I am 59 years old and I have seen the passage of time from a unique perspective. My father was almost 50 when I was born, so there was more than a full generation between us during my growing years. He was born in 1905, not in a hospital, but on our family homestead in Bloomingdale, NY. He knew and was actually raised by family members who had lived during and fought in the Civil War. These things gave him a perspective on life and living which fit very nicely with the 1800’s but did not always find clear expression in the twentieth century.
I grew up with phrases that seemed normal in our household, but they did not always have great meaning to others in my generation. It was that difference in language and life perspective that kept me somewhat innocent and isolated from the world around me. The real world was a rapidly changing and very dynamic place, but things for us were pretty much the way they had been for the previous 100 years. This was life in small town America, and although it certainly had its issues, in many ways I miss the simplicity it brought to all who lived it and enjoyed it.
In our world a pocket knife was always called a “pen knife”. Why? Because in dad’s generation every kid needed a sharp folding knife to sharpen the quill pens used in their 3 room school-house. Our garage was forever called “the barn”. What others called a refrigerator dad called an “ice box”. We were never asked to turn up the thermostat we were told to “stoke up the fire”. When we were in trouble we were not sent to our room, we were “taken to the woodshed”. Every camera was called a “Kodak” and we did not turn off a light we were asked to “trim the lamps”.
Special family gatherings were also an integral part of normal life, such as gathering on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day. The history of this goes back to the fact that Christmas day had to be another work day on the family homestead. Thus, the only time the whole family could gather together was Christmas Eve. They ate together, sang songs and exchange the one gift they had either made or bought for the occasion. Down through the generations we continued this tradition of gathering together as a family on Christmas Eve. The whole evening is dedicated to eating special foods, enjoying each others company, having heart-to-heart conversations and finally opening one present before everyone goes home.
There were dozens of phrases and family traditions that filled our world. Each connected us to people, places and times that were long gone, yet somehow these things were still speaking. Each idiom and each special gathering added to our family identity. They built our sense of belonging to something that was bigger than ourselves and built wonderful memories in a very unique way. As I look back I realize these things provided us with comfort and they connected us all to a legacy and family history that might have been lost. Best of all, it was our language of love, and it actually made us who we are today.
Does your family have a love language all its own? Does it have words, phrases, foods and traditions that knit your lives together in a special way? As this holiday season approaches let me encourage you to look back. Consider what special things you love that you can bring forward from your family history and build a voice that will still be speaking your message long after you are gone. I know of no better way to use the time you have than to leave the unique language of love only your family can hear.