Tradition is a word that scares me.
I know carrying on traditions is important. I’ve experienced positive traditions in my family, schools, and organizations I’ve worked with. But we all know of the sometimes cult-like, blind leading the blind, behavior that can often be associated with the word.
I’m only 24 but I think I know enough about this world to confidently state that tradition isn’t about going to a certain school because, “your great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all went there.” It’s about knowing, respecting, and appreciating where you come from while realizing that you have unique gifts, and can use them to preserve, change, and improve ongoing traditions.
We were staying with Patrick and Emalee in Wilkes-Barre, PA when they told us that “Saturday night we’re going to Bill’s family’s farm for dinner.” The idea of having dinner on a farm that’s been in the Urbanski family for 79 years was a bit intimidating. As a near stranger, encroaching on a family’s monthly tradition to gather around a table and explain to them that I live in a van is not how I’d choose to spend a Saturday night.
But walking into the dining room, I couldn’t have felt more at home. Whether it was the long wooden table set for 12, the soft bluegrass music coming from the speaker in the corner, the martinis, wine, and beers being passed around, or the homemade corn chowder sitting over the open fire, I’m not sure. But the stories, laughs, and delicious food (salad, chowder, pork, potatoes (from the farm of course), and freshly made sauerkraut) we shared helped me realize that this was not your traditional family tradition.
The Urbanskis still harvest maple syrup, plant and harvest crops, and mill wood on their farm. But they also have no problem using their unique talents and interests in order to keep the family’s traditions exciting and fresh for current and future generations (i.e. monthly dinners where they willingly feed 3 course meals to strangers).
In addition to providing dinner, booze, and guitar/banjo jam sessions (featuring Ground Control to Major Tom – RIP David Bowie), the Urbanskis were happy to show off the new traditions in the works. You might not think that knocking over a 70-year-old tree planted by their oldest living family member is respecting tradition. But I assure you, milling the lumber to be used as the beautiful flooring of the new master bedroom is about as respectful (and totally badass) as it gets. Improving the farm is a weekend project for the four brothers that currently have ownership of the property. And they’re encouraging their whole family to get involved modernizing the farm. This includes Bill’s 16-year-old nephew, aka “The Kid,” and his handcrafted and engineered bookshelf that slides into the wall to reveal a secret guest room, but only if you know the passcode.
Part of Bill’s contribution to preserving and adding to the family’s traditions is the chimney. It took he and his brothers about 2 years to complete it. Bill’s an avid climber and made sure that the chimney would serve dual purposes. On the inside, it cooks delicious chowder and keeps toes warm. On the outside, it’s a climbing wall. Over the years, Bill’s collected small rocks from his travels to include in his home climbing gym. That means when you climb their chimney (after he makes you pancakes with freshly harvested maple syrup), you’ll have climbed around the country too.
The Urbanksi Farm helped me see that we can find ways to preserve tradition and make it even better. We can respect our ancestors, honor their memory, and build future generations. I think this mindset is key in building a strong community. And who knows, maybe future generations will respect and honor your contributions that shaped them too.