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Family Traditions

July 5, 2016

Hopefully your fourth was fulfilling.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was super excited to see the seasonal fireworks stands pop up, and spend my allowance on all kinds of spark-tastic tchotchkes that I would light on fire at the first sign of darkness. Sure, there were some kids who always were hunting for the illegal fireworks that would make big explosions, but I was always happy with significantly tamer devices.

These days, I’m content to leave the fireworks to the professionals. And frankly, even the idea of kids running around with hot flaming sparklers makes me intensely uneasy. Fortunately, my own children seem to be perfectly happy to sit and watch from a safe distance.

This year, we walked down to the beach in Milford, Connecticut to see the fireworks, and it was lovely. Cool breezes, the salty air, and the smell of the ocean brought me back to my youth. Which is kind of interesting, because the main reason for this visit wasn’t youth at all. In fact, it was just the opposite.

Today is my mother’s birthday, and she turns a shockingly large number that kind of sounds like seventeen. I’m not sure i can even admit to myself that she’s her actual age. I keep on checking the numbers, and then double checking my arithmetic. Then I look at her. And I look at me. Then to her. Now back at me.

She really doesn’t look like she’s seventy. Let’s review those numbers again. They can’t be right. Forget about her for a second. How can I be old enough to have a mother who is seventy?

It defies sense.

In these moments of great uncertainty, it’s deeply comforting to have family traditions. And in this case, I’m speaking of our family’s cake recipe. Somewhere I have the whole thing written down, but it’s not for sharing. You probably wouldn’t like it anyway. And that’s fine, because hopefully you have some kind of family tradition of your own.

Ours is a chocolate syrup cake with lemon icing. Specifically, it’s a Hershey’s syrup cake. The original recipe called for sticks of margarine, and a specific brand of self rising cake flour that no longer exists. Fortunately, my mother has switched to butter, and it make the end product so much better. The icing is primarily confectioners sugar, cream cheese, and lemon zest.

I was given one of these cakes at my college graduation. I remember it like it was yesterday. The great thing about family traditions is that they really help to anchor significant points in your life. And this trip that I’m on right now is one of them.

Mothers. They will make you crazy. But you only get one of them. And they are the only ones who have been with you since the beginning. I am very lucky to have a good relationship with my mom. We don’t always agree, but somehow we find ways around even the biggest disagreements. I think it has something to do with love. And trust. Those are two powerful forces.

And I am also very lucky that my mother is in relatively good health. I have several good friends, my age and even younger, who have lost their mothers in the past few years. Mostly to cancer. But other things as well. And it sucks.

So I try not to take our relationship for granted. But it’s hard. Everyone has their own lives. I have my projects. She has hers. And our modern family is scattered around the world. We don’t have big family reunions with all of the extended cousins, and that’s okay. Instead, we have smaller reunions around special events.

When they are especially significant, there is usually chocolate cake with lemon icing.

Now I’m curious to hear if any of you have special treats that are made for significant family gatherings? Recipes aren’t needed. But if you want to share, don’t feel like you need to hold back.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Pam C. permalink
    July 5, 2016 12:02 pm

    One thing that was a constant at family gatherings of my dad’s side of the family, was my grandmother’s recipe of homemade baked beans from scratch. By scratch, I mean soaking dried beans overnight, then cooked and then slow-baked with salt pork (or bacon), and some sweetness. Grandmother has been gone for 55 years, and my dad and aunts have all passed on now too. Family gatherings are more infrequent now, but my cousins and I make sure that those baked beans always make an appearance!

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