The power of tradition and long-lasting relationships
As a young man, I never had much interest in adhering to tradition. So much of it seemed pointless, outdated or simply dull. But the passage of time has a way of changing our perspectives.
That has taken on a special relevance recently.
If given the opportunity to rewrite a little history, particularly in raising our children, I would make an effort to establish and maintain more traditions. Traditions can play a special role in providing a connection to our past, as well as to each other.
Of course, not all traditions are created equal. And not all are worth preserving.
There is one classic story, which can be found in various versions on the Internet, about a woman who is preparing a holiday ham by trimming pieces off both ends. Her husband is curious why she is removing perfectly good pieces of ham.
“My mother always did it that way,” she says.
The husband, curiosity piqued, calls his mother-in-law for an explanation.
“I don’t know how it started,” she admits. “My mother always did it, so I just started doing it, too.”
Finally, he calls the elderly grandmother, hoping to solve the mystery.
“Oh, I had no choice,” grandma explains. “During the Depression, I only had one pan. I had to cut the ham every year to make it fit.”
No doubt, there are people faithfully maintaining traditions with similar dubious histories.
Of course, tradition is most meaningful when it's not just a habit passed down but is relevant and personal. Traditions provide us an opportunity to recall, reflect and connect. I was reminded of that recently.
On Aug. 31, a long-time friend, Patricia (Pat) Anne Abernethy, died after a long battle with cancer. Our families had been close for many years. We had all been active at Hillside UMC and participated in numerous projects, ministries, and activities. I had the blessing of watching her children grow and mature while they were members of the youth group I led.
Pat’s husband, Tim, and I played softball together on the Hillside team and both volunteered on the men’s barbecue. (One fond memory: the year the fire department was called in at 4 a.m. to extinguish a raging fire when Tim fell asleep tending the cooker. The neighborhood was saved but the Boston butts were a total loss.)
Though we have known Pat and her family for many years, we have not seen as much of them recently. Life, family and career have a way of intervening. Children grow up, graduate, and marry. A new job can also mean a new address.
Pat and Tim became active members of Sixes UMC in Canton before they moved again to be closer to the grandkids.
But I don’t have any fear of all those fond memories fading away. Pat, who was a gifted artist and painter, plays an important part of our family’s Christmas tradition. For years, Tim would skillfully cut shapes out of wood and sand them down. Pat would paint them in exquisite detail. Sometimes, the unique items were raffled to raise funds for the church. Other times, they would be available at church-sponsored craft fairs. Pat’s crafts were always highly prized items.
For the past 20 years, Pat’s hand-painted Santa fireplace screen – 32-inches high and 4-feet wide -- has been a focal point of our Christmas decorations. Every year, when we pull it from storage, we are reminded of Pat, her family, and the special memories, and many laughs, we have shared.
The fireplace screen looks as bright, clean and detailed as it did the day we carried it home. It is as much a part of Christmas for our children as a tree, stockings and ornaments.
Perhaps, one day, one of our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, will ask where it came from.
There will be no mystery: The artist was a devoted, loving wife and mother who died too young. May God rest her soul and bless her family.
Glenn Hannigan is editor of the North Georgia Advocate. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.