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Wantha Davis, current photo

World famous, world’s leading woman jockey…I heard this phrase often throughout my life, but never from the woman it described, my dearly loved grandma.  This phrase couldn’t come from her…she was a woman of utmost humility…so much so that many years ago, my mother stumbled across an old shoe box in my grandma’s garage full of newspaper clippings about her races…something that some might have boasted to all who would see…but not my grandma.  In spite of her modesty, those who loved her and were proud of her, like my dad, her son, made sure I knew what an accomplished celebrity my grandma was.  As I entered adulthood, I began to wonder how someone so sweet and humble could have out-competed the best of the best in horse racing.  The only answer I could come up with was that it was precisely because of this humility that she could be the fiercest fighter there was.  She humbled herself to the horses she rode, she respected them, she loved them…and as such was a horse whisperer before the term probably even existed.  She loved what she did, had a passion for what she did, and when you love something so greatly, you do your best at it…and my grandma’s best was the world’s best.

But I can’t speak much more about her racing.  I can’t speak about the captivating presence I suspect she was in her youth.  I can’t speak much about the 850 acre ranch she ran through toilsome hard work for 38 years, many of them single handedly.  After all, I was only alive less than a third of her 95 years.  But I can speak, speak loudly, thankfully, lovingly, and proudly, to the woman I knew, my grandma.  I have to trust that speaking of her as “grandma” would be enough for her.  She couldn’t meet a person without telling them what a blessing it is to be a grandmother, and she made Sean, Lia, and I know always what a joy we were to her… so I’m pretty certain that “grandma” is good enough for her.

Throughout my sister Lia’s and my childhood, I remember my grandma driving the 6 hours from Oklahoma every 4 weeks, 6 if she was really busy on the ranch, but never any longer, to come see us.  She took us to eat at Mr. Gatti’s where we got to watch old cartoons, and to the pet store in the mall.  She let us bring any stuffed animals with us in the car, always certain to fasten their seatbelts.  She stopped along walks to pick up and show us tarantulas and snakes.  She let us drive her golf cart around her ranch.  She read us children’s chapter books…she liked the ones that involved animals or were funny.  She gave us countless memories going with us on all our family trips, always insisting that she could sit in the middle of the backseat because of her short legs…that way Lia and I didn’t have to fight over who had to sit there.  She cared for us tenderly with all her love.

When she moved to Austin, my grandma and I grew even closer.  We shared a love for the mountains, Mt. Assiniboine in Canada where we went on vacation every summer together in particular.  We giggled about whatever boy I had a crush on.  Our souls became connected as only true soul mates could.  My grandma was more than a grandma.  She was my soul mate.  She was my best friends. But I was blessed further…blessed to have a relationship with my grandma once I was an adult.

Eight years ago, when I started teaching, exhausted and driving to school too early in the morning, I started calling my grandma, the only person I knew awake so early , so that she could keep me awake during my drive each day. My grandma never asked for anything from others, especially me, but she latched on to this routine so strongly, that I became lucky to have had that “obligation,” or more accurately that treasure each morning with her. She knew more about my life than anyone in this world…knew about each of my students at school, knew precisely what I had going on each day…and boy was her mind sharp, holding all the information I gave her.

The summer before this one, I was able to spend a great deal of time with her, learning the bits of her life story she chose to share, delighting in the birds she discovered on the sunflowers in her yard. I thought I was taking care of her, and maybe I was, but I was also being given the greatest gift, a chance to get the most out of the treasure we had on this earth, my grandma. She ensured that I would have no regrets when she was gone, because I was privileged enough to cherish her fully and always while she was here.

I saw how hard she worked…she “just kept going,” “just kept moving” as she said, no matter how her worn body fought her. She believed in hard work, and she worked harder than anyone. She believed in what was right and good. I saw how she treasured and cared for our planet…how she caught rain water for the plants she treated as God’s treasures…she caught the rain in a bucket so heavy that she had to patiently scoop one cup full at a time into a more manageably sized juice container. She didn’t waste a thing and saved like it was her life’s work. I saw how she cherished the rain and noticed the weather like only a farmer/rancher could. I saw how much she loved and cared for her adored dog Kate. I saw how all the animals of this world were her friends, how she’d talk to “her” squirrel or “her” bird…ones in her yard that most of us would never notice…but she recognized them personally. I saw how until the day she went to the hospital, she always made sure the birds in her yard had fresh water to drink and bathe in…her mobility wouldn’t stop her. I saw how the sweet lady we all loved also had a spunky spark in her, smirking sweetly as she told us how she played tackle football in high school. She’d surprise me with the things she knew from her life before me…she was smart. I saw how she hated bullies and would defend the defenseless. I saw how she always stopped to smile at babies, poking us to make sure we would get the same joy from seeing them. I saw how everyone she met became her “good friend”… “we can never have too many good friends,” she would say. She loved her Sunday School class and the friends she met in other parts of her life. I saw how she never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. I saw how understanding she was, always putting the well-being of others above her own. I saw…I saw my grandma, and I am blessed to have seen and learned so much.

Looking back at all I saw, I am struck, struck by a resounding theme…my grandma took care. She took care of calves being born in the middle of the night in a snowstorm, of our earth’s resources/land/plants, of animal friends in her yard, of beloved pets, of friends, of family, of me. She was the ultimate caregiver, caring with a love so sweet and powerful. My sister Lia referenced my grandma’s hands after her burial in Oklahoma, and she is right to love and remember my grandma’s hands. Those hands are the outward evidence of her heart, a heart that loved and cared so much that it made her hands bent and fingers crooked. My grandma may have given this world so much, but to me, the most precious gift one can offer is one’s heart, and my grandma gave us the most precious heart there was. She cared for us, she loved us…she gave us all her heart.

I know my grandma meant something a little different to each of us here, but I know we can all agree how amazing my grandma was. We all are lucky to have had our lives touched by this remarkable woman. We all love her dearly. She is our example of unconditional love, of a pure kind heart. She encouraged us and believed in us…she raised us up. She was honest and faithful. She was strong and fearless, she was a fighter. She was sweet. Her life was not always easy, but there was always a light within her, a joy so bright that it shone through her regardless of how dark her world may have been on the outside. She brightened our lives with her spirit. She was someone who personified so closely the love of Christ, in whom she had the deepest roots of faith. She was good. She was good. The world has lost a great one, someone so special. We will miss her deeply…even more deeply as life is supposed to return to normal making her absence more apparent.

But if anyone can make me believe, it’s my grandma. My grandma always told me that when I was born, elated, she raced down to Austin and cried with happiness to meet me, and that though it isn’t supposed to be possible, she feels certain that I smiled at her. Well I am certain that with our souls already connected, I must have given her a smile. And with a connection and bond so strong, I know we will be together from now through eternity. I know, because a love as strong as the one she and I share can not be broken, not even by death, as a love so deep has to come from a greater source. So many sweet loved ones, who love her as we do, have gone before her and have been waiting on her. I know the joy there is now in heaven…the joy that is my grandma. God’s angel on earth is now his angel in heaven.

I usually gave my grandma a prediction of when I’d call her the next day, but I’d warn her that it could be a little earlier or a little later than my guess, and she’d always tell me, “That’s fine. I’ll just be sitting here reading my Sunday School lesson with the earpiece in my ear waiting for your call.” I know that my grandma will be there waiting as I call on her throughout the rest of my life. And I know that when my time comes, and I make my final call to her, I’ll weep with happiness to again hear her squeal, giggle, and give her infamous laugh as she greets me with joy. I have faith because of my grandma.

– written by Marisa S. Davis (Granddaughter)



Girl Jockey: Wantha Davis