My Grandma Davis was one of the greatest people I have ever known. She lived as near to Jesus during her life as humanly possible. Grandma lived to be 98 years old. She went on her last mission trip at the age of 88 to Brazil. I have her last passport. She was one of those people you rarely come across. When others were asked who had the greatest influence in their life, without hesitation, many would respond, “Grandma Davis.” She was the most entirely selfless person I ever knew. She lived the life of the great commission Christian — always had others on her mind and thought endlessly about how she could bring them to Jesus. That is literally all she did … talk to people about Jesus. If you already knew Jesus she’d want to talk about how things were going with him. If you didn’t know Jesus, she’d keep at you until you did!
Grandma was from Newcastle, Oklahoma. … but my memories began when she lived in a little white frame house with a cellar, not too far from the railroad tracks and Interstate 35, on a street called Stubbeman in Norman, Oklahoma. Except for when she was living with one of her grandchildren who needed her at the time, she lived in this magical little house that contained a world of comfort, nurture, imagination and adventure. This world was what eventually became part of my world that I still carry around in my pocket today.
I have such wonderful childhood memories of my grandma and her house (outside the frightening framed photographs of smileless deceased ancestors in round wooden frames!). I can conjure up the smell of cinnamon toast, slices of boiled ham, chicken and dumplings, and apple pies! I remember the somewhat intriguing but terrifying cellar with random jars of strange foods on dusty shelves. I can still almost feel the fresh air blowing through the open window, and hear the trains as they rushed across the boundary of her back yard, literally shaking the ground so hard where we stood we had to pause for just for a split second to make sure we were all still okay. I clearly remember being afraid I’d get sucked into the furnace if I got too close to the large floor vent that provided heat for the entire house, located in the middle of the living room.
I joyfully recall my cousins and I spending the night with Grandma on pallets she’d make for us with thick layers of old quilts and electric blankets that were missing the cords. When she would make our pallets she would usually pass gas when she bent over to air out the quilts. We would cover our heads and laugh so hard, she’d say, “there’s nothing funny about that girls, everyone has to do that.” But it was funny because we were silly little girls who saw the humor in everything, even at the expense of our grandma. Truth be told, we knew she didn’t care because it made us happy and that is what she cared about.
Our bare feet were stained brown from running through spit in the grass from my grandpa’s chewing tobacco. His tobacco looked very much like a small brick. He would cut it with his silver pocketknife on the back porch as, for hours, he silently watched the trains go by. It makes me sad to think that is all I remember of him. It just became part of the experience when we went to grandma’s house … tobacco stained feet.
My favorite time was in the summer when our whole big family was at Grandma’s … my uncles and aunts and cousins finally all together again. I can remember the adults sitting out in the front yard at night in those green metal rocking chairs. They would eat watermelon and “visit” … that’s what they would say to us, “Run on and play and let the adults visit.” We happily obeyed, feeling a sense of strong security in hearing their voices and laughter mingled with the hot Oklahoma breeze. We ran fast chasing fireflies with glass jars that had holes poked in the lids so our little pets could live comfortably after we caught them. I still love to watch fireflies … I think every generation must have that in common. In the midst of our outdoor summer evening, invariably, the “smoke truck” would slowly drive by. As we saw it we would shout with delight and run full force into the smoke bellowing from the back of the truck. I was from Oklahoma and it didn’t occur to me that this might not have been practiced in all 50 states. I asked my Kentucky husband after we got married if he had summer night smoke trucks in his neighborhood while growing up. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about. As an adult I’ve realized that the “smoke truck” was in reality a mosquito killing truck and was spraying deadly poison into the air to kill the Oklahoma mosquitos. In reflection, the fact that we reacted pretty much the same to this death truck as we did when the ice cream truck came by is more than a little disturbing … but apparently it wasn’t to our parents! They never ran after us and scooped us up and said, “oh no! Hurry … come inside kids and don’t breathe in that lethal spray.” We’d shout, “Mom, Dad, Grandma, look, look, here comes the smoke truck!” We were ‘yeah yeahed’ and waved off with a dismissive “that’s nice honey, go play in the smoke.” What in the world? It’s astounding any of us from my generation survived our childhood. “Go play in the smoke!” Gee. I fear I’ve exposed too much about myself! ….“and another piece of the puzzle falls into place!” (Seinfeld)
Grandma Davis wasn’t really a funny person by nature. The funniest thing she ever did on purpose was to pop her fake teeth out and make a funny face. I can still remember going into her bathroom at night just to look at her teeth … full top and bottom sets floating precariously in a shiny pink, pastel-colored coffee cup, balanced on the edge of the bathroom sink. I still think about her teeth sometimes (that is so weird!). I don’t think people do that to their teeth anymore, do they?? But that was my grandma.
My grandma didn’t feel like her job was done until she fed us something, especially breakfast, and specifically bacon! When Grandma came to stay, there would be breakfast served. She really pushed the bacon. It was during my high school years that my brother and sister and I began to refer to her affectionately, and I’m quite sure, annoyingly as “Grandma Bacon.” When she would come to live with us for a time she would wake us up for school. You have to understand our family of five didn’t officially eat breakfast. My dad did … and I feel sure he would have fed us if we had been hungry, but I have no memory of ever sitting down at the table for breakfast as a family! It was unheard of in our house!!! My mother was an amazing person in so many ways but, admittedly, was the worst morning person I’ve yet to see. She was an elementary school teacher. If she had to be at school at 7:45 a.m., then she got up at 7:30 a.m. Not much TLC for us from Mama in the mornings. This is why I always thought it ironic that her mother, my grandmother, was so big on breakfast. I believe my Dad was the only one who had any pleasantries in the morning. The rest of us silently agreed and expected to be left alone in our sleepy loathing state during the earliest hours of the morning. Grandma would not have it though … not as long as she was staying with us … we would be eating breakfast and talking to her. She never gave up on breakfast or on us.
This precious little stooped over lady always wanted and needed to give you something when you went to visit. I always stopped at Stubbemen Street to visit on my way back to Baylor and then, later, Southwestern Seminary. She would want me to take something back to school with me … usually a few cans of peaches — the large family size. I had stopped trying, long ago, to get her to understand and accept the fact that I didn’t like peaches. She honestly couldn’t conceive of such a thing, along with the fact that I didn’t really want to eat bacon for breakfast, or anything for breakfast for that matter. I think people from that generation must have had a strange obsession with peaches and breakfast foods.
I was somewhat shy as a kid. Music was a big part of our family. My brother and sister were very vocal and talented. Everything seemed easier for them, as least from my perspective as a little girl. It really bothered me. My Grandma began to pick up on this and was always my encourager to be happy with who I was. She would say, “You’ve got the best talent of the whole bunch — cause you’re like me. Your talent is your smile and sweet personality and love for people.” I would roll my eyes, smile and say “thank you Grandma,” … however, I really wanted to scream; “I can’t use that for the talent portion in a beauty contest, now, can I?” I don’t know if it was because I was the middle child or had a melancholy personality, but I wondered and worried over everything that happened or didn’t happen, and everything people said or didn’t say. She’d say,” You are a lot like your old Grandma, Sheri.” As a teenager, that isn’t exactly the most exciting news to hear — I’m a lot like Grandma. But I now know that was the greatest compliment I would ever receive. She would tell me “I’ve got a special relationship with you because I see myself in you. You love people like I do, and I think that is the best way to be — above anything else in life”.
She loved to tell everyone this little story. Year after year — it never failed to the very end of her days — she would tell anyone in the room “Sheri is just like me. Her talent is her smile and sweet personality and her love for people.” I’d be thinking, “ Oh Grandma, just pat me on the head, give me my bacon and peaches and let me be on my way!” At the time I was tired of hearing it and frankly, didn’t believe it, after all, it wasn’t so clearly resolved in my head what I was or wasn’t, and what I could or couldn’t do at that age. After each visit with Grandma, I’d get in my little yellow VW bug and head straight down I35 back to Texas. I would unload my cans of peaches into the pantry of my apartment as I continued to ponder my life. The only thing I did know for sure was I didn’t like peaches or bacon.
Life was always a lesson when I was around my Grandma. She was very opinionated on most everything she did and spoke in a pretty sharp loud voice. If she noticed she wasn’t getting your full attention she would keep talking while increasing the volume until you listened to her. One day when she was in her 80’s, she told me, as she modeled it for me too, “every day or so, bend down and touch your toes just to make sure you can still do it.”
Now, as an older and wiser woman who has a bit more figured out than I did then, I so love all the things she taught me — without really even knowing, at the time, she was teaching me. I am happy with who God made me, and for my gifts. So far, I can still touch my toes. I rarely eat breakfast but, when I do, I always think of her. I still don’t like peaches, but I always keep a can of them in my panty in honor of Grandma Davis. She always challenged me to take after her in how she shared her faith. I realized I wanted to because, as she said, I was a lot like her.
When I think of my Grandma Davis, I think of this passage. She was an ambassador for Christ. “…. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:19-21)
You might have stories of a “Grandma Davis” in your life that brought you to Jesus. Someone whose imprint you carry. Share those stories with someone today. It’ll be a blessing to you and them.