Sunday, December 21, 2008

52 Blessings—Traditions

I remember giving a Relief Society lesson on traditions while I was in college. I knew I wanted a colorful visual aid so the subject could better stick in people’s minds, but I’m no artist. I tried to think of something that traditions were like that I could draw. I had the skills to cut a hot dog and a bun out of paper and add a splash of bright yellow, so I said that a family without traditions is like a hot dog without mustard. Oh ho. What a crummy analogy. And yet, I cannot forget that bright red hotdog with mustard on it. Regardless of my poor object lesson, I’m grateful for traditions and I don’t think it’s the picture of the hotdog that has stayed with me as much as it was that then I began to realize the powerful hold that traditions have on families. My week has been full of traditions:

Tradition: Preserving Memories and Friends serving friends.

For several years, my friend, Deb, and I have put on scrapbooking retreats. I wasn’t a scrapbooker when we started, I was an organizer. Slowly but surely, I started to see the value of capturing valuable memories with pictures. Having no decent camera when the kids were young or the finances to develop rolls of film or have professional portraits taken, I have very few pictures of our kids comparatively. Some years, there are none. Nada. Zilch. I wrote detailed journals and hoped that would suffice, but you know “a picture is worth a thousand words” and that means my kids had some awful bulky reading if they want to “see” themselves. Regardless of our few picture dilemma there is one thing I want and that is for our children to know how incredibly important they are to us and as children of God. Deb gave me the idea of doing A-Z books by thinking of 26 adjectives, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet, to describe each child. Then I could take what pictures I had and use them to illustrate the words describing the kids.

I did Ty’s book the first year, then Cali’s, followed by Ande’s (interspersed with smaller albums for Trevor and Trent, our oldest sons from Calvin’s first marriage who I had even less pictures of). I only had Abe’s left to do and wanted to give it to him for Christmas this year, but these albums take me days and days and days to do. When Cali and Ray announced they were getting married in five weeks, I thought I’d have to bag Abe’s book because it was only half done. I really wanted to give it to him this year because he has waited patiently each year while the others received theirs and with him graduating from college next spring and beginning his military service, well, I just wanted him to have his childhood preserved before his childhood was completely gone.

Enter Deb. She called and said, “Can you skip the singles’ ward family home evening and have it with me and Darla and Heather on Monday? Before you say, ‘No’ think about it. We want to come help you finish Abe’s book.” It was so very humbling to have three women with busy, busy, busy lives set aside their whole evening and show up on my doorstep with adhesive guns and paper-trimmers ready to go to work. They helped me make major in-roads on the book and Friday afternoon, I closed it. Done. Complete. Memories sufficiently captured. Abe now has a gift under the tree.

Tradition: Christmas gift-giving

Our friend, Cynthia Milligan, died this summer leaving behind her husband, Matt and six children. Matt is our doctor, so it’s easy to admire and appreciate his medical abilities, but the thing I first noticed about him when they moved here was his parenting skills. He was a natural at caring for their children and the kids always snuggled up close to him on the church pew or in the lawn chair. I well remember their son Ty whimpering and pleading to the congregation to save him as Matt took him out of the chapel and then Ty clinging to Matt when he carried him back in several minutes later.

The Milligans always deliver a Christmas gift. The first year it was wassail and another year it was a take-out box of fortune cookies. Since Cynthia died, Matt has made the transition to single parenting look easy (I’m not minimizing his challenge, loss or pain; it’s just that he has done an incredible job of tending both roles). However, I didn’t expect Matt to deliver gifts this year. Thursday evening I heard kids shouting and giggling on the sidewalk and then the doorbell ring. I opened the door and there stood the youngest three Milligan children. I opened the door and the three charged in, Ty tackled my leg and the two girls gave me a big, tight hug. But that wasn’t all. They had made popcorn balls and wrapped them in colored cellophane, too. Every time I take a bite of one of those balls I think of Matt spearheading the popcorn ball gift team—popping popcorn, stirring the sauce, packing them into balls and then driving the kids around to deliver gifts for the sake of tradition—for the sake of keeping a family strong. I wish I could dry one and hang it on the tree as an ornament for years to come . . . now that would make a good object lesson.

Tradition: Bridal showers

My friend, Shelly, called and offered to host a bridal shower for Cali with her daughter, Michelle. When I started to resist (this is a busy time of year) she explained that bridal showers are an important time of a young woman’s life because it helps her to make the friend transition into a group of women who used to be her teachers and mother’s friends. (And if you’ve ever had Shelly explain a reason behind something, you know why you often agree with her when she’s done—she sees things from an angle that sheds a lot more light than other angles.) So yesterday we went to Cali’s bridal shower. I looked around the room at the friends who took the time and energy and resources to come to say, “We’re celebrating this next step of your life with you, girl” and I was humbled by them and very grateful for the opportunity for Cali to first be mentored and strengthened by such good women and then to be in an intimate setting where she could tell people her love story.

Tradition: Birthdays

Today is Ande’s 20th birthday. Calvin and I no longer have teenagers. Whoa. I didn’t see that one coming twenty years ago. Our birthday traditions are simple, the birthday girl picks out the meal and the cake and opens her gifts. We’re having fried chicken, mashed potatoes and white gravy, corn, jello and Gwen’s cake.

Another tradition that started quite by accident but that has continued to grow is the sharing of memories matching their years. Ty’s letters to Calvin and Ande arrived this week, 58 memories for Calvin ("making Cali's cedar chest with you and Grandpa") and 20 ("walking home from the bust stop, especially when there was that really mean dog") for Ande. My goodness. I’ve been happy all week remembering.

Thank goodness having children was a tradition in our family, too.

Tradition: The Boys’ Club

Calvin is a master with his hands; he can make anything. For several weeks before Christmas he is especially busy in his shop. There’s a wood stove to warm it, a mini-fridge for pop, an old stereo, a chair to sit by the fire and lots of wood tools. Friends, the kids, me . . . we all enjoy joining him in his shop and not just because he keeps jerky, cashews or a tin of cookies there. Someone coined it The Boys’ Club and it has stuck.

This Christmas Calvin has several projects to finish, including a special order of two bows. He finished the first bow and as he was putting the finishing touches on the second bow it snapped in two. He brought it in the house to show me, shook his head and quietly started another project. Not even discouragement deters this tradition.

Traditions are like hot dogs. . .


Miller Family said...

Oh Jane. What wonderful traditions. I admire Heather, Darla and Deb. They are great friends to help you complete such a dear book.

It's funny to think that we might not have many traditions, but then your kids remind you, "Hey mom, aren't we going to.....?"

How special for Cali to have a bridal shower with all her close friends and family. This is an important time for a young bride-to-be.

Wishing you a blessed Merry Christmas, a wonderful New Year, and a fantastic wedding for Cali.

Marie said...

This post was so moving.

The popcorn balls made me tear up. What a family to hold fast to that part of Christmas and think of sharing with others. Wow.

I can't wait for the wedding posts!

Leslie said...

Thank you for sharing such wonderful tradtions! I loved reading all about the popcorn balls, a-z book, bridal shower - well, I loved your whole post!

Becky said...

I love traditions...the hardest transition for me when I got married 9+ years ago was blending my traditions with Jeff's...and the funnest part of being married and having our own children is coming up with our own new traditions :)

I think traditions are like the links in a chain, binding together our family from one year to the next and also stretching across generations. Thanks for sharing yours with us!

Carolyn said...

I loved reading this! I used to love hearing about your traditions in seminary. They all seem so wonderful.

Amy said...

I don't think I'll ever forget your popcorn balls story. Wow. This post was a true treasure. Thank you for sharing so much all-around goodness.

And, like Marie, I'm very excited to keep checking in on your wedding doings!

Lori said...

The shower was wonderful and I love your posts. You have a gift with story telling. Hearing Cali tell about her love story and life was so fun and keeps reminding me what I want for all my children in the future.

lanita said...

I, too, love traditions and I love this post. What neat stories to illustrate the significance of tradtions. (Oh, and I think you described my mother to a T.)

Kim Sue said...

love traditions and I have a couple of wonderful ideas now...I'm setting to work on an A to Z adjective list and a list of 40 memories for my husband's 40th in February!

michelle said...

Simply beautiful.

I love the popcorn ball story -- what a courageous man.

I love love love your 26 adjectives project and your friends that helped you to complete it!