Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, October 6, 2017

WE DON’T SAY NO TO DONNA [F, 10-16-17, A repeat, mostly]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

I got the news last night that Donna had died. Donna Huff now. Donna Miller when we were school classmates. Everything went wrong for Donna, right up to the end. She was hit broadside by a pickup truck and spent three weeks in the hospital, not in a coma but unresponsive. I often said that in her last thirty years, she made a life out of nothing. That wasn’t exactly true. She made a life by being a host for every soul that needed a smile or a hug. The CIW below, repeated from four years ago explains more about Donna. May she find in death the peace that she was so often denied in life.


The package contained ELEVEN tubes of toothpaste. With a note that said, “Donna will call you and explain.”

There were supposed to be only FIVE. And that was only because we overpaid last time. I am old. I don’t even buy green bananas. How am I doing to use up eleven tubes of toothpaste before I die? [1]

Donna was my high school classmate. She is a distributor for Forever Bright™ toothpaste. We buy from her because a long time ago she asked us to. We don’t say “no” to Donna.

She did call to explain. She owed us five tubes from our previous overpayment and tried to get the company to send them directly to us. She doesn’t have much time for boxing up out-of-town orders. Her mother is well over a hundred years and in a nursing home. Donna slept on a mattress on the floor of her room until her back got so bad she had to have surgery. Now she sleeps at home but spends most of her daytime hours at the nursing home. So why not get headquarters to send directly to us? But apparently eleven is the minimum to mail to a separate address. Who knows why? If 13 is a baker’s dozen, perhaps 11 is a dentist’s dozen.

I knew Donna in school, of course, but not well. We had a class of only 62, and I was class president for 3 years. But we didn’t run in the same social circles. I was high in the work circle of the class and school—class president, Student Council officer, newspaper editor, orchestra bassoonist—but I was not high in the power structure, which was based mostly on money and family, or the social structure, which was based mostly on looks and clothes. [1] Donna was high in the social structure; she was Homecoming Queen.

We expected a high society life for her after school, of course. It didn’t turn out that way. Her first husband divorced her, her second committed suicide. Her two sons died in their twenties, one of cancer and the other in a motorcycle accident. Her only grandchild, Jada, either committed suicide or was murdered in Donna’s house, at the age of 19. Her only family now is her mother and two sisters, one deep into Alzheimer’s, and the other living in a different state and unable to walk. Donna takes care of her mother and sells toothpaste. [10-6-17: Her mother and one sister are now dead.]

Except, Donna makes a life out of nothing. She knows everybody and she knows their stories. Helen says one of the best times she ever had was when we went to lunch with Donna when we were back in Oakland City for our 55 year reunion. She introduced us to everyone in the restaurant, including the pig farmer who was, thankfully, getting take-out and whose clothes were splattered with what Helen devoutly hoped was mud. Young or old or in-between, Donna knew them all, and later she explained why each one needed her special attention, although she didn’t put it that way, because of the difficulties of their lives. We’ve been with her several times through the years at nursing homes. She goes in like a swarm of laughing bees on a summer day, landing on every worker and every patient with a hug and a smile and a “How are you, Sweetie?” And besides, who can’t love a woman in her 70s who is a backup dancer/singer for an Elvis impersonator?
She’s still in the social circle, but she’s in the work circle now, too. She was telling us about how some sorority she belongs to was doing a benefit for some burned-out family or good cause or… I’m not quite sure because it’s hard to stay up with Donna. They were trying to get 25 people to sponsor it at $100 each so they could pay the band and then all the money they raised would go to the good cause. Turns out sponsors got 4 free tickets. Donna found some young married folks who wanted to go but couldn’t afford it and told them, “Pick up tickets at the window. Just tell them you are named McFarland.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.

We decided a long time ago to stop going back for class reunions. 700 miles is just too far away. But through the years we’ve become a talisman for Donna. When it came time for our 50 year reunion, she called and asked us to come. “Everyone will tell about how long they’ve been married, and about their children and grandchildren, and I won’t have anything to say. But I think I can make it through if I can sit between you and Helen.” When it was 55 years, she called and said, “I’ve got to have back surgery the Monday after. I think I can make it through if I can see you first.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.

Helen wrote the following on Jan. 13: So last night I was lying awake in bed, and this morning when I first awoke, I was feeling kind of sorry for myself. Nothing specific—just mid-winter blahs. Seemed like there are so many wrong with the world, and in the lives of people I care about, and in my own diminishing abilities to think and work and affect my world. Just feeling kind of down. I prayed about it, asking God for guidance and direction And what does God do?? Before I finished breakfast, God tapped Donna on the shoulder and said, “Call McFarlands—and be sure you talk to Helen, not just John.” {After Donna and I had talked, she said, “Does Helen have anything she wants to say to me?} Donna!! Of all the people I’ve ever known, Donna is probably the one who makes the most of what she’s been given, stays upbeat when her world is falling apart [which it has several times] and does the most good for the most people. God could have sent any number of reasonably cheerful people into my life today and it would have helped me on my way, but NO—He has to call out Donna—the BIG GUN! After we had talked and I was cheered and inspired as I always am by her, I smiled and said, “God, you really know how to send a message.”

So, we don’t say “no” to Donna, but… do you need some toothpaste?


1] I guess I could put the toothpaste in my will. Daughter Katie looked up McFarland wills in the county courthouse in Xenia, OH. One of my ancestors, Greene Clay McFarland, I think it was, had willed a three-legged stool to the daughter “with a bad eye,” and “the bucket without the hole” to another, etc. Eleven tubes of toothpaste might look pretty good.

2] I experienced the difference of work, power, and social circles primarily in the church, but most groups of humans, and primates generally, are like high school. {Shudder!} There is some overlap between the circles, but also some clear distinctions.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

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