Thursday, December 10, 2009

Traditional By-products

By ned * Other ned Posts
 
The holiday season encourages a variety of activities that inertia would otherwise cause us to ignore or avoid. We all tend to look at our bank balances in early January only to feel like a ho-ho-ho as unexpected gifts and splurges take their toll (the Yule Log dvd excluded). We fill our homes with green despite it being a stark season. We interact with family members close, distant, delightful and curmudgeon.

By-products though of the forced family interactions are the stories that come up about your fore-bearers that otherwise would go unnoticed. We hear stories that we would probably sooner forget of our grandparent and parents in their twenties. Vivid descriptions of times spent on family retreats or at a relative's home that predates your birth or ability to experience. Personality flaws and strengths are exposed of adults that were overlooked when we were idolizing children - ultimately making the connection and bonds we share stronger.

Coupled with these traditions are those of another mortal construct, the end of the college football season. This past weekend bowl bound programs finally stamped their tickets and fans and players of the other teams forgot the completed season even happened. Akin to honored family gatherings, the bowl system itself grows organically and justifies itself on tradition. Although the bowls the spoils of a season, perhaps more tradition rich are the rivalry games that take place at the end of each season before bowl selection Sunday. If you grew up in Columbus, Ohio; Auburn, Alabama; New Haven, Connecticut; Corvallis, Oregon or a host of other college towns you would be hard pressed to disagree with me.

Family stories and college football rivalry games became intertwined for me this year at the Thanksgiving table. My mother shared with us her account of her first Yale-Harvard football game, aka The Game, and meeting my father's college buddies for the first time. The course of the actual day were fine, but leading up to the event my mom was concerned about what she had gotten herself into.

Ms. Porter, another product of Columbus, grew up on the traditions of Ohio State football games, an environment where wholesome midwestern tailgating food, beer and values blended with sitting next to a father swearing at silver helmets. She assumed though that Yale-Harvard (best read with your nose in the air and an ascot around your neck) might require a different approach. Wanting to make a good impression, she was open to advice on how to conduct herself.

"So, what should i wear to the game?" my mother asked a high school friend who was one of the first women to attend Yale.

"Do you have a fur coat?"

Startled, the future Mrs. Young responded "I guess I can get one out of storage, but I have a leather jacket."

"Well, I guess that will do."

With one conversation, my mother was now expecting to have to find her place in a setting straight out of a New Yorker cartoon next to the likes of Montgomery Burns - quite a change from the sweatshirt clad crew in the Horseshoe. Unfortunately, the concern about being a fish out of water was only exasperated when she picked up a nice tureen as elegant tailgating food to impress.

"Oh, this will be perfect for the Yale-Harvard game," the cook exclaimed. Just what she wanted to hear to goad on her fears.

Like my father, I ended up becoming a son of Eli. But despite this legacy status, I think my experience with The Game is more like my mother's. My class was the first class since the war, with that war being the Great War, to never experience a Yale victory. The only reason that that class did not see the bulldogs victorious was because they did not play the game in 1919. Like my mother, my experience with The Game was somewhat rocky. However in the end, we both came out winners - perhaps for reasons we did not initially anticipate.

Sitting at us at the Thanksgiving table as she recounted this story were close friends who were at my mother's first Yale game, one of my father's college roommates and his family who have been coming to our Thanksgiving for years. Despite that bumpy start, my mother has gotten personal friendships with impact and depth beyond the Yale Bowl. That maybe the moral of these cold weather traditions: through Thanksgivings, Christmas Mornings, football games or playing catch, the traditions of sport and holidays both force us to behave differently and in a group setting. The end result is not the traditions themselves but a greater connection with the past and with each other. In this way, traditions are more of a vehicle for interpersonal connection than celebrations of the event of the moment.

However that point does have its exceptions. For instance, there is the exception of how I ended up benefiting from the Yale-Harvard game. I ended up witnessing a victory despite the result on the field. But not on the football field. But by having my class get the last word over hahvahd in my senior year game.



Happy Holidays and Bow Wow Wow!

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