We all trooped into Mema’s kitchen on a cold December Sunday; stopping in the tiny galley kitchen to give her a hug before moving on through to let those following get inside. The leader of the row of people carefully opened the sliding door to the dining room. It was made of plywood years ago and had a tendency to hang and refuse to open. It could be a real pain in the ass to fix when it did.

Once in the tiny living room, we took turns standing around the fireplace for warmth while chatting with Papa and waiting for the others to show up. Papa would tease the smaller children for a bit and then make a few pointed comments at those of us posing as adults.

I slipped back into the kitchen to talk to Mema while she cooked. I helped with whatever needed doing while we talked about the children, family, or any of a million other topics.

Gradually other family members began to arrive. My brother-in-law and his family, Aunt Edith and Uncle Chris (Papa’s sister and brother), and Little Ma, (Papa’s mother and the matriarch of the family) arrived. Joe (my other brother-in-law) was still in school and was in the living room helping Papa tease the smaller children.

My sister-in-law came back to the kitchen after getting her children settled and together we laughed and chatted with Mema and helped get the meal on the table. Aunt Edith also came into the kitchen, darting around with quick, jerky movements, complaining about everyone and everything in her sphere of influence.

Before the meal could begin Mema made an announcement. This was not just a Sunday dinner. No, this was a birthday dinner for everyone in the family whose birthday was in December. That was the reason for this meal together. In two weeks we would meet in the little house again to celebrate Christmas. Today was our birthday party.

There were (at that time) five family members with December birthdays. Laughter and love filled the room as we celebrated our winter birthdays. There was a home-made coconut cake made by Mema for dessert.

From that time onward for as long as she was able, Mema held the December birthday dinner. It became a family tradition that was enjoyed by all.

Family traditions hold families together. Mema lived her life for God and family. She single-handedly held that family together for many years against all odds. Thank God for the Mema’s of this world and the family traditions they create for the rest of us.