My Daughter Said She'd Burn This Book! -- by L. David Mark


Chapter 48 - Traditions


      I guess I am a traditionalist, which could be defined as one who resists change. I think Cindy is, too. The other day, for instance, she cleaned out all her old pencils & pens -- she seems to accumulate masses of them -- & dumped them on my dresser. Something she had done on a number of occasions.

      I got irritated & dumped them back in her room. And later, she came to me & said, "Didn't you see the note?"

      "What note."

      "The note I left with the pens & pencils."

      Then I looked & saw on a little piece of paper, in her familiar looping script, the words "It's tradition." And I felt bad about hollering at her & dumping the pens. But not bad enough to take them back.

      There are family traditions. In our family we exchange "white elephants" at Christmas. This started back probably sometime in the forties with the people in the three families on my mother's side who exchanged Christmas gifts -- there were six cousins and a grandmother plus the three sets of parents. Up till that point, all the kids got little toys from all the aunts & uncles & the grandma. And this was getting to be a bit much. So we came up with the idea that we would put the names in a hat around Thanksgiving time & just give one gift. Of course, my cousin Nancy & I, who were of an age, still exchanged gifts, as did Jane & Marilyn, also the same age. I don't know what happened to Bill, who was the same age as Jane & Marilyn. And poor Johnny probably got left out because he was the youngest by about three years.

      However, drawing names still presented a problem. Namely, that there wouldn't be enough presents under the tree. So we came up with this scheme to exchange white elephants, often just wrapped in newspaper. And some of the funnier ones sort of made the rounds year after year & the giver got the gift back the next year. Like the little silvery green box with the holes in one end & the legend, "There's a live rabbit in here!" And when you opened it up, there were three little black "pellets" & the words, "Well, he was here!" This dates way back, probably to the fifties sometime -- I'm not sure of the origin, but I'd bet it came from my Uncle Clyde. And in the last five or six years, Cindy & my sister Jane have been sending it back & forth between Virginia and Minnesota.

      And there was the little clay bear that I had made when I was a kid that followed me all the way over to Korea in my Christmas package when I was in the Army. And I brought it back. The corn cob. The jock strap they gave to Jim the first year after he married Nancy. He blushed for a week! The old can of anchovies that was beginning to rust through. More recently, the can of jalapenas & when the lucky individual opened it, we all started singing, "Hal - a-peen-ya, Hal-a-peen-ya, Hal-a-peen-ya" to the tune of the Alleluia chorus in The Messiah.

      I guess holidays bring out family traditions. For a number of years, we always visited Mary's sister Lucy & husband Bill in Philly for Thanksgiving. And they would come down and see us on Memorial Day.

      At Christmas, we have a felt calendar with a Christmas tree that Mary made where you can pin a different ornament on for each of the twenty-four days before Christmas. And Cindy always has the responsibility for the pinning.

      When the trees just begin to bud out, a former carpooler --I think her name was Louise, but it may have been Elaine; I always wanted to call her the wrong thing -- termed this condition as "feathering."

      "Oh," she would say in early February, "The trees are feathering. Not too long till spring is here!" And every year, she would be the first in the carpool to mention this phenomenon, always, it seemed, earlier than the year before. The phrase "Oh, the trees are feathering" became the carpool's traditional start of spring.

      But there are traditions for individuals, too. Take, for instance, me and my barber. Shortly after I came to Washington, I started getting my hair cut by Ted at Metro Barbers, a place to which a coworker George Beshore introduced me. (George, by the way was famous -- or infamous, as the case may be -- for the line he uttered one day at some office luncheon or other at the Market Inn. Market Inn was famous for its food -- and its drinks. We had all sat down at a long table -- must have been fifteen or twenty of us -- & had ordered a round of drinks, which had arrived, & had also ordered our food. Well, George, who liked to party in those days, was getting ready for his second drink -- possibly his third, he may have gotten there early -- when the waitresses came out & started serving the food. Whereupon, George stood up & bellowed, "Take back the food! Take back the food!! We're not ready for the food!!!")

      Anyhow, about the only time I ever got my hair cut by anyone other than Ted was just before my wedding. I had moved into our new apartment the week before the big day & in driving around the neighborhood saw this little shopping center with a barber shop in it & a sign in the window that said, "Flattop Experts." Well, at that point I was wearing my hair in a flattop -- had since sometime during my college years. So even though Ted gave good flattops, I thought to myself, "Gee, maybe this would be a good place to have as a second spot to get a good haircut."

      So a couple days before the wedding, I went in, sat in the barber chair & said, "Give me a flattop." Well the barber was about half-way through when I commented, "I saw your sign -- that's why I came in here."

      "Yeah," he replied, "I don't know where that thing came from; it was here when we took over the place."

      I winced/shuddered inwardly. And I was right -- that was the lousiest haircut I ever got. It looked so bad I almost didn't show up for the wedding!

      But to back up, a year or so after I first started getting my hair cut by Ted, it so happened in casual conversation that Jim White, another officemate, mentioned something about getting a haircut and tipping his barber.

      "You tip your barber?" I asked.

      "Of course," Jim replied. "You always tip your barber."

      Oh, I thought. Well, this country boy just learned something new. So the next time I get a haircut I give Ted two dollars plus a quarter tip -- that's better than ten percent & par for the course in the early sixties -- & he thanks me. He always thanked me anyhow.

      Well, it's 1992 now, and haircuts have gone up to ten dollars at the Metro Barbers, which moved from its origins at the Washington Hotel some few years ago to its current location at 7th & D Streets, SW. But I still get my hair cut by Ted. And I still tip him a quarter. And he thanks me.

      It's tradition.

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