I’m going to tell you a story.
A family of five generations was preparing the holiday dinner together. In the kitchen, the youngest child watched as her mother trimmed a 1” piece off of each end of a massive ham before placing it in a large broiler pan in preparation for the oven.
The child asked, “Mommy, why did you cut off a piece from each end?”
The mother frowned and said, “I don’t know. That’s what your grandmother always did. Why don’t you ask her?”
The child found her grandmother peeling potatoes at the kitchen table.
“Grandma,” she said, “Mommy cut off a piece from each end of the ham before she put it in the oven. When I asked her why, she said ‘cause you always did. How come you do it?”
The potato peeler in the grandmother’s hand paused mid-flight. A crease appeared between her thick peppered brows as she gazed down at her granddaughter and said, “I don’t know. That’s what your great-grandmother always did. Why don’t you ask her?”
Unperturbed, the child sought out her great-grandmother who was carefully trimming green beans in the sink.
The girl looked up at the white-haired woman. “Granny, Mommy cut off a piece from each end of the ham before she put it in the oven to cook. When I asked her why, she said ‘cause grandma always did. When I asked grandma, she said ‘cause you did. Why do you trim your ham before putting it in the oven?”
Granny glared at a green bean that had fallen from her gnarled grasp and was trying to make an escape down the disposal. She grunted. “That’s what your great-great grandmother always did. Ask her.”
The child hesitated, debating if it was worth the risk to complete her mission. Her great-great grandmother was a wizened old sack of bones that sat by the hearth. The child fearfully approached and cleared her throat.
The ancient woman turned lashless eyes on her. “Hello, child,” she croaked.
“Ma’am,” the child said, “can I ask you a question?”
“You can ask.”
The child took a deep breath and spoke, “I watched Mommy cut a piece off of each end of the ham before she put it in the oven. I asked her why and she said ‘cause her mom did it. When I asked Grandmom, she said her mom did it. When I asked Granny, she said ‘cause you did it.”
A slow grin was spreading its way across the woman’s thin lips.
“Why,” asked the child, “did you cut a piece off of each end of your ham before you stuck it in your oven?”
A cackle escaped the woman’s mouth and her eyes lit up with amusement. She rested a frail hand on the child’s rosy cheek and said, “I’ll tell you, little one, the reason I always trimmed my ham was because if I didn’t, it would never have fit in my old wooden stove.”
What traditions have you held on to that have lost their meaning?