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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Remembering Don and Donna Rose, neighbors I’ll never forget

By Staff | Mar 22, 2024

Photo supplied

Meg Sanders

Good fences make good neighbors. I would contend fresh tomatoes and popsicles make great neighbors. I lost a great neighbor. As I lay my 3-month-old baby on a pink blanket under the giant tree in our front yard, a petite woman, as fragile as my newborn, came from across the street. Her smile was the most welcoming part of my new neighborhood. Not far behind her was a stocky fella with an equally friendly grin and bright eyes. He was the living embodiment of jovial. Both were in their 70s but very active, clearly inseparable for better or for worse. She leaned down toward me to say, “We’re Don and Donna Rose. You won’t forget that” — a line she’d probably said a million times before, probably because it’s so catchy. Here I am 15 years later and I can still hear her say it.

Don died this week, his obituary in this very paper. For the entirety of my children’s lives, Don lived across the street. He was there from the beginning of my motherhood journey, a lens that captured moments of chaos from afar the same way I watched his journey into the twilight years. Brian and I would laugh as Don would putter around the yard, drop a tool he would need again shortly, only to have Donna, a second behind, pick it up. It was like a dance they’d been performing for years. They were the ultimate team, friends and partners. Whenever I was outside chasing kids, Donna would come visit. She loved babies so it was easy to draw her out. She is synonymous with grace, in my mind.

Donna passed away in 2015, for nearly nine years Don went on without his bookend, his keeper. He didn’t slow down, not even after he had to go on oxygen. He was always the first one out in the morning shoveling snow on his four-wheeler or mowing his lawn in a perfect pattern, better than any golf green. When it came to the pack of kids on the street, Don was the most popular person. He kept a freezer stocked with Creamies. My youngest couldn’t even reach the doorknob but he knew to run across the street for a treat, no questions asked. Don always delivered, even when it was seven neighborhood kids knocking. When he wasn’t passing out popsicles, he was delivering fresh tomatoes from the garden.

Politics is where Don and I differed. When my “Hillary” sign went up, Don’s eyes rolled to the back of his head. We’d head to breakfast from time-to-time, The Rusted Spoon being a favorite, talk would often turn to the election. We disagreed on nearly every topic, but it never got mean, it never became divisive. It was two neighbors enjoying the company. I a stay-at-home mom, he a retiree at home due to the horrors of macular degeneration. In the end, our conversations would turn to the amazing life Don lived. Stories of walking past the prisoners of war housed at the Ogden Defense Depot on his way to school, driving a truck across the country hauling sand, memories of meeting Donna and raising a family. We had the common ground of loving our families, wishing to bottle time.

Knowing your neighbor’s actual name is rare; rarer still is to enjoy said neighbor. As I drive down my street, now filled with more strangers than ever before, no one looks up or even waves as I drive past. Part of this is the influx of folks from around the country, the other is an attitude of isolation. While no man is an island, he’s sure going to try. Certainly, during and after the COVID pandemic, my relationship with Don changed. We were all terrified of getting sick, especially as breathing was already such a task for my octogenarian neighbor. Being alone became a habit for us all. It seemed like it took years for the nasty habit to correct. It took a toll on us all — on our relationships, on the passion for our viewpoints. Those become more important than the person.

Despite a million ways to interact, a survey by Cigna found we are lonelier than ever before. We can be surrounded by people, by stimuli, but feel absolutely alone. So many of us no longer know how to connect. When it’s time for me to reach out, after I’ve waited until it’s absolutely necessary with no excuse to avoid the contact, I text. Answer a phone call? Only if I know the number. Making a phone call? Not on your life. That’s the thing about neighbors. They are just right there, feet away, overhearing your conversations, seeing in your windows and trying to ignore your screeching voice as you threaten your children. Contact is unavoidable.

Summer was my time to connect with Don as I was out doing yard work. Both outside, both unable to sit still, Don with the popsicles. I can recount a time or two Don would be on his stomach in the front yard, scaring the bejesus out of me as I’d thought he’d fallen, only to find him digging out a sprinkler head. He never slowed down until this last year. Now I write this looking at his dark picture window hoping he found the peace he was seeking after 89 years of life. I’m thinking of his children, his grandchildren, of his other neighbor Jill, of Mark and Lori who lived by him longer than I. I’m thinking of you who don’t have a neighbor you will miss. You who don’t have a neighbor you can call a friend. Let this be that inspiration, that spark to walk across the street to the new family that moved in and introduce yourself. Maybe bring some popsicles.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 18 years.


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