Tevye explained it this way in "Fiddler on the Roof."
"A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous? Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!"
Not all traditions are worth preserving, of course. Many will not stand the test of changing times. For me at least tradition is a link to who we have become because of those who have gone before us. I do my best to avoid roofs these days, because my balance is not what it used to be. Never tried to play the fiddle, but I can ring my bell.
As the new year began in our time zone, I once again rang it in vigorously from the front porch. In our semi-rural setting, neighbors could still hear it, perhaps wishing I would stop so they could get to sleep. The bell came from the estate of the late Billy Byrd, the king of steam and consummate coal-fired locomotive engineer. His steam traction engine sported a bell that once tolled from a mighty locomotive.
My bell was one once used by conductors in the days when steam was king. I ring it to honor Billy, and men and women like him who had a profound influence on my life and on our family. He was not only a good engineer; he was also a good man. As he was teaching my son and me about the intricacies of those mighty engines, he was also impressing on us the importance of preserving the past. He respected and expected the kind of values that made this country strong. He was all about tradition.
So too was Dean Dowdy, sometimes feared but later loved by those who learned to appreciate music under his tutelage. My bride and our three children all either played or sang under his direction. For years before his passing, I ate breakfast with the great maestro, listened to his corny jokes and had my spiritual life uplifted to a measure I can only now appreciate.
He loved his faith, instilled that love in his children and held me and those close to him to a higher standard. That was his tradition and one I try so hard to emulate. My bell is way off-key, but he would appreciate the reason for its ringing.
I could mention dozens who passed on their traditions to me and my family, but none more profoundly than the "The Butterfly Lady." Our kids, and a lot of others, called her "Granny," because she served in that surrogate role for so many. There are countless stories of how she touched the lives of those around her, unfaltering in her devotion to a faith and values passed down to her from generations past. The butterfly emerges from the chrysalis stage to become a beautiful winged creature. It reminds Christians of the emergence of Christ from the tomb, giving us hope for everlasting life. When we see a butterfly, we assume that is God's way of reminding us of what Granny taught us by her life.
I recall these traditions in an attempt to find the right balance in my life in this troubled world. And so the bell rings every New Year to honor those who have touched me so deeply over the years. Some of you can be counted among that number.
Happy New Year.
Tom Clinton retired as executive editor of The Messenger in 2011. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lone Oak.