(The view from my mom's back porch)
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I was on vacation, a trip I take with my kids every summer. During the planning stages this year, I suggested a few changes to the itinerary and was met with stubborn resistance. "But it's tradition!" they wailed, and so no they would not like to do X instead of the usual Y, and no, we could not skip this part or that, and yes, we must eat at this place and go to that one, and why? Because it's tradition.
They tried to play the tradition card on a few things that we did for the first time last year. "We can go eat at that place in town," my mom suggested the night we pulled weary and a little sick into North Carolina. "You liked it." "And it's tradition!" the kids chimed. "No, I did not like it, I hated it," I said, "and it's not a tradition. We ate there once." We went to Bogart's instead, a place we've gone every time we've darkened the town limits of Waynesville. Even I have to admit, that is a tradition.
As with most years, we tried something new on the water. The very first year, it was the water itself, a hesitant and ultimately jubilant guided rafting trip down the tame Tuckaseegee with its fearsome Class II rapids. We are far too good for the Tuck now, we like to brag, having now braved the faster, fiercer (and often colder) waters of the Natanhala, the Pigeon, and this year, the French Broad River and its Class IVs. This year the biggest new was a foray into the unguided, and in a three-man "ducky" no less. This meant we were about eye-level with the rapids, warned we'd likely be dumped (it did happen once, and only partially, but it included being stuck wrapped around a tree with me on one side of a low-hanging branch, my son on the other, and my daughter clinging to the tree like a woodland animal in a hurricane), and only our paddles to guide us down seven miles of chilly water. It was a hoot as far as I'm concerned, though the kids were less enthusiastic. It will be interesting to see if they consider that a tradition.
While we were eating the same meals and floating down the same rivers, back here in Texas, Pamela and Julie were putting together 21st Century versions of the college trunk for their middle children. This fall, after over 20 years of pretty full houses, both of them will have just one child left at home. I can imagine the bittersweet tang of their Augusts, and of Joan's, who is packing her son off for his sophomore year, even as Susan and Kim and I continue with our two each still at home for a stretch. But I can see it. I'm sure they can see it. The empty nest is coming, and the transition will mean new traditions, those of the road trip to school or maybe the care package of some kind of fudge I have never yet made, or maybe a horde of kids crowding my house for Thanksgiving, kids for whom it is too far or too expensive to go home for four days. Who knows what the future holds? All I can guarantee is that there will be traditions, and there will be change.
It's kind of why I read and re-read, come to think of it. Julie talked about reveling in the familiar, and there is so much comfort in that, just like the summer trip I take with my kids. Whether it's an old favorite now dog-eared and worn (I perused my copy of Emma last night), or a new book by a persistent favorite (Joan and I will forever mourn the lack of new work by Maeve Binchy), books offer comfort and companionship, tradition, if you will.
But they also are a transition, and for the yet-unpublished writer, that is a source of hope and inspiration. Last year, I discovered and devoured Sally Gunning; the year before that, Pamela set me off on my Elizabeth Berg-a-thon; and it has been only a couple years more since I discovered Geraldine Brooks and Elizabeth Strout and John Green and added them to my must-read list. This summer I picked up a book of short stories by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, and promptly added her two novels to my to-be-read list. She's now a tradition for me; if she writes it, I will read it, as with Brooks and Strout and the others. And here's the hope part: if there's room for them, there's room for me. For all of us. Julie will be the first, of course, and in just a couple days, a reader in Germany will put down her novel with a sigh of satisfaction and regret, and already know that if Julie Kibler writes another book, it will be bought and read. Come February, North American readers will do the same, and it's up to Julie to write the book that satisfies the transition of the list to the tradition of a favorite author. Susan is getting there fast, Joan and Kim are querying, and Pamela and I are working to finish up the novels that will hopefully be "the ones" after coming decently close with earlier works we queried.
This blog itself was a transition, and now, it's a tradition. We started it, the six of us, in pretty much the same place, and now we are watching the baby birds begin to take wing. It's the hope of all of us that we will all fly, that we will all soar, that we will all become a favorite tradition to readers. And that we will come together afterwards, again and again, to revel in the traditions we began with: supporting each other, cheering ourselves on, and talking, always talking, about books and books and books.