Mamie "Flamey" Davis
West Greenville Community Member. Local Poet and loving Mother.
“I would say I was one of their favorites.”
Flamey, how did you find yourself in West Greenville?
Ok, we moved here from Inman, SC, when I was going into the third grade. Yes, it was VERY country! My Dad wanted to move for a better job. There were three of us girls and one boy. No, four girls, how could I forget my older sister, May Helen?! The two oldest ones are deceased.
Tell me about growing up in West Greenville.
Oh, it was great, you know. We stayed down on Fulton Street, where the duplexes are now. I’ve been here 50 years. Joe Lewis Street for nine years, lived in the Brandon community for four years, and here on Endel for sixteen years.
While you were growing up in West Greenville, was it a pretty tight-knit community?
Yes. I started in 3rd grade at Gower Street Elementary. Now it is a residency for senior citizens. Most of the kids in West Greenville attended. It was primarily an African American community growing up that consisted of some caucasians. My Mom and Dad took care of the kids around here. Everybody would come and sit on our porch. Mamma would fix us food and we would just laugh and talk and play. We were all allowed to go to the end of the road and bag (you know, beanin’).
What were you parents like?
My mom loved to clown around and make everyone laugh. She knew her ABC’s backwards. She taught my granddaughters, Teirrasia and Tiwyay, their ABC’s backwards. She could quote little poems and speeches from when she was a little girl. First she worked over there on Woodside Avenue, her name was Texanna but everyone called her Tex-are-can-a. My dad was Clifford Moorman. He worked at American Spinning and retired there. My dad used to drive to Forrest City daily to pick up bales of cotton. This was through the ‘60s and ‘70s as well as into the early ‘80s. Momma worked for Nannie and Bud Black. She started out ironing clothes for people in the neighborhood and then she worked in Woodside Mill for 18 plus years. She never missed a day. Even when her Dad died, she went to the funeral and then went to work that night. She loved working. She would pull extra shifts sometimes—sometimes it felt like we didn’t have a Momma. She raised Steve Hunt, A. B. Hunt was his dad. She raised Dale Black when Nannie Black died. When she died, they sent a limousine for Momma, and she sat there in the front row, because she was literally part of the family.
Tell me a little bit about the rest of your family.
Well, I went to Sterling High School. I enjoyed it and made the dance team. It was more like a ballet style, you know back then, that was the only dancing they were doing. I was coming out of the 11th grade when I got married to Leroy Nelson. He is deceased now. My second husband, Frank Davis, just recently passed away in February, 2017. We were divorced. All of my kids are grown, and I am waiting on a new great grandbaby to be born in November. His name will be Kharsyn Bleu. We are going to call him KB.
Your family is into nicknames! How did you get yours, Flamey?
Yeah, I used to work down at St. Francis Hospital, downtown. I worked there for 20 years, retired from there, and that was my nickname. I worked on the 5th floor, the cancer patient floor, and Flamey was the name I would sign when I was doing poems for the patients. I would say I was one of their favorites. I started in 1984 and retired in 2004.
Tell me about working at St. Francis.
I worked in housekeeping, but I learned a lot from the doctors and nurses. Because it was like one big family on the fifth floor. The rest of them, I can’t tell you anything about them. I was employee of the month, one September. See, back then, you wouldn’t get anything but $25 but they gave me, $100. One girl had the nerve to say, “Now Flamey, why did they pick you?” Well, let me tell you: I had this patient— they couldn’t stand it on the days I was off because nobody treated them like I did. They nominated me by calling over there to personnel saying they wanted me to be Employee of the Month. I got the check, a cake that said “Way To Go Flamey”, and they gave me a party. I went to Applebee’s with Bill Clause and Linda Williams (she was the supervisor, used to be) and Randy Ramberg.
It sounds like you had a lot of people rooting for you.
Those ladies in housekeeping. They envied me. They couldn’t stand it because I was getting all the special treatment. But it was the way you carry yourself. You know? You have to carry yourself in a decent way to be respected. You know, the doctors had a Ball up at the Hyatt. You know who was there, don’t you?! Flamey was sitting there, sharp as a tack. One of the nurses picked me up in her Mercedes. Flamey was dressed to the max, drinking her champagne with the doctors. It was nice. All the doctors saying, “Flamey you sure look different without that uniform.” I said, “I know I do!”
What really set you apart from some of the other custodians?
I wrote poetry for the patients. And I was polite. I did things for them, if they needed it. I could go into the room and if there was somebody new there that I was just meeting, then I’d say, “Tell me your name”, and if they weren’t feeling good, I’d go right out to my cart and write them a poem. And get right back there and give it to them. It really uplifted people and made them feel so special. I might be in the emergency room, and when I see certain people, just know they need a little lifting up.
Working in the hospital has put you in close proximity to a lot of suffering as well as loss. Was this part of your life before you began your job there?
I always knew how to be with those suffering and struggling with grief. My Granddaddy nicknamed me his little Rabbit. They said he died holding me in his arms and he told them to take care of me, his little Rabbit. When I was young, living up on Fulton Street and someone elderly died, I would be the one to take up the community wreath. And I would be the one to write out their obituary for them. I would always buy a bleeding heart flower for them.
You have been writing for others for a long time. When did you become interested in writing poems in particular?
My baby son was 32 and he committed suicide and that was when I started writing poems. I put a book of poems together and dedicated it to him, Franklin. Everybody loved the one about the train: “I heard the train a’ comin’.” My favorite on is “The Road to Heaven.” That is the one I always quote to people, the one I say, “Jesus is one of my heroes.” After my son died, I wrote that and it says “I know I can face tomorrow because Jesus lived.”
Your son’s passing was a pretty traumatic experience for you and your family.
My son committed suicide April 27th, 2001. I never did see him, with my nerves so bad. They claim he set himself on fire inside the car. The car wasn’t burned up…He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke. They said they found an empty liquor bottle in the car and they found an empty pack of cigarettes in the car. I told the Fire Marshall, something is out of character there. Because my son did not drink, and he definitely did not smoke. And I knew this. No disrespect or anything, but Black people do not just kill themselves. You know? They don’t set themselves on fire. The Fire Marshall, I told him at the preliminary hearing. Even the doctors over there at St. Francis, they said, Flamey, I’m not falling for that. They said, I believe somebody killed you son and set it up like that. I was told that…but on the Death Certificate, they’ve got, “pending” on there. They don’t know what happened. The only thing they found in the autopsy was the cough medicine because he had a cold. That is all they found. I’m serious, Kat, that is the way it is. I just hope to God he is in peace wherever he is at. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. You can only imagine what the loss of a child does to you. You will never be there same. It takes something away from you. I lost a daughter-in-law, I had a granddaughter be raped, there was just too much.
You have experiences a lot of personal loss throughout your life, how have you been able to cope with that?
My son had been dead just two years when my dad died, and my sister. In 2003. May Helen died of congestive heart failure. We buried her and then my Daddy just a few days later. That hit me hard. My mom died in 2010. Franklin’s wife has breast cancer, now. She isn’t doing too good. She has two kids and three grandkids. I just lost my niece, she had stage 4 brain cancer. She was 52. I didn’t have time to grieve, really for Franklin. You just have to be strong and go on. You can’t let people hold you down and that was exactly what I did. My philosophy is, yesterday is gone. Tomorrow may never be mine.
What enabled you to maintain that strength?
I am strong. And I held up partly because of the people in my life. I know my bossman, Bill Claus, I thank him. I went by last year, and I told him thank you. Because I appreciated working for him. When all that was going on, he said, Flamey, you come back when you feel like it, whatever you need. We’ve got your back. And they did. They collected over $600 dollars for me. I read my poem, Paid in Full, at my son’s funeral. “For the 9 months that I carried you, no charge, your debt is paid in full…” That is what gives me peace, knowing Franklin is in a better place and knowing those in my life are going to help carry me on now without him. That’s just the way it is.