To me, a family’s traditions are the glue that keeps the family intact, and breaking a long-held tradition is akin to ripping off a bandage. It stings – a whole lot at first – and leaves a red mark that reminds you of that sting for some time thereafter. I’m a faithful advocate for tradition, probably more than any other member of my immediate family.
Yesterday, Easter Sunday, that same cerebral sting remained with me for almost the entire day. For as long as we’ve lived in our home, almost 36 years, the Easter bunny has hidden his eggs in our vast backyard for eager, animated children to find. First my own children, then my grandchildren, sometimes visiting children as well. I giggle when I wistfully watch the video of our toddler son, never one to be in a hurry even at age 36, as we encourage him to look for more eggs instead of stopping to unwrap and consume the tiny morsel of candy hidden in each egg - while his sisters greedily snatch them up by the basketfuls. Another video from seven years ago shows my two-year-old grandson, Jack, cavorting with glee in a giant puddle. He had been participating in a very soggy Easter egg hunt the day after a gully washer, till his naughty father urged him to fetch a plastic baseball bat lying in the middle of a shallow slough that criss-crosses our yard. Jack was having a fabulous time, while my other grandson, Eli, a mature and sophisticated four-year-old, complained about his jeans being wet and uncomfortable.
After the egg hunt each year, the family and other guests gather at the dinner table for a home-cooked meal that invariably includes a smoked ham and other traditional Easter fare. For me, shopping for our meal, as well as the goodies in each well-stuffed Easter basket, begins at least a week ahead, as I carefully choose baskets that will be different from the previous year’s. I doubt the kids care nor remember the previous years’ receptacles nor the trinkets that I think will delight each child, fully knowing most of of them will be cast aside by the end of the day. One year I had the bright idea of creating spectacular individualized baskets for each grandchild that reflected their personality or preferences. The project, like most of my big ideas, proved to be far more labor intensive than I had expected, and none of them turned out exactly as planned. I vowed NEVER to be so ambitious again.
Last year, our annual Easter egg hunt and dinner was even more memorable than usual. My husband, Chandler, had only three weeks previous been hospitalized with sepsis and endured two surgeries and an eleven-day hospital stay after a tiny ulcer in his foot had ballooned into a massive wound that sent bacteria coursing through his entire body. Last Easter, we thought, was a return to a tiny bit of normalcy, waiting for the wound to heal, after a strength-sucking ordeal that had narrowly averted amputation. (Thankfully we didn't know that ten days later he would be back in ICU with bleeding ulcers, and the wound, though smaller, would never fully heal.) The 2018 Easter crowd was large – not just our usual family members, but my granddaughters’ boyfriends and my daughter’s boyfriend’s children. My own grandchildren were getting a little old for the hunt, the youngest then eight years old, so it was delightful adding even younger children to the mix. It was a wonderful, exhausting day, and I still frequently look at the pictures my daughter took on her amazing new I Phone. In fact, I used one of them to grace the back cover of my soon-to-be published book.
This Easter, however, we already knew would be a departure from tradition. My grandson, Jack, was a prominent cast member in a Granbury childrens theater production, so we had planned to trek to Granbury, an hour’s drive from home, to enjoy the show and then hunt eggs, for the first time in decades, at my daughter’s house. But, as it turned out, I didn’t take part in the celebration. When I had scheduled my April 11th foot surgery, I hadn’t taken into consideration that I could bear no weight on that foot for a couple of weeks, and, up until my son departed for Granbury with my two grandsons, I was trying to figure out how I could drag myself and my cumbersome knee scooter into a car and then maneuver the close-set theater seats without bumping the pin sticking out of my toe. How ridiculous! It had been all I could do the last couple of weeks to propel myself into the kitchen or bathroom and back into my bed. So, I bravely waved goodbye and spent the rest of the day nursing my aching back, injured by repeatedly hoisting myself, one-footed, on and off the toilet, and swimming in self-pity. I diverted my held-back tears by watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but when gigantic crocodile tears sprang from my eyes at the end as Holly Golightly found her cat and finally wised up, I had to administer a mental self-slap, and tell myself, as Cher so aptly put it in Moonstruck, to “snap out of it!”
Upon further scrutiny of the-way-I-thought-it-should-be, I realized that even if we had hosted our traditional egg hunt, several family members would be absent – my two granddaughters, both of whom are now adults – one who had to work, and another in California. My eldest daughter and her boyfriend would not attend, as she and I are estranged, and the boyfriend is banned. (see https://www.elizabethsilvawriter.com/single-post/2019/02/28/The-Vow) So, this year’s celebration wouldn’t have been quite the same, regardless. Just as Thanksgiving wasn’t the same when we changed it to Friday and moved the venue to my daughter’s house. Just as Christmas Eve was never the same after my mother died. For decades we had gone to my parent’s house where Mom served all her special Christmas goodies, and the kids opened presents from Granny and Paw Paw. My stepdad Herb insisted that we continue the tradition up until his death four years later, but my daughter and her family had moved too far away to come, and without my mother and her special treats and, most importantly, her laughter, it just wasn’t the same. Because we now spend Christmas Eve at home, no longer do I start wrapping presents at midnight after the kids have gone to bed, while Chandler and I watch movies, only to wake up in a stupor a few hours later to the pleas of children asking if they can at least empty their stockings before Aunt Adrienne and Uncle Jack arrive. The midnight wrapping tradition I can live without, but I think Chandler was a bit disappointed when I started wrapping all the gifts earlier.
So, our annual Easter egg hunt was nowhere to be found at 2210 Ivanhoe Circle this this year, and that’s ok. We’ll probably pick up on the tradition next year, barring unforeseen events that could prevent it. I ask myself, after each family event that we host – holidays and birthdays and such – whether keeping the tradition alive is even worth the expense and hours of preparation (getting harder every year as I age), but my answer is still an unequivocal “Yes!” I’ve heard the quote, “Traditions are made to be broken,” but I disagree. Tradition is the fabric of our existence – it binds us together as a culture and provides a spiritual and familial backbone we can rely on throughout our lives. But I might change that statement to “Traditions are made to be flexible.” I think back to the movie, Avalon, when the Uncle Who Always Carves the Thanksgiving Turkey arrived late, only to discover his brother had already started carving in his absence. “You cut the turkey without me,” he fumed, and abruptly abandoned the family forever. (I have no doubt this scene actually happened in director Barry Levinson’s family.) But such stringent unwritten rules take all the joy out of a tradition. Things happen. For example, marriage often forces change in family tradition. After all, your daughter’s spouse’s family has its traditions too. So, if you have to change Thanksgiving to Friday, so what? Likewise, some family members move away and simply can’t be home for Christmas. So have it in July! And, of course, some changes are permanent. It’s hard to readjust to missing family members, especially when you know they’ll never be a part of your celebration again, but the older you get, the more you must accommodate this reality. The tradition, though, in a different form, needs to live on in some way. When Grandma can’t cook a huge meal anymore, you can always order out. It’s not really the food that’s important. It’s the family and friends. It’s the tie that binds. That’s tradition. And, in my opinion, it must be kept, with some modifications from time to time, alive.