My family is one big crazy mess of beautiful and sinful people. I have three aunts on my mom’s side who have had a big part in shaping my childhood memories as well as my dear cousins. Most of us are close in age and grew up sharing vacations, holidays, and heritage.
My sister was getting married in August, which was the main reason we went home, and so my whole cray-cray family gathered together on the sunny beaches of California to celebrate the event.
In June, during our fourth week back in the states I got word that my dear gramps had died. While I haven’t had much contact with him in recent years, I was nevertheless saddened to lose the patriarch of our family. We decided that during my sister’s wedding week when the whole family would be together we would hold a memorial for him.
One very special thing about my Gramps . . . he built a cannon from scratch. This may seem like an odd hobby, but it became a tangible part of our family heritage. The cannon is fueled by black powder and whatever else we choose to stuff in the barrel. It has been lit off at every wedding in our family starting with my parents’ marriage back in the 70s. (At my cousin’s wedding, which took place in a cherry orchard, cherry pits came shooting out of the cannon and peppered the unlucky cars parked near it.)
Each marriage is honored by a plaque fixed to the frame of the cannon. My gramps decided to pass the cannon on to his sons-in-law so they could share in preserving the cannon and the tradition.
The cannon has been dragged all over the United States, including being shipped to Hawaii to commemorate the celebration of marriage. Only twice was it not at a wedding physically. One of my cousins got married in Nicaragua, and it just couldn’t make the trek. Most recently, at my sister’s wedding in California, it was forbidden by the local police. *When the family was together at another venue the cannon was lit off in honor of the Nicaragan wedding and it will be lit off again for my sister when we gather again hopefully next year.
The day after my sister’s wedding the family gathered at my aunt’s house to honor my Gramps’ life. The cannon was adorned in flowers, and we toasted him with champagne, tears, and stories of his life. I watched as my kids ran their fingers over the engraved plaques showing the history of successful marriages in our family. I realized that some day my own kids’ names and their future spouses’ would also be added to the cannon.
Some people might think, “A cannon? Who cares? What kind of heritage is that?” We all have special and often weird traditions in our families that make no sense to the outsider. (Another one in my family is to call one another “Piggy” and to tape our noses up into pig snouts.) But for my kids and my family, this honored tradition binds us together, celebrates a heritage of marriage and love, and leaves a legacy for the generations to come.
My gramps will be remembered for his handsome features, his crazy adventures, the four daughters he loved, and the tradition he started with the family cannon.
In honor of Benjamin Haines Shattuck, beloved grandfather.