Donna B. Randolph

Fiction, written after reading the morning news, thinking about how little the obituary really tells about us…


Earnstville: Donna Beth Randolph, 72, passed away Wednesday, August 27, at Renaissance Hospice.
[She fooled the doctors several times; when they found the cancer, they told her they would try some things but gave her no big chances. Well, she said, she wasn’t going to die a cancer patient. She was going to be Donna Beth Randolph till the day she died.

So she kept up her reading, going to the library on Wednesdays, and she met the girls for lunch every Friday–even when she didn’t feel like eating. She wrote to the kids and grandkids every Sunday, and talked with them on the phone once a month.

She painted her bedroom yellow because she loved its sunny lightness. Jeffrey had always liked a darker room to sleep in, but he was gone, and really, she figured, would there be another chance?
Against all wisdom, she accepted the little terrier, Mitzi, who cowered in the corner of Bethany’s old Caddy. A rescue dog, Bethany said, it had been beaten and abused.

“I can’t,“ she said to Bethany. “You know I’m sick.”

At the sound of Donna’s voice, the little dog slithered over to the open door and licked her hand, a feeble, hopeful lick. And Donna sighed and picked it up.

“I guess I’ll call her Mitzi,” she told Bethany. “She looks like a Mitzi.” After a pause, she asked, hopefully, “It IS a girl, isn’t it?”
That was the first bout. Before she knew it, a year had passed. Mitzi—who was indeed a ‘girl’– had grown sleek and sassy, and Donna felt pretty good for someone with a death sentence hovering around her. She went to the doctor, and he told her something wonderful: the cancer hadn’t gone, he said, but it seemed almost to be at rest. It wasn’t growing the way they usually saw it grow, invade, conquer.
She had two good years then; she traveled all over the country, visiting the kids and grandkids. Mindi’s late in life twins took a special shine to Mitzi, and Mindi had promised that, when Gran died, the dog could come home with them. That put Donna’s mind at rest.
The cancer came back, but again, she wasn’t going to make it her focus. Kind of like a spoiled child, she thought, when it got no attention, it went and hid in a corner, pouting. Another year of treatments; another reprieve–three years this time.
But the last time it came back, she knew it wasn’t messing around, and she made her peace; and it settled in, making up in voraciousness for its lack of growth in other visits.]

She was born November 7, 1941, to Bart and Mira (Lincoln) Tophers in Buffalo, New York.
[Mira was old to be a mother for the first time, old at 34; the nurse clucked over her, tsk-tsk-ing. Mira was scared half to death, and when labor dragged on for 36 excruciating hours, she was pretty well convinced she was going to die of it. But then Donna Beth was finally born, at 12:41 AM, and the nurse whisked her away, hidden in a blanket, to be cleaned and checked over.

Bart brought the little, mewling bundle back in; he proudly laid the baby in Mira’s tired arms. Mira lifted the blanket and gasped. The baby’s head was cone-shaped; her skin was chapped and angry looking. Mira began to cry. ‘An ugly baby!’ she thought. ‘My Donna Beth is an ugly baby!’

But two days later, the baby’s head had settled into roundness and her skin smelled sweet, and Mira was thoroughly smitten.]

Donna Beth was a beloved wife and mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
[Jeffrey, Sr., always treated her with the honor and respect with which he’d courted her. He was not a man for saying, “I love you,” at the drop of a hat; he told her that the day he married her, when each of the kids were born, and the day he had the first huge heart attack. But she knew. He always came home after work; she was his favorite bowling partner; and he often mentioned how sorry he felt for other men, whose wives were lazy or mean.
The kids, too, were always so sweet to her; she felt their love even though they were not a huggy, smoochy family. Jeffrey Jr was the oldest; from the time he was four he always held the door for her and wanted to carry the groceries. Mindi, who was big-eyed and solemn, never gave her a moment’s worry.

Donna Beth kept waiting for those rebellious years, but they never came. They were both kids who liked to read and study; they did well in school, had nice friends, and were helpful at home.
How did I get so lucky? Donna Beth often wondered, after they’d finished their schooling and made their solid marriages and still kept her in their lives, respected and loved by her daughter-in-law and son-in-law, too.
Donna Beth loosened up just a little with the grandkids. What a treat grandkids were; they loved her silly games and old songs, and they were constantly giving her wet baby kisses, sending her X-s and O-s in the mail. She loved her children; but until her grandchildren, she had never known pure, unadulterated joy.]

She is survived by her son, Jeffrey Randolph, Jr.; Daughter, Mindi (Leonard Coggins) [Mindi decided not to change her name when she married Leonard, a professor with a big hearty laugh. Donna Beth was a little shocked at first, and worried that, when kids came along, they’d have those horrible hyphenated names.

But Mindi had no problem with the children having Leonard’s name. “I had Dad’s, after all,” she said. “All of our names started with a man; they may as well come from a man who loves you dearly.”

After a while, Donna Beth kind of secretly loved it that Mindi had that little independent streak. Leonard was always big and hearty; Mindi was always calm and composed. They had, Donna Beth could tell, a good life.]; grandchildren, Sandy Smith; Leonard Coggins, Jr.; and Jimmy and Julie Coggins; six great-grandchildren; and her beloved dog, Mitzi.

In addition to her parents, Donna is preceded in death by her husband, Jeffrey Randolph, Sr., whom she married in June, 1962 [Married before she even turned 21! What did she know about marriage, except that girls were supposed to find a good man and do it?

Jeffrey was a serious, good looking man, 25 to her 20. Her parents thought he would take good care of her. She did not love him the day she married him; but she came to, over the years. Respect and, truth be told, a little fear, grew into gentle passion and liking, slowly flamed into a full-blown, lifelong love affair. The day came when she realized she could not imagine life without him.
He was a kind and creative father; he built doll houses and played baseball, went in swimming, and taught the kids to drive. Every Sunday night, Jeffrey took Jeff Jr and Mindi out for ice cream, giving Donna an hour of peace and quiet.

He was not a man for big dramatic splashes, not Jeffrey. But by the time he died, in 2005, of heart troubles, Donna knew she had been well and truly loved]; brother Joseph Tophers, [Oh, Joey! Just the thought of him, his splashy smile, his contagious laugh,–well, she still got tears, right up until the end.

Joey was born when Bart and Mira were 40; Donna was already six, and she treated him like a little dollbaby. Joey was always yelling at her, “I can do it! I can do it myself!” And that’s what he was doing when he died, doing it himself, driving his buddy Bob’s motorcycle, which he had no right to be on.

He was drunk, for one; he’d never in his life driven a motorcycle, for another. And he was grandstanding for Hattie Ketcher, with whom he was desperately smitten; he zoomed by her, turned his whole body to wave and veered at a very high speed into the viaduct.

The sergeant who investigated said he had never seen–best unsaid. Never mind. But…Joey. The pure laughter, the liquid electricity of him.]; grandson, Stephen Randolph; and daughter-in-law, Jenny Randolph [Babies don’t die in childbirth anymore; isn’t that what we believe? And mommies don’t die from complications of a difficult birth. We thought.

Worse than your own pain is having to see your son suffer. He was a wonderful dad to Sandy. He nurtured that girl right up until the day she married Wally Smith, handed her over with tears in his eyes. Welcomed her little Bobby into the world the year after. Told them both they could stay as long as they liked after Wally took a long, one-way walk.

That was the year Bobby was four; they stayed with Jeffrey until Bobby was ten. Sandy got a teaching job and saved up and bought a house. Jeffrey was sure lonely after that, but he was proud, too, that Sandy had built a life for herself.

It looks like Jeffrey might finally be seeing someone, that Spilker girl he went to high school with. Her husband had been no better than he needed to be. She thought she’d died and gone to heaven when Jeffrey called her up.]

Memorial service will be Friday, September 5, from 6 PM until 9 PM at the Laurel Lake Inn, 2093 Independence Drive, Earnstville. Mrs. Randolph requested cremation. The family will choose a later date to inter her ashes.

[She had turned her back on church the day the pastor told her mother Joey’s death was meant to be. Meant to be? Meant to be WHAT? That was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard.

She knew there was a God. She saw God in the kindness around her, in her children’s grief over their father’s death, in the fluid, expansive joy her grandchildren showered on her when she visited, in the trusting, tail-wagging enthusiasm with which her little dog greeted her every time she returned home. She never went back to church, but she prayed every day.

In her last years, she started to think the feminists were right–maybe God really was a She, a great big loving Mother. “Why not?” she thought. But she didn’t talk to anyone about that idea; she kept it close by, and it comforted her.
Her dear friend Bethany’s family owned the Laurel Lake, and one day they talked, her and Bethany, and decided between them the service would be at the Inn. There were a couple of songs Donna liked, and three of her friends would speak, and of course the kids might want to share some memories.

Really, just comfort for those she loved, that was all Donna wanted to think there’d be. She herself wouldn’t be in need of any attention by the time that day rolled around.]

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the public library–or to a charity dear to you–in Donna’s name.


3 thoughts on “Donna B. Randolph

    1. Thank you! Sometimes, I read the short little notices after a long full life has ended, and feel so sad. Such bare words…although we hope the family tells the many stories that show the lost one’s specialness!

  1. Wonderful piece….wouldn’t have guessed it was inspired by an obituary. The woman who died would have been happy to know her death inspired such a wonderful story. A good read, made me feel really good.

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