Chicago, Illinois (1983) Davis Family Reunion
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been on somebody’s stage. Whether I’m speaking at an engagement, making a presentation, giving training, performing with a group, jamming at a football halftime show or giving an extended recitation for a Christmas/Easter program in church. I’m used to it and to be honest, I love it. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I live for putting on a show for a wondering audience.
I don’t have to hog the stage or spotlight either, well not ALL the time. I just like entertaining and educating in my own special way. I never had to be better, just different.
Still, the most enjoyable time I ever had on stage was the time that I performed without playing a single musical note, without dancing a single step and without making a single sound. It was me, onstage, barefoot in tattered long johns, in front a crowd of 100+ people, hamming it up with my favorite relative, my Aunt “Dee” (Delores).
If you can picture me dressed like that, visualize an image of a plus-sized woman dressed straight out of a Hattie McDaniel role, resembling a living bottle of Mrs. Butterworth syrup. Then for good measure, add a wooden bed and old breakfast table, all in the center of a fellowship hall.
The (Ken) Davis family had pretty much dominated the night’s entertainment: my sister and her best friend did a dance number to Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing”. My two brothers and I accompanied my older cousin John/”Pot” on clarinet, sax and bass cello as he jazzed away a groovy rendition of “Moon River” on vibroharp. Even my mother and father gave presentations of their own.
But the showstopper? Well, as far as I was told, it was Aunt Dee and “Li’l Kenny” performing Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “In The Morning”; her commanding voice and my comedic responses to her questions and reprimands.
Sadly, there was no videotaping of the acts and I have no earthly idea who has pictures of it, although I do remember the flashing of camera bulbs amidst the laughter. But if you use your imagination, I’m sure you can figure out my impish actions that either prompted or were in response to the things she said. I’ll insert a few descriptions in italics and parentheses, if it helps. I’d detail the entire performance, but it’s been damn-near 40 years. Forgotten some of my antics. And besides, you had to be there to truly appreciate it. Enjoy…
“In The Morning”
(I’m sleeping on my side, in the bed)
‘LIAS! ‘Lias! Bless de Lawd!
Don’ you know de day’s erbroad?
Ef you don’ git up, you scamp,
Dey’ll be trouble in dis camp.
(rolls over and pulls cover over head)
Tink I gwine to let you sleep
W’ile I meks yo’ boa’d an’ keep?
Dat’s a putty howdy-do-
Don’ you hyeah me, ‘Lias -you?
(continues to roll back and forth, looking up, slamming face into pillow, waving her off)
Bet ef I come crost dis flo’
You won’ fin’ no time to sno’
Daylight all a-shinin’ in
W’ile you sleep -w’y hit’s a sin!
Aint de can’le-light enough
To bu’n out widout a snuff,
But you go de mo’nin’ thoo
Bu’nin’ up de daylight too?
(turns over on stomach, raising but in the air, looking to the side)
‘Lias, don’ you hyeah me call?
No use tu’nin’ to’ds de wall;
I kin hyeah dat mattuss squeak;
Don’ you hyeah me w’en I speak?
Dis hyeah clock done struck off six-
Ca’line, bring me dem ah sticks!
(jumps out of bed and rolls into standing position at doorway)
Oh, you down, suh; huh, you down-
Look hyeah, don’ you daih to frown.
Ma’ch yo’se’f an wash yo’ face,
Don’ you splattah all de place;
(washes face in bowl, throwing water into the audience)
I got somep’n else to do,
‘Sides jes’ cleanin’ aftah you.
Tek dat comb an’ fix yo’ haid!-
Looks jes’ lak a feddah baid.
(combs hair, full of excess ‘lint’ and feathers, rolling eyes angrily)
Look hyeah, boy, I let you see
You sha’ n’t roll yo’ eyes at me.
Come hyeah; bring me dat ah strap!
(little sister surprisingly comes from audience with switch)
Boy, I’ll whup you ‘twell you drap;
You done felt yo’se’f too strong,
An’ you sholy got me wrong.
(jumps from belt lashes)
Set down at dat table thaih;
Jes’ you whimpah ef you daih!
Evah mo’nin’ on dis place,
Seem lak I mus’ lose my grace.
Fol’ yo’ han’s an’ bow yo’ haid-
Wait ontwell de blessin’ ‘s said;
(winks visibly at audience)
‘Lawd, have mussy on ouah souls-‘
(reaches for biscuits, pulls back sharply after being swatted)
(Don’ you daih to tech dem rolls-)
‘Bless de food we gwine to eat-‘
(visibly tap dances barefoot under table)
(You set still -I see yo’ feet;
You jes’ try dat trick agin!)
(quickly puts entire biscuit in mouth, easily seen)
‘Gin us peace an’ joy. Amen!’
(jumps from table, running after being whipped again and runs into audience as biscuits are thrown)
Like I said, you had to be there, but the riotous laughter throughout was unspoken confirmation that we had stolen the show. Being told later as confirmation didn’t matter.
In the following years, I’d seen several onstage presentations of our skit, but I doubt that any of them had a fraction of the fun that we did that night.
For us, it was a family thing. It was a Davis thing. It was me and Aunt Dee.
Thank you Paul Dunbar.
Miss you, Aunt Dee. Love you.