By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Irony is alive and well in Oxford.
Six days a week, Isabel Davis starts work at 3 a.m. at Honest Abe’s to make that all-American morning staple, the donut.
After the last tray of glazed goodness goes onto the shelf, she cooks the day’s supply of that quintessential Mexican meal-in-a-shuck, tamales.
Before lunchtime she’ll make kolache, a name that in common usage means a Czech – some even say Greek – equivalent of pig-in-a-blanket.
Add boiled peanuts, a stereotypically Southern delicacy, and you’ve got a menu that’s scattered all over the map.
If that mixture weren’t ironic enough, Davis herself is a native German who speaks four languages – five, if you count “Suthren.”
“I went to school for languages,” she said. “Besides, English is the world language, so you have to learn it.”
Romance, and then family, brought Davis to the United States. While living in Frankfurt, Germany, she met and married an American serviceman, and after his tour of duty was over, they and their daughter, Latresha, moved to his hometown of Greenwood.
Davis quickly found herself immersed in two forms of culture shock. Having traveled over much of Europe with her family, she was taken aback by the provincial mind-set she found in the Delta.
“The people here … don’t know anything outside of Mississippi,” she said.
On the other hand, she noted, there’s an openness in the South that she found refreshing.
“The good thing is the hospitality. When I met my husband’s family, they just welcomed me. It was pretty impressive,” she said. “Here, people speak when you’re walking down the street – ‘Hey, how you doing?’ – and they would never do that in Germany. They’d think you’re crazy.”
Having worked in stores and restaurants in her native land, Davis soon got a job at the original Honest Abe’s in Greenwood.
After several years with the business, owner Lee Abraham asked Davis, by then no longer married, to work at a new Oxford location long enough to train local staff.
The college town suited her, however, and most of a year later, she’s still here.
“It’s definitely more to do here, more places to eat. In Greenwood, there’s nothing to do,” she said. “I’m a city girl, so this comes pretty close – at least on the weekends. People are up late; they’re even still up when I come to work.”
Davis isn’t all about urban life, though.
“I go kayaking, spend time with my daughter doing that,” she said. Sardis Lake is the logical local choice for indulging that hobby’s flatwater side, but with a long work week and her 9-year-old’s activities, she hasn’t yet been able to try the whitewater found a few hours away in Tennessee or Arkansas.
Culturally, Davis still sees herself as a European, even though she’s working toward American citizenship.
“I’m still a German, but I wouldn’t see myself going back there to live,” she said.
At the mention of her home country’s cuisine, though, she lights up.
“I’ve thought about running my own business. I’ve thought about cooking German food. People would like it.”
Despite most Americans’ first thoughts of German food leaning toward pork sausages and stuffed dumplings, Davis says it’s a healthy cuisine.
“When I went to Germany last year, I ate so much,” she said. “I had my mom cooking for me, and I still lost weight.”