The Matriarch

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the first large canyon of the Yellowstone River. You might say it’s the matriarch.

We spent five days touring Yellowstone, and four were in my Outback. It’s a roomy vehicle, that was sufficient for us five adults, with me behind the wheel, my copilot wife, Kay, next to me, and my brother, Rowan, his wife, Connie, and my grandnephew Wiley, in the back seat.

Some claim the Yellowstone River gets its name from the Minnetaree tribe, who named it Mi tse a-da-zi (Yellow Rock River), after the yellow rock of this Grand Canyon it flows through.

Cell service is spotty in the park, but sufficient enough to hear the frequent sound of texts arriving at Connie’s phone. Connie is the matriarch of the family. She and Rowan have pockets as deep as the Grand Canyon. When a family member, whether child, grandchild, ex-in-law, sibling, nephew, or niece, has a problem, who do they call? Problem-Busters. Rowan and Connie.

But they don’t talk to Rowan. Connie holds the purse strings.

The Yellowstone River is about 692 miles long, and is the principal tributary of the upper Missouri River.

Their 29-year-old daughter, who lives with them rent-free, texted from a thousand miles away. She needed help with a flat tire. Connie texted back, suggesting she call Triple-A. Problem busted. It was nice to know that not all problem busting costs them money. Sometimes they just use a little brain power.

Their ex-daughter-in-law, whom they employ, and whom they help out with all kinds of problems, texted with a computer issue. Connie and Rowan conferred with each other, then texted the solution back. Problem busted. And again, with only brain power.

Their son, who lives rent-free down the street from Rowan and Connie, in a house Rowan and Connie owns, texted from a hospital about a medical emergency going on with a grandson. Brain power couldn’t help this time. But the problem was busted. They didn’t tell us how, but I wonder just how deep they had to reach into their Grand Canyon pockets.

Kay and I cast knowing looks at each other. We’ve seen this pattern before. In Kay’s parents.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is 24 miles long, and 800 to 1200 feet deep. The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River can be seen in the distance, marking the beginning of this Grand Canyon.

Kay’s mother, Ravena, was also a matriarch. And everyone came to her with their problems. And with a hand stretched out. And Ravena was always there for them, with a lecture on how to straighten out their lives, and a big wad of cash for their palms.

They never took her advice, but they always took the cash.

The Lower Falls of Yellowstone River tumble 308 feet, and are nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls. It’s flow rate is far less than that of Niagara, but still it drains more water than any other fall of the U.S. Rocky Mountains.

And they resented her. Her words of wisdom were trenchant and came from a place of deep and obsessive rumination. She was blunt and never let up. She ranted at them at length, as they squirmed in their chair.

For example, she often ranted to her promiscuous granddaughter, “A stiff prick has no conscience. Take your legs out of the air. Try having more than one kid from the same father.” (As she handed her money to buy baby clothes.)

I pity the fool who tries to navigate these waters in a rubber raft.

They may have gotten a fine handout from Ravena, but at the cost of their dignity, from her verbal browbeatings. And so between them and the matriarch existed the same kind of natural enmity that exists between an employer and employee. A tension that grows no gratitude.

Yellowstone Falls consists of two great cataracts, known as the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls. You’ve seen Lower Falls. These are the Upper Falls. The Lower Falls are about a quarter-mile downstream, at the beginning of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

When my in-laws aged to the point of enfeeblement, nobody showed up to help. Because nobody had grown any gratitude.

Except Kay and me. But we had not been leaching off them. We always bought our own cars, and we paid off our own house. And when life threw catastrophes at us, we wrote the checks to cover the crises. So we stayed out of the browbeating line, and retained our dignity.

And for that, we felt gratitude.

Native Americans described Yellowstone Falls to Lewis and Clark. They dutifully made note of it, but did not believe the natives.

That made it possible for us to appreciate and love her, and my father-in-law, Jake, like no other family member could. We saw something in them beyond a handout. We developed a great friendship with them.

We took over their care. And we accompanied them through their final journey through life, saving them from the humiliation of nursing home confinement.

It wasn’t easy. And we’re no saints. Sometimes we wished we could run away from this heavy responsibility that trammeled our freedom. But we stuck it out. To the end.

The year 1824 marked the first time a European saw Yellowstone Falls. He was a French trapper named Baptise Ducharme.

I only hope Rowan and Connie will have a similar family member to love and care for them in their enfeebled years. But so far, I’ve seen no sign of it. The matriarch and my brother are traveling a path paved with ingratitude and abandonment. But perhaps, if there truly is a Unicorn god, and they pray hard enough to it, somebody will step up to the plate.

The Yellowstone River can vary dramatically in flow rate over the seasons, from as low as 680 cubic feet per second in the autumn, to 8,400 cubic feet per second during the late springtime.

I pulled into a parking lot at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The cell phone in the back seat went silent. A relief. Rowan and the matriarch were safe for the moment.

There was no service.

The canyon walls grow higher and higher, as the Yellowstone River flows closer and closer to the Lower Falls, and the beginning of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Categories: Travel

16 replies »

  1. Yeah, I have known people that just pound their parents for money every time anything happens, well into their adult life and their parents just keep opening up the wallet. This makes me think of how I am going to ensure that my kids are independent adults. I have an 18YO starting college and a High School Junior currently.

    I tried to get away from needing mommy’s money as early in life as I could (19 or 20 I think), but I have a friend who’s parents are still shelling out tons for their late twenty-something son and daughter. The daughter lives in a house that her mother bought. The son is a useless moron who is in and out of their house on a regular basis. This kind of scares me. These two entitled fools have no clue how to live their lives. Hard for me to judge too much as I have never successfully launched adult children yet.

    I do plan for my 50s to be all about me. It’ll be like my 20s except now I have some money.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s apparently harder and harder to launch kids these days. Wages are low and college is expensive. Good luck with your efforts. You have quite a challenge.

      I left home at age 20, but returned at 23. I finally launched for good at 25, and haven’t looked back. I’d really hate to go back to that situation again.

      Making it to your 50’s, with money, sounds like a great plan to me. Been there, done that. It’s the prime of life, especially when there’s cash to spend.


  2. Love how you related the water flows and falls to the flow and falls from one generation to the next. There’s nothing wrong with a little financial help — but these seem crazy excessive. Maybe it will be better for your brother, since the help comes without the Lecture?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I’m not sure if the help comes without the lecture, as I don’t know what they’re saying when I’m out of earshot. I do know they were very controlling parents, in their efforts to give their kids a strict religious upbringing. And their kids rebelled against their religion as soon as they became adults. So some tension already exists between them.


    • You’ve got that right. But they’re nice folks, in spite of their coffee addictions. I worry that they’re setting themselves up for disappointment someday down the line, when they discover just how rare gratitude can be.

      I think for some people, the best way to take a vacation is to ditch the cell phone.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your tales interwoven with photos of majestic scenery. These canyons and waterways are the things of my dreams! I LOVE wild country!!I

    Family relationships are complex. It’s ironic that gratitude rarely accompanies repeated handouts. It becomes an expectation and the more money that’s involved, the greater the level of expectation. I see that in a friend right now. She comes from a wealthy family and her sense of entitlement boggles my mind.

    The telling story was the 29 year old who couldn’t problem solve their own way out of a flat tire. If I got a text like that from one of my sons while I was on vacation, I would feel like I failed as a parent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you’re liking it. But my photos really don’t do this canyon justice. It’s hard to completely capture the depth and ruggedness with a lens.

      You sum it up well, concerning a sense of entitlement. And when a relative is cut off, or denied a request, that sense can make itself known in some ugly ways. It’s pretty sad.


      • I know what you mean about the camera not being able to fully capture the grandeur of the canyon. I felt the same way about my visit to the Grand Canyon years ago. After a while I just plunked myself down on a rock and tried to absorb it.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Great pics of the Falls! Love waterfalls.
    Really sad about the ingratitude of your brother’s children, glad they escaped cell service for awhile! I hope things can change. That the kids can learn to be grateful and that perhaps your brother and sister in law put a limit on how deep they reach into their pockets.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. They’re beautiful waterfalls.

      I think gratitude takes practice. And maybe that’s why it’s so rare. I don’t know if my brother and s-i-l have placed limits, but I sure hope so. Otherwise they’ll be eaten alive by their own kids.

      Liked by 1 person

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