Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some traditions fade away

And so they do. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that after she pulls the football away from him in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  And it is true.  Traditions sometimes fade away.  I'll post more on how I think this fits with what is happening in the Catholic Faith - if not in most Christian traditions - later.  But for now, I acknowledge it is true.

It was back many years ago.  I was a freshman in high school.  That would be in 1981. It was after my birthday, but before Christmas. We were meeting my sister's new boyfriend.  She had gone through her first divorce, and this fellow was destined to be her second ex-husband.  But at the time we had hope that things would be working out for her for the better.

We went to meet her at Thistlewood Apartments, a low income housing area in our small, rural county seat where the two of us had grown up.  We met him.  I was never impressed I will say, and I stand by my appraisal that he wasn't going to be good news.  Still, he did buy me the Adventure cartridge game for my Atari game system, so that increased my feeling about him at the time.

Where Dad sometimes worked.  He actually let me run
the engine a couple times when I was older
But that night we decided to go out to dinner at a place my Dad had discovered. He was a train engineer.  At the time he was working a yard job out of a small yard near Mansfield, Ohio.  A few years earlier, he had found this restaurant called Papa's Gondola.  A small, family Italian place whose proprietor - Papa - was an Italian.  You just know the food had to be good.  And it was.  We had eaten there a few times before.

So we went.  After dinner, we planned on going to the house of a fellow who was getting a reputation for setting up a pretty nifty Christmas lights display.  He worked for Ohio Edison (our electric co-op), and used his equipment to deck the halls and towering pine trees all around his multi-acre yard.  Back then, that was something.  Long before digital light shows and dime a dozen musical home displays, something like that was the glaring exception rather than the rule.

So we went.  The dinner was likely good, as always.  It still is by the way, even though Papa has long gone from running the place.  We then went to find the display.  Dad had seen it from the railroad tracks when he was working the road (that is, taking trains from yards in one city to another).  On our way, we got turned around and went down a small neighborhood street.  A house there had an nice little display in its own right.  As we drove by, an elderly gentleman was standing on the other side of the street opposite the house by the mailbox.  He stopped us and introduced his house display.  He told us to enjoy as we drove through, though there was nowhere but past his house to drive.

We went on.  The street was a dead end and we had to go back around.  We came back and the fellow was still there.  He stopped us again, and began boasting about his display, even saying that he was almost willing to hang lights on his wife.  The fact is, however, his was not the display we were looking for.  Nor was it close to as impressive, as we found out once we arrived at our goal.  Still, at the time, we had a good laugh, even if it was at the poor fellow's expense.  It was a nice display after all.  We just thought it funny that he put such pride in it when, impressive that it was, it didn't hold a candle to our ultimate objective.

Once we found the actual light show we were seeking, we were impressed.  At the time, save for some downtown displays in Akron that my parents took me to a couple times, that was the most I had ever seen at a single place.  It actually took a few minutes to drive through and we didn't even see everything.

The Richland Mall as I remember it 
Anyway, we enjoyed the whole experience enough that we went back the next year.  The next year we added going shopping at the Richland Mall in Ontario, just outside of Mansfield.  North of Columbus and south of Akron, that was about the largest shopping mall we had.  We had gone there around Christmas time throughout my childhood.  It always had large displays, with animatronic figures in elaborately staged Christmas scenes, two large fountains in the center aisles, and all the stores we could ask for - including a Five and Ten and a Waldenbooks.

From that year on, except for my couple years living in Florida, every year we would go to Mansfield, eat at Papa's, go shopping at the mall, and go see the lights.  And that included my wife and children as they came into the scene.  Eventually the fellow who had the lights display retired and ceased putting up his lights.  But the county fairgrounds down the road from the mall had started putting up quite a lights display, so we simply moved there.

All of this is to say that this year we found out the lights display at the fairgrounds has been sold out.  It simply could no longer keep up the bills.  It had tried to raise the money, but was unable to do so.  The mall, too, isn't what it used to be.  As many malls in the area are.  Great Northland Mall in Columbus for example, the cultural center of my college years, and one of the largest shopping areas in north-central Ohio back in the 80s, is now a parking lot.

So this year we will go to Papa's, which had to close for a few months a year or so ago in order to get itself back on financial track.  We will swing by the mall - what is left of it - and let the kids (my Sister's granddaughter as well) see Santa.  Then we'll go to my Sister's house for cake and some coffee.  There are no lights displays in the Mansfield area now.  None that match the former.  There are some down in our area, but that's too far to go in one night.

Still there, and a remnant of a favorite tradition
So for the first time since 1981, save a couple years while I lived in Florida, we will not go to Papa's and follow up with a lights show.  So you see, traditions do ultimately fade away.  Things change.  People die.  My Dad is gone.  My Sister's beau at that time eventually married and then divorced her.  In fact, her next husband after him just died a couple years ago.  Papa is no longer involved in the restaurant, if he is even alive.  And I'm sure the elderly gentleman who thought we had driven across Ohio just to see his own humble display has also moved on from this life, given his age at the time.

Like it or not, that's the way traditions go.  Even the big ones.  And today, we live in a time where more and more a tradition, by virtue of being a tradition, is seen as expendable by a growing segment of our society.  So for those who want to put conservatism aside and embrace the latest, hippest, the ball is in their court.  And that includes those who are enamored with Pope Francis, who has made it clear that the time has come to embrace change, and not get hung up with the expendable things of the past.

History is on his side of course.  If you cling to traditions, you are fighting a long defeat.  It remains to be seen, however, if getting rid of traditions before their time is not harmful to a society.  But accepting that they will change, just like this one little tradition in our lives, is likely part of being in the world of time.  Like it or not.

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