inessential by Brent Simmons

Eulogy for My Grandmother

My grandmother Betty Jane Davis died Sunday, July 21. I delivered the eulogy (below) at the Newfield United Methodist Church in Newfield, NJ Sunday, July 28.

Newfield is a very small town in south New Jersey. The Newfield Public Library is on Facebook.

My mom posted the obituary last week.


I thought Betty Jane Davis — my Grandmom — would live forever just because she was so stubborn.

Being stubborn sounds like a bad thing — but we know that it also means not quitting, not giving up, when there’s something you care about and you want it to be good. And so I think being stubborn is a good thing. Every hero has to care about things and be stubborn.

Betty Jane Davis is my hero. Grandmom is my hero.

After White Dove Farm closed, she went to college and got a master’s degree. Most people in their 40s wouldn’t even try something like that — it’s risky and scary. But she loved books and teaching, and she was stubborn about it. She was brave.

When my sister Melissa and I were kids, we stayed every summer with my Grandmom and Pop-pop at their old house on White Dove Lane. Grandmom took us to the pool almost every day, and we played with my cousins Richard Edward, Thomas, Jake, and Sarah Jane. We spent a lot of time with my Aunt Arlene — Aunti A we call her — and my uncle Harry. I have a lot of great memories from those times — and one thing I remember was books. Books all the time. Everywhere I went — the pool, down the shore, wherever — I brought a book, usually from the Newfield Library.

We thought of the Newfield Library as Grandmom’s library. She was on the board, and earlier this year the library honored her and Hazel Moore for their work over the years. The library has moved and flourished since I was a kid, and I’m so proud of my Grandmom and everybody who helped make it what it is today.

During those summers I learned from Grandmom an important lesson, which is this: I could lose all of my worldly possessions, and I could still be happy — as long as I had friends and family and a library to go to. Libraries contain vast riches — all the ideas and stories, terrible and wonderful, of our world. And anyone can go and read these for free. Maybe it’s not quite right to call libraries a miracle — but it’s pretty close. And the people who run libraries are very special people.

Grandmom saw the future a little bit. She realized very early how important computers would become, and so she brought computers into the public school library where she taught. I wonder now how difficult it must have been. In those days most people thought computers were just a toy. People still typed on typewriters. The World Wide Web was years away. It must have been difficult.

But Grandmom did these difficult things because she cared about people. Books and computers aren’t lovable in and of themselves — people are. Libraries matter because they make a difference to people.

Grandmom loved people and was always making her family bigger. I think she thought of a town as a kind of family, and libraries and schools and churches as types of families too. Wherever she went, whatever she did, she was among family.

Before I married my wife Sheila, the two of us visited Newfield to see Grandmom and Pop-pop. Grandmom said to Sheila: “You’re part of the family now.” We weren’t even married yet, but Grandmom and her big heart welcomed Sheila to the family right away. That meant alot to Sheila — and to me too.

Grandmom taught this lesson by example: that we all have a biological family, but there’s more to family than just genetics, and our hearts should be glad to make room and grow bigger.

I wonder if her love of reading, particularly history, comes from the same place. History is about people, after all — it’s about minds and hearts and what those minds and hearts did in different circumstances.

Just the other day she was saying how she liked being descended from Vikings, from those mean, fierce warriors from the cold north. I don’t even know if she really is descended from Vikings — but she read about them in a book and decided they were part of her family. My small and sweet Grandmom imagined herself as a Viking! I love that.

While we don’t know the shape and color of her spirit, we can try to imagine it. I imagine something other than Vikings. I imagine instead a sunny day with big, fluffy clouds, and I see a white dove, rare and graceful, flying above the treetops.

During her stay at the hospice, she kept saying how she loved looking out the window — at the sun and the clouds and the trees. As if her spirit was preparing to fly, and she was giving us a clue — that if we looked up, we could see her.

Well, my Grandmom as a dove is pretty to think about. But if I try again, if I close my eyes and really picture her, I see her reunited with Richard Davis, her husband, the love of her life. If there is justice, that is her reward — and his.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Mrs. D.

That stubborn and brave and loving woman. I cannot thank her enough.