The Big Piece of Chicken
Tonya stared at her husband, perplexed as he stared at the tables before him and looked questionably at something she couldn’t put a finger on. She watched a bit longer, hoping he moved and gave her a clue to what was running through his head. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and walked towards her in the kitchen.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing, just making sure there was enough room at the table.”
“We can always set up the folding table at the end if you like. It will make it a little tight in there, but if you think we need it, we can do it.”
“We should be okay. I was just thinking about how much space Uncle James and Jamarr take when they eat.”
Tonya laughed and went back to slicing vegetables. The couple was hosting Father’s Day dinner in their new home and her husband was nervous for reasons she couldn’t answer. He’d spent nearly three hours shopping for groceries and changed the menu multiple times before deciding that he would barbeque some of the meat and cook the rest.
“We can always just set up outside if you think that will work better?”
“Nah, the weatherman says there’s a chance for isolated thunderstorms this afternoon.”
He was looking up towards the clouds, but there were no windows near where he stood. He turned and headed out the back door to check the food on the grill and Tonya said a little prayer to help them both get through the day.
Father’s Day was a huge deal in the Flagg family; the men in the family rotated the hosting duties and this year Brandon stepped in for the time. He and Tonya were married the year before and purchased their first home in March, so it felt natural to host the men from both families for Father’s Day. Tonya thought it may be too soon to host such a huge gathering, but Brandon felt it was only right to open their home and celebrate the men who were not only great fathers but husbands and brothers and of good counsel to him.
The guest list made itself: his parents, her parents, Uncle James and Aunt Theresa, his brother Jamarr, his wife Sherry, and their twins, Tonya’s brother Twinkie, real name Thomas Jr., her sister Sonya and husband Corey, along with their two kids. Of course, he had to invite Tonya’s uncle Alvin and his wife Alma and his best friend Shawn, his wife Syleena, and their kids.
Brandon decided it was important to celebrate not only the men in his family and, but also his wife’s and turned this year into the biggest Father’s Day celebration the family had seen. The only problem was that his house wasn’t truly big enough to hold all the guests. He secretly hoped that a few would decline the invitation, but everyone indicated they were coming and now he was back in his dining room trying to figure out how we would seat everyone.
“Look, we can seat nine or ten people here,” Tonya was growing weary of his quiet worry.
Brandon looked up to see that she had an extra chair in her hand to add to the table.
“We sit here, our parents, and then whoever gets here and plants their flag. We set out the folding table in the den, that’s another eight and then everyone else can eat in the kitchen or sit in front of the TV.”
She had figured out what was taking him all morning to construct in his brain and he was thankful for his wife at that moment. He felt everyone needed to sit together for the day to be meaningful but being under the same roof and celebrating fatherhood was what was truly important.
Brandon and Tonya weren’t parents yet, they planned on starting their family three years into their marriage but couldn’t agree on the number of children they wanted. Brandon had only one sibling, while Tonya had four and thought it would be best for them to have two children max. However, Brandon always wanted a big family and would joke that he wanted at least five children to start a singing group, The Flagg Five.
The three years would give them time to enjoy being married, further establish themselves in their careers and save some money, but their parents were all ready for more grandchildren. Each time they were around family the conversation turned to their having kids and Brandon’s father was usually the ringleader, always claiming he didn’t have that much time left and they needed to get to baby-making.
Over the next two hours, Brandon shuttled between the grill and the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the various meats he was preparing for the day. There was chicken, ribs, hot dogs and burgers for the kids and even a few steaks he grilled. He was down to the most important item of the day, a huge chicken breast that he fried to a golden crisp.
The big piece of chicken.
As a child, he watched in awe as his father would have the biggest piece of chicken, or any meat for that matter, while his plate held wings and legs. However, today was the day all of that changed, he would eat the biggest piece of chicken in his home, at his table. He laughed out loud at the thought and Tonya simply shook her head at how giddy, yet peaceful, her husband was at the moment.
The house swelled with laughter as the rooms filled with family, yet Brandon stood near a window worried. Everyone had arrived with the exception of his parents. They were nearly two hours late and all of his worry showed on his face as thunder began to rumble.
“When was the last time you spoke to Roger or Eloise?”
Uncle James could sense his nephew’s nervousness and had a slight tinge of his own. It wasn’t like his baby brother to be late for anything, especially an occasion like this. It was Father’s Day and his son was hosting, James expected to see Roger working the grill when he arrived.
“It’s been a few hours. They were driving home from church when I talked to mom.”
“He probably laid down for a nap and overslept. You know how dad gets after church. I’m sure they’ll be here any minute.” Jamarr balanced his twins on his lap.
Of course, Jamarr was right, Brandon thought to himself. He nodded to his brother. His father would fall asleep in his favorite chair as soon as they returned from church. Their mother and father usually arrived at the church around 7:00 am to help get things in order for Sunday School and the service that followed, then helped elders to their cars, counted the offering and tidied up before they left. It was a full day’s work each Sunday at Mt. Zion.
“The party can start now!”
The sound of his father’s voice simultaneously comforted and excited Brandon.
“What took you so long, Roger, your boy was worried about you?” Uncle James never pulled any punches.
“Someone had to take their nap after church,” Brandon’s mom said after hugging her sons.
“Then, I dropped the phone and couldn’t hear that damn GPS. I went to Hidden Tree Place and Hidden Tree Lane, before Eloise remembered it was Hidden Lane Terrace. “
Roger Flagg was a big man, with big shoulders, big hands, a big personality and a big voice that filled the room. His arrival shifted the atmosphere in the house. Everyone talked a little louder, laughed a lot louder and even loved a bit louder.
“What you doing, Rog,?”
James reached his arm out to stop his brother from pulling out the chair at the head of the table. Roger was used to being the man of the house, always in charge, always at the head of the table.
“I’m trying to sit down, so we can eat.”
“This ain’t your house and that ain’t your seat.”
“Jimmy, you telling me where I can sit in my own son’s house?”
“Yes I am.”
“Well, thank you for setting me straight. Now scoot your big ass over.”
The entire house erupted in laughter as Roger settled into the now available chair to the right of the head of the table.
“Roger, what do you think about your Mets this year?”
Thomas Sr., Tonya’s dad was the exact opposite of Roger. He was a small man. He barely spoke over a whisper and if he weighed 150 pounds, you’d have to check his pockets for rocks. His children will tell you stories of his fierceness and quite a few men will tell you about underestimating Thomas Cole.
“The pitching is there. The pitching is always there. Just gotta stay healthy and hope the bats come through.”
The older men talked baseball, the children played, the wives laughed, the younger men talked about the upcoming NBA draft and Brandon smiled. All his worry and preparation were for this very moment; his family, under one roof, laughing and loving.
The Father’s Day tradition in Flagg households meant that the children made their father’s plate, usually with their mother’s help. If you weren’t a father, you were on your own, unless your mother or wife wanted to be nice that day.
Jamarr and Brandon laughed as they piled the food on their father’s plate. Potato salad, corn, baked beans (made spicy the way he loved them), collard greens, and a chicken leg and thigh.
“This plate is for Daddy?” Jamarr looked at the small portions of meat quizzically. “At least give him a steak and some ribs, you know he’s going to be hungry”.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.”
Brandon smiled as he made his plate and topped it off with the largest, juiciest piece of chicken he or his brother had ever seen.
“Ohhhhh, it’s get back time.”
“A little something. Go on and take Dad his plate.”
Jamarr did his best to hide the grin on his face as he placed the plate in front of his father but lost all his cool when his dad stared at the pieces of chicken before him. Roger looked at his plate, then over to his brothers and Thomas’ next. He lifted a little out of his seat to see Twinkie had a nice-sized steak.
It didn’t take long to see what was going on. He could see the dent Brandon’s chicken was making in his paper plate as he was approaching the table. He watched the smoke coming from the chicken and let out a laugh so loud he started one of Tonya’s nieces.
“My son thinks he’s a man now. If you don’t take this bird food off my plate and bring me one of them steaks, I’m gonna take you outside.”
Brandon did his best to ignore his father but couldn’t help to burst into laughter before Tonya entered with an equally large piece of chicken on a plate.
“You done good, boy.”
Those four words meant to the world to Brandon. Whenever he heard those words from his father, he knew he was proud of him. He didn’t say “I love you” often, but if he told him that he’s done good, he knew that meant he loved him.
“What is he doing?”
Jamarr had been staring at his plate for a full five minutes. Aunt Theresa’s mac and cheese was calling his name, but they had to wait for his brother to start dinner. That five minutes felt like fifty with the smells of the foods before him hitting his nose.
“He’ll be right in, be a little patient. That food ain’t going nowhere,” his mother patted his arm to calm his down.
“How long does it take to change a baby?” Uncle James was getting hungry too.
“You wouldn’t know that would you?” Aunt Theresa snapped back to her husband.
“Yeah, it’s been a long time since we’ve had babies around here.”
Aunt Theresa shook her head and walked into the kitchen. Moments later, she walked in with a pitcher of sun tea.
“This man ain’t changed no diaper in his life,” she turned to Tonya, “You stay in that chair child, I’ll fix Brandon and you a plate.”
A minute later, Brandon emerged from another room with his daughter pawing at his beard. He handed the baby to his mother before sitting next to his mother. Aunt Theresa walked in with two plates and sat them in front of Brandon and Tonya.
“Finally!” Jamarr picked up his fork.
“You in such a hurry, Jamarr, go on and bless the food.”
A hint of embarrassment rushed through Jamarr’s face. He looked around the table to see if anyone was going to save him. His eyes settled on his mother and she used the baby’s hand to encourage him to start.
“Okay, auntie. Dear Lord, please bless this food, this home, and those sitting at the table. We thank you for this day to celebrate fatherhood and family. I know my daddy is looking down at us, saying we done good. I wish he was here to be with us, his grandchildren, and to meet his new grandbaby, Amaya. Please continue to watch over us. In Jesus name...”
The family said Amen.