Helen Davis gleefully says that when God calls her, “I’ll get on that golden chariot and ride away.” There is just one thing: “I’m not ready to meet the Lord yet. Not yet!”
Davis, 93, is upbeat and cheery although she suffers from lung cancer, heart trouble, and macular degeneration. It’s her eye problem that worries her most. She calls it “the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m not totally blind. I just can’t see to read or write anymore. It’s so frustrating.”
The important thing is that she can see enough to get around and take care of her own needs, she stressed. She lives alone, though her son, Robert, is her “go-fer.” But heaven help anyone who gets in the way of her wheelchair.
“I’m a very independent and stubborn person. Always have been. And people want to help me. I say, ‘I can do it myself.’ My son gets my walker out of the car and sets it up. And sometimes he walks in front of me and turns around to see if I’m coming. But if I make up my mind I’m going to do something — well, I will try anything. That’s me. I can’t help it. And I’m too old to change.”
“She’s a fighter and one of the most positive people in the world,” said Dick Wilson, one of Davis’s dozens of nephews and nieces who visit her from out of state. “Her doctors wanted her to go to hospice [last year]. But she’s doing so well they now say no to hospice.”
As Davis herself put it, “It’s a slow-growing cancer. And I’ve been optimistic all my life.”
An Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident since 1972, Davis grew up in Kentucky, where she met her late husband, Clyde. The couple were married for 64 years and lived in Columbus, Ohio, before relocating to the West. Until her retirement 35 years ago (yes, 35!), Davis worked in accounting and payroll departments. She worked first for a trucking company (earning $12 a week), then for the Veterans Administration, and finally for Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
What she is proudest of, though, is her 28 years of volunteering for the American Cancer Society. She began doing so after her own bout with breast cancer and has personally met with more than 1,000 women after their breast cancer surgeries.
In 2011, the ACS presented her with its St. George National Award for outstanding service, the most distinguished honor the society gives its volunteers.
“It feels good to help people,” she said simply.
Growing up with seven siblings, Davis had to learn how to fend for herself early in life. She was next to youngest, so her brothers and sisters doted on her, buying her outfits for school and taking her to the amusement park. But since she was an outgoing child with a lively spirit, they also loved to pull pranks on her. One day she got even when she was running the dust mop for her mother. Her brother, Harold, put something down on the floor and refused to pick it up.
"We got into it, and I had the mop in my hand and just conked him on the head," she said, giggling all these years later at the memory. "That was the last time we ever had a fight, but Mom told us later we were like tigers."
Overall, she said, "I’ve had a good, long life. I have had my ups and downs and disappointments, just like everybody does."
Among her disappointments: the loss of a baby when she was seven months pregnant, and the death of her husband, a railroad worker, whom she married at 18. She can still visualize her airman husband coming home from World War II and surprising her, a cab screeching to a stop as she pushed their son in a stroller.
"We greeted each other right in the middle of the street."
For more than 20 years, Helen Davis has belonged to the same church, Monterey Baptist Church, in Albuquerque. She said the potluck dinners "cater to the old folks. One lady is 103." The church members "feel like family to me. I’ve got so many friends there that I can hardly get out of the church. That’s where I get my hugs."
When she does finally meet her maker, Davis said she wants to be remembered as a happy person. "There are so many things I can’t do that I used to do, and I’ve accepted that," she said. "I just want to live a normal, happy life. I’m satisfied with what I have."
As for this feisty lady's advice to young people just beginning their journey in life: "Choose your company well. If you choose the wrong people to be around, you’re going to get in trouble."
She added, "And go to church. Thank the Lord for what you’ve got."
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