The New Yorker was my first job out of college

"Traditions and rituals can be the glue that holds a family together....Traditions give security to young people, providing a sense of continuity, predictability and identity. Traditions are the way families hand down information, beliefs and customs from one generation to the next. They give participants an opportunity to share important family values together."

-"Encourage Good Health Through Family Traditions," Amy Griswold and Rachel Schwarzendruber

"We asked parents about the family rituals they love best. Here are some of their time-tested favorites

'Before I had , my husband and I planted a tree in our front yard and had our photo taken in front of it. Every year since, we've had a family photo taken in front of the same tree. It's so neat to look at the series of photos and see how much the tree - and our family (we now have a daughter, two dogs, and a bird) - has grown over the years!""

It was time for one of those Matthews family photos. My mom wasn't enthused. "I'm not going. What the hell am I going to go for? Who's going to be in the picture anyway? Your father's not in the picture. I'll bet you half the people don't even show up."

We had one brother missing, disappeared five years ago. We had one sister dead from cancer, a brother living in California. But I was in town for the holidays, which boosted our totals. The picture would be dad's Christmas present.

We met at one of those franchise photo places, out at Prince George's Plaza. Prince George's County was named for Prince George of Denmark. It's where Len Bias's brother Jay and George Wallace got shot. However, there were few Danes at PG Plaza, locally known as Black Flint Mall. (This is White Flint Mall. This is Black Flint Mall.

Things were disorganized as usual. Siblings spread out with cell phones to meet other siblings at other entrances. A group of us huddled in the discouraging line at the Picture People, filled with members of other families waiting to make memories. My younger sis and I were rolling our eyes and gossiping with our sister-in-law. Our feet started to get tired. It was noisy and hot. I started feeling hostile toward the people in front of us. My daughter was hungry and crabby, so I took her to the food court. A woman from the group in front of us had a young daughter and the same thought; we exchanged wry smiles at the Taco Bell.

Back in line, the woman approached me. "Are you Megan?" I was. "Do you know that man over there?" A guy waved at me. He seemed familiar. "Megan, it's Kevin." Kevin is my half-sister's mother's son. Or my father's first wife's son, not by my dad. The people in front of us were his family, his wife and their five . I hadn't seen him in years. We started introducing ourselves and making small talk. Then another woman came over. "Are you here for the Matthews family photo?" She was my brother Adrin's momma, there with his daughter Adriana. "Nice to meet you," I said.

I have the picture. I've forgotten the names of Kevin's . Three sisters that could have come didn't; only two of five brothers made it. There are twenty-five people in the photo.

We'd lost another sister. Like my sister Renee, she'd died in her 40s from some sort of cancer. My younger sis emailed me about it and neither of us was sure how to spell her name. My sis remembered meeting her; I could only remember a photo. It had sat in a built-in hutch in the hallway of my childhood home, perched in its oval frame on a pile of National Geographics we bought at the AmVets, next to a copy of Mao's Little Red Book.

We'd lost another sister and dad's dementia was getting worse. It was time to take another picture.

My younger sis didn't come. "I'm sick of these family photos." The whole thing was scheduled around my being in town; I didn't feel I had the option to refuse. Plus there was a party and my dad was going to be there.

We met at my sister Marilyn's house, the house where my dad's mother had lived when she first came to the city. That part of DC, Shaw, had been the first stop for black migrants from southern Maryland; it was destroyed and left for dead in the '68 riots. Today, it's all Whole Foods and condos and martini bars. We were posing on the front steps for the photo, with my brother Greg yelling at curious passers-by, "Look! It's a black family, with white people in it" and "That's right, we own this property. We've been here 60 years, how bout you?"

A guy came up to me. He looked about my age. He said, "Hi Aunty. You remember me?" What could I say? "Of course I do." I gave him an especially warm hug, my mind racing. Aunty? Whose kid was he? I figured he had to be my dead sister's son. He was definitely one of us; he looked just like my oldest brother Michael. He introduced me to his 12-year-old son, who was being chased flirtatiously by my 9-year-old daughter. "You know, I felt weird about coming today, having been away so long. But then I told myself, that's your family, man. Even if they don't know you, they love you, because that's what family is all about."

I smiled idiotically. He said, "I had a lot of time to think about what's important in life while I was away." I suddenly understood that he'd been in prison. "I missed a lot of my son's life. I've got to set that right." And then, "My mother talked a lot about you. She was always proud of you. I have her memory book, where she wrote her thoughts while she was dying, and she wrote a lot about you. You really meant a lot to her."

As soon as we were done talking, I asked one of my brothers to tell me his name. He smiled. "It took me a while to figure it out. That's Anthony, Demetrice's son. Doesn't he look just like Michael?" He and his momma and his son are in the photo, right next to my dad.