To express the “inner children” of a bunch of grownups

Not that innocent

Not that innocent

My siblings and I have many traditions together that are perfectly silly and would make sense to no one but us. For example, one might assume the three ice cream cone ornaments on my brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas tree are cute flights of fancy. What could be better to express the “inner children” of a bunch of grown-ups than ice cream cone decorations on the Christmas tree?

It’s not quite that innocent.

In 1985 our dad found descendants of our grandfather’s siblings (Granddad was one of nine brothers and sisters) from all corners of the country and organized a Knight Family Reunion at the ancestral home in Buford, Arkansas. All together, we were a crowd larger than the population of the town had ever been, even when people actually lived there.

My brother and sister-in-law lived in Wichita, Kansas. I flew there to drive to Buford with them, and our sister and her family drove from California to meet us so we could drive in a little two-car caravan from Wichita to Buford. We extracted from our brother, who was driving in the lead, promise to stop soon for a break to get a drink and use the facilities at a Dairy Queen. We had agreed–for some reason–a Dairy Queen would be a good place.

We passed one a fairly good distance from Wichita, and he did not stop. Then, down the road, another, then another, then another. He did not stop. Ever.

In retaliation, my sister and I began giving him Dairy Queen memorabilia for his birthdays, for Christmas, for any occasion that seemed appropriate, and eventually just because. It is a habit that brings us much enjoyment and laughter. So ice cream cones hanging from his Christmas tree are a nod to, a continuation of mutual tradition tying us together in the same way making snicker-doodles from Mom’s old recipe and countless other rituals based on our common private heritage do.

A little birthday jaunt?

A little birthday jaunt?

Sometimes I think about my professional colleagues and wonder what kind of silliness they participate in with their siblings. And I am embarrassed. Their family traditions probably have to do with Milton or Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or Annie Proulx, post-Structuralism or Bauldrillard’s Simulacra. We are so common compared with academics, writers, and other highly professional folk.

The traditions of my friends with more money than they need (I do have a few of those) involve giving white elephant gifts of Alexander McQueen fashions or season tickets to the Cowboys games or birthday trips to the Iguazu Falls in Argentina. At least birthday dinners at the new Joule Hotel in downtown Dallas. (Oops! I did take a friend to Stephan Pyles’ “Stampede” for his birthday last year and had one of Stephan’s Heaven and Hell cakes for my birthday, but I assure you those will not become “traditions”).

If my friends had contacted Nate Berkus to come and work his gay boy magic in my apartment, the transformation would have been so dramatic his show would not have been cancelled. I don’t even know the “traditions” of my own kind of people.

I cannot imagine myself–in the first place I don’t have the wardrobe for it–having dinner at the Dallas home of the friend of my friend where President Obama dined (the President didn’t actually eat because that would have required another level of security that her home was not equipped to handle–he only talked and socialized). My friend has both the wardrobe and the credentials for such an Important Event. More importantly, he knows which fork to use for each dinner course.

I am, I realize, stuck in a groove. The 33 and 1/3 rpm disc in my brain is scratched, and the needle cannot move on past this infinite loop, this interminable repetition. I’m stuck in place and can’t move on.

My perennial question is, it seems to me, so simple that someone ought to be able to provide an answer that would allow me to move on to some other pressing issue. It’s a two-part question. First, how did we humans, over dozens of millennia, get ourselves organized into societies with, on the one hand, people who give each other trips to South America and get to invite the President to their homes (even in Dallas) for dinner, and the rest of us who give each other plastic Dairy Queen ice cream cone Christmas presents? Second, which of us when we die, based on our relative comfort and importance in this life, is going to be closer to or more of a part of the ground of being, the God particle, the Lamb on His throne, however you want to describe it.

Or are we all going to be equally dead, so being rich and famous or even a hot-shot academic is ultimately meaningless?

A once-in-a-lifetime birthday cake?

A once-in-a-lifetime birthday cake?

If the last question is the right one to ask, then I have one further question that is probably un-American, un-Christian, and simply not nice. Why do we let those people (you know who they are) own so much of what should belong to all of us to allow us to get through this life with the same amount of ease, of comfort, of opportunity to think about it and enjoy ourselves? Why do we let this continue century after century after century (and become a more and more pronounced discrepancy in the United States hour by hour)?

I wouldn’t give up my family’s Dairy Queen tradition for anything. But I wonder when the time will come that all of us, all 7 billion of us, have the the opportunity to develop whatever family traditions we like–besides traditions like hunger and oppression generation after generation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: