Before you enter my grandmother’s house, you can look down at the pavement and see the names of the younger family members you’re about to greet etched into the cement. That slab, covered with names and the memories attached to them, is your first greeting.
It’s 7:06 pm on a Sunday evening and Bobby Blue Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” blares from the B side of a 45. My uncle calls “BIG 6” and slams a domino on the small square card table, sending Crown Royal spilling over a cup’s edge. The shrill, yet welcome, sound of children’s laughter fills the air. The smell of fried pork chops, candied yams, greens, and hot water cornbread wafts through the living room as the screen door swings and a cluster of booming voices say, “Hey y’all!” as more loved ones enter.
It’s 2002, I am 9 years old and this is dinner at my grandma’s house. Every Sunday, the tiniest house on the block was filled with enough food, laughter, and love to make you forget about anything beyond those four walls.
I’m 29 now and the uncles who once slammed bones in the living room have passed on. The children have traded hide and seek for dances on TikTok and Instagram and the women of my family are now looking to my cousins and I to step up. This fact didn’t fully set in until I was given the blessing to make the peach cobbler for Thanksgiving this year.
In mid-October, the family group chat started buzzing with questions about Thanksgiving dinner.
“How many turkeys are we doing this year?”
“Do we need a whole ham or just a half and a couple of cornish hens?”
Dish by dish, my aunties started delegating who was doing what. Then, something different happened: my cousin said he was going to help prepare the greens, then his sister said she was going to make some cheesecakes. I was stunned. I thought to myself, “We are not the grandkids anymore, we grown.”
I couldn’t be the only cousin not pitching in. Before I knew it, I’d fired off a text saying I was going to make the peach cobbler. Now granted, I never in a million years thought my family would go for that. I just knew they’d know I was being facetious and would get a good laugh. However, the joke was on me because the next text said, “You gotta make 3 cobblers before Thanksgiving so we can see what you workin’ with.”
I accepted the challenge, even as it filled me with an array of feelings.
See, the thought of my grandmother and her sisters no longer physically being here elicits sadness, and I am fearful of ever having to fill their shoes. Right now I’m figuring out how to cook the meals they craft best, but I wonder how my younger family members will step up in other areas. Who will have the home remedies to knock out a fever within an hour? Who will sew the hem of our dresses? How will we know the ratio of baking soda to vinegar to remove stains?
This anxiety took over as I thought to myself, “OMG, I’m a millennial matriarch.”
Then I realized we’d been preparing for this all along.
I worked my way up to this moment by standing hip high next to my great aunt as she peeled peaches, standing on a stool while my mama prepared greens and snapping peas under the supervision of the elders. It was in those subtle ways that they passed down what we would need to keep going when they were gone. Looking back, I see more than the techniques themselves, what they were really passing on was an intangible legacy.
They were instilling in us the principles of dedication (following a recipe until the end), grace (going easy on yourself when the meal doesn’t go as planned), and responsibility (making sure our people are nourished).
I’m happy to report that my first peach cobbler was so successful that the additional trial runs were cancelled. The pride I felt after my aunties gave my cobbler their stamp of approval was unmatched. I was thrilled, taking to Instagram live to tell my followers about the experience. That’s when I discovered I wasn’t experiencing this alone. DM after DM came in from people congratulating me and telling me they too were in charge of various, integral dishes.
Together, we were all experiencing this coming of age moment in the form of family dinner.
We, the children of the ‘99 and 2000, are experiencing a changing of the guard. We’re starting families, buying homes, settling into our careers, and some of us have even begun to see what caring for our aging parents looks like. We are moving into a realm of familial responsibility that’s new for a lot of us. I welcome the shift.
As the Oak Cliff neighborhood begins to change, construction has come through to widen the street my grandmother lives on. While my family is grateful for the extra parking space (we outgrew her one bedroom house ages ago), it didn’t come without sacrifice. The construction crew had to break up the concrete slab with our names on it to make way for the smooth new road. Seeing the hole made my heart sink.
As I stood staring at the hole with a heavy heart, my 9 year old cousin cheerfully walked up to me and said, “Now we can start over and add everybody’s names!” She was so young, her name had never been on the sidewalk. This piece of family history that was so important to me didn’t even include her and while I was busy mourning what was, she was looking at the possibility of what could be.
So to anyone out there who may be experiencing this shift in your family, who may be becoming a millennial matriarch, don’t panic. Take a minute to recall the moments when an elder may have guided you and reflect on their nuggets of wisdom. Most importantly, take it as an opportunity to help guide your family into the future.
My Family’s Peach Cobbler Recipe (Don’t be afraid to eyeball it. I know I did.)
Pure Vanilla Extract
***Store bought crust (for the millennial matriarchs who aren’t bout that “from scratch” life)
Preheat oven to 350°
- Make crust: Sift together flour, a bit of white sugar, and about a teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl. Work in shortening and butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Slowly add COLD watering stirring with a spatula or rubber spoon till large clumps begin to form. Work with hands to form dough into a ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Roll out the chilled dough. Place in a baking dish, covering the bottom and halfway up the sides. Brush with melted butter and cinnamon.
- Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
- Make filling: Mix freshly peeled peaches, canned peaches (draining half of the juice), lemon juice, vanilla extract, and a stick of butter in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Stir together brown sugar, white sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl; mix into peach mixture until combined.
- Let this mixture cook for 5-10 min. The color should be a deep brown and the consistency of a loose syrup. Carefully scoop mixture into baked crust, draining a bit of the syrup with each scoop.
- Cut the remaining dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Weave strips into a lattice over peaches. Sprinkle with cinnamon & sugar, then drizzle with melted butter.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the top crust is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. Brush again with melted butter & cinnamon/sugar mix.
- Serve with vanilla ice cream using the syrup from your filling as sauce.