Family Traditions, Parents and Grandparents


by Michael Boyter

While visiting my parents a month ago, I was given a handsaw that belonged to my grandpa. He passed away about a year ago at the age of 81. 

Grandpa was quite a craftsman and he loved carpentry and woodworking. I grew up just a few miles from where grandpa lived, so I was very close to him.

As my father gave me the saw he told me that this particular handsaw also belonged to my great grandfather. As if the saw wasn’t worth the world to me already, knowing the history of ownership more than doubled it’s worth in my eyes. I doubt I’ll ever use this saw. I don’t wish to ruin it in anyway, but it and it’s history will remain in the family for generations. I’ll see to it.

Family Sayings and Expressions

Think back for a moment. Do you remember words and expressions that your mother or father repeated on a regular basis? These are expressions that you yourself may use today. These are they that may make you feel like you are becoming your mother or father when you hear yourself use them.

I'm not really talking about the common, clique' expressions such as “if it was a snake it would have bit you.” I'm talking about some that are unique to your family. 

I grew up hearing an assortment of them, but until recently the thought never crossed my mind. Did my parents or grandparents grow up hearing these same expressions? After all, where did they get them from? I wondered to myself, "just how long have some of these unique sayings been in the family?

This is a form of family tradition in which you may have been immersed your whole life but never knew it. You may have a few unique expressions of your own. Ever wonder how far they will perpetuate themselves through your children? 

Family Traditions Bind Us Generationally

A family tradition is the thread that binds one generation to the next. 

Family traditions are not only made manifest in family activities but also in family sayings and items that are passed down through the generations. Things that we may not think of regularly. 

Traditions are lost on regular basis when efforts are not taken to preserve them. Verbal expressions are a slightly different case because they perpetuate themselves quite naturally, but their origins and the stories that are behind those expressions are what become lost.

What is lost is lost, but salvage what can be. Ask you grandpa why he says the things he says. Same goes for grandma. Did his or her grandparents use those same sayings and expressions? If so, do they know why?

I recall that whenever my grandpa commonly would say that'll cost me "two for a nickel." Everything was "two for a nickel." If I wanted ice cream, it was "two for a nickel," and so on. Obviously he wasn't serious about paying him anything. He just liked saying it, I guess. Writing this as an adult, after grandpa has been deceased for 15 years, I wonder what the origin was of the nickel expression and others. Did it have anything to do with growing up during the Great Depression? I don't know. I'll have to check into it. 

As a father today, I wonder of the things that I say, today, will be repeated by my kids someday to their own kids. There is a chance they'll repeat none of my expression, but a few of them are likely to survive. 

A Family "Online" Museum?

We may want to think of this process of journal writing, life story preservation, scrap booking and others as “building” a family “museum.” I’m not saying we need to build an actual museum. It is just a mindset. A simple website might do the trick. 

What would the world know about American history without the Smithsonian museum, Egyptian civilization without the Egyptian Museum in Cairo or French history without the Louver Museum in Paris? 

Thousands of museums have been created to preserve the traditions, stories and tangible keepsakes from generations past. Are you your family's museum curator? If not you, who? 

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