Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Tyranny of Tradition

As I was happily shoveling snow this Saturday, I was humming the "Tradition" melody. Two steps back, arms tilted back, one step forward, powering the feathery snow unto the spade, I shouted "Tradition!' "Tradition!!". A great song (from one of my all-time favorite musicals) for this, one of the most tradition bound and gagged of holidays.
After 20 minutes of light work (living in the city, among other benefits, means short work with snow accumulation), I pulled out the ladder to finish up the outside Christmas decoration. Yes, it was snowing. Yes, it was a tad chilly so putting up lights with gloves was a hassle. Yes, the wind was blowing so the light's wires were soon as stiff as gefilte fish.
But, you know, it was tradition.

Our porch was in need of a serious paint makeover this summer, so we decided to engage the services of "alleged" professional painters. Seems that whenever yours truly painted the porch, it had to be re-painted within 3-4 years. All that scraping, sanding, researching paint quality online seemed to be a waste of time. Three years rolls around and I'm on the porch floor with an electric sander.
This time around, it would be different. Professionally different. The male ego, at least that compartment associated with doing-it-yourself, took a serious hit. I whimpered off to that corner Real Men delegate those who wish they were. The professionals stepped in, three strong, to polish off the job in one day, about 5 days faster than I'd ever been able to finish said task.
Then, a week later, the guys showed up again as there seemed to be some "issues" with their professional work efforts.

Three weeks later, they tromped onto the porch again, their Real Manhood in serious jeopardy. Again, they had to re-do major parts of the job as quality was lacking.

By the fourth time that they had to re-visit the place of their work crime, I was coming out of that relegated corner and almost, almost, had a tug of empathy for them. That was soon replaced by a self-justified exhaling of tense breath. I was back into the enclave of Real Men. Their efforts in the Sisyphean porch painting were even more short-lived than mine! If there was RealMenanizing to be done, it was by me, it seems.

I approached the porch this wintry day with a slight hitch in the pants knowing the job in front of me was doable. Then I looked at the door. The trim work was still nicely painted and all of the staple holes from previous years' light mountings were filled. The wood was smooth, daring me to damage it with those miniscule staple holes, each prick an additional insult to the re-painted surface.

I paused, knowing that the traditional door lights will result in a summer full of pinhole filling, sanding, and painting. I looked across the street and saw my neighbor, carefully tying balsam pine roping and lights together as he draped his fence with holiday cheer. Trudging through the 8-10 inches of snow still on the street, I yelled to him requesting advice. This fine guy has been a member of Wilmington's finest for over 20 years. He's had to deal with every member of the Criminal Element Chart. He's faced down some nasty folks and defused all and any situation without anyone getting hurt. This guy was not afraid of anything. So, when I did the minor moan about putting up lights and damaging my door and considering not doing the deed this year, I was stunned by his reaction.

A look of panic and fear came quickly over his face.
"Darko, you can't! I mean, you can't not do it. You must do it!"

"But, "I protested, "this tyranny of tradition is getting a tad tougher to deal with as I get older. Who's even looking or bothering with this stuff that we do anymore?"

He blinked once. Then, once again to emphasize that his view of me was getting closer to associating my character with one of those Criminal Element Chart members.

"Darko....", a long pause "This is what Real Men do. We recognize the Tyranny of Tradition, as you put it, and we soldier on. "

He turned his back to me and continued with his roping. His lovely wife noticed us talking as she worked on the decorations inside their house. She stepped out and in her beautiful sing-song voice offered to me that "(she) was so glad to see me putting up the door lights. It was such a beautiful tradition to look over from (their) house to (our) house and see the hospitable lights, inviting us all into (your) home".

Her husband slightly turned his head and let a barely perceptible shrug shiver from his shoulders. My shoulders, in response, bent forward. I quick-turned back to my house, humming Tradition as I climbed the porch stairs, surrendering to the tyranny.

NB: I have a special affection for the film version of "Fiddler on the Roof" as it was entirely filmed in a few villages just outside of my original home town, Zagreb, Croatia. Those houses? Nothing made up about them; they're still there looking just the same.

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Ah, Darko -- the Tevye of suburban Delaware. Putting up Christmas decorations, yet! Even tradition can be somewhat malleable it would seem.
Yes, WP, a non-Jewish Tevye is what I si, perhaps along this Croatian peasant style.

There is a very thin line seperating the Art of Yiddish Kwetching from the Cataclysmic Complaining of the Croatians. It must that East European thing, being able to be the emotional balck hole, where all joy gets sucked into......

As far as Christmas tradition goes...well, I've already bought the spackle I'll be usin gon the door and, I admit, the house looks a tad more ho-ho-ier with the gateway being illuminated.
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