The Good China - Cynthia Carlisle Fields

The holidays were always stressful for Shayna; she'd been raised by a woman who was darn near perfect. Her mother, Rosa Mae Tyler, was the best at everything especially holiday dinners. Nobody could make oyster dressing like Rosa Mae and her greens, cornbread, turkey and everything else was divine. No, nobody could touch her in the kitchen. Shayna began dreading the day when everyone in the family would converge on her looking for Rosa Mae's food and instead getting a distant second or third. She didn't know what she had been thinking when she invited the Tyler family for Thanksgiving; this was a sacred day for the family and she, the eldest Tyler daughter had dared step into her mother's shoes in hopes that the family would continue their traditions. Even though Rosa Mae would not be joining them this year, she would be there in spirit, looking over her daughter's shoulder, taste testing from heaven and making sure she got it right.

Shayna had spent so much time worrying about being able to cook everything like Rosa Mae that she had overlooked the fact the she was a pretty good cook in her own right. Growing up she had spent countless hours, years even watching her mother prepare meals for their family. Very seldom would Rosa Mae allow her to actually prepare a meal, no that would not happen in her kitchen, but Shayna had taken careful mental notes and had become a wonderful cook in her own right. Her husband and two children had been the beneficiary of her culinary skills and they appreciated her efforts on their behalf.

Shayna's husband, Jason was often amazed when his wife would fret over the holidays. He couldn't imagine anyone being able to out do his wife in the kitchen; he'd eaten countless of Rosa Mae's meals and knew his late mother-in-law was revered as a legend  but in his mind, Shayna was the best cook he knew but that meant nothing and every year Rosa Mae's reputation seemed to reduce his wife to an insecure little girl.

It had been five years since her mother's passing and five years since the family had come together for Thanksgiving. No one had taken it upon themselves to call everyone together for the holidays. It was at this time of year that Shayna and her siblings realized the impact that their mother had on the family. She was the silent powerbroker, the one who remembered birthdays and anniversaries and kept everyone on the straight and narrow. Shayna would always smile at how everyone assumed her dad was in charge; he even thought he was in charge but it was Rosa Mae who delicately and cleverly held the true power. Five years had been long enough for the Tylers to walk around like zombies during the holidays; everyone especially the little ones were growing up so fast, missing the gatherings that had been such a part of the Tyler family. It would be a shame for them not to experience the love and fellowship that had made them strong. The younger Tylers needed to understand what family meant, especially in a culture when family was all that many had. Her nieces and nephews needed to have that firm bond that had been a part of their parents, aunts and uncles lives, passed down from grandparents and great grandparents.

So it was that, which drove Shayna to step up and host Thanksgiving dinner. As she sat at the kitchen table going over the guest list and menu, she knew her father would be glad to be among his children at Thanksgiving and to be bombarded with the laughter and sounds of play from his grandchildren. Surely he'd have his late wife on his mind but it would be thoughts of love and assurance that she was smiling down on her family as she no doubt would be nodding that she and him had done a pretty good job raising their children. As she slowly ran down the list, the number kept growing, Tracy and her husband Michael and the twins Michael and Braeden; Patricia, twice divorced was coming with her boyfriend of the month, Troy; Rhonda and her partner Melissa and their newborn, Chelsea; and the youngest, Robert, Jr. with his wife Marcela and their son Marcos had all promised to be there. The menu would be the traditional Tyler family fare of Roasted turkey, oyster dressing, ham, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, red velvet cake, peach cobbler and pumpkin pie and lots and lots of gravy. Shayna had to admit she had set herself up for a lot of work but she enjoyed cooking and preparing for gatherings in her home. Her children, Andrea, Erica, and Jason, III, reluctantly chipped in to help by cleaning their rooms and picking up the messes that they had created around the house. Jason, who didn't know the difference between Ajax and Alka Seltzer even managed to vacuum and dust the furniture for her.

With the guest list and menu checked and double checked, Shayna headed toward the antique maple cabinet in the dining room to get the dishes; those plates that sat idle all year except Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner; those plates, saucers and cups that seemed so delicate that they could break just by merely breathing on them and because of their beauty and value, were relegated to the cabinet for safekeeping. The good china, that's what Rosa Mae called it and nobody was allowed to touch the good china except the lady of the house. Shayna remembered how proud and grown up she felt the year her mother asked her to get the good china out of the cabinet! She looked at her mother with puzzled eyes, certain that she had not heard her correctly; but when her mother smiled that smile she knew that in some sort of way her mother was saying she trusted her and when her father brought that same china to her house several months after her mother's death, she knew that the mantle had been passed to her. She was now the lady of the family, yet it took her five years to step into the role of whatever that mantle meant. It was all so unclear really but she knew that in just two days it would all become clear to her and she felt unworthy as she thought about all that her mother had been and still was to the Tyler family.

Perfection had always seemed to be an illusive goal for Shayna; no matter how hard she tried she'd always felt as if she consistently came up short. Her model for perfection was her mother and she definitely was not her mother. The pressure to be just like Rosa Mae at times was too much and never did she feel it more than at the holidays. Most times she could hide behind family gatherings where her mother was in charge; she could watch how effortlessly Rosa Mae conducted and orchestrated events, taking mental notes. She had made it seem so easy, yet as she sat reviewing her guest list and menu, she felt it was near impossible to pull off Thanksgiving like Rosa Mae had done for almost fifty years. Already she was sweating and she hadn't even begun to prepare the meal; she was driving her husband and children crazy as they tried to figure out how they could make things easier for her. She felt guilty for the insanity that she was causing but she just couldn't stop herself. Why did it matter? Why did she put so much importance on one day that should be a day of joy? Was anyone really expecting her to be her mother? Would her father, her brother and sisters go away disappointed after the day was over?
Trying to push the thoughts of expectation and fear out her mind, Shayna continued her preparations for tomorrow when her home would be filled with Tylers and thoughts of the past and memories of her mother, Mrs. Rosa Mae in all her magnificent glory that still, even five years after her death, held a place at the head of the table opposite her father, the Rev. Robert Tyler, Sr.

Taking the last pie out of the oven and placing it on the rack that sat on the counter to cool, Shayna exhaled. The pumpkin pies were the only thing that Rosa Mae accepted help with. She remembered how her mother and father worked on those wonderful pies! Mom would make the crust and Dad would make the pumpkin filling. What a production the two of them in the kitchen in their own little world. Rosa Mae made the most incredible crust; buttery and sweet and Dad with his special concoction whipped up the filling, a pinch of this and a pinch of that---nothing written down yet every single year those pies were simply amazing. Now Shayna made the pies and she had come pretty close to replicating those wonderful pies of her childhood. Jason loved them and she had to threaten him with his life if he touched them.

The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg mingled perfectly with the other smells of collard greens and smoked turkey, yams, and all the other dishes simmering and cooking. Jason quietly joined her in the kitchen grabbing her from behind wrapping his strong arms around her waist and pulling her close to him. Shayna leaned against his chest exhausted as he planted a sweet light kiss on her neck.

"Everything smells so good, baby."

"Why thank you, honey."

"You know if you need a taste tester, I'm your man---especially those pies!"

Shayna turned to face her husband and looked deeply into his smiling eyes. How had she been so lucky to have such a sweet man in her life. He'd loved her for so long and had worked so hard to be a good provider, husband and father. He was her blessing and her covering and she thanked God every morning for him.

"Sweetheart," she began. "If you touch my pies, I will have to cut off your fingers!" She then planted a kiss on his lips. "But I have a surprise for you."

His eyes lit up and a wide grin spread across his face.

"A surprise? For me?" He asked.

Shayna pulled away from him and walked toward the counter and returned with a small pumpkin pie made for one--him.

"Now, this will keep you out of trouble." She smiled handing it to him.
Shayna's sister Tracy and her husband Michael were the first to arrive. Michael was a stickler for time and he always seemed as if he were watching the clock. Even on the holidays every thing was held to a strict allotment of time. The twins had grown since the last time she'd seen them. Michael and Braeden, 15, were spitting images of their father, tall and handsome with carmel skin and deep brown eyes. Their beautiful curly locks had been wacked into some sort of wild mohawk and buzzed to the scalp on the sides. That must have driven Tracy mad, she thought to herself.

Patricia and her new boyfriend Troy were the next to arrive. Troy was pretty and he looked not much older than the twins. Shayna could almost hear Rosa Mae gasping all the way from heaven. Patricia failed miserably at her attempt to look younger than her forty years and Shayna feared what would happen to the seams of her sister's skirt if she bent over to pick up something. Troy gravitated to the twins who were playing video games and he seemed to fit right in.

Rhonda and her partner Melissa were the last to arrive. Chelsea their daughter had already begun to fuss and Shayna sent up a prayer of thanks that her baby days were behind her. Rhonda, the know-it-all immediately began to inspect the pots, lifting the tops and smelling the food. Sensing Shayna's irritation, Melissa coaxed her into the den with the rest of the family.

Robert Jr. and his wife Marecela had picked up their father Rev. Tyler and along with their son, Marcos was the last of the family to arrive. Marcos, 16 joined the other teenagers, Michael, Braeden, Andrea, Erica and Jason, III in video games. The men congregated in Jason's basement man cave as the women worked in the kitchen under the capable direction of Shayna, the eldest Tyler daughter.

Shayna smiled with pride as she watched her family around the table. The food was passed around with each person dipping the food and stuffing their mouths. The moans of delight brought a feeling of contentment to Shayna. Jason glanced at his wife, happy that she seemed at peace and grabbing her hand under the table signaling that he was proud of her.

The food was delicious, she had to admit it herself. She had created a meal that even Rosa Mae would have to admit was supreme. Her father had blessed the food and winked at his eldest daughter; the memory of her late mother was so evident amongst them.

As Shayna watched her family laughing and talking and making fun of each other, she realized that this was exactly what they all needed; something to snap them out of their grieving. She had allowed her insecurity to stop her from doing what she and the rest of the family so desperately needed. The three generations that were represented need a reunion, a coming together just to be in the presence of family. They needed fellowship and comfort that only family could provide. It wasn't about the food and it wasn't about being able to cook like her mother. No one was asking her to be Rosa Mae. It wasn't about the good china or how she set the table. Shayna had finally accepted herself for who she was and she realized that no one had expected her to be anything but herself.

The day was perfect and it was truly a day of thanksgiving. Shayna sat and watched and promised herself that there would be more days like this of family coming together to eat and fellowship and laugh and play and act silly. Yes, the food was amazing, the turkey and oyster dressing, the yams and greens and the desserts were to die for, but what was the best of all was the love that permeated the air and warmed the hearts of each person. Rosa Mae would be so proud; proud of Shayna and the rest of her family. Rosa Mae was probably beaming, the food smelled so good and her good china never looked better!