FAMILY TRADITIONS

Seasonal Calendar Not Liturgical Calendar

y mother had a way of noticing and welcoming the seasons and marking each one. Not with big fanfare, but with little nods to the changes ahead.

Autumn was by far her favorite. There were cattails, pulled from our fishing pond, and stuck in a big brown butter crock on the front porch. Calico corn hung on the front door. Maybe there was a seasonal candle. Sometimes yellow mums flanked the front door. I mark the changing of the season with mums, and an array of pumpkins will soon join them, at least until the squirrels lay into them.

October 1 brought one of my favorite rituals of all, the Hanging of the Halloween Decorations. Nothing fancy, these hinged cardboard creatures – skeletons and black cats and pumpkins, stowed away in my mom’s bottom dresser drawer until October. I’d sometimes go peek at them, just to make sure they were still there. But on October 1, we hung them on the doors, adhered with scotch tape, ready to welcome the holiest of kid holidays – Halloween.

Halloween being the first time that the weather seemed to have a crisp edge in the Deep South, it was welcomed with a big pot of chili and white rice. Dessert was my grandmother’s gingerbread recipe with warm apple sauce. Gingerbread would never appear again until next Halloween.

October 1 brought one of my favorite rituals of all, the Hanging of the Halloween Decorations. Nothing fancy, these hinged cardboard creatures – skeletons and black cats and pumpkins, stowed away in my mom’s bottom dresser drawer until October. I’d sometimes go peek at them, just to make sure they were still there. But on October 1, we hung them on the doors, adhered with scotch tape, ready to welcome the holiest of kid holidays – Halloween.

Halloween being the first time that the weather seemed to have a crisp edge in the Deep South, it was welcomed with a big pot of chili and white rice. Dessert was my grandmother’s gingerbread recipe with warm apple sauce. Gingerbread would never appear again until next Halloween.

Above the mantle in the living room was a nature painting – I’m sure it was a lithograph and a common scene in many homes in the 70s – a Robert Wood seasonal scene, it was changed out with the changing seasons. We even had a set of TV trays with these scenes.

Thanksgiving brought traditional fare, and the day after Thanksgiving the Christmas tree went up. The behemoth cardboard box from Sears & Roebuck would be wrestled down from the attic and the sorting of the branches would begin. We had this tree for the duration of my childhood. An 8-foot tree with precisely spaced branches. It became a little worse for wear, yes, but we kept fluffing it up, covering up the sagging branches with a host of homemade ornaments over the years. The paint on the wire end of the branches, which helped with the size-sorting eventually wore off, but we figured it out. I could eventually put that tree up with muscle memory.

I loosely follow this tradition on my own, but have to hang a carrot for myself as a little bit of motivation. Hosting a big Christmas party early in the season is my driver to get the tree up and the house decorated. Much like my mom did, I do enjoy having everything done to enjoy for the month.

One of the first signs of spring in the South is the arrival of daffodils, or buttercups as we commonly called them. Out in the country there are remnants of old homesteads, nothing left but perhaps the concrete foundation of the porch. Daffodils are often found blooming beside them, probably lovingly planted by someone decades ago. My mom would go on a weekend drive with the intent of bringing buttercups home. As little kids we would sometimes put food coloring in the water of a few, excited to see the veins take on a little extra color. Some thirty years later, I mark my mom’s birthday in March every year by buying buttercups for the first time. It has become a tradition for me, waiting for that day and never buying them earlier.

Easter brought colored eggs, an Easter egg hunt, and new Sunday dresses and patent leather shoes, but nothing in the way of religion, as our conservative Christian faith tradition didn’t put any stock into celebrations and certainly followed no liturgical calendar.

Summer meant softball and tennis and swimming lessons, and our annual barbeque festival and fireworks. Lots of grilled meats, cooked to just this side of well done. Popsicles from a Tupperware mold, endless hours on my bicycle. And lots of harvesting and freezing of fruits and vegetables. Funny to think what a burden that seemed like at the time, and what a gift I see that preparation as now.

No matter the season, a home cooked meal, every night, usually a meat and three, cooked from scratch, with meat and veggies from our freezer capped off the day. It would be decades later before I would see this for the amazing act of love that it was.

As the leaves start to change, and the early morning air has a crispness to it, I find myself drawn to some of those traditions of my childhood. Perhaps I will make that chili and my grandmother’s gingerbread.

Soul and Culture

While her southern roots run deep, Amy Clifford currently calls Denver, Colorado home. Two of her favorite things are tracking down the best local coffee spots in any city and enjoying a long, lingering meal around her table with friends.

Soul and Culture

While her southern roots run deep, Amy Clifford currently calls Denver, Colorado home. Two of her favorite things are tracking down the best local coffee spots in any city and enjoying a long, lingering meal around her table with friends.