one of the people and yet she dined with the other crowd.
There was nothing wrong with her. She had a conversion of sorts that had made her leave the Baptist Church during the sixties. She was uncomfortable with their stance on integration. She had noticed the Unitarian Universalist Church was active in the Civil Rights movement. So one Sunday she walked out of her Baptist Church leaving husband and children behind and joined with the Unitarian Universalists. This would be her great act.
One day she called upon me to mediate the meeting. I was told I was there to work out a negotiated reconciliation between the two parties. A member had caused quite a ruckus with his persistent and unnecessary confrontational way. She and the wife of the other party had agreed to me as the grand mediator. The matriarch and the wife had been friends for many years. The wife was hurt and angry. But at the crucial moment of reconciliation the matriarch balked. The conversation turned on whether she could agree that even though wife's husband was a pain and wrong that he still had value as a person. Her back stiffened and the words were chosen carefully. She had morphed into the frozen chosen before my very eyes. She could not say anything of the sort. He was to take the consequences and if he did not like it he could stay away. I am sure she was in her mind acting as the mother hen protecting the church. But to the wife she had proven a statement she had made at the beginning of the conversation that when they had disciplined her husband ‘there was no love to be found in the room.’ And now all she asked was a recognition on the matriarch’s part of the worth and dignity of her husband. Yet this was a bridge too far.
It was then I realized that even though her professed reason for the meeting was reconciliation with an old friend it really was to put closure so she and her church would no longer have to deal with this problem. Love of any kind was not going to be in the air. I felt used. In essence I was to make it easy for her to be cold-blooded but to ensure that her cold-blooded was not too much. She needed me there to make sure she was not too inhumane and to pick up the pieces that she left broken on the ground. I was to be sure that the wife remained loving even when she offered stones for bread.
This was a new finding for me. The matriarch would always choose authority and the church over love. Love was a quaint emotion that left you weak and not with what you wanted. After the meeting the matriarch looked at me as I was locking up the building and said, ‘I thought that went well.’ I looked at her astonished and said, 'I did not think so.’ She smile in her paternal way ‘you have so much to learn’ she turned and left. She was right I had a lot to learn.
Another time she insisted she wanted to be part of a meeting to work out the details of a gay group’s use of the church building. No one thought anything about it and I thought it would be good to have the matriarch at the meeting. But at the meeting she had an agenda that disagreed with the board’s decision. The board in a long but civil discussion had voted unanimously to accept the group’s money. Money it appeared was more important than their fears and the urge to do right.
But the vote was the vote and everyone had come on board. That is why I was astonished that I was listening to her tell the leaders of the gay group that there were many who did not want to rent to them. In fact if they accepted it might split the church. She noted that they could find a better building. I noted vehemently three times it was a unanimous vote and our only job at this meeting was to welcome them and to in essence close the deal. I was once again caught unawares by the matriarch. The vote apparently had not gone her way so she thought she would ‘chase’ the group away. Her love for the church was truly amazing.
After the meeting I called the church president of the board and told him what had transpired. He was a little unsettled but in the end asked if I could set up another meeting with the group. At that meeting he stated as president that there was no internal dissension and they were welcomed with open arms. The meeting was a celebration of the new relationship we were forging with each other. They elected to come. The relationship between the gay group and the church was a good one. The church never had a complaint. Regretfully, this was only two of the times I was to experience her matronly style.
The matriarch through the years always projected an image of openness and love. She had made a decision long ago to do the right thing as the narrative was told. But the conversion as they seldom are was not complete. The head had accepted a liberality but the heart was stuck in an old way. The matriarch is admired and thought of highly for her actions are always for the good. Even if behind the loving mother is cold steel.