Families are funny. There are subtle genetic connections that run through families that inspire statements like “you have Uncle Frank’s eyes.” Physical traits, and other hard-wired details in a family are one thing, but there are other (non DNA based) things shared by families that may be as (if not more) important.
Family and friends alike share traditions that are serious, and rooted in holidays, schooling, culture and other things. However, it is the organically developed, silly traditions that may actually mean the most.
1984 – I was in ninth grade, my brother was a senior and my little sister was in seventh grade. That year for a winter sport I chose to do cross-country skiing, but my brother and sister both ran indoor track.
Back then all of the indoor track meets in Rochester were held in the field house at the University of Rochester. This track was famous for many things, but the most unique attribute was the fact that half of the track is in a tunnel.
Indoor track meets take all day and because of this, there is a bustling concession stand serving lunch to athletes and onlookers alike.
At one particular meet that winter, my sister had enjoyed a drink from the concession stand. When she was finished with it, she looked around for a garbage can into which she could toss her depleted paper cup. Not seeing one nearby, she did what any creative teenager would do… she crumpled it up and tried to hand it to her father.
My dad didn’t fall for it at first, but after several attempts, my sister managed to get him to take the crumpled paper cup bearing the Coca-Cola logo.
And so began the silly tradition of the “Coke Cup.”
It started out with fairly high frequency. My Dad would leave the Coke Cup on my sister’s pillow, and then a few days later my sister would leave it on the dashboard of his car. Over time however, the leavings and findings became less frequent and more cryptic.
The unspoken challenge was to come up with the most difficult and obscure hand-off possible.
One time while serving as an acolyte in church, my sister came down from the altar to receive the offering plates from the ushers. On top of the highest plate was the Coke Cup.
When my Dad was on a ten-day wilderness high-adventure hike through Glacier National Park, he sat down next to the campfire for his dinner, and the guide handed him his plate, on which was both his food… and the Coke Cup.
The cup had been handed off at graduations, weddings, anniversaries and other major events. It is my understanding that the cup is currently in the possession of my sister and that she has had it for the better part of five years.
She provided me with the picture above, but was mum on what her plans are going forward. They say, “revenge is a dish best served cold.” It turns out that the same is also true for crumpled Coke Cups.
In the fall of 1984, my older brother was off to college and my sister and I ran Cross Country. Practice for fall sports began about ten days before school started, and our coach preferred morning practices.
There were several kids from our neighborhood on the team, so every morning we would gather in the cul-de-sac on which we lived, and proceed to the high school in a convoy of bicycles.
We would ride along the outside of our back yard fence, across the field behind our house, through the parking lot of the Presbyterian church and then through the woods behind the church. At this point we had to cross a yard where the homeowner didn’t like kids on bikes. We were supposed to walk them, but early in the morning we didn’t bother. We then proceeded through two suburban neighborhoods, across Baird Rd. through the cemetery and then on to the high school grounds.
Riding bikes around my town growing up often felt like a scene from E.T. – minus the flying of course.
One day we were pedaling through the second neighborhood and one of us, I can’t remember who exactly, was eating a buttered bagel. Since practice was only minutes away and the bagel was only half consumed, the later half was offered up to the group. Nobody wanted it, but someone had an idea.
Again, I can’t remember exactly who but someone suggested that we place the bagel, butter side down, on the nut on the top of the fire hydrant that we happened to be passing at that moment.
And so it was done. The bagel was placed atop the hydrant.
For the balance of pre-season practices, we rode our regular route, and we were pleased to see that the bagel remained untouched on its bright yellow perch. School started and we shifted from bikes to cars for post-practice transportation. Even though it was not on the direct automobile route, we detoured to check on the bagel several times a week.
Now, the bagel in question was the full-sized variety from an actual bagel shop, not one of those smaller ones that come in a bag from a grocery store.
The weeks went by and the bagel endured. Even when a parent or a non-running sibling was driving us home, we still managed to drive by and check on it.
Silly traditions are not boastful. Typically they fall into the category of what they call “in jokes.” All those involved know about it and appreciate it, but outsiders are not welcome in the circle of trust.
Fall turned to winter and the bagel continued to stand proudly at the corner of Hampton Way and Tolewood Drive. Cross Country turned into Indoor Track and it held fast to its cast iron pedestal.
Once it was covered with snow, we didn’t actually see the bagel for a couple of months, but that didn’t prevent us from checking on it.
Some time in March, the sun melted the snow from atop the bagel and we were pleased to see it still there, but something had changed. The melting snow had caused the bagel to swell to twice its original size. We worried that the end was near.
A few days later we drove by and the bagel was mostly gone. We suspected some hungry birds had discovered it and nearly picked it clean, but we will never know exactly what happened.
The next fall we tried to place a new bagel on the hydrant, but all we had was one of the aforementioned grocery store variety. As we placed it on the hydrant it cracked… it didn’t last the day. We knew then that the tradition of the hydrant bagel had been a one shot deal.
Some say the original survived due to the high quality of the bagel used, while others insist that the generous layer of butter made it waterproof. In the end it didn’t really matter. That bagel became part of the kinship that defined my neighborhood group of friends. Stupid and silly for sure, but it was important to us and whenever we see each other to this day, the bagel is often mentioned.
My daughter Charlotte and my son Oliver had developed a silly tradition that involves the name of a pilot from Southwest airlines from our trip to Disney four years ago. The details are a little murky to those of us just outside the circle, but from what I understand, whoever says the name of the pilot to the other first on any given day, “wins.” They don’t keep score, victory is measured one day at a time.
I’m just glad the tradition of silliness continues.
Family may be by blood or any of the other mechanisms that create connections between people, but when you find others with which you can be secretly silly, then you know where to call home.
You must have some silly traditions among your family and friends. If you can do so without betraying any confidences, tell us about them. The comment section below awaits your stories.
Copyright © 2014 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved. (A Tradition Of Silliness)