Home > Unit 1: Introduction > "A Family Tradition"

"A Family Tradition," Cody Assmann, Countryside & Small Stock Journal, March 1, 2016

Note: a PDF of this essay is available to students through the SRJC library database. If you refer to this essay in your own writing, please refer to the database as your source. To locate the essay (and most other essays used in this class), just go to libraries.santarosa.edu and enter the title of the essay in the search box.

Cody Assman photo of father and child in garden

SPRINGTIME HAS FINALLY rolled around here in Nebraska, and the heavy frosts have retreated farther north. The return of the robins, larks and morning doves herald rebirth in our yearly cycle of life. Their melodies combined across the prairie to compose one of the most beautiful symphonies ever created. Nests are constructed in favorite locations in preparation for new additions in the coming weeks. Like the birds of the sky, the warming temperatures have also rejuvenated the people of Nebraska. Farmers work their fields, joggers emerge from their lonely droning treadmills, and men, women, and children all flood out to soak up the comfortable warmth. At our house, blossoming dandelions and buzzing flies leave no doubt; it is gardening time at the Assmann house.

Like families across America, we devote ourselves each spring and summer to the task of gardening. Spider webs are cleared away as hoes and shovels once again see the light of day. Prior to the project commencing, plans are made, discussed, argued, and resolved. Everyone pitches in and all efforts are appreciated. Gardening is a family endeavor and creates strong family bonds. In fact, some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother working slowly down each row of her vegetable garden and teaching me the very basics of the tradition. Grandma passed away this past winter, and I began to reflect on the lessons learned from this woman and the larger meaning of our time together. Working the soil on hands and knees gives a person time to reflect and for the first time I have begun to understand the significance of the process.

Cody helping daughterWhile teaching social studies at a rural high school, we spend a good deal of time studying cultures from around the world. Kids are curious about the traditions of people from around the globe. Dancing circles of native people, fireside stories of the San Bushmen, and the mysteries of the Australian Aboriginal dreamtime all spark engaging discussion and grab the attention of young people. Kids love hearing stories about how Native American's oral traditions were passed down and how rituals signaled the transition from youth to adult. As Americans we spend millions of dollars each year traveling around the globe to celebrate indigenous traditions. Entire economies are created around tourists viewing ceremonies, buying art, taking pictures, and purchasing a few trinkets to remember their journey. In such a fast paced and connected world, it is not surprising we crave more simplistic and pure expressions of humanity. Young and old alike seek an escape from emails, Wi-Fi, and cell phone connection. Personally, I used to feel a bit let down when looking at our own society. Where are our traditions? Where are our oral stories? This year, with hands and knees covered in dirt, I found my answer.

My wife and I took a few days off work to set up for our family's shared garden. Each year we work together to prepare, care for, and harvest a garden that's about 7,500 square feet. This year my wife and I wound up getting to plant the majority of it by ourselves. Actually, my 2-year-old daughter, my wife, and I wound up getting to plant it. Being the first year our daughter could help, we were excited, and a bit curious, as to how it would go. We arrived and soon began prepping the site for the work to come. After laying out plastic to conserve water and reduce weeding chores, we began to plant our seeds. Of course my daughter was busy bouncing here and there, stopping to entertain her parents for a few moments before boogieing off to explore something else. Soon enough though, she grew interested in the action and settled down on hands and knees for a closer look as to what we were doing. Before I knew it, I looked over just in time to see her digging up all the newly planted seeds. Sitting down beside her I began to explain about how we plant seeds, why we plant seeds, and what we have to be careful about. I showed her how we plant the seed and then cover it with a thin layer of soil. She looked at me through curious eyes and seemed to understand. We got back to work, and sure enough, soon she was throwing seeds into the dirt and covering them up with the sloppiness of a 2-year-old that makes you laugh. After a few minutes she grew tired of the new chore and, without stepping on her newly planted seeds, she galloped off for more excitement.

Returning my attention to my work, I continued down my row. My mind wandered as I worked and suddenly I came to my realization; I was in the process of handing down my grandmother's traditions to the next generation. Simple acts like planting seeds with a 2-year-old are the strands that weave together the tapestries of our histories and traditions. Our small, almost unnoticeable, moment was the link between the living and the deceased. With luck, my young daughter won't know a summer without a garden, and will remember helping her daddy dig in the dirt as a young girl. Those memories may become part of her identity as she grows and she may eventually pass those teachings on to her family, continuing the traditions of long forgotten ancestors. She will no doubt pull in information from other sources, but a large part of her knowledge will come from the knowledge and stories passed down from generation to generation. In a digital age we, like all cultures around the world, still pass on knowledge with our oral history. It just won't be attracting tourists from around the world.

Cody Assmann farming with daughterIn America today we appear to be drifting further and further from our roots and our traditions. As a society we plow ahead full speed into the future and into the progress of the 21st century. There will no doubt be many discoveries made the next 100 years. There will no doubt be many medical breakthroughs to save countless lives. And there will no doubt be amazing people who rise and fall through the spotlight of the American public. My daughter may become one of those people who contributes great good to society. She may solve problems that plague us everyday. And she may be one of millions of Americans that get through life day-to-day with a smile on her face. Whatever the future holds for her, she will go forward with the lessons instilled from her experiences as a child. You see, activities like gardening offer much more than just a relaxing hobby and nutritious food. They offer us the chance to teach about where we come from and offer an identify of sorts. Though my grandmother has passed away, I can smile knowing that a piece of her lives in my daughter. Also, I can imagine someday a small piece of me may be remembered when the songbirds return and it is the time for planting seeds in Nebraska.



Discussion Forum Assignment

Write a paragraph in response to each question below. Be sure to use good paragraph form (strong topic sentence, focused, meaningful development to support that topic sentence, good "flow" and connection from sentence to sentence).

  1. Why does Assman say we in America really need to build and maintain family traditions?
  2. Discuss a tradition you practice in your own family. How was this tradition practiced by your relatives and ancestors? Do you practice this tradition in the same way? What are the rewards of practicing this tradition? What does it say about you and your family? (If you don't really have any family traditions, describe a tradition you would like to create.) Please post your response in a well-developed paragraph to the discussion board, then respond meaningfully to the posts of at least two of your classmates.

Go to discussion