Donna – The Mountain

Why did they have to tell me they found drugs in her purse?”  Mom was agitated.  I hadn’t seen her cry yet.  She was angry.  That was better.

She hung up the phone that she had held to her ear all day.  One call after another; first the police, then friends and family.  Then the funeral home.  Then the sheriff.

Making arrangements.  Notifying people.  Learning new things about her daughter.  She was on her own.  She was the pillar that held up this family of seven.  Now six.

The police officers didn’t consider a grieving mother;  they reported the facts without warmth.  It was their jurisdiction, and she was an out-of-towner, a wild teenager without local ties.

They were small, not even a dot on the map in West Virginia.  Not much happened there.  This event injected new life to the local journalist.

They kept Donna’s journal for “investigative purposes” and were cold and uncaring.  As if she didn’t matter.  As if she wasn’t important to us.

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one.


Up on a mountain

is a new freedom –

sparkling bright orange,

and crystal clear.

A mountain that is made up of beautiful green and red colors.

A mountain with a semi-circle

of flourescent colors and designs

that fly up;

straight out –

like an arrow.

A mountain –

that holds a special dream;

A very special dream.

But no one knows the dream –

not the original dream.

It’s kept a secret;

a closely guarded secret –

within the uprising hills;

so that it cannot be seen,


or stolen.

D. Lehr 10/5/75


Donna – Nursery Rhymes

It’s overwhelming, the amount of errands you must run when someone dies.  It seemed as though we were in the car all day.

I got to be in the front seat, which was rare.  Mom never let anyone under 15 sit in what she calls “the death seat.”  But she was preoccupied.

My mind was racing.  The sun was hot coming through the window of the station wagon.  Trees flying by.  I couldn’t make sense of what was happening.  It didn’t feel real.

She was so young, mom.  Why did she have to die?”  My eyes were fixed on the glove-box in front of me, dirty Jack Purcell’s on my feet.

I was looking for solace, some comfort.  My mother’s grief was stern.  “Just be quiet.  Just be quiet.”

For the next hour we rode in silence.

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one.


Old nursery rhymes

make me think

about how


I really am.

D. Lehr 9/26/75

Donna – A Cats Cry

The morning of the wake I sat in the cool shade of the front porch and wrote Donna a three page letter.  I found lavender stationary in the den, the type with lines across it for kids and old people who can’t write straight.

It was a sticky Maryland summer, the kind where the gnats drive you crazy buzzing in your ears, but the flowers blooming make up for it.

My letter began with this:  “Dear Donna, I’m sorry I didn’t let you use my cosmetic case when you went on your trip.  I feel bad that the last time I ever saw you we had a fight.”

Three pages later it ended with “I’m going to miss you so bad.  Mom will too.  I don’t know how we’ll live without you.  I love you, Maria

Then I lit a match and burned the letter and placed the ashes in a plastic bag.  I was planning to lay it in her casket for her to keep for eternity.

Proud of my ingenuity, I told my dad what I did.  It was rare for me to tell him anything, because he never spoke to us unless he was yelling.

But I felt that under the circumstances, Donna’s death was bringing us all closer.

He snorted “How is she going to read a letter that’s all ashes?”

I felt stupid.  But still, when we got to Lassahn Funeral Home, I slipped the bag of letter-ashes under her pillow.

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one:


A cat’s cry

through  my window

makes me think –

about the many times

that I’ve either

cried for you,

or about you.

And now you’re far away –

just so far away.

The cat stops crying –

but I haven’t.

D. Lehr 9/26/75