This world. This place. This life.

Two stories about tradition


There’s an often-told tale that goes something like this:

A newly-married young woman prepares a pot-roast dinner. Her husband watches as she cuts one end off the roast before putting it in the oven.  He asks, “Why did you cut one end off the roast?”

“My mother always did that,” she said.

Later, he asks his mother-in-law, “Why have you always cut one end off your pot roasts?”

“My other always did,” she said.

Finally, he asks his wife’s grandmother, “Why did you always cut one end off your pot roasts?”

“Because I had a really small roasting pan,” she said.

I thought about that story yesterday morning, after I took a batch of muffins out of the oven.

The first thing I did after taking off my oven mitts was to grab a fork, and gently tip each of the muffins sideways––as I remember watching my mother do.

Sounds like the same story, right?

Except that recently I read the rationale behind the practice. Tipping the muffin in its cup allows steam to escape, so that the bottom of the muffin doesn’t get soggy.

Here’s the thing about the stories we tell: they’re never just the facts. There’s always something behind the story, something we’re trying to say indirectly. Slant, as Emily Dickinson might say.

When we’re restless, eager for change, frustrated by rigid, incomprehensible rules, we tell stories about silly, meaningless traditions.

When we long for connections to a deeper, older knowledge, when we want to remember how to make, fix and create, we tell stories that value what we learned at our mother’s elbow.


4 thoughts on “Two stories about tradition

  1. Well, but in either case, the story is meaningless without the explanation – the examination of the reason behind the tradition. Both make the point that we have to examine the outcome of the tradition – whether it furthers good or not.

    • Absolutely, Lisa. This post springs from a FB conversation about “fluid tradition,” and my internal process about what that might look like. Part of what “fluid tradition” means is looking for the rationale–neither accepting without question, nor blanket rejection of long-accepted practices.

  2. “…value what we learned at our mother’s elbow.” I love that! Thanks for these stories.

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