Saturday, August 25, 2007

mattea

"Niobe's eyes are bigger than her stomach," my grandmother used to tell my mother. Which, actually, was not saying all that much, since I've frequently been told that my eyes are as large and round as not just saucers, but dinner plates. But what she meant, of course, was that I want things desperately, but, once I get them, am not quite sure what to do with them. Years later, in precisely the same tone of someone stating a moderately interesting, but undeniable, fact, my grandmother described my stepmother to my slightly shocked 13-year-old self in the following terms: "She's big as a barn. She can't cook. She doesn't know how to keep house. She must be good in bed."

My father was my grandmother's only living child and neither of his wives were, in my grandmother's view, nearly good enough for him. While my parents were married, my grandmother cordially detested my mother, Elinor. But after my mother ran off with the babysitter, she became St. Elinor, at least when my grandmother discussed her with my father's new wife, which was constantly. "Elinor was so tiny," she would tell my stepmother, "Do you know that she had trouble buying clothes because none of the stores carried such a small size? And Elinor has such a successful career. When she was in medical school, none of the men could believe that she had two babies at home and still did better on every test than they did." My stepmother, who, needless to say, met none of these descriptions, would smile gamely and try to change the subject. But, malicious as my grandmother could be, I never doubted that she loved me. We had the same pointy chin and the same mouth that looked sad, even when we weren't.

My grandmother's been gone for many years, but I'm thinking of her today, because I'm driving out to see my niece, who, though she looks nothing like my grandmother, has exactly the same name, first and last. Her first name is, I think, pretty, and just unusual enough that people usually ask to hear it twice. It's Mattea. Pronounced Matt-TEE-ah. And spelled the same way my grandmother spelled it: M as in mnemonic, A as in aye, T as in tsar, T as in darjeeling, E as in eye, A as in are.

18 comments:

Beruriah said...

Mattea is a beautiful name - G-d's gift. Plus I've always loved the sound of it.

Does your step-mother deserve our sympathy for this? Or did she simply deserve that description?

What is it with grandmother's and body mass? Whenever we'd go out for lunch, my grandma would comment on which of our fellow patrons ought really not to take a second trip to the buffet.

slouching mom said...

Mattea is a gorgeous name.

Your mother ran off with the babysitter? Now that's a story.

thirtysomething said...

I absolutely love that name...Mattea.

missedconceptions said...

"T as in darjeeling" is why I love your blog, Niobe.

I have always thought Mattea was a beautiful name. I have heard it pronounced Matt-eh-a, too.

My husband wants to name a daughter after his bubbe, Edith.

wannabe mom said...

this made me laugh. feisty girl, that gramma of yours. :)

painted maypole said...

love the spelling of that name!

Magpie said...

Taking your "spelling" literally, I come up with NISTIR. Is that really her name?

Mattea is a pretty name.

My Reality said...

The "T as in darjeeling" got me, too.

Mattea is a beautiful name.

tipsymarie said...

She sounds like someone I would love to know. I've always admired those who could speak so freely, even if it could be slightly improper. I guess that's one of the perks of aging -- you can say what you want.

tipsymarie said...

I posted too soon. So, your mother ran off with the babysitter? Please, do tell sometime.

meg said...

Mattea is such a pretty name. Your grandmother sounds like she was quite the feisty old lady--my Nana was too. It certainly always kept things interesting!

Julia said...

Can you tell me how to pronounce "darjeeling?" Please? I've been in this country for more than half of my life, and I still don't know...

It's funny how selective memory works though...

Beautiful name. May it be for a blessing.

LeRoy Dissing said...

Is that perhaps a scandinavian name? My great aunt has that name as well. I have not heard of anyone else called by it. I like how your grandmother just puts it out there - not many screens.

niobe said...

Leroy: I know that it's been used in Italy (though my grandmother was certainly not Italian). Mattea was the name of the wife of the 15th century explorer, John Cabot a/k/a Giovanni Caboto. It could be a Scandavian name too, since I guess it's the feminine of Matthew.

Missed Conceptions: I actually adore the name Edith. But I realize that's probably a minority opinion.

Beruriah said...

I like Edith as well.

From what I know, Mattea comes from a Hebrew root, but is common in a lot of languages.

furrow said...

It's funny how such people can sound feisty and strong to outsiders, or years after death. When you're the object of such venom, they just seem mean, small, and sad.

Mattea is a pretty name, though.

So, the babysitter. I wouldn't mind hearing about that.

ms. G said...

How interesting that your grandma liked neither of your father's wives while they were his wife...no one good enough for her little boy, perhaps?

She was probably the best person to get gossip from. :) I have heard the name Mattea as well, though never prounounced that way. I love how you mention you never doubted she loved you, I had the same feelings with my maternal grandma...now my paternal grandma, that would be quite a post!

Monica said...

I'm still laughing at the spelling! Did anyone else pull out a dictionary and try to do their name? Just wondering, not like I did or anything... Yeah, she definitely has a case of "not good enough". I hope I'm not like that. I don't think I will be because most women are better cooks, cleaners, and just more ambitious than I am, so whoever my son marries will probably be a noticeable upgrade from me. I too love that name.