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May Brings Traditions

Just when life seems uncertain, May arrives and brings traditions, events that remind me that some things in life are certain.  I reach for the security of May traditions.

            I’ve written twelve Mother’s Day columns and have nothing new to share, but celebrating moms is a tradition to hold dear.  My mom made corsages of white flowers for both my grandmothers to wear in memory of their mothers, and Mom and I wore red flowers to honor our living moms when we went to church on the second Sunday in May. Because Mom honored her mom and mother-in-law, Dad made sure that my brother and I gave presents and showed Mom our appreciation and love. 

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day on May 9, 1914, and he asked Americans to give a public “thank you” to their mothers and all mothers.  For 110 years, we’ve celebrated Mother’s Day.

            Everyone knows someone who will don a cap and gown and be handed a diploma soon.  Across our country, 3.7 million high school students are expected to graduate.  Here in Putnam County’s public schools, more than 500 students will earn their diplomas – private schools and homeschool programs add to that number of graduates. 

            All graduates aren’t 18-years-old and attended school for thirteen years.  We honor kindergarteners and students who finish the highest grade in a school.  Many schools will hold 4th grade or 6th grade or 8th grade graduations, and academic programs, such as medical coding, hold spring graduations.  Colleges and universities, medical schools, and trade schools graduate students in May.

            The Boston Latin School, which opened in 1635, in Boston, Massachusetts was the first public high school that continues to graduate students.  Students have graduated for almost 400 years.

            The end of May brings Memorial Day.  Maybe only those of us who grew up in rural communities or who live near cemeteries where our ancestors are buried celebrate this day.          

As a child, I went with my grandparents and parents to place flowers on family members’ graves and I still do that – even leaving a silk rose for my great-grandparents, Elizabeth and David Rich, whom I never met, but heard Dad’s stories about them. 

The first Memorial Day was observed at Waterloo, New York, on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.  Businesses closed and flags were flown at half-staff. During the late 1800s, communities across our country remembered those who had lost their lives during war.  After World War I, Memorial Day was established as a national holiday to honor those who had died in America’s wars.  

Some cemeteries set a day and time for decoration for families to gather and share ‘dinner on the ground.’ 

            According to Merriam-Webster, a tradition is an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or belief.  We need traditions because they connect generations and keep us moving forward.  Celebrating Mother’s Day, graduations, and Memorial Day are traditions to cherish, promises that there are certainties in life.


Breaking Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is about traditions and I cherish traditions. Even before I was born, Mom, her two sisters, and their parents celebrated together on Thanksgiving Day at noon.  The number of place settings at the table has changed over the past 75 years (yes, 75!). Card tables were set up for us children and grandchildren, and then the passing of grandparents and parents meant we children moved to the dining room table.  Thankfully, in-laws graciously gave us this day, and we’ve welcomed parents-in-law, in-law siblings, boyfriends, and girlfriends.

            Now, we who were born into this tradition are grandparents, and although none of us carry our maternal grandparents’ last name, we gather for the Bertram Family Thanksgiving.  But not this year.  On Thanksgiving Day, we might be with a son’s or daughter’s family. Maybe with a few people that we’ve claimed into our COVID-safe bubble. Maybe alone. 

            I wince when I hear someone say that rules are made to be broken, meaning it’s acceptable, or even good, to break a rule. Rules keep us safe and provide peace and order.  But, we all know instances when rules were broken for good at that moment.

            I take that stance with traditions.  Traditions are made to be broken. It’s the safest and best for my family to not be together this Thanksgiving.  I’ll miss my cousins and their families.  The hugs.  The laughing over the re-telling of stories about our parents and grandparents.  The first time to see a cousin’s six-month-old granddaughter.  The dividing of leftovers. The kitchen clean-up with my sister-in-law and cousins because the best conversations are over the kitchen sink, not at the dinner table. 

            Several weeks ago, I came to terms with our decision and pondered how to make this Thanksgiving a celebration with only Husband and Daughter’s family.  It’s the food.  As Daughter said, “The best meal of the year!” We pared the menu to turkey, cornbread dressing, a few sides, bread, and pies.

            And I thought of two things to make our Thanksgiving unique: turkey bread and a tablecloth.  I hope our Grands and their parents look back on Thanksgiving 2020 and remember that’s when I baked bread that looked kinda’ like a turkey, and we drew and wrote on the table cloth. 

            Neither idea is original. The bread is baked in a round cake pan with one big round roll in the middle (the turkey body) surrounded by smaller rolls (feathers), and a bread dough turkey neck and head draped over the body.  A whole clove marks the turkey’s eye and yellow and brown and orange sprinkles decorate the feathers.  We’ll draw and write on the heavy flannel-backed white table cloth that’s been around for years.

            Sometimes breaking traditions is good.  We Bertram cousins will be together next Thanksgiving and I have a feeling we’ll have a couple of new traditions.  Thanksgiving dinner won’t be complete without turkey bread and the tablecloth from 2020.

            May everyone stay well and enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

It Wouldn’t be Christmas Without….

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-8-09-58-amWhat are the ‘musts’ for Christmas at your house? I threw that question out to Facebook friends and they commented. Christmas is about family, friends, church services, gifts, games, movies, carols, food, and the nativity.

Traditional food ranks high on everyone’s list. Anne said, “We have the exact same food every year. You can add, but you CANNOT take away. We tried doing something different about thirty years ago and it was a disaster. The kids love their tradition.” So do adults. Vegetable soup, shrimp, spinach balls, fruitcake, dried apple stack cake, coconut cake, gingerbread houses. And while most of my friends enjoy southern foods, two honor their family heritage by eating eat lutefisk and lebkuchen.

Christmas isn’t complete without watching movies. We laugh when we know that Raphie’s father in A Christmas Story won a prize. Laugh before we even see the lamp, shaped like a leg and wearing a fishnet stocking. We celebrate that miracles still happen on 34th street and that George Baily learns that his life really is wonderful and we listen for the angel’s bell.

Two friends shared stories about boxes. Mike wrote that in 1989 he bought an aquarium for his daughters and the filter box was the perfect size for a small Christmas gift. Every year since someone gets the ‘fish box.’ It has continued to be passed around from person to person.

Jo’s story goes back to 1965 when her future mother-in-law wrapped a gift in a Texas Instrument box. After Jo married into the family, she learned about the box and always thought it was fun to see whom Grandma chose to get it. The family grew, and Jo never got the box. It went around the family over and over, and Grandma recorded the year and the box’s recipient on a paper she kept inside the box.

Jo writes, “I have to admit, I knew she loved me, but she never gave me the box and I couldn’t understand why. It was just a box, but not to this family, and you knew you were in if you got The Box. I gave up, but not without heckling Grandma, when she gave the box to my new son-in-law. Then, lo and behold, the last Christmas she was with us, before she died in the spring, I got the box.”

Jo’s family took pictures while she squealed and hugged and carried on like it was a golden box of treasure. The gift inside was a pair of old pillowcases from the 1970s, but never used. Jo says, “The perfect gift for the old box that carried so much clout, and now, I am in charge! I get to pick whose gift goes inside the box.”

I love the stories that friends shared. Myra said it best. “While we may have different rituals and traditions, we find such comfort in the power of consistency. It connects us with those no longer with us.”

That’s exactly why I make dried apple stack cake. Mom did.