Cassandra Spratling

Research shows that family traditions strengthen those bonds of love and support.  In this issue of Neighbors, we take you inside the homes of a few other families who are grateful for the traditions that bind them.

The other day I saw a Facebook post that made me both sad and glad.

It stated “Black families don’t get together like they used to… Once our elders die, the whole family does, too.”

That made me sad because for many families that is true.

But, I’m glad because I know that will never be true in my extended family. We have a tradition of getting together for holiday dinners that is two-generations old, and it’s expanding rather than contracting.

It began with my father, Fletcher Spratling and his sisters, Georgia Mathis and Helen Dayley.

“We just thought it would be nice if our families got together without it being a sad occasion,” said Dayley, who at 94 is the only originator of the tradition who is still alive. She’s known as Aunt Helen to many people who have no biological connection to her.

So ever since I can remember, we met at Aunt Helen’s house for Thanksgiving, at Aunt Georgia’s for Christmas and at my parents’ house for New Year’s Day.

As they aged and the family grew beyond the space that their homes could comfortably accommodate, their children took over.

Now, family and friends get together for dinners at the home of one of the children of Fletcher, Georgia and Helen. And, not just for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. We’re also together for Easter, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

For the most part, whoever is hosting is primarily responsible for preparations. But everyone chips in preparing all the family favorites: turkey, ribs, fish, mac and cheese, greens, sweet potato pies, pound cakes and more. It helps tremendously that at least two professional chefs–and one in the making– have grown out of this huge extended family that we affectionately call Readie’s Clan, in honor of Fletcher, Georgia and Helen’s mother, the late Readie Spratling.

Aunt Helen doesn’t remember the exact year the tradition started. It just didn’t make sense for each family to cook separate

holiday meals, she said.

As the family grew, so did the number of people who showed up. And, no matter how many show up, there’s always plenty to ea.

My oldest daughter, Yewande, lives in Boston now, but makes it a point to come home to help with the New Year’s dinner held at our home. My nieces, who also help, once sent me a GIF of a crazy woman frantically cleaning house. They captioned it: “Auntie as it gets close to New Year’s”.

I laughed. But it’s true; there’s a lot of cooking and cleaning going on as our turn approaches.

“I thought that all families got together the way we get together,” Yewande told me the other day. “But I’ve learned there are a lot of people who don’t even talk to their family. Our family isn’t perfect, but we work it out. We genuinely love each other and these dinners .. . they make me feel a sense of belonging, of community, of family, of love.”

The next generation jokes that when it’s their turn, the home-cooked, everything-from-scratch meals, will be replaced by take-out pizza.

We know that’s not true. Not completely anyway.

There will likely be some changes.

But the main ingredient will always be there: each other.


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