On Tuesday morning, Madison Davis prayed that her father would come home from a year-long deployment in Kuwait in time for Christmas.
She didn’t expect to see him until Valentine’s Day.
Facing her third-grade classmates inside a courtyard at St. Jean Vianney Catholic School on Tuesday afternoon, Madison read aloud “Pinky’s Big Adventure,” a story written by her father, Master Sgt. Dean Davis, about a stuffed bunny who travels to Kuwait.
The bunny belonged to Madison, but she loaned it to her father, a 25-year Louisiana National Guard veteran, to take with him on his deployment.
The 9-year-old with long, wavy hair spoke quietly, flipping each page of the story to reveal “Pinky” enjoying his travels in the Middle East — sitting on a tank, narrowly eluding a desert fox and curled up with a sleeping soldier, Madison’s dad.
After Madison finished reading, her teacher, Claudia Poche, announced Madison would receive a present and handed her a small red box.
As she looked in the box, a soldier dressed in a desert camouflage uniform walked into the courtyard and stood behind the girl without her seeing him. He held a finger up to his lips, signaling to the crowd of children not to spoil the surprise.
Their necks craned, but no one chirped.
When Madison opened the box, she looked confused. Inside, she found a small eraser that looked like a doll, a trinket she had given to her dad in January when he left their Denham Springs home for Kuwait with the 205th Engineer Batallion.
As she explained to the small audience the meaning of the little doll, the man behind her smiled and watched.
Once she finished, he spoke.
Madison spun around, in utter shock, and it took several seconds before she screamed, “Daddy!,” and leapt into her father’s arms.
“I’m home for Christmas,” Davis said.