Tradition. Tradition? How important is it? Hmmmm….well, according to Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, it was very important. Some of you may think, eh, maybe not so much. Better to strike out on your own and blaze new trails. Could it be that both are right, that each camp has merit, but, oh, the magic it creates if the two can somehow be harmoniously blended?
My family is steeped in tradition. We revel in it, we look forward to it, and God help the lost sheep who strays and tries to change things (as I did when I erroneously suggested we try Cordon Bleu for Thanksgiving this year in the place of a turkey…they are still screaming about that one!).
We gather together each holiday, adjusting the days or times each year as the family expands and embraces new families, but we gather. We gather together every Friday night to eat, joke, laugh, cry, and play games, whichever suits the occasion or mood. These have all become part of the fabric of our family. Tradition.
We have another tradition, too. The Chicago Cubs. Boy, that is a big one that our family has revolved around even before I was born. My father, who was extraordinarily talented athletically, loved most any type of sport. He played on the varsity basketball team all four years of high school. He played basketball on a league at Central Foundry when he worked there. He played whenever and wherever he could. But there was this one sport, this one team, though, that he would orbit around, and that was baseball and the Chicago Cubs.
During my childhood, we would drive to Tunnelton, a very small town in southern Indiana where I grew up, to have lunch with my grandmother and my father’s rather large family. If there was a Chicago Cubs baseball game played that afternoon, he and all of his brothers would cram into one of the trucks or cars and strain to put their ears to the static emitting from the radio, which was the only way they could follow the games at the time. They wouldn’t miss it, no matter how hot it was, how stormy, how crowded…you get the picture.
I didn’t. I did not and still do not have one athletic bone in my body. Not even a ligament. My mother could skate and bowl. My father played basketball and baseball well. My sister was the treasurer of the school’s club, GAA, Girls’ Athletic Association, and played softball. I, well, I played in the stands, and that was it.
Here is the thing, though. What I lacked in athletic ability, I made up for it with my love for and appreciation of tradition. My family would travel to games together. Did I enjoy the games? Nope; not at all. But what I did love was the family time, the laughs, the picnics, and the enjoyment of being together. Every spring, my father would journey to Arizona with a group of his friends to watch the Cubs Spring Training, and it was a big deal for them and for us. He would bring home stories as well as souvenirs, with which I would happily add to my Cubs’ paraphernalia. Pennants, bats, hats, large paper Harry Carey glasses…you name it and we had it, and I was happy because it was an annual tradition for him, his friends, and our families.
I don’t know if some of you are aware of the traditional folk lore of the ‘curse’ of the Cubs’ team, but it involves a Greek and his goat being ousted from the stadium (obvious reasons…think of stinky goat plus hot weather in close quarters!), and the upset man, upon leaving, cursing the team by saying that they will never win another World Series. Well, let me tell you, as the years passed it was almost enough to make you believe in curses and goats because year after year rolled by with no World Series success. Some close but always marred by misses.
My father, however, never lost his faith in his team. No matter what, no matter how many people laughed and jeered, or how awful they played, his belief in his team was never shaken. I admired that as I watched, sometimes wondering how he could hang in there so many years, but hang in there he did; he and his faithful friends never missed a year for spring training.
Until the spring of 2002, that is. My father had become ill by then, and by the spring of that year, he was bedridden. I remember how heartbroken my mother was as she had to hear my father say quietly, “I wish I could go with them, at least one more time,” as they drove off, telling him their good-byes and that they wished he could have joined them. He was gone by the next month, and the knowledge that he could not make his trip to his ‘Mecca’ one final time was a something over which she always grieved.
But now, she, too is gone; I lost my mother three months ago. For the first time in my life, I watched every game of this World Series 2016. For them; for my parents. For tradition, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt neither wild horses nor goats could have kept them from watching this momentous occasion, and I am pretty certain they enjoyed their seats much more this time as they watched it side by side.
When we gather together, I sometimes find myself tempted to look around and focus on the chairs that now stand empty, and I feel gripped by an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss, but then I remember the things I have been taught and the traditions we have treasured as a family. When I do that, I can’t help but smile because I know how happy my parents must be, how elated they must be at this uncommon win, and, now that most of them are together for their everlasting trip to Cubs’ spring training, how ecstatic the eternal boys of summer are.