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Meeting and first talking with Olivia Davis, a person might feel two different ways at the same time. On the one hand, you could feel a little shy because Mrs. Davis herself is reserved in a stately sort of way that brings to mind a personage like the Queen Mother. On the other hand, because she pays close attention to what is being asked of her and then makes every effort to be helpful, you also feel welcome and cared about, like you would with a friend.
When you know a little more about Mrs. Davis’ life, this blend of the regal with the warm becomes the color in the larger picture. Olivia Davis is a woman whose life has required a great deal of her, nonetheless she either found or always had the strength and the will to take on even more than was demanded of her.
Mother to 5 daughters and 7 sons, Mrs. Davis had the double responsibility of both rearing and financially supporting her large family. She began her employment doing housework and restaurant work, then became a teacher in Chiefland and later a supervisor of caregivers at Tacachale, a residential center for the disabled in Gainesville.
“I was a full-time working mother!” Mrs. Davis exclaims, and it’s hard to imagine her life having room for anything else. Yet somehow she managed to find room.
“She was always touching someone’s life,” says her 10th child, Jazz. “Church was seven days a week for us. When she walked into church, she was everyone’s mom. They trusted her and her wisdom.”
Mrs. Davis has been at Williston Rehab & Nursing Center since last January, and now her fellow members of the Ninth Street Church of Christ visit her there and hold services on Wednesdays and Sundays. As in the past, Mrs. Davis continues to believe that prayer and supplication are a source of strength, and that a person has to put God first.
Jazz recalls, “Being taught principles from the Bible was what made it possible for us kids to take care of each other while our mother worked to take care of us.” As anyone who has been a parent can testify, the task of teaching children values requires a multitude of talents as well as perseverance. One must stand in awe of a working mother capable of uniting a family of 12 children in this way.
Her devotion to family, faith and community is not, however, all that Olivia Davis has to bring to the table. Olivia Davis loves to sing. “Every song I sing means something to me, reminds me of someone or something, makes me think about them, the hard times, the good times. It makes me think.”
Jazz remembers her mom at the clothesline, hanging up the clothes and singing. “She was always singing while she worked.” She then offers what she calls “a little-known Olivia fact.” Jazz says that when her mother was the leader of the Westside Church of Christ singing group, the group would sometimes get together with other groups from a dozen or so area churches. “When Mom sang,” Jazz says, “her voice was powerful, she could bring out sound like Mahalia Jackson or Anita Baker or Ella Fitzgerald. It was an amazing voice.”
Olivia Davis smiles at this recollection and says, “I felt good, I felt full.”
Of her life these days, Mrs. Davis says that it was hard on her and her family when she came to Williston Rehab. Jazz says, “It’s been a long journey for us. We’re not used to having her away.” Mrs. Davis had important adjustments to make as well. In her life at home, she lived amidst a small circle – at the nursing center, she says, “Different people, new people, would come in and start talking. Even though I wasn’t used to that, I learned to like it. They made it easy.”
Mrs. Davis is sitting in the dappled sunlight of the Center’s front porch. Her expression is sometimes serious, sometimes lit by a smile. The years of struggle and hard work are more than a memory. Those were the years that she built, and that built her, and she knows there is nothing that can change the cost of so much work. But if she has not forgotten that cost, her expression carries no sign of resentment, either. She is a noble woman, Olivia Davis.
“I’m really living it up now,” she says.