Many years ago I read a moldy old Reader’s Digest magazine while spending the night with Auntie (our grandma surrogate). I’ve never forgotten this little piece I read, although I have no idea who wrote it.
A young woman always cut her roast in half before cooking it. When asked why she did that, she replied it was the way her mother had always cooked roasts. When the mother was asked why she did that, she replied it was the way her mother had always cooked roasts. When the grandmother was asked the same question, she replied that she’d never owned a roaster big enough to hold the whole thing, so she had to cut it in half.
It stuck with me because it showed how we do things out of habit, and sometimes without understanding why.
I have passed on a tradition to my husband and son about making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You ALWAYS put the peanut butter on first, then the jelly.
My dad was diabetic and he loved peanut butter. Every night he would say ‘what are we having peanut butter on tonight, mother?’. (One time I suggested a spoon, which he didn’t find as funny as I did.)
Because of the diabetis, no jelly could contaminate his beloved peanut butter.
My husband and son aren’t diabetic. But still, the rule remains because of habit and training. Peanut butter first.
Last night we had hamburgers. They wanted tomatoes. When my son was putting his burger together, he put condiments on the bottom half of the bun, added onion, and then waited for the burger. I said ‘don’t forget your tomato’. My husband and son both spoke at the same time, saying the tomato had to go on top of the meat. I asked what difference it made. They couldn’t tell me. It was just the way you had to do it. Not me. I don’t add a tomato. I go for extra onion and I don’t care what order it goes on as long as it goes on.
But all that got me pondering about the little quirks we have, the odd traditions we follow, the habits we form, all without remembering why, or being able to explain why. ‘Just because.’ ‘It’s always done that way.’ ‘The world will end if you don’t.’
For instance, always leave about an inch of beverage in the bottom of the glass for the fairies. It doesn’t matter what I’m drinking. It doesn’t matter if the glass is full, or partially full. It doesn’t matter how thirsty I am. I have no idea why I do that, and I don’t even realize it until I do dishes. But I’ve always left something behind, even when mom would get mad at me for wasting milk.
Always avoid stepping on black ants, but don’t worry about stepping on red ants. Another habit of mine that my son has picked up without knowing why. As a child I read a book about kids shrunk down to ant size. The black ants helped them and the red ants were trying to get them. Ever since, I have to help those little kids and their black ant friends.
And so it goes. Traditions without known cause, habits from forgotten reasons, quirks just because.
We’re so strange.