To Whom Much Is Given

In December 2003, during an extended Christmas visit to the Motor City thru New Year’s, I had an opportunity to spend precious quality time with my aging parents. This included dining out at restaurants; home visits with siblings, aunts, and uncles; church services; movies; road trip to Chicago; and New Year’s Eve party at this country’s purported oldest Jazz club. Since I moved away from Detroit in January 1981 for my first job out of college, I alway made a point of spending Christmas back “home”, whether returning from Baltimore, South Jersey, or the Bay Area. Initially, while always staying with my parents, I hardly stayed at “home”. Instead, I was out rippin’ & runnin’. That is, visiting college friends; seeing compadres and old Free Press customers from the old neighborhood; checking in on my uncles and aunts; stopping by my siblings’ homes (after work); treating my nieces & nephews to movies, arcades, and restaurants; checking out record stores from Detroit to Ann Arbor and all points in between; and screening independent films. Over the many years, as I observed my parents slowing down, except for checking in on my uncles and aunts, and visiting with my siblings and their families, everyone else and everything else became less important when it came to my limited time. From then on, for the most part, I stayed home with my parents during my Detroit visits or they hung out with me while we visited relatives, dined out, or went to the movies. We, more or less, became a trio… :v) I know I wore them out, but they slept very well at night. During my years living in Baltimore, I made additional frequent trips to Detroit during the year i.e. holidays. For this holiday specifically, I decided to actually spend New Year’s in Detroit, which I rarely did. Since I usually drove (or flew from California) to Detroit on December 23rd or 24th after work, and had to return to work on January 2nd or 3rd, I preferred to return home no later than December 30th and bring in the new year there. This time around, however, I also wanted to do something special. My brother and his family had relocated to Chicago in January of that year for his job. Even though my parents had flown there in June to check out the new digs, I wanted to see it too, AND Chicago was only a 4.5-hour drive away. So, I’m thinking “road trip!” Also, with J-A-Z-Z always in the back of my mind, and having grown up in Detroit, but never visited the OLDEST Jazz club in the country, I thought I’d finally do so. Why not bring in the new year at the famous and historic Baker’s Keyboard Lounge with my parents in tow? Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, located in northwest Detroit, was opened in 1934 and, over the years, presented such Jazz luminaries as: Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Fats Waller, Wes Montgomery, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Chet Baker, Cab Calloway, Betty Carter, Modern Jazz Quartet, Sonny Stitt, Kenny Burrell, and Miles Davis. When I suggested both the road trip and the New Year’s Eve party to my parents, they said “Sure!” When I arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport from the Bay Area early Christmas Eve after having taken a red-eye via Las Vegas, my parents met me at Baggage Claim. My mom handed me the car keys to her Honda Accord and we headed downtown to their high-rise apartment. I’d happily be their “chauffeur” for the next 10 days… And the perks weren’t too bad: free room & board, in-house chef, laundry, car, conversation, etc… :v) Later that morning, after taking a long nap, I treated my dad to breakfast at the nearby I.H.O.P. that was then owned by superstar R&B songstress and native Detroiter, Anita Baker. My mom stayed at the apartment to prepare for hosting the annual Cobb Christmas dinner, then a potluck. After breakfast, I dragged my dad to a record/CD store (of course!) on the far eastside that I’d always visited over the years. Afterward, we returned downtown to get ready for the annual Christmas Eve church services: 7:00 P.M. at my mom’s United Methodist church, and 12:00 midnight mass at my dad’s Catholic church. After my dad and I returned home after mass at ~2:30 A.M., mom had already finished baking several batches of her specialty Christmas cookies; and I’d have first dibs before my siblings, nieces, and nephews arrived later that afternoon. By 2:00 P.M., family members started trickling in, with my sisters dropping off their assigned specialty dishes in the kitchen. I took this time to distribute my gift cards to all of my nieces and nephews present. With everyone, now numbering ~20, strewn about the apartment either watching NFL football or NBA basketball on two televisions, sitting on couches and chairs, or playing with their Christmas toys on the carpeted floor, mom soon called everyone to dinner. We then gathered in a large circle around the dining room table (eyeballing the food – what a spread!!!), held hands, and dad said a beautiful prayer and blessed the food. For such a large gatherIng, we had TWO kiddie tables! After dinner, following a Cobb tradition, mom sat down at the piano and led (“sternly guided”) us in the singing of Christmas carols. Before everyone departed, gathering their coats, gloves, and prepared dishes, they made sure to prepare a plate to take home for the next day or two… :v) Another wonderful and joyous Cobb Christmas spent together with family. Over the next few days, we ran errands, saw some movies, and visited aunts and uncles whom we didn’t see on Christmas Day. On Sunday, I drove my dad to Sunday mass, after which we drove past our old family home of 46 years on E. Canfield, then had breakfast at the Shorecrest restaurant, a local favorite. We then returned home to watch NFL football and dad’s favorite program, “60 Minutes”. The next day, after a good night’s sleep, my parents and I were en route to Chicago, via I-94 west, for a quick two-day visit. Along the way, we stopped for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Yeah, Boooey!!! We finally arrived at the new digs of my brother, his wife, and their young son just outside of Chicago. Nice!!! Their two older kids, son-in-law, and new granddaughter had just left town a few days earlier after their first ever Christmas family dinner away from Detroit. After we got settled in, caught our breaths, and had a chance to catch up, we headed out to dinner-for-six at the nearby Olive Garden, my treat! The next day, we went sight-seeing, saw some more movies, and ate some good home cookin’! The next morning, New Year’s Eve, after a hearty breakfast, we hit the road, I-80 east, back to Detroit. Five hours later, after a lunch break along the way, we returned safety to my parents’ downtown apartment. We had plenty of time to rest up and get dressed up for the New Year’s celebration at Baker’s. We arrived at ~11:00 P.M., were promptly seated, and immediately felt the very festive mood and warm ambience. The historic Baker’s Keyboard Lounge… finally… WOW!!! The New Year’s Eve dinner that was served was tasty, appetizing, and delicious, of course! We’re talkin’ Detroit cookin’… Hello!!! The musicians that played most of night were all outstanding local artists. When the clock struck 12:00 midnight to bring in the new year, 2004, the place erupted, high fives were given, strangers hugged, and love was in the air. I tightly hugged my 82 year-old father and my 78 year-old mother, just feeling very fortunate and blessed that they were still with us and that I could finally treat them… to a wonderful night of Jazz. As offspring of wonderful parents, we realize as adults that we can NEVER quite repay them for the nurturing, work ethic, role models, sacrifices, and smart decisions that they made along the way, especially parents from “The Greatest Generation”. So, I think they enjoyed themselves; we didn’t get out of there until ~2:00 P.M. I had to finally tell them, “Mom & Dad, I’m ready to go home!!” Not! Seriously, they put this “young buck” to shame. Later that day, we just relaxed and watched a plethora of New Year’s Day colleges bowl games. The next day, I went shopping at Borders, Best Buy, and Marshall Fields for gift cards for my parents, aunts, and uncles. That evening, I got a great home-cooked meal, washed my clothes, and packed my bags for the flight out of town the next day. The next morning, I drove to the airport, with my parents riding “shotgun” and “navigator”. When we arrived at “Departures”, I got out of car, gave my parents BIG hugs, grabbed my bags, and turned over the car keys. My duties as “chauffeur” were now completed! Now, THAT was perhaps my best and most unforgettable Detroit Christmas visit ever, one for the ages… :v)

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