My Baby Sister, Kim (My “Kimbalaya”)

One of the things I regret deeply was us not having a daughter in the mix of four sons. Mainly because I had the pleasure of having an older sister to teach me many things that an older brother could not. Something they never got to experience, being a foursome of knuckleheads. I was also fortunate enough to have a younger sister, one to look over and hopefully be someone she can be proud of.

It took 10 years for her to come into my life. 10 years and 6 1/2 months to be a more precise. And I can tell you, our (the Davis family) lives have never been the same.

But that’s a good thing.

By the time Kim was born, Denise, the only other girl in the family was just hitting her teenage years and was very much the “young lady” of the house. “Miss Debutant” (I joke about that because she never wanted toys for Christmas. Only clothes.). Kim brought that “pretty baby girl” groove back to the Davis house and with a head full of beautiful hair and soon-to-be fierceness.

But that’s a good thing…

Anyway, that’s the first thing I noticed about her, all that hair and that beautiful smile of hers. Even when she cried, the visage of innocent pain with a half-smile, which was enveloped from the sides with that hair. I can still remember the days of my mother holding her as she struggled to get through all of it with a comb/pick/brush.

With Kim, it was different than growing up with an older sister. I was used to Denise being by my side and always leading by example. Now I had someone that I could observe from the youngest years and watch her grow. Possibly someone, to whom I could be a strong influence.

But that’s a bad thing. You all know me…

I can still remember her first steps, which would eventually prove to be her last. No, not tragically. I mean from that moment on, all she did was run. The little fireball, or more appropriate, pinball. Always bouncing off of walls and then ricocheting in the opposite direction or careening at other unpredictably odd angles. It seems the only time I could get her to sit still was when she was jumping into my lap. Even on my 11th birthday, I remember her reaching for me which prompted me to sit her in my lap as everyone sang the birthday song. I had to be careful when leaning in to blow out the candles, for fear of bumping her head into the edge of the kitchen table. I failed.

But that was one of the great things about her, she taught me to (try to) be careful in situations where I otherwise wouldn’t.

Our time together was always in “big brother, tag-along sister” mode. Similar to what I was to Denise, but with a larger age gap. Still, for reasons I could never understand, she was always right there, by my side. Especially when I made my one-block treks to the confectionery at the end of the block, widely known as “Old Man’s Store” (few people knew the correct name for this popular penny candy store, so that’s what we called it – although few were stupid enough to call him that, not including my baby brother – but that’s another tale).

Her being my trusty little buddy became largely apparent as I lay on the floor on my stomach, reading my comic books each day. She would come crashing down my side and ask me what was happening.

She took a particular interest in my Captain America comic books. I don’t know if it was the red, white and blue in his uniform or his shield or both. She really seemed to enjoy the issues with Captain America and his short-lived side-kick, Bucky Barnes. To this day, if you ask her about our past, she will immediately jump to the chapter on Captain America & Bucky.

I laugh because she also knew how to get what she wanted out of you in a manner she would later learn was common blackmail. If you ran afoul to or with her in any way, she promptly took a deep breath and yelled, “Daaaaaaaaddy!” That quick crescendo to a full-scale alarm was enough to make me always put my hand over her mouth, cradling her with the other as I whispered, “Shhhh-ILoveYouILoveYouILoveYouILoveYou” in her ear.
Take a piece of her cookie:
“Daaaaaaaaddy!” “Shhhh-ILoveYouILoveYouILoveYouILoveYou”
Change the channel she’s watching:
“Daaaaaaaaddy!” “Shhhh-ILoveYouILoveYouILoveYouILoveYou”
Hide her dolls:
“Daaaaaaaaddy!” “Shhhh-ILoveYouILoveYouILoveYouILoveYou”
Kick her down a flight of stairs:
“DADDYYYYYYYY!” Run out of the house while yelling, “Shhh-ILoveYouILoveYouILoveYouILoveYou”.

To be honest, I couldn’t blame her because the affront was always a byproduct of my own mischief or malice.

I never noticed it then, but despite my impish ways, she always forgave me, loving me still. I also learned that she looked up to me in many ways. It wasn’t until the day that I left for college that she hugged me and told me how proud of me she was and that I had always been her hero. Years later, she told me that I was her first Valentine. She also told me how elated she was when I came home from my first year of college and volunteered to be a chaperone during her class trip to Indianapolis. Looking back on it all, I see how much I wanted to have her as part of my life and always be a part of hers.

What she didn’t know was that I often saw her more as a daughter than a sister. I may have failed her on occasion, but it didn’t change how important to me she was. That was illustrated the day someone scared her while she sat on the front porch. When I found out, my friend John Starykowicz and I grabbed two baseball bats from the basement and went looking for him. My father had to pick us up from the police station, which had me more terrified than being picked up by the cops. Thankfully, he took us out for a burger and told us how proud he was of us and that if he ever had to get us from the station, he would rather it be under these circumstances. Protecting her.

Kim was everybody’s little doll and the brightest of students, loved by all of her classmates. I just hate that I missed most of her day-to-day accomplishments because as I said, I went off to college when she was 8.

But that didn’t change anything. Whenever I called home, she always wanted to be the first to talk. When I came home for Christmas and summer break, she was the first to hug me, coming off the bus. When I returned, she was tearfully the last, who hugged the hardest.

Over the years, unlike the other siblings, I had to watch her grow from afar. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t right there with her in spirit, celebrating all of her victories. And I can’t tell you how proud I was when I learned that she was in the high school band, my favorite activity.

If I had to pick one memory that means the most to me, it would be the time I visited with my family and we met at Denise’s house. Her husband Paul had a mini-studio that Kim and I all but confiscated for a good hour. We played track after track of recognized tunes, singing on the mic, side by side and laughing and we rocked our bent arms back and forth in a running-type motion between verses. Yeah, that’s my moment.

And now today is her (fill in the blank) birthday. A day during which I always call to wish her a Happy Birthday with a nonsensical, previously unheard version of the song. Albeit weird, it always seemed to make her day, which she always told me at the end of my tributary serenade, no matter the genre of music I chose (I think I made her laugh the hardest when I sang the reggae version). To this day, I have never missed an opportunity to call her and God-willing, I never will, as this is our special activity of frequency, dedicated to her.

I just hope she doesn’t freak out when I die first and her phone still rings on her subsequent birthday with a ghostly howl of a version of the birthday song on the other end.

“Daaaaaaaaddy!” “Shhhh-IiiiiLoooooveYoooooooou” (ghost voice)

I’m especially amazed and proud of her because she has maintained a position as the conduit between family members, particularly during this COVID pandemic; traveling to and from the nursing home to visit my mother or bring her to our childhood home so we all can visit her there. Setting up Zoom calls so we all can enjoy a virtual face-to-face with each other and mom, who was physically unavailable due to protocols that prohibited visits. Keeping us up to date with the medical condition of various family members. Kim has been a dear-heart.

(Of course momma had trouble, being too close)

She calls me when I least expect it. Oftentimes, asking if I “have a quick minute” which makes me laugh. In English translation, that means we’re about to talk for about 90 minutes. No, that’s not her intention, but if opportunity allows, her quick updates often morph in various discussions. She could go off on a tangent, or I could be the one. It doesn’t matter and it never will. I don’t say it often or enough, but I love every single moment that I have with her. She doesn’t know this either, but I value her input and advice incredibly.

It’s so weird now because when we talk, our conversations often include the adventures with our children. We’re older now. Grown folk. We’re the Dad/Mom talking to Aunt Joan/Dee or Uncle Comer to our kids. Our conversations are of an adult, yet playful nature, often crass. But that’s cool. That’s Kim and I. Me and Kim.

We will talk. We will sing. Sometimes, we’ll even argue. But that’s what siblings do. What’s important is that we’ll always have each other’s back…

1993 vs 2011

…and we’ll always have each other’s love.

Happy Birthday, Kimbalaya!

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