A Christmas Wish
"It was a beautiful day for a funeral," Arlette Johnson said to her husband Simon and her four daughters, Angel, Fay, Samantha, and Tyra, after the last mourner at the repast drove away from their family home. Savannah Johnson had lived in the same house for sixty-five years after her husband Henry carried her over the threshold. She raised four sons there and cooked dinner every holiday for the entire Johnson family until she closed her eyes and went to meet her maker two weeks ago.
"It sure was," Angel said. Her husband Nate had left to take her aunt Neddie home and would be returning soon to get her. She, like her sisters Fay and Samantha, still lived in Jackson, Mississippi, never wanting to be too far from their parents or their paternal grandmother.
"It's so good to have you back home," Arlette said, hugging her youngest daughter Tyra.
"It's good to be home, Mama," Tyra said once her mother stopped squeezing the life out of her.
"I just wished you could have come home before your grandmother died. She missed you so much."
No guilt trip for me. Tyra had talked to her grandmother at least three times a week since she moved to New Orleans, and the family came to visit her so often she didn't feel like she'd ever left home.
Maxine and the rest of her cousins ran around the magnolia trees playing a game. Tyra kept an eye on her to make sure she didn't fall or get picked on by the older kids.
"Don't you worry about her, Tyra. You did the right thing," Arlette said.
Nate returned. Angel hugged Tyra and then gathered up her kids and climbed into their SUV.
Samantha's husband Michael arrived several minutes later. He'd left earlier to take his parents back to the senior citizen home. She too hugged everyone before departing with him and their three children.
Their mother and father and her other sister Faye were the last to leave.
"I'm ready to go home," Maxi said, grabbing Tyra's hand.
"We are home, sweetie," Tyra said to the child. "Didn't I explain it to you? We moved out of our old house and this is our new house."
It had been her grandmother's wish that she move back to Mississippi and live in her house. How could she not fulfill her grandmother's last request? And besides, crime was so bad in New Orleans and she wanted Maxi to have the kind of life she'd had growing up in Jackson. The entire family would be meeting there tomorrow after church for Sunday dinner. She sure hoped her culinary skills were up to par. It had been a while since she'd done any serious cooking. All Maxi liked to eat was chicken nuggets and French fries. "Let's go unpack."
Maxi followed her up the stairs and into the house. The air still smelled faintly of her grandmother's pipe. Tyra planned to turn her grandmother's room into an office since it was the biggest bedroom in the house. She would stay in her old bedroom, which used to be her father's, and she would put Maxi in the other bedroom. She couldn't wait to decorate it with princesses, which were Maxi favorite characters at the moment.
Maxi fell asleep by the time she unpacked their suitcases. The rest of their things would be delivered during the week. By ten she too was in bed. Tomorrow she had a full day complete with attending church, cooking dinner, and hiding from Maxwell Taylor, the reason she left Mississippi in the first place.
The family members started to arrive around four. Tyra had managed to get all the dishes prepared while Maxi spent her evening watching cartoons. The first to show up was her sister Faye who had walked down the road instead of waiting for her parents to drive her. At twenty-seven Faye had yet to find her Prince Charming or move out on her own. She worked as a cashier at the local dollar store and thought she was doing their parents a favor by still staying with them. Tyra and her other sisters thought Faye was just being cheap, not wanting to pay any bills and living off the kindness of others.
"Are you nervous about being back?"
Tyra nodded. "A little. But I couldn't take living in the city any longer. The murder rate has risen, the price of groceries has skyrocketed, and it's time to stop hiding and face my problems head on." Faye helped her set the table while they talked. "What about you? Are you dating anyone yet?"
Faye shook her head. "No. After growing up around here, the guys you know are kind of your friends and they tend to gravitate more to prettier women who hang out in bars and clubs."
Tyra smiled and peeked over at her sister. Faye didn't lack in the looks department. All four sisters resembled each other. They'd taken their medium brown complexion after their father and high cheekbones, broad noses, and full lips from their mother. Faye stood an inch or so shorter than her at five feet, seven inches in height, but most of her weight rested in her abdomen and hips. Faye had shoulder-length black hair that she kept braided in one long plait.
Tyra had taken her tall, slender build from her grandmother along with her thick reddish brown shoulder-length hair and her big brown eyes. "Maw Maw often told us we'd find a good man in church," Tyra said as she arranged water glasses on the long dining room table that seated twelve people comfortably. Her father and uncles had all pitched in and brought the dining room table, chairs, and matching hutch for their mother for Mother's Day many years ago as the family got bigger. It was Savannah's prized possession.
"Have you been to church lately?" Faye asked. "There's nothing there but old or gay men."
"I went this morning to be exact and I saw a couple of eligible bachelors sneaking in after service began."
Faye turned up her nose. "You mean Elcid Century and Junney Bug Hamilton? They probably were just leaving the bar down the street and coming in to get their weekly blessing after sinning all week."
Tyra chuckled. Some things never changed. Junney Bug, also known as Jules Hamilton, had always been a trouble maker. She remembered many times he'd cut classes while they were in high school. He could be found at the pool hall smoking cigarettes and bribing some of the older men to buy him beer. He'd been to jail a couple of times for charges like loitering and disturbing the peace.
Elcid Century wasn't much better. Although he had a good job working at his father's car dealership, he still spent most of his time hanging in bars and clubs with Junney Bug or some hoochie. All his good looks had started to fade and he had a lot of wrinkles around his eyes and mouth from too much drinking and God knows what else. "I don't think those two are good examples," she finally admitted. "What about Hank Glover? Isn't he a pharmacist or something?"
Faye turned up her nose again. "He's such a mama's boy."
Tyra smirked. Faye had some nerve especially since she'd never left the nest.