By Walter Boomsma
Earlier this morning I was at school, conducting a “kick off assembly” for the Valley Grange Bookworm Program. (For those unfamiliar, different Grangers visit the school twice a week to listen to second and third graders read.) We gathered together all the second and third graders to talk about the program. After a brief introduction, I always ask the kids if they have any questions.
One young fellow raised his hand and asked, “How long have you been doing this?” Ironically, since I knew a reporter was going to attend, I’d looked that up—it’s a favorite media question. The kids were quite impressed when I answered, “Ten years.” I suppose ten years is a long time when you consider that meant we started the year most of those third graders were born!
He set me to thinking, though. Grange readers/bookworms have become an important way of life at our school. The third graders visit the Valley Grange Hall every fall for a “Dictionary Day” that includes learning more about the Grange. Some of the kids that we’ve given dictionaries to and heard read are now graduating from high school. We have a number of traditions and many of our programs are seen as “rites of passage” at the school.
I sat with the kids we selected to be interviewed by the newspaper. One third grade girl provided me with an important reminder about tradition. When the reporter asked her what she liked best about the Bookworm Program she replied, “Well I like reading but I also like spending time with the Grangers.” She then looked at me and asked, “Do you remember I read a joke book to you last year? I know you like them!” I didn’t admit that I had no specific memory of it—those few minutes we had spent together were too important to her to dismiss them.
Tradition is defined in many different ways. One I particularly like is given in Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time.”
The reporter and I chatted for a while after the kids left. He’s been covering Valley Grange events for a long time and he admitted that sometimes it’s hard to find a new headline or a new way of presenting the story of Bookworming or Dictionary Day. ”But,” he added, “it’s always fun to hear the excitement from the kids—it’s so new and important to them.”
I found myself thinking, “Maybe we should let the kids write the story.” But I also found myself realizing how important it is that we don’t get caught in the trap of just going through the motions no matter how many times we’ve done something. Traditions have value but carry with them responsibility and opportunity. I truly can’t guess how many kids I’ve taken from a classroom and listened to read over the last decade. But I do know that they keep track of when it’s their turn and many remember the experience for a long time after.
I also don’t know how many times I’ve been part of the opening or closing ritual in various offices. I’m not sure how many times I’ve been part of a degree day. But I do know that when we follow tradition and ritual it’s easy to miss or forget the magic.
One of the harder questions I entertained from the kids was “Do we have to do this if we don’t want to?” My answer was “No…” but as I was walking away from the questioner I stopped, turned around, and put on the saddest face I could and added, “But I will be really disappointed if you don’t.” Some might say I was being manipulative, but I really meant it. This is a tradition that we don’t do just because it’s a tradition. We do it because it’s fun and it’s meaningful and it makes a difference. It works because the reader and the person being read to both benefit. If we don’t do it, we are cheating each other in the truest sense. And if we do it just for the sake of getting it done, that’s not much better than not doing it at all.
Grange ritual and practice should be no different. The Grange way of life is, I think, about celebration. We celebrate nature and agriculture, but also what they represent and the lessons we can learn from them.
Just as we challenge our “bookworms” to read, I challenge Grangers to engage in tradition and ritual in a new way. No matter how many times you’ve said or done it, next time make a special effort to make it fun and meaningful. Celebrate the ritual! It will make a difference—to you and those around you.
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.