Saturday, June 29, 2019

Ridiculously Important Family Traditions

Elisabeth van Lidth de Jeude - van Wely
When I think about family togetherness, I often think about my Groodmoeder. Technically she was my step-grandmother, and she put an enormous effort into holding our family together. Despite living on a different continent, it was Grootmoeder who always called on my birthday, no matter where I lived and as long as she was alive; who sent me countless letters in three different languages to connect and encourage my language learning; who came to visit us frequently even into her eighties, despite the long flight from the Netherlands to Canada's west coast. It was she who, for her own birthday, used to go around to visit all her friends, and for her eightieth birthday, sold a valuable painting and used the money to import all of her offspring from around the world to a Chateau in Switzerland to spend days celebrating with her and eating fondue and playing games. It was Grootmoeder who told me stories of meeting me when I was a "fat baby" and explained that she loved me even though she didn't know I was going to be her granddaughter yet. She never said she loved me gently, only with emphasis and sometimes a poke to the arm or a blast of her loud, determined laughter. She meant it every time.

Grootmoeder was unflinching and unbending, and fought to teach me the stupidity of washing my hair too often almost as hard as she worked to promote accessibility and housing for disabled people in her community. It was Grootmoeder who, in a restaurant, encouraged my cousin to line her pocket with a plastic bag, stuff souvlaki on skewers into it, and then discreetly pour the leftover sauce into the pocket (it dribbled out on the way home). It was Grootmoeder who told me not to steal pieces of brick from a monument before stuffing a couple in her pockets to bring home for me. It was Grootmoeder who got up in the middle of the night to prepare tomato soup so that when I awoke with jet-lag it would be ready for me. It was she who made sure I came to visit when the quinces were ripe so she could teach me how to make my father's favourite quince jam and jelly, and to eat quince mush on toast while the rest was cooking, because... it's tradition.

Grootmoeder was the keeper of my family's tradition, and in some cases she was the creator of it. She practically made a tradition of everything, including grilling us about the names of the rivers around her home, and facts like which river comes from Germany, and which do we cross with the ferry, and which of those did she swim in as a girl because it's the only clean one. (The Waal, the Lek, the Linge.) Now we have added to that mental list which one she drowned in, nearly fourteen years ago when she accidentally drove her car backwards off the ferry and into the Lek.

Pit spitting in a previous year.
Grootmoeder's hometown was in the orchard-rich province of Gelderland, and eating cherries is a family tradition as well. As is wearing cherries as earrings, and most especially, cherry pit spitting competitions, which all of her grandchildren were taught to do from the first time we could eat cherries, or visited her in cherry season. And you can't let tradition die, because it's tradition! So after Grootmoeder died, we all became a little more fanatical about cherry pit spitting, and now we have a worldwide tournament, among the siblings and cousins of this strange cherry-pit-spitting family. We gather up whomever is available in our various locations, and measure our spit distances, and then we share them by email across the world. Everybody wins, as we say... but some people (the men who carry Grootmoeder's genes) can spit unfathomably far!

Measuring the over-shot spit distance.
This year we in Canada used an insufficient tape measure, which my father overshot by nearly a meter, and we had to get a longer one to measure what turned out to be an 8.23m spit! I'm quite sure he and others have out-spit that in the past, but really, who's counting? It was a beautifully wet day here in BC where we've been having a drought. Grootmoeder would have been happy for the rain. She would have turned one hundred years old today. And I think she can be proud of the traditions she has instilled. I think we can all rejoice in carrying on her legacy of love and fun and togetherness.

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