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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Folly of Borrowing Traditions*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
November 27, 2010
as "Creating Traditions"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Holiday traditions are a part of every family’s history, many going back multiple generations. They grow out of the magic that happens when family gathers. But one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t adopt someone else’s traditions. You have to create them yourselves.

My wife’s family usually gets together before Thanksgiving to make pies. This is not your usual baking of two or three pies for the holiday feast. They go into mass-production mode, usually turning out in excess of 350 pies, which they then give away to family, friends, coworkers, and occasionally, perfect strangers. It’s an amazing thing to watch as my mother-in-law and two daughters work swiftly, happily, and with supreme organization in a small, stuffy non air-conditioned Honolulu kitchen. They make pumpkin and apple pies, all of them delicious. Seeing them work, my son and wife decided to export this island tradition to his spacious climate-controlled kitchen in Maryland.

The week before, we were tasked with locating and buying a certain brand of pie filling here in Pennsylvania. My son usually clears the shelves of every grocery store in his area, so it was necessary for us to patch in the remainder of the supply. Having obtained our quota of cases, we loaded the car and headed east. It was a joyful arrival, although humping all those groceries up the stairs did take some of the shine off that particular apple. That evening, we all pitched in to make the crust. Immediately, we ran into difficulties. What the Hawaii experts had made look so easy became a job fraught with exasperation and frustration. The dough kept sticking to the rolling pin, even with generous amounts of flour, tearing holes in the sheets. Cutting and lifting the crusts into the pie pans was even more difficult, eventually leading to a frantic trans-pacific phone call to find out how to get the dough from table to pan in one piece. Finally, about 1 AM, tired, frustrated, and looking like floury Yetis, we retired.

We were up early the next day, mixing the filling. We immediately realized there wasn’t a container large enough to hold the entire production run, so I made my one and only suggestion. Going to the hardware store, I returned with a plastic 5-gallon bucket. After proper sanitizing, we dumped the filling mixture into the bucket. It filled the bucket to within an inch of the top, which meant that any attempt to stir the mix caused the brown mass to spill onto the floor. Eventually, we did get the mix ready. Carefully lifting the bucket to the counter, we lined up the crusted pie tins and scooped away. At this point we actually got into a rhythm of sorts, dipping filling, transferring the pies to the oven, removing the baked pies to the deck out back (the only space we had left) to cool, then wrapping them in wax paper and ziplock bags. But it was still hard work. By mid-afternoon, we were all getting tired. The atmosphere in that kitchen had turned decidedly fractious. It didn’t help that my son and I were regularly wandering into the next room to watch football, necessitating repeated recalls by our wives. We decided about 9 PM to quit, momentum carrying us forward until around 10:30. Instead of the anticipated number of pies, we only produced 155. Whatever the secret was to that process, it remained safe in Hawaii. When we checked in with our tropical relatives, my wife bragged that we had made over 150 pies. There was a moment of silence on the other end, then the question, “Is that all?”

We divided up the pies, then my wife and I hit the road for Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, once we got back, we discovered that trying to give away pumpkin pies around Thanksgiving was a lot like trying to give away tomatoes in early summer. Everybody’s got ‘em; nobody wants ‘em. We didn’t get through our supply until June.

We haven’t done pie-ing since, declining to revisit what was a supremely un-fun weekend.

We fell back to what we had always done. Make dinner, eat dinner, fall asleep during the football games, then go out and see the first of the Christmas light displays, then hitting the sack early in preparation for Black Friday. Granted, it’s not a tradition that others may find holiday-like, but it’s one that is all ours.

And we’re okay with that.
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