Traditions are an interesting thing. You can learn about them in textbooks and hear the stories, but you never quite fully understand them until you experience them for yourself.

My ancestors are German immigrants who came to America more than 100 years ago to claim a little farmland for themselves. One of my favorite traditions of our German heritage is the delicious wonder of homemade canned pickles.

I love them so much my friends have been gifting them to me as birthday presents since elementary school. But I never learned how to make them for myself.

So, three years ago, my friend and I decided to give canning pickles a try. How hard could it be?

We found a recipe online with good reviews and followed the instructions to the letter. We were proud of our beautiful finished product and anxiously waited the three days — as the recipe instructed — before cracking open the first jar for a taste.

After all that hard work, to our great disappointment, our beautiful pickles were disgusting. Sure the flavor was fine, but they were horribly soggy and mushy. We had no idea what we’d done wrong.

This summer, I was ready to give it another try, but this time I recruited my friend, Mary. No more learning this time-honored tradition from an Internet post. I was going straight to the source.

Mary had learned how to can pickles in her own mother’s kitchen in the ’60s.

While she and I shoved dill and alum, onion and garlic into jars, she told me stories about the tips and advice her mother and aunt had given her all those years before.

She gave me glimpses into their personalities and, as she talked, those women came alive in my imagination.

It felt like they were there with us, more than two generations occupying my kitchen that day.

Through her stories and sharing in this tradition, Mary passed down from one woman to the next an understanding that traditions are more than just learning a task from the Internet.

They are about the memories and stories of loved ones we carry through the generations as well.

To preserve both, we must spend time together, one generation with the next, so our children and grandchildren are not left one day with just soggy Internet pickles and no stories of their own heritage to tell.


Jenni DeWitt is married and has two sons, the youngest of whom battled childhood leukemia — and won. Jenni writes weekly for She is the author of "Forty Days" and "Why Won't God Talk to Me?" You can read more about Jenni here.

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