Tuesday, January 8, 2008
The Treasure of Traditions
A number of years ago I cowrote a book on family traditions. It was one of my favorite books that I've written because it celebrated the impact of traditions on families, and because it gave me the opportunity to honor our family tradition maker: my mom, Paula Sapp.
Though that book has been out of print for a number of years, I still get emails and calls about it. One such call just recently got me to thinking: Maybe it's time for another traditions book. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. Because I love traditions. My family has a lot of them, many of which my mom carried on from her childhood. And not just at Christmas time. New Year's, St. Patty's, Valentines, birthdays...they all held such wonder for us as kids because Mom made the special. She decorated the whole house for these special times, and the meal on each holiday was grand. St. Pat's, for example, everything was green. The table cloth, the plates, even the food itself. And at our places were little gifts, wrapped in green. Valentine's, it was all in red. I'd wake up on these holidays full of anticipation and excitement, because Mom had such a gift for making them fun and wonderfully memorable.
That's one of the reasons I love traditions so much. They keep people alive in our hearts and minds. Each year since Mom died, as I've carried on the traditions she set in our family, I can feel her there beside me. I can close my eyes and see her smile as she set the table or fixed a special meal. I can hear her pleased laughter as we came to the table and exclaimed over it all. Following these traditions brings memories of her flooding over me.
Another reason I love traditions is that they bring families close together. In addition to my family traditions, Don and I have developed traditions all our own. They remind us where we've been and how far we've come together. And they let us step out of the everyday for a moment to savor being together.
The cool thing about traditions is that you can be miles apart, but knowing you're sharing a tradition on a certain day makes you feel close, connected. And when you're all together, traditions can deepen your enjoyment of each other. Whether simple and small, or elaborate and extensive, traditions are treasures we pass on from generation to generation. And then there are the stories we all have that stem from our efforts to follow or make traditions! I swear, traditions are the perfect breeding ground for adventure.
Here are a few of my favorite family traditions/adventures:
Every birthday we got to choose where we wanted to go for dinner, or what we wanted Mom to fix. My all-time favorite place to be was the Oregon coast, so every year I'd ask to have a picnic at Harris Beach, over on the coast. We'd make the several hour drive playing games like States and I Spy, then head for our favorite table when we reached Harris Beach. The table we liked best overlooked the beach, and was surrounded by shrubs teeming with squirrels. We'd set up the meal, then have a blast coaxing the squirrels from the shrubs with tidbits of food. The seagulls would hover overhead, and we'd toss food into the air and watch them catch it on the fly! After the meal it was down to the beach to wade in the water as we searched for rocks and shells. It was a wonderful way to celebrate together.
For many years, my dad baked a cake from scratch for his and mom's anniversary. It was a "surprise," but we all knew it was coming. I can still see him standing at the counter, ingredients around him, mixing away. And I can still see Mom's delight each time she received her "surprise." When I was 16 I took on the mantle backing a cake from scratch for them. Unfortunately, I hadn't made frosting from scratch before, so when the recipe asked for "confectioner's sugar", well, I didn't have a clue. I couldn't ask mom because the cake was a surprise, right? So I tried every sugar I could: white, brown, honey, molasses...it was a disaster! By the time I thought to call one of the church ladies, who told me what I wanted was powdered sugar, I had two huge containers of flopped frosting hidden under the kitchen sink. Why I didn't throw the frostings away, I'll never know. I'm not sure what Mom and Dad enjoyed most--the final cake with its perfect frosting, or hearing about my escapades--and seeing the evidence for themselves!
So how about you? Do you have a tradition or memory you'd like to share? I look forward to reading your stories too!