The Mysterious Matriarch in My Mind
The steadfast image of my proud Native American great-great-great-grandmother has given me a strong sense of self for years. Does that all change if I realize that I made her up?
Illustration by Andrew Standeven
What’s especially odd is that I can clearly picture her, my great-great-great-grandmother, an Iroquois woman, stout and proud in a black dress, the mass of her dark shining hair piled into a braid on top of her head. She looks out at the camera a bit balefully, as though there was something better for her to be doing, but fine, she’ll pose here, hold still for the five minutes needed for a photograph back then. Something for future generations, she thinks, perhaps dimly anticipating me, a great-great-great-granddaughter who will want to know who she was, or at least what she looked like. I can see her heavy brow, like mine, and her dark eyes, like mine, and the jut of her cheekbones, in imitation of how mine jut if I squint. If I think hard about that photo, I can begin to imagine how I am made a bit in her image. Which is unnerving because I never actually saw the photograph. I’m no longer sure if she exists.