I’m no spokesperson for grannies, nor am I a spokesperson for anyone else but me. Now that I no longer have a living grandmother, I hold them in higher esteem than I perhaps did when I was in my youth. I took my grandmother for granted then.
Holidays around the world become the basis of family traditions that imbed themselves deeply in our minds. So much so that we still feel a need to observe traditions even after the families in which we learned them have scattered or died. Traditions are often intertwined with deeply held religious beliefs, as well as with particular foods.
In the late 1960s I watched as guitarist Mason Williams played his rousing “Classical Gas” hit during an appearance with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Afterward Fiedler asked Williams about this tune’s defiance of musical tradition and Williams said, “Tradition is a good thing provided it doesn’t last too long.” He went on to explain that as he entered middle age, he was struck with the idea that every time he cooked a leg of lamb, he cut it in half and placed it in a roasting pan. He had always cut them in half, just like he had seen his grandmother do all his life. Finally he asked her why she cut the leg of lamb in half before cooking it, and she laughed and said it would not fit in her roasting pan otherwise. Having a larger roasting pan than his grandmother, he had been following a completely irrelevant tradition.
For the very first time, a few years before we moved to Arizona, my wife Ellen and I celebrated the U.S. day of gluttony, Thanksgiving, by not cooking a turkey with all the trimmings or going to a relative’s house. We ate out at Threadgill’s on North Lamar, a classic Austin restaurant partly made famous by Janis Joplin during her performances there in the early 1960s.
But I’m only willing to go so far in shaking up traditions. Threadgill’s had a special Thanksgiving menu from which we ordered roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing, cranberries, candied yams, green bean casserole, and other delectable things such as pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. I was not ready to order chicken-fried steak or fresh Gulf shrimp, but was set on having a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Not being responsible for preparing the meal, or having to clean up the mess, or having leftovers to prolong the eating binge, seemed especially liberating. To our surprise, most of the tables were taken by young adults and parents with young children. They weren’t at grandma’s house. I’m not leaving grandpa out of this for any specific reason, except that grandpa isn’t usually the one responsible for the cooking and related chores, and grandpas don’t usually live as long as grandmas.
Maybe younger family members should treat granny to a Thanksgiving meal out rather than assume she should always host the feast. Grannies could really shake up the tradition by asking to go out if younger family members don’t volunteer the idea.
Here are some other traditions that could be safely be shaken up:
- Sunbathing and tanning. These habits most often afflict young people, but it is precisely the damaged skin of young people that causes them to suffer the affliction of skin cancers decades later.
- Avoiding taxes. Many seem to believe that paying taxes is a bad thing, that if you’re smart, you do your darnedest to pay as little as possible, but don’t seem to mind when other people pay taxes to support roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, national defense, local law enforcement, and so on. I think it’s a privilege to pay taxes, a civic duty, and as someone observed, taxes are the price we pay for civilization.
- For men in the Western world only, in the white collar sub-world, wearing neckties and dark suits. For a while a number of years ago, it looked as though neckties would go the way of high-buttoned shoes, but then the traditional business garb came roaring back.
- Maintaining and mowing a lawn. I wrote about the joys of lawn killing previously. Before leaving Austin we killed the last section of our lawn and installed native plants. We gave our lawnmower to our daughter and son-in-law. That was liberation for me!
- Going to the movies. People in the movie business can see movies starting to go the way of music CDs. Widescreen TVs and movie streaming over the Internet offer advantages that movie theaters cannot—a pause button within a few steps of a bathroom, comfy recliners, and a wide choice of refreshments in the kitchen, to name a few.
Traditions aren’t necessarily a good thing. Sometimes they can become stifling. Sometimes they spread burdens unevenly. Sometimes people unconsciously take advantage out of a sense of entitlement. Sometimes traditions can make us thoughtless.
We also recently scrapped big gatherings, for us, at Christmas. No small children are left in our immediate family. Our parents are dead. Our children live in two states. We have virtually eliminated gift-giving, favoring donating to our favorite charities instead. This seems more in keeping with the Christmas spirit than searching for, buying, and wrapping things that no one in our family really needs or wants anyway. To us, Christmas has lost most of its meaning to commercialism and materialism.
We don’t believe in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. Do you? If so, celebrate those holidays to the hilt. Be my guest.
Sometimes it can be healthy, liberating, and rejuvenating to shake up traditions. Sometimes it can be sensible to throw traditions out entirely. Sometimes it’s just the fair thing to do. The right thing to do. Sometimes we need to just give up our fantasy worlds. Sometimes we just need to grow up, act our age.
Give granny a break! All of you may find a new way of doing things is more fun than the old way of doing it.