When I was fresh out of high school, I had the world at my fingertips. I entered a dark depression, however, upon starting college, and had a really hard time finding my way out. When I stopped caring about school, aside from flunking out and losing my scholarship, I started throwing myself into church activities. I ended up organizing the young adult fellowship, chaperoning the youth, and teaching middle school Bible class. I was able to mostly keep my schooling failure a secret. I escaped by "doing as much good as I could do". It was about that time, a group from Tennessee came up to help us put on a youth rally.
They were from Freed-Hardeman University in little Henderson, TN. There was a good mix of college students and staff (and parents, can't forget Poppa George), and along with their accents, I fell in love with their senses of humor, their love for fun, and their a cappella singing skills. With them was the Dean of Student Life of the university, Donna White. Donna was a riot. A regular comedienne, she had me in stitches their entire visit. From her cat-coughing-up-a-hairball impersonation, to her off-the-wall remarks, I wanted to adopt her. I wanted to adopt all of them. The next year, some returned and brought new faces along. It was such a fun time for me, and I wanted to hide in their luggage and go back to Tennessee with them.
In the end, I kind of did. I got a phone call a few months after they left, offering me a tuition scholarship and a chance to start my schooling over. With familiar faces and a cappella singing, I started off my campus life on FHU's grounds an older, "non-traditional" freshman, surrounded by youngsters who were better at this schooling thing than I had been. My long-lost-sister, Jenni, took me under her wing and guided me around campus those first couple of weeks. With her and Donna keeping watch over me, I had a pretty sweet deal.
I walked in to Donna's office one day that first week and she brought up the term she had coined on that second trip to Wyoming. "I see you've got the Val Vibe working for you...." I blushed. Donna thought - insisted, rather - I had this irresistible quality that made people, especially those of the male persuasion, flock to me like flies on sticky tape. I was confident, I was independent, and I could tell a story or two. I had a trim figure and a wide smile, and nothing was going to stand in the way this time around of me conquering the world. Apparently, that was just the kind of gal some poor, confused souls were looking for. Every time we were together, Donna would bring up examples of "The Val Vibe", and usually embarrass me to some extent. She heckled in love, though, and I had no doubt of that. Donna was someone incredibly special to me, and I meant a lot to her as well.
She had been a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and walked away with $250,000. She was smart with her winnings, but she was also incredibly generous. She treated me, Jenni, and Jennifer (no, I'm not repeating myself) to a weekend in Nashville. It was just the girls, and it was one of the most special get-aways I've ever had. To this day, that trip remains one I hold dear to my heart. We stopped in the Hard Rock Cafe to have milkshakes, and when we walked out I uttered, "You know what would be cool? If we did a Dixie Chicks thing, and we all got tattoos." As soon as I said it, I realized I was out of my ever loving mind, and there was no way I would get these gals on board. Donna stopped, looked at us, and said, "If you're serious, and we all get one, I'll pay for it."
In a matter of seconds we walked across the street to the tattoo parlor and were picking out our inks. I, being the ever-responsible ditz that I was, had lost my driver's license weeks prior. The parlor was not going to give me a tattoo, since I couldn't prove I was over 18. I was 21, but looking younger wasn't necessarily flattering in this instance. Donna reached for a business card and said, "I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm the Dean at the university she attends. I can not only vouch for her age, but I can fax you her documents when we get back to campus." The owner of the parlor was so tickled by that, she pointed to me and said, "You were never here." We all four walked out of there with tattoos. Donna and I had the same one - a heart with a flower through it. Her flower was yellow, mine blue. Same shoulder. Same tattoo.
You need to understand FHU is a very conservative university. We, as students, could have been dismissed (read: suspended) for having tattoos. She, as an employee, certainly would have been fired for paying for us to receive them. It's been nearly 13 years since that weekend, and I'm still a little scared to let that secret out.
Donna took me with her to her sister's house for Thanksgiving when I didn't have money to get home, or anywhere else to go. She always had me over, looked out for me, and razzed me about "The Val Vibe". When I went home after that first year of schooling, Mr. Brent proposed to me and I didn't return to Freed. I finished school in the place I originally failed in, and stayed in touch with several Freedies, including Donna.
Three years ago today, Donna passed away. She was very sick, and had been battling various immune disorders. When she got an infection in her blood stream, she couldn't fight it, and she died. I remember the day Jenni told me she was in the hospital. I remember the moment I found out she had died, and I just sat and said, "No....no.....no....." as I fought off the tears. I remember trying to find any way I could to get out there for her funeral, but I didn't have the financial availability to get there and back.
Mostly, though, I remember Donna for who she was. She was a bright light in this dark world. She loved her God and she loved His people. She loved to laugh, and she wasn't happy unless those around her were happy. She was one of a kind.
I hope you've met my precious Harlynn, Donna. And I hope you've shown her your impersonation of a cat coughing up a hairball. You don't have to tell her about "The Val Vibe" though. I think you made it up, anyway.
|Donna Carol ~ Love you, lady.|