Out of Nothing, Something

by Carrie Allen Tipton

When she was very young, my sister hit on a brilliant idea for ensuring she would get her way. When she found some family activity to her particular liking, she began referring to it as “a tradition,” thereby ethically obligating us to replicate that turn of events in the future, impelled by the ritual power of the word she had harnessed. My mother made chicken fajitas for Christmas Eve dinner once—once!—and Amy was so pleased that she insisted it was now a tradition. Some fifteen-odd years later, mom still obliges every December 24. The little blonde girl spoke with a prophetic voice; even now on Christmas Eve I still get a faint craving for fajitas. Her boldness has become a family joke, and occasionally we used to wonder out loud, with air quotes, what tradition Amy will create next.

Whether she was ignorant of or simply determined to manipulate the common understanding of the term “tradition” I am still not sure: I am only sure that her willingness to apply the label so gleefully and haphazardly and arbitrarily to new experiences taught me that perhaps all it takes to create a tradition is someone being willing to call out the word. A tradition now existed because she had fabricated it ex nihilo before our very eyes. Unlike so many things named “tradition,” we could trace this one to a specific moment, a particular place, a known originator. The misty, vague sense that traditions have always sort of existed – organically, authentically, inaugurated by an unknown and mythical ancient collective – was blown away by the sharp breeze of Amy’s deft rhetorical checkmate.

I always remember how she recast the meaning of this word when I think of the new traditions already woven into the life-fabric of our tiny tribe of three. We make pancakes on Saturday mornings while we listen to music, often Ella Fitzgerald’s complete recordings of the Gershwin songbook. Once a month we go on a family date night to the swanky, quiet bistro tucked into a corner of Nordstrom. Though new, these rituals already feel old, and it is my hope we enact them over and over again. Since getting our piano six months ago, I often start the day with Anne by playing some Bach to (at?) her. Early in this process she would lie staring up at me from her playmat, occasionally objecting to (or perhaps ratifying) a particularly chromatic stretch by a loud squawk. Now she joins in, on tiptoe, plunking the keys and shouting joyfully at the resultant cacophony. Six months—long enough to tradition make? Empowered by Amy’s fajita proclamation, I say yes.