The name came from Tammi Terrell, the R&B singer. The other boys had middle-of-the-road names: Joe and James and Reggie and Bobby and Terry. Terrell was the baby, the only son born in California. Ain't nothing like the real thing, bay-bee. Ain't nothing like the real thing. His mother just liked that song, Tammi Terrell's duet with Marvin Gaye. Tammi Terrell had died young, a tragedy.
Terrell. Terrell Davis. That would be a fine and proper name.
Tell the truth, Kateree Davis was hoping for a girl. Eight months pregnant and 23 years old and already the mother of five when she carried that child across half the country in the back of a Greyhound bus in September 1972. It was time for a girl, time for braids and party dresses. The entire trip—two days and one night, St. Louis to San Diego, Kateree and her five boys and her big belly—was about change. St. Louis had become too mean and cold. Joe Davis had been in jail for more than a third of their first seven years of marriage. Two of his friends had been shot dead in holdups. San Diego would be different. Joe would be different. The baby would be a girl.
Oh, well, things don't always work out. "I was 16 years old when I got married," Kateree says. "I didn't know anything. I thought I'd have a houseful of kids and we'd all go to church on Sunday and I'd cook dinner every night and my husband would say, 'Hi, honey, I'm home.' Well, Joe Davis wasn't exactly the hi-honey-I'm-home type."
San Diego mostly was St. Louis with sun. The problems were the same. Joe was Joe. He arrived in town a month after Kateree and the boys did, in time to see Terrell born. Now there were six boys instead of five. Trouble was still no farther away than the front door. Joe could find it. The boys could find it.
The biggest change was inside Kateree. She had become tough. Not hard, but tough. The very act of moving everyone to California on nothing more than a recommendation from her grandfather was a sign of her strength. She was taking charge. California was where she would grow.
A high school dropout, she had picked up her GED in St. Louis. She took courses at San Diego City College and then went into its nursing program. She did all this while working full time as a nurse's aide and raising her sons. Terrell looked at his mother and saw a whirlwind. She would work until midnight, studying for her courses during idle moments, and in the morning make breakfast and send the kids off to school, making dinner at the same time so the kids would have something to eat when she was at school or on the job. Even when she graduated, her pace did not slacken. She worked double shifts, still managing the meals, the laundry, the affairs of the house. Joe would take care of the kids at night.
"I never saw anyone with as much energy as my mother," Terrell says. "She would always be doing something."
Kateree still called him her baby. Joe didn't like to hear this, saying Terrell was "the youngest, not a baby." When the couple separated in 1980, the four youngest boys—Reggie, Bobby, Terry and Terrell—went to live with Joe simply because their school was closer to his house and he could be home at night. Joe Jr. and James, already in high school, stayed with Kateree because they were self-sufficient and could be home alone while she worked. On weekends all the boys stayed at her house.
The separation lasted a year and a half. It ended with gunfire. One night Kateree's cousin Mickey Thomas and Joe became involved in an argument with a friend. The friend went home and got a shotgun. He returned and started blasting away at the house on Florence. Joe and Mickey brought out their own guns and returned fire. All this happened while the four boys were in bed in their rooms. Terrell, who was nine at the time, slept through all of it. He woke up to a room filled with policemen with drawn guns. A spotlight was shining in his eyes.