Tradition and family history comes in different forms that signify something the we, as people, want to pass on to our kids. Like prayers for God’s blessings, sheep skin diploma for education, family coats of armor for protection, and so on. The term“ Sheep Skin” I find very unique. How did sheep skin come to take on a meaning in legacy? “Document certifying successful completion of a course of study” “Huh?” Without a explanation, our children and children’s children and so on may never know why I placed a sheep skin of my Grandfather’s 1916 Bachelor of Laws degree on the wall.
I had never given “sheep skin” much thought beyond those warm coats we wore when rounding up cattle on mornings when ice froze over the catch tank basins in Arizona. But, I did not connect that to where he or she got their sheep skin in passing conversation when my dad (Arizona Bar #887) got together with his lawyer buddies. “What are they talking about?” I cannot say I gave a I gave a rat’s behind, until one day I was rummaging in my father’s den looking for stuff - again. Now, this is something I had been doing since I was a kid. I doubt I was the only kid that took a look around when the parents weren’t home. I’d like to think we all did it.
My unauthorized snooping and natural childhood curiosity of just who my father and mother really were, led to many daydreams while staring at old photos and strange old paperweights. I did not think they were aliens, but I found myself looking at one artifact and then another. What in the sam Hell is that? And who is that person in the photo and why did my parents look so happy when they were always giving me those stern looks of disapproval. What did I do?
One of those days I found myself looking at an old Puerto Rican “quatro” guitar and wondering if anybody would ever play “Ano Viejo” at Christmas time. Then there it was. I diploma stuffed in the corner of a closet full of spider webs. A warped and dusty old document lying there just one step away from the trash can. I had difficulty reading the caligraphy, but I knew it had my grandfather’s name on it. “Given Under the seal of the College of Chicago this first day of June, Nineteen hundred and sixteen” 1916, I thought, that is damn near one-hundred years old.
Upon closer examination, that old handwritten document was obviously the product of a labor of love, caligraphy and India ink. “Bachelor of Laws” on parchment that most of us have usually seen in crusty old books detailing some important person’s life. They were dried out old pages changed by the heat, humidity, and dust into a yellowish tan parchment with a patina made it irrisitible to peek into someone’s history. This someone was my grandfather and I did not know a lot about him. My father had walked into the den and said, “you should take this and see what you can do with it. Do you know your grandfather’s diploma was made from real sheep skin?” No, I did not, but I was absolutely fascinated. So as an adult, I took it home and finally restored it.
History and tradition usually begins with the innate curiosity we all have about where we came from and better yet, from Whom we came ? The only thing I remember my father ( a graduate of Northwestern College of Law) telling me was that my grandfather did not graduate high school but he was determined to become a lawyer. “He used to shingle roofs on houses during the day and attend law school at night. Sometimes he did not have the nickel for room and board and his roommate at the boarding house left the window unlocked so he could sneak in!”
We all have history and tradition, but the tradition of working hard and perseverance is one family traditions that we do not hear enough of. There were hand outs for the needy, but it was never expected, just appreciated. That is what I want my kids to remember. My grandfather made it and I am not so sure my father would have, had it not been for the passing of tradition and history in one’s family. I am not so sure I would have made it. It was hard, but nothing compared to the greatest generation.
So I urge you to pass along a story. Whether it is your family history and tradition or the history and tradition of another family. Small or large. Yours or theirs. Our children need to hear about the greatest generation. And if they are snooping around, keep an eye on them. But let them keep on snooping! Maybe they will hang some of your family tradition on the wall.