Life gives us angels, not the kind with halos and wings from above, but humans with warm hearts who love us unconditionally. One of my angels was Dova Walker Dunham. Dova grew up as my mother’s best friend in the rural farming community of Brummitt, Arkansas, near Stuttgart. They had been friends for 80+ years, until my mom died in 2012.
Dova did more for me than i could ever hope to repay. She taught me how to play checkers and dominoes. She taught me to swim. She took me down into Diamond Cave in Arkansas, and organized our trip from Little Rock to Las Cruces, New Mexico. And there were many autumn drives through the Ozark Mountains to enjoy the green foliage turning into bursts of orange and red and yellow. She believed in me and loved me and accepted me without reservation throughout my whole life.
As to Diamond Cave, I would have been about 9 years old when we had that adventure. The xave is rustic, or was back then. No paved walkways, crouching between, under, and through stalactites and stalagmites, flimsy iron rails protecting against deep-water underground and crystal clear pools, dim 60 watt light bulbs.
When we got to the bottom of the cave, the guide had us sit on rocks as he turned off the light to show us complete darkness. I had been foolish enough to have worn flip flops and shorts, even though caves are quite chilly. I had to sit on a huge lollipop I was carrying as a barrier against the cold rock. When the lights were turned off, it was so dark you could not see your hand waving directly in front of your eyes. The guide said, “Let us have a moment of silent prayer.” There was a brief, reverent hush, and then Dova farted! I laughed so hard, I busted a gut, and Dova said she was glad I laughed because people on the tour of the cave with us probably thought I was the guilty party.
When we made our road trip to New Mexico, we stopped at every single tourist trap along the way. One spot was set up as a faux Indian get-up, with fake tepees and junk Indian mementos. It had a huge round concrete mound where “rain dances” were performed regularly, but we’d missed the last performance. I was devastated, as I was obsessed with cowboys and Indians. So Dova jumped atop the concrete mound and began to traverse the circumference, hooping and hollering, Indian style. She grabbed my hand and pulled me on the mound, and I gleefully followed her example. In a flash, a crowd has gathered to watch out antics, and applauded loudly when we were done.
There are so many wonderful memories!!!
Unfortunately, Dova moved from Arkansas to California when I was 10 years old. We wrote letters back and forth for some time. Decades later, aware of what I’d gone through with my mother, Dova told me she had wanted to ask my mother if she could take me to Arkansas with her, but decided that my mother would just say “no.” Although I was an “inconvenience” to my mother, and she once said to me, “You’re the reason I can’t get married again,” allowing me to go to Arkansas would have announced that she was “not a good mother.”
Then, by the time Dova and her husband retired back to Arkansas, I’d already moved away to another state. Time and distance kept it hard for us to keep in touch, except for my rare visits back home. And then I would get Dova’s big, warm hugs.
I had trouble in my relationship with Donna, who was always having infatuations with other women (and possible affairs?). This was during the brief time around 1988-90 when I’d moved back to Arkansas to earn my BS in computer science. The last straw, I told Donna that we were either going to talk through this issue then and there, or I was going to move out of our apartment by the end of the day. Since I couldn’t drive, and had no clue how I would accomplish this ultimatum, I was at a loss, but I was determined. Donna refused to have that conversation.
So I went to my mother’s house, and Dova and her husband, Alfred, happened to be visiting. I was crying and my mother had not ONE kind or comforting word to say. I went back to my old bedroom to cry. Dova followed me to my bedroom, laid beside me, held me, comforted me, and then she DID something. She got Alfred on board, and the both of them took me to an apartment complex where I would be in walking distance of the university, and could finish the degree I was seeking. I signed a lease for the apartment, and Dova and Alfred single-handledly helped me move my belongings from my apartment with Donna to my new abode in Alfred’s pick-up truck. She helped me accomplish the ultimatum I’d set forth to bridle the infidelity. I went on to earn my degree in computer science with high honors, and moved to Pittsburgh after that.
No mere words can convey how much I love Dova, or how she was instrumental in giving me hope. The last time I saw Dova was at my last uncle’s funeral in Arkansas in 2003. And the last time I talked to her was shortly after I made my escape from the UK. Then she and Alfred moved to a new assisted living facility in northeast Arkansas, and I didn’t know how to reach her. Alfred was already suffering from end-stage Alzheimer’s, and although Dova was as sharp as a tack, she was worn down from being Alfred’s caretake — though not begrudgingly. She lived to care for him, as he meant everything to her. But she wasn’t quite savvy enough to save my contact info in her cell phone, and so she could not contact me either.
Yesterday, I was struck with inspiration, and searched out Dova’s daughter, Georgia Forrester, on Facebook. She was at least 10 years my senior, and I didn’t know if she was computer savvy. But I found her FB profile, and to my great sorrow, I saw she’d posted that Dova has passed away. I had previously seen an obituary for Alfred. And then further investigation seemed to show that Georgia, who had a severe heart condition, had also passed away. In one fell swoop via the Internet, I learned that some of the most beloved people of my life had all died over the past few months.
I am left staggered and heartbroken, left only with the crumbs of digital evidence of the people I’d loved so much.
Some photos of MY angel, Dova, and the others:
These photos include Dova, Alfred, Georga, my mother, me, Dova’s mother (Dixie Walker), and a few others. The latter photo was taken at White Sands, New Mexico.
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