Phew! The annual Rosh Hashanah tradition is being upheld. Every year I fret that it won’t happen, that my friends on Capitol Hill (Washington, DC) won’t host their post-services potluck lunch. But they do – the invitation arrived yesterday. Though this year they’ll be holding it the day before, a Sunday, to give us more time and space. No matter. Like all good traditions, tweaking is allowed. The point is that its effect will be the same: a reassuring and a welcome intermission amidst a constantly busy and changing world.
In my last blog post, I wrote about the traditions we keep at our summer home in Maine. There were so many that I decided to split my post into two. Previously, I wrote about some customs that I, and my brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces continue year upon year. This time I’m expanding the circle to our neighbors – other families on our island and along the Maine coast. I could probably carry it even further to New Englanders, in general, because the region – one of the first parts of the U.S. to be settled by non-indigenous people – is remarkably tradition-bound. However, that will be a future blog or, better yet, a topic for you, my readers, to comment on.
After all these many summers spent the island, I know my neighbors very well. In fact, because we return every year, I’ve known many of them my entire life or, if they’re younger than me, all of their lives. We greet each other the same way each summer: “How was your winter?” “Your kids have gotten so big.” “How long are you here for?” And then, “We have to get together for a walk/dinner/tennis game/boat outing” – whatever it is that we do each summer with those particular people. And, aside from our activities in common, they tell me about their own island customs – certain walks through the woods, beachcombing along their favorite section of shoreline, making their once-a-year Boston cream pie, or picking cranberries from their secret patch.
At the fair, an annual event to raise money for the island’s Ladies Aid Society, the community joins together to organize a variety of sales and activities, each taking place in its own spot on the lawn or in the buildings around the community center. There’s the white elephant sale (where the same items often get recycled year after year); the table with fresh produce and island calendars; the barn with baked goods (including Marilyn’s famous fruit-topped shortbread); the hot dog and hamburger stand; scooped ice cream (with blueberry ice cream, of course!); face painting and fishing for toys behind a curtain for the kids; races for all ages; and a raffle of gift certificates to the general store, tickets for the ferry, or island-made art. Every year, the same people staff each table or event. We always know who will ring the opening bell at 10:30 am, who will be selling the cookies, pies and muffins; who will be hawking costume jewelry, and who will preside over the three-legged race and water balloon toss (though this year, there was a tweak in the routine).
In mid-August, there’s the annual tennis tournament, known as Wimbleberry, in which everyone is urged to play, no matter whether you’re 6 years old or 88, no matter if you’re a tennis pro or you play just two weeks a year. We always have to wrangle up enough women for the mixed doubles, and it’s the same three or four of us who set up the ladder using the random-selective method to ensure that teams are roughly equal. In spite of the fact that we know that David is going to win the men’s matches and mixed doubles…. We play by the same rules each year, but bend them accordingly to satisfy the idiosyncratic needs of each of our tennis club members. No matter whether we’re able to finish the tournament (due to rain, injury or other obstacles), we hold a potluck cocktail party at the same house (with very occasional exceptions due to extenuating circumstances) on Sunday evening. The two Dicks always wear their 1960s red plaid suit jackets, and Cindy always brings the most popular hors d’oeuvres of the evening.
When I go to nearby Acadia National Park, I find tradition there, too. I meet other families who spend summers in the area and are regulars on the park’s trails. Sometimes our conversations become competitive. A statement such as “I’ve been coming here for 32 years” is often met with a response like “My family has been coming since 1948. We’re now fourth generation.” And while on my annual hike and swim on Sargent Mountain this year, I came upon a sign that indicates just how tradition-bound we Mainiacs are. It’s a National Park Service sign that starts with a bold headline, “Attention Hikers,” and explains that some of the trail names have been changed. As a result, signs and maps might differ from each other. It makes sense to warn visitors of inconsistencies, but the implication is also that hikers who have been using these trails for many years (using well-worn maps) shouldn’t get bent out of shape because their favorite trail is no longer called the Asticou Trail (rather, now it is the Asticou & Jordan Pond Path). The Park is telling us that what’s long been true for us is now being tweaked.
I won’t be lost without all the samenesses and customary ways of times past, but I do find that maintaining certain traditions that have served us well, and that continue to serve us, are worth celebrating. These are just a few examples from my book of Maine tricks. What are some of the traditions that reassure and nourish you?