Some families have traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. Other families make up their own rituals as they grow together as a new family. Either way, it’s a way families celebrate togetherness. It’s a way a family feels a deep sense of connection to each other. Altogether, it’s these “little things” that make the family memories.
Today, it seems harder to spend time together as a family. We have divorces, single parenting, re-marriages, family moves, deaths and retirement communities. But, I’ve found in my research that families - no matter what the circumstance - still find time for family togetherness.
In my quest in writing this article, I went back to my own memory bank when I was raised on a farm with nine siblings. In my second marriage, we created our own rituals as a new family. I’ve also asked my children, family and friends for their input - not so much the usual traditions, but the unusual - on how they’ve created family.
My brother, David, has six girls. Elizabeth told me, “Since we’re adults, we get each other a funny birthday card. The sister having the birthday announces who won the ‘funniest’ card that year.”
Bill, my nephew, told me, “The children wake up to a Happy Birthday balloon tied to their bed frame. One year we thought Emma was too old. She was really disappointed. I quickly went to the store and purchased a balloon. And so the tradition continues!”
Joyce, a friend, told me when she was a youngster, their mother didn’t pull the covers off them on their birthday. Instead, she sang, “A birdie with a yellow bill, Hopped upon my windowsill, Cocked his shiny eye and said: Aren’t you ashamed, you sleepy head! Happy Birthday!” Joyce continued this ritual with her own family.
Leah, my nephew’s wife, started a new tradition and it’s been going on more than 12 years now. Leah said, “We have a hamster stuffed toy that plays a recording of the Beatles, ‘Today is your Birthday,’ when you squeeze the foot. We’d wake up the kids on their birthdays by playing the ‘rat.’ They all say they hate it! However, one year, when Kelsey was still in high school, I forgot. Her sister left me know she was disappointed. I called her Biology teacher (a friend of mine) and told him the story. He had the whole class sing the Beatles’ version to her. It helped, but it didn’t make up my forgetting it. We never forgot again. Playing the song has now expanded to their cell phones and we’ve added significant others. They think it’s funny!”
My nephew’s wife, Nancy, told me, “Since Gracie was 10 (now 15), we’ve gone back packing on her birthday. I felt we needed some special mom and daughter time, just for fun. We start the day before her birthday and hike all day, cook out and sleep under the stars on top of a mountain. Then on her birthday she wakes up on a new mountain with a beautiful view. We’ve had great adventures, just mom and daughter!”
Not a birthday, but still a party, is what my friend Fay, her 90 year old mother and sisters have done some 13 years. It all started when one sister, who lives in Maryland drove home. Instead of traveling to the siblings’ homes, she decided to send invites to come to a tea party wearing Victorian dress and hats. The day ends with a game of croquet, then it’s “ta ta” and they all head to their own homes once again.
Elizabeth (the one with the five sisters) told me, “Every summer we traveled with Mom and Daddy around the country. As soon as we crossed the Pennsylvania border, we’d sing, ‘Back Home Again.’”
One of the things my husband and I do, if one has to be gone for the night, is to write “happiness is...” notes and place them under their pillow. Knowing I never wait to open my birthday cards, no matter what day I get them, my husband asked, “Carole, do you wait till bedtime to read your note?” I smiled. As soon as he is out the door, I sprint for the pillow and read my “happiness is...” note. We’ve done this 33 years now.
My husband’s family, as soon as they left their driveway, would sing, “We ain’t got a barrel of money, maybe we’re ragged and funny, but we’ll travel along singing a song, ‘Side by Side.’”
My granddaughter, Nicole, told me, “For years, when we leave our grandma’s cabin in the woods, we drive a long road with lots of hills. I drive a little faster to go over the hill to create, what Hayley, Jillian and I call ‘tickle tummy.’ We laugh so much I end up turning around to do it several more times!”
Every New Year, when my husband and two siblings were still at home, their father insisted they each taste a “little bit” of pickled herring. His father ate it for good luck, but the children hated it.
My 80 year old friend, Jackie, and her family started a fun thing about five years ago. The family takes turns choosing a place to eat every Tuesday. Whoever can come, comes. In addition to eating out, they have contests. It can be anything from wearing two different socks and shoes to an outlandish hairdo. The winner of a contest gets to choose the next outlandish idea. The winners soon overcome their humiliation when they are presented with a painted gold brick, which is safely tucked in a beautiful wooden chest. This same brick is given to the next winner.
When my husband and I worked, we hardly ever had breakfast together. Since retirement, some 10 years now, my hubby is still the early bird. Upon hearing me get up in the morning, he turns the burner on so I have hot water for my tea when I arrive in the kitchen. This single, every day ritual, makes me feel loved.
Keep reading next week to hear about more “little things” that make family memories.
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to everyday stories.