One Family’s Values

We lift our glasses and make toasts at the slightest provocation. My husband, three sons, and their wives do not wait for those most special of special occasions—weddings, anniversaries, holidays, birthdays—to clink and share some weighty, solemn, serious, or inspirational words. We do it often in our own, separate lives and every time all or even some of us have a chance to be together.

We never resort to tried and true expressions like “down the hatch,” “bottoms up,” or “here’s mud in your eye.” We make announcements, express thanks, remember those who are not with us, show support, offer verbal pats on the back. Most are laced with love and often leave some wiping away a tear. These toasts are typically, though not always, the prelude or postscript to a good and plentiful meal punctuated with loud talk, much laughter, and the occasional clash of dearly, deeply held opinions.

This year, these gatherings expanded to include two new members. My grandsons, born in May 2016, got a place at the table just as soon as they could sit up. And by the age of 14 months, they were accomplished and eager toasters.

Photo courtesy of Laura Taxel

The fact that they are not equipped with wine or cocktail glasses is not a problem. These boys raise their sippy cups, water bottles, and even plastic cereal bowls to clink, however soundlessly, with our stemware. We are a family that enjoys nice wine and good beer, that gifts each other with fine spirits and marks occasions with bubbles. But the grand boys have reminded me that when it comes to these brief ad hoc ceremonies, it doesn’t matter what we drink. In fact, liquid is not essential either. They are so enamored with the custom that they do salut! with whatever they are consuming: bananas, pieces of toast, or popsicles.

The action of touching whatever is in their hands with something another one of us holds, and the gusto with which it is done, are what is meaningful. They don’t stop until they have made contact with everyone around them.

It is a gesture of joy and exuberance, a simple move that signifies much. To be sure, it’s clear the toddlers see it as a game, something to be repeated endlessly and express delight that their efforts are always rewarded with a corresponding response. But I believe that it is for them, as for we adults, a way to acknowledge our relationships, an instant affirmation of our connection and all the unspoken things that bind us to one another.

Thus far, their toasting is not accompanied by speeches. That will come in the not-too-distant future, I’m sure. For now, no words are necessary. We get the message, and each time parents, grandparents, one great-grandma, aunts, and uncles respond in kind with a satisfying bump of our coffee mug or beer can we join with them in this ritual. When the two little boys were together this past summer and seated side by side, they often did “cheers” with each other, elevating breakfast or an after-nap snack to a grand celebration that invariably made all present smile.

I like to think they possess an innate sense that it is wise to party wherever and whenever we can. But I know that for them, it is all about the spirit of—and in—the moment. In reality, what else do we have? And that is why we must seize it, salute it and say L’Chiam! To Life!

— Laura Taxel, Photo Illustration by Laura Watilo Blake