Tradition is relative

“Thanksgiving!” blurted my wide-eyed daughter, the day after Halloween. “I got dibs on the legs! And maybe a wing,” she continued, finger and thumb hooked on her chin as she changed her mind mid-sentence. Her younger brother immediately protested, more from reflex than understanding exactly what he was protesting.
I was glad to know she was thinking about the holiday. Not with the sense of generosity I thought she should have, but it was a start.
I considered that some feeling of tradition may be taking hold in the kids. Thanksgiving, particularly, seems tailor-made for family customs through which we learn to revere it. And as important as this holiday is, anything that encourages respect for it, not including football or my efforts to tweak my in-laws’ Commandment-like menu, should be passed down.

About a week prior, for example, we’ll all get emails from my mom announcing breakfast with a family favorite, chipped beef on toast. Easily made in large quantities, this stuff is happiness in a pot, a back-patting hug for my inner glutton. Drawn to the kitchen like moths to an exposed bulb, we start using family-friendly language such as “…just one more pound…” and “…get away from me with that fork or I’ll…”. Nothing signifies family bonding like the potential for combat with heirloom utensils.
Preparation, learned from her grandmother, is simple. She sautées fresh chipped beef in a pot with equal amounts of butter and flour, five or six tablespoons each per pound, and a little black pepper. When the flour is fully cooked, she covers with whole milk and simmers until the goodness thickens. This recipe is close, so experimenting is recommended. Salty, prepackaged beef and garnishes, however, are not.
Not only is this a delightfully tasty sign of love, but a shrewd release valve for the not-inconsiderable pressure of the uncomfortable Dinner Commitment Dance we all do about the question. If breakfast is together, it’s slightly easier to have dinner elsewhere. Everyone wins.
In my immediate family, we started a new practice this year. My older son became a Cub Scout, and participated for the first time in their neighborhood food drive for Philabundance, the largest hunger relief organization in the Delaware Valley. Through his pack, we contacted our neighbors and friends to request donations. Once we talked about what we were doing and he got through the abstractions, he got very enthusiastic and generous. He asked a lot of questions, suggested we sign thank you notes (for which we got some appreciative responses), and was generally excited about helping. We got enough in my neighborhood to fill the bed of my pick-up. I was very proud of him, and he told everyone about the experience.

Pumpkin pies are more difficult than they look


We’re coping with another blossoming tradition—kids helping with cooking. Actually, I’m really only responsible for pumpkin pies, so it’s really about baking. Same principles, though.
For the last few years, my daughter helped make the pies. She still sweetly pulls a chair up to the counter to kneel on. Not that it makes any difference; she has not needed to since she was six. Though I watch constantly, I’ve let her do more each year. She handles it. Whatever concerns I have left are slipping. But remarkably, for all the fleeting attention she gives her friends, devices, or TV, this grounds her a little. She concentrates like a bird dog on measuring everything, mixing properly, filling the pie shells, and peeking in the oven every few minutes. Expectant fathers are not that impatient.
Before either of us know it a couple of hours have passed, and we’re chastised for not being dressed, the rest of the world shut off while we were working.
Good customs to nurture, I think. And one even tastes pretty good with ice cream.


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