It’s impossible to sum up a life in one sentence, even if it’s a great sentence.
Lynn Lasher understands this well. Earlier this year, her mother died, and Lasher faced the unenviable task of writing the obituary. Forty-eight hours passed before she felt comfortable composing her thoughts. “I was sad, and even though it was inevitable, and she was older, it’s still just a real loss and shock.” And so she waited, for peace and clarity. “For those two days, and for a lifetime, I’ve been observing my mother, and thinking about her, and telling stories about her to my kids, and using her as an example,” she says. “Eventually, it came to me.”
The first line was simple and memorable. “Elene Meyer Davis was born in Yoakum, Texas on the 7th of October 1924, and died on the 7th of June 2016, of complications due to congestive heart failure and the 2016 Presidential campaign.” When we spotted it, we just had to find out more.
Over the phone, Lasher told us that this spring, her mother had read the newspapers incessantly, as she always had. The headlines about Hillary Clinton “disgusted” her. “She was very active as an observer in politics,” Lasher says. “She thought these career politicians were worthless.” As for Trump? “The worst thing you could be in my family was corrupt or dishonest,” Lasher says. The Republican had better odds of earning Elene’s vote than his eventual opponent, but few would consider him a paragon of morality, either. And so, death by political irritation.
In the obituary, Lasher characterized her mother this way: “an honorable, irascible, impeccable, elegant, intellectual, knowledgeable, highly principled and accomplished matriarch.” “Did you ever see Driving Miss Daisy, with Jessica Tandy?” she asks us. “That was my mother in a lot of ways.”
Davis’s maternal ancestors were some of Louisiana’s earliest Jewish settlers. (One uncle, the retailer Leopold Meyer, helped launch Texas Children’s Hospital, while another, Henri Bendel, founded the eponymous luxury store.) Her father, who ran a lumber company, preached states’ rights and equal opportunities for all; according to family lore, his contributions to Oklahoma’s Commission on Human Rights and the National Urban League drew unwanted attention from the Ku Klux Klan. At 19, she graduated from UT. She married an oil man, hated the “backwater” of Tulsa (where they briefly lived), and enrolled her four kids in public school upon their relocation to Houston in 1968.
At Davis’s dinner table, her children were expected to debate topics of import, not school gossip or adolescent drama. “She had a belief system—contribute to society, don’t get your name in the paper, handle your business honorably,” Lasher says. “She wasn’t afraid to discuss it or put it into practice.”
The food Davis served was delicious, too—especially the homemade chocolate sauce, which her daughter would beg for at dessert. Thirteen years ago, when Lasher was unexpectedly fired from her job at a mutual fund, she borrowed her mom’s recipe and started hawking jars from the trunk of her car. Somebody’s Mother’s Chocolate Sauce is now available in 35 states; Houstonians can find it at Central Market and Rice Epicurean. An inspirational quote about parenting, like the advice Davis dispensed nightly inside their Houston home, is printed underneath every lid.
As for the extended life of her rollicking obituary? Lasher can only guess what her mother would make of the attention: “Mom would have gotten a huge kick out of this, I think. Or else, she’d have been furious!”