Beckie (my aunt), Brian (my cousin), Me, Barb (My Mom), and Kara (My sister)
Yesterday morning, I got the call that my Aunt Beckie Davis lost her battle with cancer. She was 57 years old. Being my Mom’s twin sister, we were fairly close growing up, or as close as I ever let anyone get to me. The night my father died, we stayed at her house. When my Mom and step-dad separated, she was there keeping watch over my sister and me. She was also the only one to put her arm around me and ask some tough questions that no one else had the guts to ask at that time. (That is certainly not an indictment of anyone else in the family but a testament to her tenaciousness). At the time, I found it intrusive; in retrospect, she genuinely had my back, and I should have appreciated her more.
Isn’t it funny how that happens? It takes years and sometimes tragedy for us to gain perspective about people. Unfortunately, I learn that lesson sometimes when it’s too late. I’m very sad to note that I don’t have any pictures of the two of us together. I have very few photos of her at all. This is probably also a testament to her dedication to working in the kitchen at family functions and also her lack of desire to be photographed. Still, it did sadden me when I looked for visual aids for this blog and couldn’t find that perfect picture of us together.
If you’ll indulge me today, I’d like to pay tribute to her memory.
Beckie was born on August 21, 1953. She was the first twin out, and with that, I suspect came the usual dominance you hear about in such situations. Being the dominant twin in a family like ours is a double whammy as Beckie was Ted Miller’s daughter through and through. My grandfather was a strong personality; we all are. Again, age and distance bring a new perspective, and I’m very proud of my Miller traits now. We are generous, extremely helpful even when you don’t necessarily want help, and exceptionally well-intentioned. Beckie was the softer, gentler, female version of Ted and was beloved by our church and community for it.
She eventually met and married Dean Davis and started a family. Brian was born on January 23, 1977, and Jodie on August 28, 1979. I’m a year older than Brian, and my sister is in between Brian and Jodie, so we were all together often. I remember going to their house and playing basketball in Brian’s room with the small hoop on the back of his bedroom door. I remember playing outside in their spacious back yard and climbing the fence into the cow pasture. I helped bail straw and hay for Uncle Dean many times and remember how much I hated the idea of working until I was out on that wagon and had that hook in my hand, dragging the bails off of the bailer and stacking them just right so they wouldn’t topple over. I also remember liking the part where I got paid.
Beckie would make sure we were taken care of with thermoses of water, and if the timing was right, a good filling lunch. I’ve always been a picky eater and I always thought my Mom was a better cook. Now I look back and realize that my Mom (who is still an excellent cook!) just had different tastes than her sister. Beckie was always a little more dignified, a bit more avant-garde, or at least as avant-garde as you could be in Richwood, Ohio. For instance, when my Mom makes her down-home version of au gratin potatoes, it’s pretty straight forward. But Beckie always added a touch of onion and maybe some more spice. Her burgers were more flavorful. And the decor in her home was less country and more Country-French. The living room was off-limits to us kids. It was used for special occasions. She liked beautiful things. I learned a lot from her about life, and I didn’t even really know it.
When I first got the call from my Mom that she was sick, it didn’t register. It was far too early in my life for the women of her generation to be mere mortals. These women simply did not get sick like this, and I assured myself she would get better. I was told to keep things quiet, as she and Dean did not want the world to know just yet. This is just how they are — private, selfless, and not wanting to cause a fuss or an inconvenience for anyone else.
Beckie was a great minimizer when it came to her own “stuff.” I don’t remember seeing her cry or being upset. She kept inside, a trait that the therapist in me condemns, but the little boy in me appreciates. We don’t want our female heroines to be vulnerable.
This strength she inherited from my grandmother, I guess, who was another Grand Lady in the great tradition of women from my home town. And Beckie, had she not found herself engaged in battle with cancer, would have grown into such a Grand Old Lady. I regret not being able to see that.
She did get to see her grandchildren be born and spent the last few years with them as often as possible. They have suffered an incalculable loss and my thoughts and prayers are with them. They will be better for having had her in their lives, and I hope they will grow up and continue to make her proud. She would have been so supportive of them. I know it because, as an aunt should be, Beckie was always so supportive of me. I found this card that she gave me at my 8th-grade graduation:
Brian, her oldest son, was a star athlete. I always felt a little inadequate in comparison. But as I look back, Beckie went out of her way to show me that I was special in my own way and I should be proud of who I was. She never said it quite so concisely or directly; that wouldn’t have been her style — at least not back then. But she was always interested in what I was doing at school, at college, and in my career.
The greatest gift she ever gave me, though, was not tangible. Beckie was THE pianist at the Richwood Church of Christ. She was also the sometimes organist when it came time for that. She practiced tirelessly, preparing a Prelude, a Communion song, and an Offertory number every week. This, along with the congregational hymns (of which there were 4 or 5 if memory serves me correctly) were an every single week occurrence.
I can’t remember this for certain, but I’m pretty sure that it was her that suggested I begin playing for our church’s Building Fund, which happened after Sunday School and before the official start of our worship service. I had to play Happy Birthday if there was anyone who came forward and then an instrumental song to accompany the Penny Collection, as we called it. I am quite sure that the scared, shy little boy in me did NOT want to do this. But she knew it was good for me and probably knew on some level that there was a budding “ham” inside that quiet body. Soon, I began playing for the entire services when she could not or just wanted a week off. This eventually led to me singing at church, leading worship, and now being heavily involved with the worship team at my church and getting to sing with some pretty cool people. Without her, I would not have gotten the opportunities I’ve had. Her confidence in me pushed me and helped me develop my own.
Without her, I would not be the person I am today.
If we could all be as generous, kind-hearted, and well-intentioned as this dignified and special lady, the world would be a better place. Congratulations, Aunt Beckie, on your promotion into Heaven. I’ll see you there someday.
My Mom, Beckie’s daughter Jodie, Jodie’s daughter Morgan, and Aunt Beckie
In loving memory of Beckie Jo Miller Davis, August 21, 1953 — July 5, 2011.
Originally published on July 6, 2011.