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TRADITION, SOFT AND YIELDING
November 27, 2004
 
Overnight, a thirty-degree drop in temperature: it was warm enough at the Macy's parade Thursday to thaw most of the Rockettes' smiles into something other than a desperate grimace, but it's brisk out there today.
Brisk, but bright, the kind of fall weather you want here.

Here at the Eastern end of Long Island, the sky is bright blue and the sunlight has the unique loveliness of sunlight near the sea. Clear and bright, but somehow soft. It fills the living room of the house in which we're staying, bright sun, blue sky, the last of yellow leaves visible through the sparkling windows. Only once do I reflect upon the fact that I must get our windows cleaned when we get home. And, for a change, this reminder brings no self-recrimination with it. Just a note, neutral: call the window guys again.

I had mourned a bit: no special table of my own design, no parade of dishes prepared in just the same way as in other years. My children and grandchildren elsewhere. But I learned that Q's childhood memories were always of a trip: his tiny family, just the three of them, piling into the car to drive to a dinner involving so many relatives that the feast was held on tables in a converted barn, the young people overlooking the adults from tables up in what had been the hayloft. We used to put on shows during the dinner from up there, he says. Driving along toward Thanksgiving somewhere else felt good to him.

Yesterday we sat around reading. Q and our host planted an enormous hydrangea we had dug out of our garden at home and brought out here to plant -- getting it into this sandy soil was one heck of a lot easier than getting it out of heavy New Jersey clay. We took a long walk in the autumn chill. Our hostess made turkey soup all day, filling the house with a warm smell as lovely as the intoxicating smell of Thanksgiving the day before. And in the evening, we ate it: warmly peppery, full of vegetables. After supper, I was weary, as tired as if I had worked hard all day. Strange: I didn't do a lick of work. Maybe you're just relaxed enough to notice your weariness, our host said as I curled up on the couch and fell asleep against Q's shoulder, missing Washington Week completely.

Back home today. I will prepare an anniversary feast for us -- we married on the Thanksgiving weekend. It will be nowhere near as complex as the Thanksgiving meal, and I will have plenty of help, but it will be something to which all the kids who aren't kids any more can come, so that I can see their faces lined up along the table again.

It's not easy to give up the past. Sometimes we do it by degrees. I'm looking forward to having Thanksgiving, myself someday soon, Anna said on the phone. Well, sure - why should she have to wait until I die to come into her own, as I did? Why shouldn't the generations ease into one another gently, the old giving way gracefully to the new long before it falls, exhausted, to the ground?

Tradition is more than the survival of the venerable. Its life is more than its curatorial responsibilities toward the past. Tradition lives in history, and history moves primarily forward -- it remembers the past, but cannot transport us back there. Tradition must allow itself to move, too, to remain flexible and yielding, permeable to what unfolds as time moves forward. And in that yielding it must look for joy -- the future belongs to God as surely as did the past. God is not absent from it just because it is a mystery to us.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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