It’s uncommon for people to make good friends late in life. Nevertheless, over the more than three years I knew and worked with Donna Reibslager, we became fast friends.
When Walter Andrew signed me up to work with the Patagonia Regional Times, he warned me that I might find Donna a little difficult. “She’s opinionated and doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” says he. Of course he would say that, as the two of them loved to argue. But from the first, Donna and I got along. We shared many of the same views and opinions. We laughed a lot.
Dissecting the town of Patagonia – which was our job – was a source of shared amazement, humor and even horror over the years that we worked together.
Almost always I went to her house. I would take my dog, Lucy, and we would be greeted in the front courtyard by Donna’s small dog or, later, two dogs, and sometimes a visiting chihuahua. It always took a few minutes to settle everyone down. Donna loved dogs, the more the merrier.
Now, here is the hard part, and I won’t dwell on it, but the reason I almost always went to Donna’s house is because Donna needed to smoke and home was the most comfortable place to serve this addiction. Smoking killed her. It was the sad part of our friendship. She let me know early on that she was not going stop smoking, that she knew it would kill her, and she didn’t want to discuss it. Addictions are not easy for anyone – the addicted or the people who love them.
Her smoking left little patience for long, sometimes foolish, discussions. She hated to go to meetings. PRT editorial meetings and board meetings were anathema to her. She would push everyone to move along – no dithering – “let’s get this OVER WITH!”
Those who knew Donna will remember her wonderful chuckle and impish smile. She was a brilliant artist – a painter and a designer. The design of the PRT interested her even more than the words. Her paintings hang in many homes including my own. They are reminders of her spunk and spirit.
When I moved away, we kept in touch by phone. She didn’t want to talk much about her failing health, but we did talk about her death, both hoping that she would be alive when I got there this winter. That was not to be.
From cold and dark New England I’ve said my good-byes, and will again when I come back in sunny February and walk past her house, and see her art, and toast to her memory with her other good friends.