Have you ever met someone for the first time and walked away feeling like you had a new kindred spirit?
That’s exactly how I felt after meeting my new friend Donna for the first time. And by the way, Donna is 99… and counting!
Donna is the friend of a friend of a friend. She comes from a long line of friends.
Every four weeks I sit in Brittani Powers’ chair to get a fresh haircut. Frequently I hear about the quips from her friend Donna and such stories never fail to produce a laugh and a smile. I knew from our conversations that Donna loved to join Brittani for painting sessions, was a lover of words, and had more spunk than most modern teenagers.
This was a person I wanted to meet!
On one such occasion, I asked Brittani if she thought Donna might be willing to take part in my Six Questions project – a project where I give a willing participant (even strangers) six questions to answer and then write a poem for them based on the answers I receive. My goal is to capture the essence of the person for whom I write the poem.
Donna was game.
After I completed Donna’s poem, Brittani delivered it and I couldn’t refuse the invitation that followed.
Fast forward to the morning Brittani and I showed up on Donna’s doorstep. It was a day bathed in steam with temperatures climbing into the 90’s. Though it felt like the dog days of August, it was only mid-June; a perfect day to meet a new friend.
Susie, Donna’s daughter (who was visiting from Oregon) greeted us at the door and welcomed us inside. As I handed off my offering of homemade chocolate chip cookies and a pink begonia, Donna’s smile said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Straight away I discovered that I was suddenly immersed in a wonderland of art. A small Monet-like print perched on a nearby table grabbed my attention and admiration. It was a Donna original. Quickly she whisked me around the corner to show me more of her artwork as well as several masterpieces created by her son, George.
“This is my gallery,” Donna said as she introduced me to her family members through photographs assembled on a table in her living room.
Warmth whispered from every nook and cranny; in this home, there is love.
I asked Donna to what she might attribute her longevity and good health. Without hesitation she said, “My mother. Her attitude. She was strong. She always said, ‘Don’t talk about being old!!’ And she preached the belief that you are no better than anyone and no lesser.”
Donna’s typical day begins at 3 a.m. when she wakes to take medication. She drifts back to sleep until 6:30 at which time she rises for the day and starts her coffee. She dines on oatmeal for breakfast and allows herself a cup and a half of coffee. Her son George calls every morning at ten. She paints. Every. Day. Snacks on cheesecake and delights in a hearty lunch – which she says makes her sleep better. She naps and reads later in the afternoon before taking a call from her daughter, Susie.
I could have sat spellbound for days listening to her stories. Donna’s a walking history book with a heart of gold and an intact sense of humor despite some heartache along the way.
She lived through a multitude of life-changing events such as the Depression, Pearl Harbor, World War II, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the Transportation Revolution. The first president she was old enough to vote for was Franklin Roosevelt and she remembers knowing that Amelia Earhart went missing and sadly was never found. Donna didn’t give much thought to glamorous celebrities such as Rita Hayworth, Katherine Hepburn or Clark Gable. She was more interested in travel, painting and design.
There are those among us who wish they could go back and relive a certain time in their life. Not Donna. She said, “I wouldn’t want to. That’s all done. What’s ahead of me is more interesting.”
Donna’s big birthday is August 14. I asked how she would like to celebrate. Her eyes sparkled as she told me her family will be coming from Oregon – her daughter Susie, her son George and his wife Anne. Brittani, of course, would not miss it as well as a few other friends. She said Susie is in charge and Donna has made it known that she DOESN’T want a tiara!!!
She mentioned that she is a triple Leo which apparently means that she is –- in a nutshell — “feisty.” She is that AND adorable!
You might be wondering what Donna thought of the poem I wrote for her. Well, she asked if I was psychic because as she explained, I seemed to know her without even so much as a hello beforehand. A compliment doesn’t get any better than that.
Before I left her beautiful home, there was more than one round of hugs, and I knew I had met a new kindred spirit or two.
Days later, I’m still thinking about our time together and the joy it brought.
When I grow up, I want to be like Donna.
Ninety-Nine and Counting
Mary Rita Schilke Sill © 2022
She’s not your average grandma.
She’s a rockstar
With a paintbrush in her hand.
She’s the cadence of a poem –
The verse you remember.
She’s honor, integrity, and goodness
Because she knows no other way.
She nurtures her soul’s compass
With the love
Of family and friends.
Sets her day with intention
And fortifies it
With laughter and gratitude.
Her anthem is
The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The Greatest Generation
She knows first hand
The why of
“Glory, glory hallelujah.”
She believes there’s more to learn
Than constellations in
An inky night sky.
She believes books birth
And best of all – they
As kindred spirits.
Soothed by the lullaby of
Sees the beauty of the shoreline
And the lighthouse upon it.
Her own radiance –
She is an unstoppable, unforgettable force
With love as her architect
And arms open wide –
She’s ninety-nine and counting …