When I think back on all of the wonderful Christmas memories in the Davis house, one stands above all the rest. Now keep in mind that by “Davis house”, I mean “Big Ken” and Lenora Davis. My parents.
December 25, 1987 East Chicago
It was Christmas morning and I had returned from college in Tallahassee, Florida to spend the holidays with the family. My sister Denise and brother Terrance were back from Fisk University and Central State, respectively, joining youngest siblings Craig and little Kimberly.
As the five of us sat on the couches and floor, we exchanged and opened gifts while cracking jokes about each other. The ribbing covered everything from each other’s schools to our boy/girlfriends, to our current wardrobe to the whoopin’s we got over the years around this time for whatever reason.
My mother was back and forth from the kitchen making bacon, salmon croquettes, grits, rice, scrambled eggs, and toast. She always overcooked during the holidays, but we didn’t mind. Everything she cooked, we ate, leaving no evidence.
Every now and then she would stop and sit next to my father, watching us laugh together as Nat King Cole, The Temptations, Donny Hathaway and others sang soul and R&B Christmas songs on the “Soul Holidays” music mix cassette I had made.
My father didn’t say anything. He just sat on the end table, hands reversed on his thighs with palms down, thumbs pointing inward, elbows out as he laughed at each insult cast between us.
But what stood out to me was how he smiled during his silent moments. You didn’t have to be a mind reader to see the pride and happiness in his face. He had wanted each of us to go to college. Three of us were in and Craig was only two years away. Kim was the youngest by eight years, but at 11, she was a straight-A student.
If you watched him long enough, you could see another expression mixed with his satisfaction. It was gratitude and serenity. He had found peace and joy in having his children home. Mom had already made her jubilation clear by her outbursts of tears and praises to God, so there were no secrets there. Dad on the other hand, said little, while failing to contain so much more.
It was the exact same face I remembered seeing as a little boy. That elated visage both he and my mother shared as we children screamed in delight and surprise, eyes bright with the unwrapping of each toy.
Not one to seek gifts during the season, he preferred one thing every year, all summer long and during winter break…
He wanted his children home. That was his present.
It was his final request to me the year he died in 1997; having his family together. And even though I was out of vacation and personal time off, he managed to get me home for bereavement. Not at all what I wanted, but he found a way to make it happen.
But I already told that story.
What was important was that his children, whom he’d often referred to as his greatest accomplishments, were together once again.
And now here I am, 25 years later, just days before Christmas. Smiling.
This year, just as every year before, I’ve made it known that I don’t want anything, encouraging them to give to each other. I know that’s me being a hypocrite, since I love giving gifts.
I honestly don’t want anything.
I’ve got everything I could ever wish for:
We’re safe, in the home I built for my family twenty years ago.
Everyone is alive (thank God) and healthy.
There is no controversy or drama.
And I finally have a granddaughter! My beautiful Gianna Rose (still working on a dessert food nickname for her).
And most important, for reasons I now understand as my father illustrated…
Within a two-mile radius, my family is all here.
Two live in apartments with their girlfriends. But like last year and the year before, they’ll be here on Christmas morning for music, meals and merriment.
We will be together.
My Christmas presents? Their Christmas PRESENCE.
Amen, Merry Christmas.
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