Spotlight: Donna Yates (HappyJackMom)By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on January 24, 2011
|I didn't know Happy Jack was the name of a town in Arizona. I only knew that it was the name of an online friend and the name made me smile every time I saw it. Even knowing it's the name of a town, I still smile when I see my friend's name. I think you will too, after you read about her.|
I'd like you to meet Donna Yates, HappyJackMom. Those of us who know her already, know what a loving, caring, charming friend she is. She's also very interesting and has a lifetime of stories to tell us. I am so glad you joined us for this Spotlight. I know you will enjoy getting to know Donna and I also know you'll always remember her name with a smile. Here's Donna's story; I'm letting her tell it in her own beautiful words...
It's interesting how I met my husband, Earl.
Earl's family, his Mom, brother and step-father, moved from Minnesota to Paso Robles. At that time my dad worked at the service station across highway 101 (the El Camino Real) from the Drew Ranch where Mom worked selling fruits, nuts and homemade candies. Earl's mother sought work there as soon as they settled in Paso. The first time he saw me Earl said I was sitting in a prune box. In those days prunes came is small wooden crates. I was 2 years old or so. He's never let me forget that to this day. Several years later Mom was working at a fruit stand in Atascadero. As luck would have it, Earl's family had moved to Atascadero and lived right up the road and he was friends with the owner of the fruit stand's son. I remember following around some of the boys as they flew kites on the hillside above the highway across the street. I also remember them leaving me holding the kite string when they went home!
In the genealogy world it's very rare to find the signatures of two grandfathers on one document. Can you say Kismet?
The one thing that I haven't done but would like to do, is visit Hearst Castle and the Piedra Blancas Lighthouse in San Simeon, California. Not to enjoy the beauty of the castle or all its treasures, but to look out over the 1,414 acres of land that was once owned by my great-great-grandparents. Peter and Nancy Gillis bought part of a Spanish Land Grant in San Simeon in 1867, where they started a ranch and made their home. Their grandson, John Thomas Gillis (my grandfather) was born there in 1871, not far from where the lighthouse stands to this day. When the lighthouse was being built, Peter Gillis was the teamster driver and hauled building materials. When the lighthouse was finished, Peter Gillis became the postmaster for the Piedra Blancas Post Office. He later served as postmaster at Manchester, the little town of miners in the Los Burros District. I have a letter that my grandfather sent to his wife to be. It was mailed from Manchester and canceled by my great-grandfather. Several years later, that little town would burn to the ground. In the early 1970's what had been left of Manchester was completely destroyed by a massive forest fire.
We took a little break while I absorbed the ideas of spending summers in a small cabin while mining for gold and looking out over land owned by great-great grandparents. I spent some time thinking of friendships with long eared animals, not to mention the thought of mountain lions and rattlesnakes. I asked Donna if there was anything she was afraid of. Here's her answer...
You mean besides spiders? Or losing another member of our family? Or our present government?
I thought then that perhaps I'd best leave that question and move on to another because sometimes, just like a wise sage, Donna has a way of saying just enough in very few words. I realized I didn't want to know that this very brave woman might have fears. So I moved on and asked her about her favorite memory hoping it would lead to another story. It did.
When we sold the house on the hill in California, we moved out in a valley where we had about 1/2 an acre of land beside a seasonal stream. We had sold all of our cattery of Siamese but one Chocolate Point queen with one kitten and Tang Tu, our Seal Point male. We knew that our new neighbors wouldn't appreciate a cattery in the back yard. There was a large circular concrete driveway for the kids to ride their bikes and neighbor children to play with. It was a place where the children could get to school by catching the bus out front , instead of Mom having to drive our children down and back up the hill for a total of six trips a day; as they each would be going to different schools.
We were in Yuma, AZ for almost 7 years, when Earl got the chance to go to work on Lake Washington at the Naval Base in Seattle, as a welder and maintenance man. By then we had two grown sons.
The oldest boy stayed in Arizona with his new bride when we left Arizona and his younger brother moved with us to Washington. One finished his education in Arizona, while the other finished his in Washington. I believe both got better educations in these two states than we received in California.
We spent 17 wonderful years living in the woods, just a mile from the Seattle city limits, in Snohomish county. I was in genealogy Heaven! In Seattle, there was one of the best libraries in the nation with genealogical data. There was the National Archives where I volunteered for about two years. I also did duty with Mom as a volunteer librarian at the Family History Center in Edmonds, Washington. I had all that wonderful data to plow through to search for my ancestors.
The day Mount St. Helen's erupted, on May 18, 1980, we could see the eruption of ash rise 80,000 feet into the atmosphere of clear blue sky, from the street in front of our house! The day before she erupted, we had gone over to the 'East side' of the Cascades, to look at some property to invest in for Earl's future retirement. We came back through Yakima and up the mountain to look at a lot, not far from St. Helen's. We thought about staying overnight on our way back North, as we approached the east-side of Mount Rainer. But since it was still light, we went straight home. IF we had stayed the night on the mountain, we would have been covered the next morning with volcanic ash! Our Guardian Angels were again watching over us that day.
I guess you could say we have calculating minds. We sit down and try to figure out all the angles when buying property. Of course the main concern was cost. We needed to have enough cash left over to build Earl a shop, if the place we chose didn't have one. Weather and altitude were a concern. Earl's mother told me that he had altitude sickness as a young man. And once while we were camping at Cedar Breaks in Utah, he got so sick (he couldn't breathe) that I had to drive our motor home down the mountain at night to get to an altitude where he could catch his breath. Most of the places we looked at were from 5,000' to almost 8,000'. So in January we camped out in our old van overnight in a couple of different places and he did fine.
When we camped out just up the road from the place we were thinking about buying, it was so cold! The next morning the screws that held the paneling in place on the ceiling of the van were covered with frost! We were snug and cozy because he had had the whole interior of the van foamed before he put in the bed and paneling. But since the screws went through the paneling and into the rib of the ceiling, the cold was transferred from the metal roof. When we settled down in the front seats, we looked at the thermometer that gave the outside temp, it was 18 degrees! We decided we survived and would be able to stand the cold winter weather, the wonderful springs, the summer monsoons, the glorious autumns and the altitude just fine. And the name Happy Jack was a kick! The unit that we bought had a well maintained gravel road to the cabin on ground level. the main highway is very seldom closed because of weather and we can always go out to the north if need be, to Winslow.
The cabin sits with the ridge of the roof to the north/south position with no overhanging trees. So the sun hits both sides of the roof to melt the snow quicker. That can't be said for the shop, that has its ridge going east/west. The north side is always covered with snow after all the others have melted. We looked at a couple of nicer cabins, but they were on the north side of a hill or canyon; too cold in the winter with no sun to melt the snow. The cabin we bought had never been lived in and probably only used as a weekend cabin for the owners and builders that lived in Phoenix. When we first saw the cabin, we were not impressed, it was just a large rectangular box with no porch, no out buildings and no water. Water had to be hauled by way of a trailer with a 500 gallon water tank. The cabin was larger than we expected to find, and was fully furnished, down to the pots and pans and silverware in the drawers. So we made an offer and got the cabin for $7,000 less than it had been listed for. We bought it and have never been sorry.
Our son brought up his car trailer loaded with redwood one Father's Day and said, "Okay Dad, you wanted a front porch, so here it is!" So we now have an 8'x48' porch facing the rising sun.
The wildlife here is wondrous, elk, whitetail and mule deer, black bear, cougars, coyotes, gray fox and so many others. It will break our hearts the day that we must leave this place, as we have been very happy 'campers'!
Earl was an apprentice welder at 16 and quit school before he graduated from high school. He was a great mechanic and had worked with his step-father as a house painter. He can fix just about anything. He built his 40'X40' metal shop, insulated it and built an office and a storage room inside. Our neighbors depend on him for watching their cabins and taking care of their yards. Our well association has depended on him for well maintenance for the past 10+ years. At 81, he loves his garden and will dig rocks whenever they are in our way. Since we live in the land of Kaibab Limestone and Coconino Sandstone, there's always plenty of rocks on our one acre of land.
Don't you love Donna's story? Her life reads like an adventure and I'm living it right along with her. I didn't want it to end, even in such a happy place as Happy Jack, Arizona. So I asked her one more question, "What is the very best change that living in this era has brought to you?"
And I agree with you, my friend. I know Donna has some physical limitations, though you'd never know it when talking with her or when reading her words. I asked if she minded sharing this with us, and in her usual endearing manner, she told me about it.
I was born with a genetic disease of the muscles called Charcot Marie Tooth. I have a mild or might you say a slow occurring bilateral muscular atrophy, which involves the muscles of the lower extremities; meaning lower arms and legs. It has left me with numb feet and hands that are starting to bother me and I find it hard to do some things, besides walking of course. I can barely turn the key in the truck's ignition. I find turning the small locks on doorknobs impossible and I use pliers to open soda bottles. I cannot open a can of tuna or cat food, if they have pull off tops on them. It's really irritating to say the least. I don't cook anymore, Earl does that. It's been just the past 8 years that I have had to depend on a power chair to get around the house, out in the garden and to go shopping. My worst problem is arthritis of the back, neck and miscellaneous joints; and then there's the type II Diabetes. I can deal with most of this as long as there's someone else around. What bothers me the most is that I have passed this disease down to our children.
Now do you see what I see in this beautiful woman? I admire her way with words, her courage, her strength, and the fact that she shared it with all of us. And that's not all, she's also written of her friendship with animals, especially the long eared kind, and you can read those stories here.
Donna, thank you so very much. You spent hours answering my questions, days typing and searching for pictures, and through it all you signed every message with hugs and love. The very worst thing that happened during this time is that my computer blipped, as computers sometimes do, and I lost a ton of Donna's information. I couldn't get her from the house on the hill back to Happy Jack. So I wrote a note of panic and asked if she could possibly send the information again. She didn't even blink. Within minutes I had everything I needed.
There's one more thing I'd like to share with you. Donna is very entrenched in her genealogy and during the course of our friendship, she happened to mention that she was searching for a relative from Kentucky whose maiden name was Webb. My heart did a flip because my maiden name is also Webb and my family has always lived in Kentucky. We tried but could never find a blood connection, but that doesn't matter, we have the friendship connection and that's even better.
Thanks again, Donna! And thanks to all of you for joining us. I'll meet you here again next week when we see who Nancy brings to our Spotlight!
|interview, interviews, spotlight|
|I am a retired Art and Humanities teacher living in western Kentucky. I love writing and art with equal measure, but I also have a passion for nature and plants.|
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Comments and discussion:
|Subject||Thread Starter||Last Reply||Replies|
|So very interesting||kareoke||Mar 13, 2011 6:49 PM||6|
|Hello, Donna!||nap||Feb 24, 2011 3:41 PM||57|
|An unusual morning||HappyJackMom||Feb 22, 2011 4:43 PM||4|
|wonderful story||kaglic||Feb 7, 2011 12:26 PM||8|
|Fascinating||Maria||Feb 1, 2011 11:45 AM||6|
|I love it!!||Ridesredmule||Jan 27, 2011 9:44 AM||18|
|Your Journey||Aguane||Jan 24, 2011 2:09 PM||3|