This past Sunday, when I was riding home from church with Andrew and Ella, we passed a house on Main Street that we pass any time we head home from “town.” And on any, and just about every, Sunday afternoon, this house is packed with cars, signaling a family gathering. When you know of the family, you also know that the house is occupied by the family’s grandparents and that the many cars each Sunday belong to the children and grandchildren of the couple, all of whom come to their house for Sunday lunch after church every week. Each time we pass the house with the crowded driveway, I feel a twinge of happiness and nostalgia as I’m reminded of family traditions. This family has this timeless tradition of gathering for a big Sunday meal, no doubt prepared by the head matriarch, after a morning of church services.
As I’m reminded of family traditions, I can share that I don’t have lavish family lunches on Sundays with a large family going to the grandparents’ house. However, I do have the family tradition that was started when Andrew and I were in college (and came home just about every weekend) that after church on Sundays, we likely go to a Mexican restaurant for lunch with his parents. Over the years, the locations have changed, as have the extra guests who go with us, but the constancy of the occasion is still present. It seems like something so simple – to go to lunch with your family on Sunday afternoon – but it’s more than just simple because it’s become a tradition. As I think back over the years of these lunches, I recall lunch friends who have since passed away, and I remember the days when one member didn’t even exist (the pre-Ella days). The years have passed but the tradition has remained, and there’s so much comfort in that.
I’m also reminded of family traditions that existed when I was a child. At the top of the list is the family tradition of celebrating Christmas. It was always with my mom’s family that we celebrated Christmas closest to the actual holiday because my dad’s family lived further away and/or was too spread out. However, Christmas with the Shires family was always a definite event that took place at my grandmother’s house in Clifton Forge, Virginia. I can recall several Christmases as a little girl when Christmas morning was spent with the whole family (Grandma, parents, sister, aunt & uncle, and cousins) piled in the finished basement with the 80s Christmas tree, which was filled with large colored bulbs and silver string tinsel. The bar area of the basement was transformed into a buffet of holiday treats that we kids were allowed to eat from, regardless of the early hour. I can’t begin to count how many “preacher cookies” I might have eaten in one morning as the gift-opening festivities stretched out. As the steps of the event were laid out, the youngest of the family opened their gifts first, which was me (as the youngest grandchild)! After each child opened gifts, then the gift-opening proceeded to the respective parents and then finally Grandma. In our family, Christmas morning was not a mad rush to tear through gifts as a crazed hoard of children. The occasion and its events were planned out and orchestrated to make the holiday and fellowship more meaningful. It’s the part of the tradition I cherish most.
Other traditions I can easily recall are family Thanksgivings, which were always at the home of my aunt and uncle when I was a little girl. Thanksgiving Day was spent watching the women cook in the kitchen, but there was always a point when my cousin and I were called into the kitchen to spread cream cheese on stalks of celery, which would be an appetizer. There might have been a time or two that I spent more time licking cream cheese off a stalk of celery than actually putting it on to stay. I also recall night time games of hide and seek outside on Thanksgiving night, my cousins and I bundled in dark clothes to better escape detection from the seekers. It never failed that I climbed the old pine tree and hoped that someone else was found before me.
A summertime tradition I hold very dear were the yearly family reunions with my dad’s side of the family. Most of the time they were held at the home of my aunt and uncle in Parkersburg, West Virginia, but there was one particular reunion that was hosted at our house. Each reunion included a large spread of potluck food made by all the McKnights, but my favorite dish was the cherry cheesecake made by my Aunt Carreen. After a big meal, the oldest McKnight brother (Uncle Rex) got out his guitar and the other McKnights who sang (my dad, Uncle Eddie, and Aunt Carreen) would stand around to accompany. The children of the McKnight siblings, and their children, often orchestrated games of softball in the large field behind my uncle’s house, and it never failed that at least one person pulled a muscle while playing volleyball in the backyard. I’m not sure when that tradition stopped, but I could probably associate it around the same time as the passing of my Aunt Carreen. After that point, it seemed that a reunion was hard to have without one of the McKnight siblings there. Unfortunately since then, our reunions have centered on the passing of two more McKnight siblings, first my Uncle Eddie and then Uncle Rex. Now there are only three brothers left, who are spread apart from each other in North Carolina and West Virginia. With such a widespread family, I enjoy the memories of the moments when we were all together.
As I grew, I learned the lesson that traditions change as families grow and change. None of these traditions from my childhood still happen the way they used to, but as families do, we’ve learned to adapt and create new traditions. The family traditions of my childhood provide me with many sweet memories and a solid foundation of love and a sense of belonging. I have the happiness of family traditions which can now be established and carried on in my own family with Andrew and Ella Grace. I’m thankful that each Sunday afternoon, when I pass the house on Main Street with the large family gathering, I’m reminded of how important family is. I think to myself that as Ella grows up, memories will be created for her no matter what. But as an integral part of her family, I can work to set traditions that live in her memories and make them all the more sweet and cherished.