Eulogy: Anita Phyllis Stange Davis 1920-2019

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by healthy child, a garden patch, or redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you live—that is to have succeeded.” Anita achieved all those goals, leaving the world so much better through her all her efforts, which, in retrospect, seemed effortless, because she lived with such grace. Loving, creating, encouraging: she left the world a better place.
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To some of us she has always been Nitzi. Steve is the oldest of us twelve cousins. According to family legend, his pronunciation of “Anita” came out “Nitzi.” Eventually, eleven more babies were born over the next dozen years and thus began Nitzi’s career as our summer camp counselor and activities director at the best bed and breakfast in the world, complete with a little chicken house and chicken yard and a cattle tank complete with giant (to us) goldfish.
What did we do all day? I know we didn’t watch television, although there must have been a TV somewhere for Burdette to watch football. There was a railroad track right behind the house and whenever we heard a train coming, we ran to the fence to wave at the engineer and the caboose man. I know we were never bored.
In front of the house stood three giant pine trees. The rest of the yard was filled with a garden the size of this sanctuary.
Each year, the garden served as a test plot for new varieties of flowers and vegetables and for new techniques to combat bugs and weeds. She was famous for her flowers and her prize-winning flower arrangements. She was a guest speaker at numerous garden clubs and other organizations; perhaps her favorite topic was “Flowers of the Bible.” She was also superintendent of the Louisa County Fair Flower Department and co-superintendent of the Antique Department.
Flowers received a second life as she skillfully dried them and arranged them in bouquets. She arranged single leaves and petals into two dimensional bouquets and set them in gold frames.
The farmhouse itself overflowed with activity. The stairs in the farmhouse resembled a bookcase, with books stacked on each step. In the basement was the cream separator. Upstairs, besides the two bedrooms, were the plant room and the store room. The store room held memorabilia from Nitzi’s teaching days.
Teaching was her calling. Following her education at Wartburg, she taught elementary school in Muscatine. After taking a break to give Bobby and Randy a good start, she returned to the classroom to teach special education. Perhaps her skill in the classroom was nurtured by her special relationship with our cousin, Irene. Irene was a quiet person, and Nitzi was Irene’s closest friend. Nitzi had a heart for the marginalized. In our own family, she was the first to nurture relationships that might otherwise have faded away. She was the one who stayed in contact with Aunt Hun. She was the one who advocated for our cousin Chris through his childhood challenges. Nitzi drew out the best in her students. She was a confidant, an inspiration, and an advocate for her students, and after they left her classroom, she remained a loving friend.
You might not have thought of her as sophisticated. The dress she wore to Randy and Cindy’s wedding was scored off the sale rack for $16. She found her false teeth annoying. She wore plastic bags over her shoes in place of snow boots. Her fingers were often stained with paint or ink. But she taught us a sophistication that went beyond appearance to experience.
Did you know that her wedding bouquet was composed of red anthurium flown in from Hawaii? She introduced us to hors d’oeuvres. She arrived at every holiday meal with large platters filled with cheeses, liverwurst, and olives as well as more exotica like kiwi and starfruit. And pickled herring.
And her flower arrangements. She would pull up to the flower pavilion at the fair, open up the trunk of her car, and there, nestled among cardboard boxes and crumpled newspaper were exotic arrangements made with the most common flowers. Gladiolas, zinnias, strawflowers, cockscomb, combined with stems that others might call weeds.
If you didn’t like real flowers, she could decorate a wedding cake with frosting flowers. Or she could paint pictures of flowers.
She was an artist of many media. My first memory of her artwork is the metal trays she would engrave. She enjoyed ceramics. She painted pictures of whatever was in her life, chickens, flowers, trees. She wrote children’s books. She won as many prizes for her paintings as she did for her flowers.
She was both generous and frugal. To every family gathering, she brought gifts—scarves she had knit, cat pillows, sachets she had made. She never let an apple go to waste; every apple went into apple sauce and the apple sauce was shared with us. Come to think of it, she never let a flower petal go to waste. Besides the flower arrangements and the flower pictures, she stirred together fragrant concoctions of potpourri and sold it by the quart at craft fairs.
Her hands were never still.
Her faith was never still.
She was always aware of God’s presence in every aspect of her life. She loved Jesus, something we took for granted in those young years, but that love for Jesus imprinted itself on our young hearts and it remains to this day. She loved each us of as God created us and in the words’ of Luther’s Small Catechism, she put the most positive construction on all that we did.
NItzi had plans for heaven, too, you know. When Nitzi was in Castle Rock visiting Dean, she marveled at the foot hills and the mountains. She mentioned how she would enjoy seeing them formed… she would go to the library in Heaven when she got there. I suspect she will spend a lot of time in the library.
So. Here we are. The four siblings are reunited in heaven today—which is probably a fairy tale, because Jesus implies that earthly roles will mean nothing in heaven. But I hope they are brothers and sisters together again, fiercely independent and fiercely loving each other.
I can say this because we believe in the resurrection of the dead and in life everlasting.
1 Corinthians 15: 35-38 Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.
39-41 You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!
42-44 This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!
Thanks be to God for the life and resurrection of our dear Nitzi.
Amen.

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