• Tammy Davis

The Camellia Project

The Complicated Languages of Love

What Love Language Do You Speak?

According to Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, my daddy would have been a gift giver for sure. Gifts were extravagant, but he was a man of few words when it came to expressing emotions.

I know my love language is words. I want lots of words. Affirmation, compliments, constant reassurance.

He’ll Know What to Do

Even though my daddy and I spoke different languages, he was always my go-to guy. Things were bad for me before the flood hit. My father’s health was rapidly declining. Every aspect of my life was unraveling. I was a mess long before the waters started to rise.

I called Daddy the morning of the flood. At that point, he was having trouble speaking. Moma answered the phone and relayed my questions to daddy. He got on the phone, ready to take charge and tell me what needed to be done, but he couldn’t get the words out. He couldn’t make the words. His mind was as sharp as ever, but his body wouldn’t allow the words to come. He could only stutter and stammer. I sat on my bedroom floor and cried and not about the water rising into my home.

Construction Foreman, Gardener, Father

Gene Davis was not an idle man. He could not abide laziness. He loved to work. Working was his favorite. When his body wouldn’t allow him to work, his favorite thing was watching others work.

I had no idea how to put my house back together after the flood. My daddy would have been the best crew foreman ever, but I knew I couldn’t ask him to help. He was confined to a wheelchair and was barely understandable.

No husband, no father, I tried to surround myself with smart people and then take the advice of those smart folks. I was drowning every day. I had no idea I was getting ready to learn another of my father’s love languages – the act of service.

As the post-flood recovery kicked into full gear, daddy didn’t want to miss out. He would have his helper, Glen, drive him to Columbia so he could supervise. Supervising meant sitting in his wheelchair in the garage or the driveway. What a beautiful love language, the act of service. I never knew when he would show up, but my contractor would always send me a message, “Your daddy is sitting in the driveway again. Please come home on your break.” Even though he wasn’t any help to the workers at all, it was a wonderful help for me.

Pink, Because It’s My Favorite Color

At some point, daddy decided that I needed some flowers in my yard. For Daddy “some” meant “lots.” That’s when the camellia project began. Every visit brought a load of camellia bushes – pink, because that’s my favorite color. Daddy would supervise while Glen would dig the holes. Today, thanks to the camellia project, I have flowers everywhere. Side yard, back yard, wherever Glen could squeeze one in.

During this time, we established a routine. Glen would plant the camellias, and I would call home that evening and tell Moma to tell Daddy how much I loved them. Making over things was also a big thing to my father. He didn’t give words, but oh how he loved to get them. He wanted to hear how the shrubs from the Bishopville nursery were so much better than anything I could find at a Columbia Superstore.

You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have

Daddy has been gone almost two years now. While daddy was alive, I was frustrated that he couldn’t give me the words I wanted to hear. “I love you.” “I’m proud of you.” “You are special to me.” I wanted something from him that he could not give. I see that now. I was wanting something from him that he did not have to give. It had nothing to do with me. People can’t give what they don’t have.

One day, during the flood construction, while he was sitting in the driveway in the cold in his wheelchair, he motioned for me to come to him. I’m pretty sure he said, “I’m sorry.” I let myself think that is what he said. He probably meant he was sorry about the house, about the dog, about the divorce. I like to think he was sorry that we hadn’t figured out how to communicate better. I said I was sorry, too. I was sorry that it took me 50 years to learn that people show their love in different ways. It all seemed like such a waste - all that time feeling frustrated instead of grateful.

Now that daddy’s gone, I feel closer to him than ever, and I know that seems odd. But when all those camellias start to bloom, I don’t need words. As my daughter and I back out the driveway to go to school every morning, I look at those bushes, loaded down with buds and hear my daddy saying, “I love you, Tammy. You’re doing great. It’s all going to be OK. I love you.”

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