By Riley Quinn
I must have been about three when I heard the electrifying, resonating, deep sound of the actor Topol singing “Tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof. One of my earliest memories. Of course, I had no idea what the song meant at that age, but for a kid from the bush (far west Queensland), there were plenty of traditions around me. Family photo traditions—naked on a sheepskin rug as a baby, roustabout in the shearing sheds by the time I was six, and a hot Christmas dinner for the entire extended family.
I bucked the trend, the tradition, early. No naked photo of me at six months old. The family had to wait until I was five. I chose my own outfit and got brand new shoes as a gift and only then, were photos allowed. The one thing I knew, watching my Mum and aunts almost expire in the kitchen preparing a full four-course hot dinner with pudding in 45-degree Celsius (113-degree Fahrenheit) Australian summer heat, was that maybe not all traditions should be sacred.
Through the visceral voice of Topol singing on top of a roof and the words of that song, as much as I love it, I came to understand I could carry on traditions, I could leave traditions by the wayside, and I could form new traditions.
Traditions. They are comforting, reliable, enduring, to be endured, odd, benign, admirable, lovable, strange and, for me, the traditions I have remaining are tethers to the most memorable and beautiful elements of my life.
I’ve had many traditions over the years. Some inherited from family, some from lovers and loved friends, some from countries I’ve lived in and countries I’ve only had a fleeting glimpse of. The list has been long. I think the one that has been most enduring is what I do with shoes. Yes, new shoes, old shoes, favorite shoes, leather shoes, high, flat, pvc shoes, suede, fluffy and everything else in between. I have always had a deep love of patent leather. The smell, their gloss, their style. Everything about them. Precious little, mmm, well, not so little now, but precious little gifts for my lovely little feet. When I get a new pair home, they are taken from their box, polished over with a soft cloth and placed in colour and style order in my shoe closet, awaiting the cherished moment that I place them on my feet and wear them into the big wide world.
Some may argue that this is just my silly habit, just a bit of OCD, just routine, but isn’t that exactly what a tradition is? Traditions are an act, a repeatable action, a custom, a belief passed down, passed through families, friends, and lovers, to remember. To remember something, someone, our history, our lore, a convention, a practice, an observance, or a sacred ritual. The thing about shoes for me is that I remember my very first pair of patent leather Mary Jane shoes. I remember they were special. I remember feeling special because I was given them. I remember being very careful with them. Looking after them for as long as I could. I never put shoes on a table. I never leave them to languish at the bottom of a dank closet. Maybe taking care is my tradition.
I have family traditions that I have carried on. A beautifully cooked ham with clove, ginger ale, and orange juice glaze was my Mum’s recipe for Christmas Day lunch. A few of the most delicate tree ornaments from my childhood and travels, that don’t exactly make it to the tree these day (I own cats and I value these little trinkets more than my heart) and the exact pour of a perfect shandy, the way my Dad taught me. Yellow daffodils every 3rd of December for my girlfriend Mardi. Irises and pink tulips 5th of July for Wayne. A new tattoo every August. Certain clothes that I wear with specific jewelry and badges that shout to the world who I am. Movies—The Sound of Music, The Fifth Element, Rocky Horror Picture Show—movies I watch at exactly the same time every year. Some of these actions, rituals, tethers I’ve had for 40 years and some for just a few years. They’re still my traditions.
And then there are my music traditions. These are strong traditions. Practiced daily, monthly, seasonally, yearly. Cello every morning, operas every Sunday, Ministry of Sound Anthems 2000 to 2009 every other Saturday night and disco every other Saturday after that. Road trips have special playlists and food that are the joyful celebrations of being free and driving the glorious long open roads of this continent. And once a year, I put the soundtrack to Love Actually on, sip champagne, dance around the living room, stare up into the immense, stunning night sky and remember how amazing, flawed, beautiful, funny, cheeky, alive, chaotic, crazy, wonderful and loved my life has been and is with Wayne, Mardi, Donal, Monique, Belinda, Sher, Lilly, Mischa, Alexa, Adam, Amber, Elly, Deanna, Georgie, Dylan, Rosie, Hannah, Rod, Aylan, Rick, Todd, Max, Gaby, Lance, Penny, Swa, Len, Joelle, Jason, Maze, Becca, James, Rebecca, Sally, Robyn, Peg, Letitia, Kylie, Jean, Joe, Wade, Robert, Paul, Janine, Lara, Roshie, Maud, Andrew, Christy, Bridget, Anna, Ash, Deb, Masha, Drew, Milla, Jeremy, Sofia, Tina, Don, Aisling, Stephen and Charlotte.
Wow, I am so very fortunate.
Traditions are like your favourite jumper, your favourite piece of art, your most loved human in your life. They can make you want to sing at the top of your lungs, they can bring tears and they can keep you in the splendid moment of exactly where you are and exactly who you should be. That’s how I now see traditions. They are precious.
Riley Quinn is bi+ pan and out in all aspects of life and work, 51ish, silver haired and loving being the Vice President of Sydney Bi+ Network, Founder of BOLDER, member of Bi+ Collective Australia, mental health awareness speaker, activist and speaker, maid to lovely kitty cats and deeply into history, reading, geology, documentaries, art, painting, poetry, music, equality, Bi+ activism, politics and kink.