Vendor Memorial: Charles Davis
Charles Martin Davis died of natural causes and was found in his bedroom on Oct. 21, according to a police report. Davis, a Street Sense Media vendor, writer and illustrator, was 55 years young. He often sold newspapers in the Tenleytown neighborhood.
He grew up in Southeast D.C. playing Catholic Youth Organization football and inseparable from his brother Vernon, who still remembers Charles’ jersey number: 56. He attended Ballou High School and the University of the District of Columbia. He loved the Redskins, go-go and crabs.
Better known to his family by the nickname “Eikey,” Charles was one of 10 siblings raised by the late Lloyd and Mary Davis.
“Momma, you will always be my strength,” Charles wrote of the values passed down by his parents. “And Daddy, you will always be my faith and my wisdom.”
Above all else, he stressed the importance of keeping the family together.
“That’s all Pops wanted: Be strong; Be together,” said Rita, his older sister. “And Eikey was strong.”
Charles called everyone in the family, Monday through Friday, to check up on them. In a booklet distributed at his funeral, his family wrote lovingly that “you couldn’t get him off the phone.” He also sent cards for every single holiday. A Mother’s Day card from Eickey still stands on an end table in Rita’s living room, below photos on the wall of their parents, her daughter and her granddaughter.
“There was always something in the card, too,” said Rita’s husband, Danny. “You’d open it and five or ten dollars would fall out.”
Family and friends alike spoke of Charles’s generosity. “If he had it in his pocket, he’d give it to you,” Danny added. Rita said she could count on her brother for anything, such as babysitting or cleaning up after a meal. He was always helping regardless of whether he was asked to. “He’d say, ‘Baby Girl, you need to take a break,’” Rita said.
Frederick, their oldest brother, vividly remembers getting up to go to the doctor one morning after Charles had spent the night and realizing he did not have enough money for transportation. “Eikey reached down into his sock and gave me $9 in quarters to get there,” Frederick said. “He counted it out right on the [living room] table over there … Then he walked me out to the fence in the rain.”
When Charles moved into the first apartment of his own in 2016, he consistently tried to pay Rita’s husband whenever he helped out with the new place, hanging curtains or putting up photos of the family and photos of orphan children in South America that Charles sent money to sponsor. He even invited Frederick to move in with him, though he declined.
Before he got his place, Charles had been homeless for 28.5 years. According to his essays, he most often made arrangements to stay with others and helped out with the rent. But he also slept in the streets. His friends called him “Nine Lives” for all he endured.
Frederick remembered dropping Charles off uptown after he stayed over one night, “And he said ‘Fred, I love you and I respect you — but you could not live through what I’ve been through. Have you ever had a rat crawl up your leg? I’ve slept in the rain. I’ve slept in the snow. You couldn’t do this.’ And he was right. He was robbed. He was stabbed in the face.”
Complicating the situation, Charles was diagnosed with a spinal injury and severe arthritis. Nevertheless, he stayed positive and always had a sincere smile for his family, his friends and his Street Sense Media customers.
“He inspired me so much,” Rita said.
He worked for several hotels in the metropolitan area as well as Giant Food, according to the funeral booklet. He started his career with Street Sense Media in 2013.
“The thing I like about selling papers is that it gets me ready for the online classes that I take,” he wrote shortly after joining the organization. “My classes are accounting and bookkeeping,” Earlier this year, he began researching how to publish his first book.
“When I wake up in the morning, I always give God thanks for another beautiful day of my life and my loving family, for whom I dearly care,” Charles wrote in 2015. He began every single essay this way, though the sentiment was not always kept in final drafts.
The last conversation Rita had with Charles was on Oct. 4, three days before her birthday. He called to ask how she was doing and to see if she had any plans to celebrate.“I love you, Rita. Enjoy your birthday,” she remembers him saying.
“It’s not a loss, it’s a love,” Rita said. “He’d tell me, ‘You’re like my second mother.’ I miss my baby.” Rita has listened to “I’m Gonna Be Ready” by gospel artist Yolanda Adams nearly every day since Eickey died. “That was his song,” Rita said. “Every time he’d come over he’d say, ‘Rita, put Yolanda on for me.’”
At the time these interviews were conducted, the family was acutely aware of how much they would miss Eickey during Thanksgiving. He could go on and on at the start of their dinner, asking for blessings for the family and expressing gratitude for everyone. However, the first memory that came to everyone’s mind who was interviewed was “that microwave!”
Whenever he would visit, Charles had a habit of nibbling at his food on through the night, more concerned with talking with the family and watching the game. He’d reheat it every couple of hours, often continuing this ritual on into the early morning, after most everyone had gone to bed. Rita, Danny or Frederick might wake up to find Eickey scrubbing down the kitchen or the bathroom on his hands and knees.
“He was one of the cleanest people you would ever meet,” Danny said.
A blown-up photo print of Charles looking dapper in a tuxedo, taken at a family wedding and printed for Eickey’s funeral, has since found a home on Rita’s wall. It is directly across the room from the TV where the Redskins games will continue to play, and his gaze is directed at the dining room table where the family will stay together and try to stay strong.
The funeral was held at Saint Ann Catholic Church in Tenleytown on Oct. 30. Mr. Davis is survived by brothers Frederick, Philip and Vernon, sisters Rita and Teresa and “tons of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends,” according to the booklet at the service. He was preceded in death by siblings Carolyn, Stephen, Susan and Lloyd Jr.
“So, as I end this article Street Sense readers, always try to cherish what a beautiful life God has given us because one day our lives will end,” Charles wrote in January 2016. “But, know that God will be with you through the journey.”