My name

Someone in our blogging group suggested we write about our name. Note this was months ago — I am very much behind.

I was supposed to be Steve. Steven (Stephen? — probably not) Patrick. My parents were so sure I was going to be a boy that they didn’t pick out a girl’s name. When I was born I could not be named Stephanie because one of my mom’s best friends named her daughter Stephanie a couple of years earlier.

Rewind to my Mom’s pregnancy with me. Apparently my Uncle Don (my dad’s sister’s husband) was very excited about my upcoming birth. He and my dad were best friends and apparently he was looking forward to meeting me. He and my Aunt Leila had no children — I don’t know if it was by choice or not — and I think he was hoping we’d be close.

The story goes that when my Aunt and Uncle came to visit my mom in the hospital after I was born my Uncle suggested they name me Dona Lee — after him (Donald LeRoy). I guess they liked the idea (one “n” and all) so I became Dona Lee. (to be pronounced like Donna).

He had to wait about 23 days to hold me though because I was only 3 pounds and 9 ounces at birth. The hospital kept me for about 3 weeks.

My Uncle and I were very close. He called me Miss America and told me I was beautiful. He’d hold me in his arms and we’d “dance” around his living room while Paul Anka crooned “Put Your Head on my Shoulder” from the HiFi.

I know my parents loved me and they showed me that in many ways throughout my life, but my relationship with my uncle and namesake was more than special and tragically short because he died of heart failure when I was not yet seven years old. I still carry that grief — my first grief — with me today.

My Uncle Don in a set-up photo waiting for me to come home for the first time
My Uncle Don (the short one on the left) next to a tall man, also named Don.

Readers are Leaders

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. Weekly Saturday trips to the library (where my mom would drop me off and pick me up hours later) were sacred. I scored very high on my first grade reading evaluation and often read books above my grade level. I preferred reading to visiting friends on weekends and after school.

But I didn’t like writing about what I read. In 5th grade Miss Jaderman evaluated our reading ability on small book reports we wrote for books we read. After 5 book reports we got a small pin, after 15 we got a better pin and after 25 we got a gold pin. While I eventually earned my 25 book pin, I got low reading marks for a few quarters and was recommended for the remedial reading class for 6th grade.

We were not expected to write much on the book reports, they were less than half a sheet of 8.5×11 paper. The top half was reserved for an illustration. After filling out the title of the book and author, there was maybe room for 100 words. But I hated doing it. I know I read more than 25 books that year, probably more than most of the class, but because I was so reluctant to fill out the book report forms, I was considered a poor reader.

At the end of the year we were given all of our book reports, bound between two sheets of construction paper with brass colored brads. I think my book report portfolio was orange. I think I still have it somewhere, I distinctly remember what it looked like.

A few weeks ago I found the book report pins. Strange how I kept them all these years, despite despising the method of earning them.

I guess this is one of these things I need to let go. My anger at Miss Jaderman for not realizing I was a good reader — just a reluctant writer and the shame I felt being placed in the low reading class in 6th grade (luckily my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, figured out I was a good reader within days and brought me back to the regular/advanced reading group).

Things like this could squelch the love of reading out of someone. I am forever grateful to Mrs. Anderson for this, as well as for fostering an even greater love of reading.

A Memorable Walk

Our blogging group settled on a favorite walk for our latest topic. I could not think of a favorite, but I did remember a memorable one.

As much as I claim to love the out-of-doors I am a homebody and tend to stay inside much more than is good for me. Dean likes going out and doing things so he was pleasantly surprised when, eleven years ago, I requested a family hike on the Trillium Trail at the G R Thompson Wildlife Management Area in the Shenandoah Valley for my Mother’s Day gift.

I’d not heard of trilliums until high school when, for my birthday, my friend Cindy gave me a green suede choker with a single white trillium on the front. I’d not seen one in person, until college when my botany 101 professor, Mr. Steinboch, took us on a field trip to a local park. The next time I saw them was in Pittsburgh when a friend and I visited the Trillium trail there (now a subdivision). I was ready to see more trilliums.

We were going to have to get up early to get to the trail and hike before we ate lunch. A small roadblock was the fact that Clare was spending the night with some friends. We warned her that we were stopping by early to pick her up. Andrew was fine with everything, as far as I recall — he always made sure any special day (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays) were special for the person being celebrated.

The morning of the walk we got up early, ate breakfast and picked up Clare. She was unhappy about having to get up early and very grumpy. We let her sleep in the car. When we got to the park she continued her grumpiness, but Andrew was energetic and happy so that was good.

The hike was beautiful and those of us who’d had a decent sleep were good. I saw trilliums, skunk cabbage, lady slippers, May apples and even an eastern towhee or two.

We had a mid-morning snack on a rock, Andrew rested on a branch, Dean took one of my favorite photos ever of me. Clare continued to be grumpy.

I don’t remember if I was upset that Clare was grumpy the entire day. I probably was and I might be to this day except for one thing — years later she explained to me why she was grumpy all day and apologized for it. The night before she’d been drinking with her friends (apparently the parents were okay with it) and the next day she had her first hangover. While I don’t condone her drinking at age 17, I understand why she was grumpy and realized that she was doing her best to make my day a happy one just by being there.