Party Girl

Confronting advanced breast cancer without a dime to her name, Texas legend Priscilla Davis insists the good times aren't over yet

Dee Davis knows why Priscilla reacts rather strongly against illicit substances--her approximately nine years in and out of state and federal prison for related crimes have "put a bad taste in my mother's mouth where street drugs are concerned." After Priscilla's draining bank accounts had forced her into smaller and more temporary dwellings--she sold the Bent Tree house, then moved to a rented home nearby, then relocated with her mother to the high-rise Warrington apartments in the Turtle Creek area, and later a duplex--Dee wound up pregnant. Since her daughter's life was being ravaged by addiction at the time, Priscilla felt she had no other choice. "Bottom line," she says. "I became a mother again."

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Little Priscilla, now 16 years old and considerably taller than her grandmother, was born underweight in Gatesville, the state women's facility, where Dee was incarcerated on a heroin-related rap. The child's father, a black man who'd been a drugging companion of Dee's, left the scene almost immediately (according to Dee, he died about eight years ago).

"When I saw [my granddaughter in Gatesville], she looked like a little drowned rat," Priscilla remembers. "And I thought, 'Nobody's going to adopt her.' She's the sweetest little thing. I think God gave her to me because he took Andrea away."

Dee Davis was arrested for the first time for writing hot checks while living with her mother and grandmother in the Bent Tree house. She was released on probation and moved back there shortly after her daughter's birth. When little Priscilla was 14 months old, compulsory blood tests revealed Dee had been involved with heroin again. She'd already signed over legal custody of the baby to Priscilla Davis, and so back she went.

"I got a federal conviction for two years in 1986," Dee remembers. "I'm an addict, and everything took a back seat to the dope. I was incarcerated except for short intervals until Priscilla was 8 years old."

Priscilla insists she dropped out of the nightlife (except for the occasional dinner party, or a jaunt to the Hideaway Club) for the remainder of the '80s to raise little Priscilla, with the help of her mother and, for a few years, a boyfriend whom the child came to call "Daddy Ralph." By 1990, when the girl attained school age and her grandmother fretted that she couldn't afford a private education, they moved to the one-bedroom Oak Lawn apartment where Priscilla now resides. The size of the place reflected her meager funds, but the location--within the Highland Park public school system--spoke of her familiarity with privilege, something she hoped little Priscilla would now benefit from, if only indirectly. The girl attended Bradfield Elementary and McCulloch Intermediate. If she encountered problems among her almost all-Anglo and affluent peers--her father was black, her mother was an incarcerated addict, her grandmother was Priscilla Davis--then Davis seems oblivious to them, except for a couple of instances.

"Another little girl who played with my granddaughter told her she had to stop because little Priscilla was black," Davis says. "And another time, she came home and said, 'Mommy, am I black?' And I said, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' I mean, good Lord, if you trace anybody's family tree back far enough, we're all from mixed races."

Priscilla Davis' mother, Audie, who had helped her raise the child even as she remained at the Warrington, died in 1992 at the age of 83. Then, Dee Davis left prison for the last time in 1994. She threw herself passionately into 12-step recovery programs during her last sentence, and emerged having been clean for three years. During the next four years, she earned a license as an addiction counselor and was granted visitation rights, then joint custody. Little Priscilla now lives with her in Fort Worth. The child has not, however, found it so easy to escape the Cullen Davis controversy, which started eight years before she was born.

"Those asshole teachers in Fort Worth couldn't leave it alone," Dee Davis fumes. "Little Priscilla was in Texas history class, and they started debating the murders. 'Did Cullen do it, or didn't he?' She just sat there silently until the end of the class. Then she went up to the teacher and said, 'That's my grandmother.' The teacher was shocked. She didn't know."

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Just as Dee Davis was in transition to prove that little Priscilla could live with her safely and to the court's satisfaction, the elder Priscilla met a man at a party who was 28 years her junior. It was 1995, and bubble-lipped, acerbic Greg Brown, whose hair then was just beginning to thin, quickly became what two other associates called "a soulmate." He identified himself as a gay man, and continues to do so if asked. This is not unusual for the Priscilla Davis who found herself delving deeper into the Oak Lawn club scene--many, if not most, of her closest friends are gay men.

"When we walk into the gay clubs, she gets twirled around like a top," says Brown. "'Oh, have you met so-and-so?' She doesn't have an affinity for them; they have an affinity for her. She's the local Barbra Streisand."

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