When you’re a boy growing up there are many signposts on the way that mark your path to manhood. I’m not talking about physical changes, I mean the things that signal a slow change in maturity. For some it’s turning 18 or 21. Others joined the military to show they were men, or it’s the first drink in the bar. OK, except I was pushing Dad’s VW Bug down the road and popping the clutch when I was 15 so I could go for rides around the block and who didn’t have their first sip of alcohol in high school?? I don’t believe I was a man then, nor do I believe I was when our daughters were born. I was 18 when Sara joined us and 20 when Jen arrived. I grew up with them and held on for dear life. While those were all signs of change, they didn’t classify me as a man. That happened on Thanksgiving Day 1996, when Dad handed me the electric knife and told me it was my turn to carve the turkey. I was 40-years old, and my Dad had just trusted me to do the most important holiday task I could imagine
You see, since I was old enough to pay attention I held the annual right of carving the turkey as the one thing I aspired to the most. After spending the entire day cooking, which came after she had just spent the entire day before cleaning, Mom reached way in the back of the cabinet and pulled out the yellowed box that held the electric carving knife. After she had mashed the potatoes, made the gravy, baked a mince-meat pie, prepared all the side dishes and sampled the crispy stuffing sticking out of the back of the bird, she handed Dad the knife and he sliced the turkey. I always wondered why she didn’t carve the bird. Why shouldn’t she be able to complete the task she had been working for days to accomplish? Apparently, I assumed, there was some ancient European tradition that had been brought across the Atlantic by our ancestors that dictated Mom pass the knife to Dad, and I knew someday he would pass it to me as the oldest son. I was spellbound as he moved from side to side and removed the slices from the turkey and put them on a very big platter we only saw once a year. Did you have one of those? It was white and had a turkey embossed on it. Anyway, after he finished, we said a quick prayer and began the feast. It was AWESOME and for a young boy it seemed the most important task a man could have and in 1996 that task became mine.
Passing the torch…handing down traditions. That’s what this wonderful time of year is really. The special decorations we put up that used to hang on Mom’s tree. The recipes we dig out that still have stains from Christmases past when everyone was in the kitchen making cookies. And the stories we tell and the songs we sing that we’ve been singing as long as we can remember. Someday those recipes will be inherited by others who will smile through tears as they read your notes and copy the steps word for word. Those tears will be the secret ingredient that completes the dish! And we’ll hang ornaments that have hung on family trees for generations. And we’ll carve the turkey with the same knife Dad used, and his Dad before him.
I know now I didn’t become a man because Dad asked me to carve a turkey. I became a man because Dad trusted me to be the next keeper of the family traditions. It is a job I love more than any I have ever had. On Thursday I will carve the turkey as Dad sits close by. When the meal is finished and the dishes cleaned, Diane and I will gather in the family room with our granddaughter Larissa and watch White Christmas, a tradition we started 30-years ago. Things change so fast, and the world doesn’t look much like the one I grew up in anymore. As the Tradition Keeper it’s up to me to make sure in the haste to change things and make everything better we don’t forget it was pretty good already. We are a product of those that came before us and what a shame if we forgot the way home. I believe these are the days that hold the rest of the year together and I pray they bring you a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a season filled with love. And I hope somewhere there’s a little one watching you, waiting their turn to be just like you.