Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tribute to Donna Gail Pippin

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I've got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky
Stephen Schwartz Corner of the Sky from Pippin

Each morning, I write the date on a white board for my mother Jean.  This past Sunday, as I wrote Sunday, November 18, 2018, I paused.  Somewhere in the files on my memory banks, I seemed to remember that the 18th of November was a special day. 

I went through the files in my memory banks, so many obscured by cobwebs & missing pieces, trying to trace the nagging voice telling me it was an important day.  

The search followed me as I went about the day’s activities – hooking up my computer to Jean’s TV so she could remotely attend church services.  Watching the Texans win another football game.  Organizing my Thanksgiving culinary contributions schedule.

Last night, my friend Susie Aronson Eshel sent me a message that our mutual El Paso peep, Mike Motley, had posted that our friend Donna Pippin had passed.

On Sunday, November 18th.

Donna Gail Pippin was a major part of my childhood in El Paso.  I no longer remember exactly when we met – if I met her at church first or in the sixth grade at Putnam Elementary. 

But we were friends from what seemed like forever in our youth.
I found a yearbook entry that Donna wrote in the 1970 Coronado Legend :

We were always in the same Sunday School class & we were both in G.A.s – Girls’ Auxiliary.  (It was a Baptist thing – Girls’ Auxiliary for girls & Royal Ambassadors for boys.  Separate but ostensibly equal.)

Our friendship moved beyond church & ostensibly separate but equal church activities. 
Donna was incredibly talented.  It was her gorgeous voice that carried our church youth choir.  She was bright & funny & kind & spirited.

I cannot remember a moment when she was anything less.

We spent countless hours with other cohorts exploring the desert behind my house.  Our exploration evolved into adventures, creating story lines, acting out characters, inventing perils & challenges beyond avoiding sharp cacti & rattlesnakes.

Donna was always open to my favorite narrative – reenacting roles from the original Star Trek series. 

As we moved from elementary to middle to high school, Donna quietly transformed from the young girl running through the desert with me into a maturing young woman.

I remember the exact moment when I first became aware of her maturation.

In high school, Donna began attending First Baptist Church rather the much smaller Coronado Baptist.  She told me that there were more activities, more opportunities for friendship. 

And that the boys were nice & well-behaved.  That none of them would make fun of me or ostracize me or say fuck you to me in front of my mother.

The first time I joined her there, it was instantly obvious that she was a leader.  A much-admired leader.   As I watched her stand in front of the group, I saw a confident, poised & graceful young woman. 

When I heard her sing a solo, my soul rejoiced.

And I wanted to be just like her.

Part of the maturing Donna was still that young girl running through the desert with me.  Still the kind, bright & funny girl whose smile was infectious.

But I had glimpsed the woman she was destined to be.

Like most participants on social media, Donna & reconnected with one another on Facebook.  After many years & lifetimes.

Over the years, we exchanged phone calls, emails & text messages.  I loved the phone calls & the sound of her voice.  In those calls, we exchanged the text of our life stories.

Donna never flinched when I shared segments of my story that I still find shocking. 

I once remarked to her that here we were, two good little Southern Baptist girls discussing very grown up & decadent lady matters.  She laughed.

She was still bright & kind & witty & full of grace.  Still the young girl who danced across the desert. 

My spirited & soulful friend lived a remarkable life.  Although she shared much of her story with me – it was, & remains, her text to share.

But I will write that Donna touched every life crossing her path.  She was a breast cancer survivor & cancer’s aftermath left her with many challenges.

Recently she contacted me to tell me about an upcoming trip to Houston over the holidays & that she wanted to get together during her visit with family.  I thought about where we should meet, about the prospect of seeing her family, about basking in her wonder.

I understand now that the voice following me on November 18th turned out not to be a fragmented memory from my past.  

But a preparation for Donna’s leaving.

So, my dear Pip, you have crossed that rambling river & are now where you were meant to be.  Not just in a corner of the sky, but across an everlasting horizon.  Where your spirit can run free & your voice soar with joy.

Until we meet again I, & so many others will miss you.

Love, Jack

Donna Gail Pippin
January 6, 1955 - November 18, 2018