This week the United States is teeming with tradition as Thanksgiving approaches, but the state of Ohio is even more rampant with it because in addition to the Thanksgiving holiday, it's Beat Michigan Week. The Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry was established in 1897 when the two teams first played, and since then several traditions like Mirror Lake Jump and the American Red Cross OSU vs. Michigan Blood Battle have grown to surround the matchup.
This past Monday of Beat Michigan Week I was driving to Columbus from Dayton to run some errands. Wind gusts were reaching 45 miles per hour and I fought white-knuckled with the steering wheel as I drove east along I-70.
I had been in Columbus about two hours when I found myself in between stops and feeling the need to visit my grandfather's grave.
My grandfather was the first in his family to go to college. He went to Ohio State for his bachelor's degree, master's degree, and his PhD. (while taking a leave to serve in WWII during his undergrad). He then worked as a faculty member for the OSU Extension office until his retirement. He raised his family just a jog up Olentangy River Road from campus and ingrained in all of us the Buckeye traditions.
Two of my uncles, my aunt, my parents, two cousins, my sister, and I all attended Ohio State. My siblings and I can remember going to Ohio State football games and basketball games on tickets from my grandparents growing up, and watching a lot of the games with my grandma and grandpa in front of the fireplace in their basement. I remember my grandpa telling me about Script Ohio for the first time and I can still see him sitting at the kitchen table with a white, five-gallon bucket full of buckeyes to make necklaces.
As I drove along Olentangy River Road this past Monday rain began to fall and the wind blew leaves in frantic patterns. I wondered whether or not I should stop in this weather. But I still felt the strong need to visit his grave, and now to lay a buckeye necklace there.
I pulled into the parking lot of an Ohio State store near campus and when I walked in the front door I nearly tripped over a display of buckeye necklaces.
"One for $5.99, Two for $10," a sign read.
$5.99 for a buckeye necklace? What would my grandpa have to say about that? I laughed as I paid knowing he would have some choice words about spending almost six dollars on something he could make, but I made the purchase and headed back outside.
As I pulled away from the store the rain started to fall in sheets and the traffic lights swayed dangerously above my car, suspended by what seemed like such an incredibly thin wire.
I turned on the radio and heard the area was now under a severe thunderstorm watch with wind gusts reaching 60 mph.
I again questioned if I should stop in this weather. At the last minute I turned into the cemetery and started down the lane bordered by old trees that formed a canopy above. Dead branches were falling around me, knocked loose from the wind and the rain.
I have never been in a haunted house and the only scary movie I have ever seen is The Sixth Sense. I spook easily and I was nervous about being in a cemetery by myself in the middle of a thunderstorm.
I drove up to where I thought I remembered his marker to be and got out of the car with the necklace in my hand. The rain pounded and I had to walk a little bit. I passed a letter someone had left, a shriveled up chrysanthemum, a bouquet of old roses, and then I found his name.
There was not a formal moment of silence and I didn't sit down for reflection. The wind whipped and my rain coat was doing its best to keep me dry but my hair was now drenched. I looked at his name and the year he was born and the year he died. I looked at my grandma's name below his with her birth year and then an empty space following it. It was a reminder that I needed to hurry to pick her up.
I laid down the necklace and as I turned to run back to the car, I knew that my grandpa would be with my family this Thanksgiving and he would be with my family as we all cheered on the Buckeyes as they played that team up north this Saturday.
Part of the draw of tradition is the longing to see the same faces, perform the same actions, and hear the same things every year. When someone who was at the core of a tradition passes away, the rest of the family carries it on - out of that longing to experience the same each year, and also out of the desire to pay respect to those who came before us.
My grandma still watches every Ohio State football game and basketball game until the very end and she still lights a fire in her fireplace while the games are on.
Some question the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan. They dismiss Beat Michigan Week as an inflated and excessive celebration. But to Ohio State fans, Beat Michigan Week is one of our traditions. As new generations come, new faces and new customs are added, but we all do our part in upholding the legacy of the stories, the beliefs, and the culture that have been a part of our family since 1897.