Traditional Non-Traditions


Celebrate we will for life is short but sweet for certain” ~ Dave Matthews

As I write this, another holiday has wound down. For the boys and me, the Easter festivities have become an opportunity to step out of the straight jacket that any holiday and its overwrought hype can bring. Any change in family circumstances will naturally impact the usual rituals of all holidays. For the most part, we have been able to keep many of our family customs-especially the Christmas ones-alive and well. For my sons, these latter traditions hold a very special meaning and they have been quite forthright about maintaining them.

A few years ago, we had an unusually warm Easter. In fact, it was quite hot-“beach weather” as we would call it. So I proposed that we throw out any of the usual sit-down dinner plans and head to the coast instead. We started the day with our faith community’s sunrise service in the woods. There is nothing better than rolling out of the sack with bed head, throwing on your” what-evers” for clothes and standing in the woods with the sounds of mother nature and peaceful music around you.  Second best part-donuts and coffee afterward! We then hauled it back home to pack a picnic lunch, beach chairs and reading material.  Let me tell you, very few people go to the beach and catch some rays in April around here! We were glad of the sparse population for sure.  We ended the day with a late afternoon hike on one of the high points in our area. Just a perfect, uninterrupted respite for all of us.

Since then, we have managed to find ourselves doing things that create long lasting memories for this season.  There have been times that we have been on the road home on Easter day. Two years ago, my youngest and I were on a church mission trip, helping to restore homes on an island off the South Carolina coast. We had sunrise service in the back green of the hotel’s parking lot and the kids had an egg hunt in their vans!  Last year, we went out to the far reaches of our state to enjoy an overnight in a coastal town that is a hubbub of liveliness in the summer. The shoreline there is wide and has a vast expanse of dunes. The boys had never been to this part of the state before and we had a wonderful chance to enjoy the company of our friends, Manny and Tom. I loved the idea of a mini road trip to a place that is geographically and culturally diverse from where we live. We still talk about the experience and share some hilarious memories about it together.

This year, we had a bonfire the night before Easter with a few friends. Despite my evident fatigue, I still enjoyed the evening.  We had a symbolic burning of things from the past, including the old stair treads from the recent home renovation as well as four boxes of old papers. I could not believe how long it took to burn those babies! And surprisingly, the purging was void of any emotional attachment. No joy, anger or sadness- just something that needed to get done to make room and to cleanse ourselves of negativity.

On Easter day, my youngest chose to spend time with his girlfriend’s family. This freed my oldest and I up to hit the city and enjoy some very fine art at the museum (this is not my second child’s thing) and a cheap lunch in one of the Jewish neighborhoods (yum!). We ended our day at his girlfriend’s family home for dessert. The funny thing is that  when we got to our lunch destination, my oldest said that he felt as if he landed on another planet! Even though we were just thirty minutes from home, we were experiencing a completely different holiday feel. It was quite liberating!

My sons have come to the mature understanding that holidays are overrated. Too much pressure and too much of “must-dos” can prevent an authentic enjoyment of given days such as these. We believe it is important to be together but in ways that do not obligate us to one another. We believe it is important to take the time to do something different; to think outside the box of what our materialistic culture says is the “right way” to celebrate. In this way, we can create better loving connections with one another that can last long after the holidays are done.

My friends! I encourage you to give it a try; it is a worthwhile experiment!

A Fragile Keepsake

In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, a bridge to our future ~Alex Haley

When I graduated from college thirty years ago in May, my mother presented me with a family heirloom. The opal ring-set in twenty karat gold- was given to her by her mother, who in turn, received from her mother. I became the fourth generation to wear this precious piece.

The ring, for me, is a vehicle for family stories-most especially about my late great-grandmother who received the gift from her husband. She was a native of Genoa,Italy ( a red head no less!) who married a Siscilian and then came to America.  She bore 16 children (two of whom died in World War II) and had two kitchens in her home.  The second was in the third floor attic where she prepared her ravioli and other delectable treats. My mother remembered Sunday dinners at her grandparents house where her grandfather commanded the head of the table and her grandmother stayed in the kitchen waiting for him to order his next course. He would often say, “Old lady get me this.. old lady get me that…”, according to my mother. In fact, my mother told me that her grandmother’s dresses often had black grease marks on the back from leaning against the stove!  She had no memory of her grandmother ever sitting down to eat with the family. So, I guess somewhere along the way he must have expressed his appreciation for her dedication and gave her the ring.

I don’t know when my grandmother received the ring; perhaps it was given to her when her mother died. She was definitely the favored child of  her father so I can only assume that is how she came to have it given the numbers of sisters she had. My grandmother was a feisty, sometimes ill-tempered woman who often got her way. She enjoyed her whiskey and loved to gamble.  In fact, it was during a card game that the ring met its current physical state. My grandmother was having a bad night and was dealt a particularly poor hand. In her frustration, she slammed her hand down, palm side up, chipping a corner of the opal stone. The stone-fragile in nature- could not be reset for risk of shattering it completely.

I believe that my mother was given the ring when she graduated from high school. Or maybe when she married my father; I am not sure. She did not wear it as often as she would have liked for fear of losing the stone.  When it became my turn to have it, I too, wore it sporadically for a while. But then, in my mid-twenties I started wearing it daily. I had heard that the oils from your skin kept the ring from drying out and breaking apart. It was then that the ring story took an unusual turn. One night I took it off so I could exercise before leaving for a vacation with my boyfriend and friends. It was a busy time, packing etc. and in my rush I misplaced the ring. I looked all over my apartment but could not find it. I was quite distraught; so much so that I never told my mother.

Fast forward to a year later. I am on my honeymoon in the British Virgin Islands. We arrive at our seaside cottage and begin unpacking. As I take out the last of the items from my very large suitcase, I hear the sound of something rolling across the floor. It was the ring! Apparently it had been stuck in a corner of the suitcase the entire time. From then on, I wore the ring quite regularly and when I didn’t I was careful to place it so as not to lose it again. I don’t think that I ever told my mother about losing it. I wish that I did; she would have gotten a kick out of that story for sure.

For a lot of my married life, I wore the ring on my right hand. When my marriage was going south, I took off my wedding bands more regularly and place the opal there instead.  Then I stopped wearing my bands completely and put the ring back on my right hand. I suppose this was a way for me to physically accept my single state. When I became seriously involved with my fiance’, I put the ring back on my left ring finger. It was a perfect way to prevent men from pursuing me and a way for me to show my committment to my new relationship.  When I became engaged, the ring was once again resting on my right ring finger.

Today the ring sits on my dresser. Last month, I noticed a new piece had broken off making the already precarious setting even looser. I am quite afraid that it will come off altogether. My hope is that I can find a way to preserve it without shattering the rest of the stone. It is very important to me that I pass it on to a future granddaughter. I want to share the stories of not only the ring but of the women who wore it.