A Contested Family Tradition
A Family Get-Together on June 12th
“Well Barb, before grandad and grandma arrive, I think it is time to tell you about a long-standing ritual we have in this family. Although maybe I should call it a long kneeling tradition – ha ha. It is one experience that everyone in this room shares. It just wouldn’t be a complete family get-together without it. You might think that it is a little strange. But it has a good story behind it.”
As Dave uttered those last words of his announcement to his wife-to-be, the other members of the family approached him, wanting to hear his story, even though all of them felt that they knew it well.
Sister Frannie came closest, and much to Barb’s surprise, she went down on one bended knee, and spread her arms out wide. In response, Dave made a move as if to touch her two shoulders, not quite reaching them, as they were brother and sister.
Frannie then spoke:
“You see, grandpa proposed to grandma on bended knee like this on her family’s front porch. And when she said ‘yes’, she said ‘I know dub thee my husband-to-be”, and touched him on his shoulders. He then stood up and they hugged. Ever since that day, on every June 12th they re-enact that magical moment. It’s a family tradition.”
“No, you’re wrong!” said June, her younger sister.
“But that’s what great-aunt Weedy (their name for her as that was what Dave had first called their grandmother’s older sister as a child) told me:
“Well, she was wrong too. You know how she is – not right in the head. The origin of the story goes like this. Grandpa and grandma’s first date was on June 12, and they went to see a movie about Camelot. In that movie Lancelot was knighted. When grandpa took her home, he got down on one knee and said to her “my fairest of maidens”, and she touched him on both shoulders with the words, ‘my noblest of knights’. They had such a good time doing that, that it became a ritual for them on every date. When they got married, they would repeat it every June 12th. I heard that from great aunt Marion. She was the smart one of that family. So her version tops yours.”
Then their mother spoke up. I heard a different version and it came from your aunt, my sister Grace. And you know how reliable she is. Gracie told me that grandpa had brought grandma home late on a date on June 12, two hours after her ten o’clock curfew. When they arrived at her door, her parents came outside onto the porch and stood with arms crossed. Then her father said, ‘What were you thinking, Carolyn, coming home so late? No responsible girl of 16 does that. We are considering grounding you for a month.’
Grandpa stepped forward, and then went down on bended knee, ‘Please, sir, do not blame her. Blame me. It was all my fault. After we watched Camelot, I begged her to come to the coffee shop with me, as I needed to know what ideas she might have concerning our English assignment for the coming Monday. She does much better in that subject than I do, so she was the ideal one to ask. Your daughter is so kind-hearted that she risked being grounded just to help a classmate. I’ll admit that I was selfish in this. Do not blame her for my selfishness.’
Her parents were impressed, not only not grounding her, but permitting him to take her out again on another date. Grandpa was, of course, lying. You know how good he is with words.”
The Grandparents Arrive
An old Lincoln Continental pulls up onto the driveway, and the two old people get out somewhat awkwardly. Their family comes outside too, rushing out the front door. Then grandpa and grandma walk to their proper positions for the family ritual, their little piece of well-rehearsed theatre. No one speaks, but are prepared to observe quietly, as a dutiful audience would a play.
Grandma stands on the porch, turning her back to the other members of her family. Grandpa assumes his proper position on the steps. As they act out their parts, they silently mouth words that no one can hear.
When the performance is over there are applause from all those who have watched it. Then everyone walks into the house. Tea has been made, and is poured first, with well-remembered additions, for the grandparents.
Unknown to the old couple, a question is hanging heavy in the air of the living room. The one to ask it is Barb. She first introduced herself as their eldest grandson’s fiancé. Her next sentence involves asking what everyone there wants to know.
“Could you tell me how this wonderful performance originated? I have just heard three different stories, and I would love to learn which one is right.”
The grandparents then look at each other with reciprocal impish smiles. The old woman speaks, “We have told my sisters and your mother different stories, none of them true. We were embarrassed by the truth. But this seems to be a good time to tell you all the actual story.
We had been going out on a few dates, and they seemed to me…” She looked over to her husband with a knowing smile…”to be going well. Then I found out that at the same time Hank here,” she pointed at him and slapped him lightly on the wrist, “he had been going out with a girlfriend of mine at the same time. I called him up to tell him that we were through.
It wasn’t long after I slammed the phone down, when I heard a knock on the door. My parents were out, dad working, mom shopping. So I answered the door. This charming man in front of you got down on one knee and apologized, saying that he had been a darn fool. He only really cared about me. He would no longer go out with the other girl.
I don’t completely know why I accepted his apology, and his promise that I would be the only one. It would be my own fault if he were lying to me. It was just that he was so darned sexy, and a great kisser”…She leaned over ,and they gave each other a surprisingly physical smooch…”I then but my hands on his shoulders, and told him that I believed him, but I also threatened him with bashing in his school locker and keying his car if he were lying to me. He knew that I would do it, too. I had that reputation.
I never regretted that decision made on June 12. The rest is history. We didn’t want to tell family members the truth because it would make him”…she pointed to her husband…”look like lowlife, and me look foolish. So we made up these other stories to tell family members, so that they would think more kindly of us. And we swore each one to secrecy. Now you know.”
There was silence at first, then applause, like it was the second act of a play.