Sunday, June 20, 2010

Clothespins and Emyl Jenkins

Emyl Jenkins, author of two Sterling Glass mysteries set against the world of antiques, died in April. She was an antiques appraiser who had written several books on the subject by the time we met, but she confided that she had always wanted to write a mystery. Ten years before she actually wrote Stealing With Style, though, she asked me if I would contribute to a book she was putting together called The Book of American Traditions: Stories, customs, and rites of passage to celebrate our cultural heritage. I sent her an account of one of our family traditions, then later . . .oh, but let’s let Emyl tell you in her own words, the ones she used to close the book (I’ve italicized hers):

“Dear Emyl,” my friend and author Margaret Maron wrote, “I know your book of traditions has probably gone to press, but when I was describing it to a friend, she said, ‘You did tell her about your clothespins, didn’t you?’”

That’s what happened. Friends told friends, and people began to remember traditions they had forgotten. Though I’ve received and gathered enough traditions to last a lifetime, I know there are more . . .Margaret’s letter continues:

“Well, I didn’t, and now it may be too late, but this might amuse you anyhow. It’s our traditional icebreaker at large parties where lots of the people know us, but may not know each other. This is not for a formal party, mind you, but an outdoor reception, pig-picking, family reunion of distant cousins, etc. (Although I was once at a pre-wedding patio party that was thrown to introduce the two families to each other and everyone was so stiff and ill-at-ease that I went and found my hostess’s clothespin bag and commandeered a couple of mischievous kids.)

“What you do is secretly give two or three kids a pocketful of spring-type clothespins and tell them to follow your lead. You pause to speak to someone and while patting him on the shoulder, you clip a clothespin to his jacket without his noticing. You do this to the hem of Ant Maude’s skirt, to Uncle Ed’s collar, to the ribbons in Cousin Tiffany’s hair. The kids quickly get the idea and think it’s hysterically funny. Soon, a fourth of the unsuspecting guests are walking around with clothespins attached to various parts of their clothing and wondering why everyone else is laughing. The other three-quarters have caught on now and when someone approaches, they start laughing and back away and declare that no one will pin them—and at that very instant, an opportunist gently clips one on from behind. Soon everyone’s slapping at his back trying to see if there’s a clothespin. Children are wide-eyed when they see stuffy old Aunt Maude impishly sneaking a clothespin onto their dad’s shirtsleeve.

“It’s such a silly, harmless game that all stiffness melts away into laughter. (The two new families I mentioned above said it was the best party they’d ever attended. Sharing laughter creates an immediate bond.)”

And, I would add sharing laughter is what traditions are all about.

I shall miss the laughter Emyl and I shared whenever we met.

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