LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — When Kathy Davis pulled onto I-80, breakfast was still warm in the back of the minivan — the braised greens and tomato quiches, the croissants and muffins and scones.
It was snowing, blowing. It was slick.
If she hadn't been catering a committee meeting of the Old Cheney Farmers Market, Kathy might have stayed home at the farm.
But she'd been driving the 30 miles from Beaver Crossing to Lincoln for nearly 30 years, delivering her baked goods and beavertails to grocery stores and coffee shops, catering dinners, setting up a booth on Saturday mornings, and later Sundays, at farmers markets.
"I was a lucky girl," she says. "I'd never had an accident."
That Sunday morning, March 10, a semi had tipped, spilling orange juice in the eastbound lanes, and firefighters were directing traffic.
That looks dangerous, she thought.
Kathy — Kat to many of her friends — was thinking about those firefighters when the truck in front of her slowed and stopped. And she was still thinking about them when she stopped, and when she looked in her mirror and saw the headlights of the pickup that wasn't stopping.
The last thing she saw was her rear window smashing, and when she came to, her first thought was: Why me?
"Then I moved my toes and I moved my fingers and I touched my face and I thought, 'You are still a lucky girl.'
"I got grateful right that second."
Lots of people know Kathy Davis, even if they don't know her name.
She's the croissant lady.
The flower lady.
The Beaver Crossing baker.
The restaurant owner who served vegetarian dishes in the middle of cow country for four years.
The woman wearing red lipstick and an apron, hair pulled into an airy bun, biceps that look like she could beat your daddy at arm wrestling, making you a bouquet of peonies at the farmers market.
Giving your dog a biscuit.
Serving you a piece of her lavender pound cake, her rhubarb crumb cake, one of her vegan, gluten-free creations.
Gracie Morris' kids cut their teeth on Kathy's chocolate croissants.
They bought them from her on Saturday mornings at Seventh and P, where Kathy sold her wares from the back of her Buick Roadmaster wagon, one of the inaugural vendors at the downtown Farmers Market.
Or they would pick them up at Open Harvest, where Kathy rented the kitchen one day a week, baking and selling.
The Morris kids are grown now — and the station wagon is gone — but Gracie and her husband, Dave, still find Kathy at the Old Cheney market, where she has sold her baked goods, fresh wreaths and garden bouquets since the market opened.
They love the beavertails_- leftover croissant dough flattened and sprinkled with veggies and basil. They love the croissants. They love her.
"She's very spirited but down-to-earth at the same time — always wearing an apron and a smile and a cute vintage dress."
Kathy catered the funeral meals for both of Gracie's in-laws, and she and Dave stop at Kat's booth every Sunday during the growing season.
The croissant lady is there, friends gathered at the tables and chairs she brings, vases of flowers in the middle of each to make it homey.
"She greets every other customer with a hug and a kiss — she's about community, and that's what those markets are about."
Before she became a baker, Kathy went to college and got a degree in social work. She went to work for Planned Parenthood, teaching sex education classes. She met Deb Stephen, who was doing the same thing for another organization.
They became friends, and, in the mid '70s, the two young women began managing a business at 11th and B streets.
They called their full-service gas station Amazon Amoco. They changed oil, pumped gas, filled tires, taught basic repair classes.
Ms. Magazine wrote about them.
"Mechanical empowerment," says Deb, who helps Kathy at her market booth every Sunday.
Kathy loved the work.
She had grown up in northeast Lincoln with three sisters, and their dad taught them to fix things.
The women ran the station for five years. Then Kathy left for country life, knowing one thing for sure: She didn't want a sit-down job.
"It was such a gift to learn that part of what I wanted from my work was to be tired in my body at the end of the day."
She started gardening, doing a little catering, cleaning houses, odd jobs.
She learned to make croissants.
"She went to a French bakery on the Plaza in Kansas City," her friend Christian Petersen says. "She had a croissant, and she thought, 'I can make these.'
"And our friend Judi Gierlich convinced Kathy she would be excellent at selling them."
After the accident, Davis was in the hospital for nearly three weeks.
Her left ankle, broken in four places, needed surgery. Her compressed vertebrae and cracked ribs needed time to heal. A 5-inch-deep, 14-inch-long cut on her hip is still healing.
She wears a back brace, she can't put weight on her foot, she can't lift more than 8 pounds.
She rested, she read, she did crossword puzzles. She got tired taking it easy.
"I just kind of needed to move. I'm not really a lay-around kind of girl."
Baking is her version of physical and occupational therapy, says her friend Deb.
"Being an injured person was boring her to death."
But Deb and other friends worried Kathy wouldn't be able to bake for the opening day of Old Cheney Farmers Market, so they started organizing.
Last Sunday, cinnamon rolls and vegan sushi and muffins and baked goods were for sale next to Kat's table — baked by those worried friends — all of the proceeds going to help with her expenses.
The driver of the Dodge Ram that hit her was underinsured. Her van was totaled.
There's a fund set up at Union Bank and online. A pulled pork dinner in Beaver Crossing is May 18.
"All this love people are giving me here — sending me checks and donating things and helping me, it's overwhelming," Kathy says.
When Christian called to tell her about the fund, she couldn't talk to him.
"I just hung up the phone and cried and cried."
People walk in with soup, she cries. They give her chocolate, she cries.
They help plant her potatoes and onions, tend her flowerbeds, bake for her, she cries.
"I'm in tears several times a day, just with love."
She might cry Sunday, but she plans to have a blast.
"The market is full of beautiful people."
Kathy Davis is one of them.