I have my very own family tradition which I don’t believe anyone else in my extended family has. It comes from my childhood in the projects of Utica, NY…of all places. Times were tough then. I realize it may seem strange for a single unmarried and confirmed bachelor to write about a family tradition, but I really do have one that I repeat every year without fail, one I hope to pass on to my children some day. So it seems some of my family traditions passed from my parents will be dormant, because I’m at a very weird stage where I promised I wouldn’t start a family until I found a sane, symmetrical person I can trust, or at least one that won’t shank me for the slightest transgression. Family traditions like putting up the Christmas tree on my birthday, December 1st, or signing on artwork of Santa’s belly. (My mother started that) will have to wait until I actually have children)…but one tradition I started and observe every year brings me great comfort and it goes back to when I was six years old and our family was struggling financially.
I never tolerated the heat well, and one summer my mother went down south with my Uncle David and left us with grandma. Grandma didn’t drive. Although we were poor, we were rich by the hood standards, we lived in the projects of Utica, NY, and my mother and father had plenty of mouths to feed. We didn’t have 10% of the luxuries of today, but we lived near grinding poverty so we always felt blessed. My father was a state away a shopkeeper, and my mother had a wig shop that struggled. So we were poor, but not destitute. Well, I know this might seem like a strange memory to some, and the fact that it started a summer tradition for deeply personal reasons is, to me…interesting. I think it’s an insight on how family traditions get started, so I thought it might be worth sharing. It was a particularly hot summer and there was nothing good to eat in the refrigerator, only some old leftover rice. Back then we just didn’t run to the store every five minutes. I will always remember that time of my life, because our apartment was across the street from an amphitheater and everyone was getting excited that Elvis Presley would perform there in the coming week. Only, Elvis died. I was 5 or so, and all I could think was, “Gee, death is awfully inconvenient.”
Well, my grandmother saw I was hot, cranky and hungry so she went into the kitchen to do some cooking. She took egg, milk, that leftover rice, vanilla and cinnamon and she did some magic with it. A few hours later, we had rice pudding and it was the most refreshing aromatic and beautiful think I had ever eaten. So every summer, when it’s hot and I feel drained, I make my grandmother’s recipe for rice pudding, it always refreshes, it always reminds me of her resourcefulness and how much she cared for me. It is very much comfort food and a family tradition that is all my own.
While I don’t believe there is anything necessarily endearing or noble about poverty or lack, this memory taught me how resourceful grandmothers and mothers can be. As a child, in this situation I only saw only hunger and limitation, my grandmother showed me, with a little resourcefulness, I could make something beautiful out of limited resources. To me, it was almost like an act of magic, and it deeply impacted me. If I had the type of grandmother who could point me to the store or to the ice cream truck with $5, I would have missed this very important and rich lesson, so to the world it’s rice pudding in summer, but to me, it’s much more than that. Even as I reflect on why this tradition started with me, I am mindful to remember that by hood standards back then we were “rich”, and there were many kids just like me who didn’t have a grandmother, egg, milk or cinnamon.