Family Tradition – Written by Michael Lee Joshua


Family Tradition by Michael Lee Joshua

As far back as anyone could remember – it was always kept in the same place. My grandma kept it there, as did her mother, and her mother before her. They treated it like it was a valuable piece of art. Though it transferred to different houses as it was passed down, it was always on top of the refrigerator of the oldest matriarch.

That big black stew pot was made of cast iron – it seemed to weigh a ton. There was always a groan from the one that had to bring it down from its perch. From the time every family member was a toddler, we learned what it meant when it was placed on the stove.

There were only two reasons to start that huge pot of stew. Either someone was getting married or buried. The boys used to joke that it was really the same thing – but the moms never found that very funny. That pot signified there would be a family gathering. Uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces – all the people you hardly ever saw would be showing up by the end of the day. And the stew would be ready. A long-time family recipe, homemade beef stew, biscuits, real butter and jam – this was how we experienced family.

By the time the stew was cooking, we had been told whether it was a funeral or a wedding, but not in words. Grandma pulled out that old record player and we heard an Elvis Presley record cranking up. If grandma sang along with “Nearer My God to Thee” we knew a family member had gone home to be with Jesus. Any other song, there was a wedding coming up. There was no problem knowing what grandma was telling you, she was from the ‘old school’ where you said what you meant. As one grandma passed and another took her position as matriarch and keeper of the black stew pot, the new one took on the same persona. When the stew pot was placed into service: playing the same record, singing the appropriate song, setting the mood for the house.

When people started arriving by mid-afternoon, the stew was done – the biscuits were coming out of the oven at the same time the front door started swinging. The hugs from rarely seen aunts and uncles came first, then the cousins’ discussions about who was now the tallest, who was getting the best grades and any other thing we could think of to pass the time. Soon grandma stood in the doorway and yelled “Soup’s on” – we all filed into the dining room. Of course, there weren’t enough chairs, but there were plenty of bowls. Grandma was busy putting a biscuit into the bottom of each bowl and then covering it with plenty of beef stew. Just a sideboard lined up with bowls and spoons. All the while, the men stood on one side of the room as if to make an important decision. Discussing who would ask the blessing – it really was a moot discussion – the oldest man there was the one who got to pray. It was a highly honored tradition, and likely why some of the old men came even though they didn’t feel like it – they hoped to lead the prayer.

During the prayer was the first time that anyone said out loud what the gathering was about. Whoever led was in charge of bringing it to the Lord’s attention why we were all there. This was the affirmation of our family. Praying together was the family tradition we had and we all knew how important it was. No one – from the youngest to the oldest – spoke except the one who was praying. We kept our heads down and our eyes closed, this was what we were taught and expected to do – until it was time to say “Amen” which was repeated reverently by everyone in the room.

Once the prayer was finished, we got to the business of eating – talking about the one who had passed on – or meeting the stranger in our midst. The one that was getting ready to join our family – it was time to learn about our most honored tradition. No matter which it was, this was a celebration, someone went home to be with the Lord, or someone was getting married.

Soon, the black stew pot was washed and put back on top of the refrigerator. It would be back in service soon enough.