Albany-- Later this week, many will sit down with family to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. Next month, many families will wake up early to open gifts under the Christmas tree. But for many 48th Brigade families, the dinner table will have an empty seat and there will be unopened gifts under the tree.
As twin brothers Damarcus and Dakarai play their saxophones, it's beginning to sound like the holidays in the Williams household. "Did a little Christmas shopping and picked a few little odds and ends for Thanksgiving," says their mother Lashonta Williams. It's an early start but this year the holidays are hitting a sour note.
"This year we're kind of not really into it like we should be so everybody's kind of waiting for it to pass on," says Lashonta. What's usually a beautiful song around this time of year is a little bit different because there's an important part missing. "Very first time, in 15 years," says Williams. Specialist Clynt Williams is in Iraq with the 48th Brigade. For his family back home, his music is too far to hear as the holidays get closer. "The closer it gets the more it bothers me but trying to work through it," says Lashonta.
To get through it, Lashonta along with sons DaMarcus and Dakarai and daughter Asia will try to keep a happy tempo here on the homefront. Dancing is a usual ritual for the Williams family especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. "Me and my brothers get up and do a dance that we made up," says 14-year-old Asia Williams. But even with some happy one, two steps, 14-year-old Asia misses her father and special dance partner.
"If I'm dancing, he'll come dance with me and stuff. It's fun when he's around," says Asia. Since he left for Iraq, things have changed. "A lot. It's different. It's not the same anymore," says Asia. "At first I thought we were doing good but you get your moments when you feel the emptiness in the house when things aren't quite the same," says Lashonta.
For Thanksgiving, the family hopes to fill the empty space with the smell of some good home cooking. "Whoo, hopefully have some ham, macaroni and cheese, dressing, the usual," says Lashonta. But the usual turkey isn't on the menu this Thanksgiving. Lashonta calls Clynt her special turkey-fryer. "Usually that's who does all the meats, the ham and the turkey and the roast beef but since he's not here we're going to make it a little sweet and simple," says Lashonta.
After a bittersweet and simple Turkey Day, colors and decorations will light the way to yet another holiday without their loved one. Lashonta says, "That's my Christmas person. That's his holiday. He loves to do the presents and all that, pick out for the kids." "In the morning, it would be a big surprise, a lot of stuff," says Asia. "They usually wait for their Daddy to get up and they usually open their presents with their Daddy," says Lashonta.
A little bit of Christmas cheer is lacking. "He was mostly the one that made everybody have fun, made everybody want to do something," says Asia. So the only thing left to do is get close to him in any way possible. Whether it's with pictures or pen and paper. "I write him letters and send him pictures of me," says Asia. Special Christmas cards will also help to fill the void. They also feel that although his body is far away, his spirit remains home.
"That's what kind of keeps us going. When you look around the house, you can still feel him in the house even though he's not here," says Lashonta.
But on Christmas Day the greatest gift of all would be, "For him to be here," says Lashonta. "If they told me tomorrow that he'd be here for the holidays, that would be good enough for me. I don't have to have anything." For Lashonta, her Christmas includes Clynt. "He lifts your spirits everytime you see him," says Lashonta. And for the first time in 15 years, she'll see an empty seat at the table during the holidays. She'll keep a special place set just for him. "Yeah this is his. Gotta keep it for him until he comes home," says Lashonta.
The family prays that he can hear their music and feel their heartbeats overseas and that this holiday song on the saxophones will be enough to bring him home.
The family says they'll have a small traditional Christmas this year and another special one when Clynt gets home. He'll send the family their gifts from Iraq but made a request that they save his gifts for when he gets back. This gives him a little something extra to look forward to. Specialist Clynt Williams will be home sometime in February for a 15 day leave.