Donna Smith mugshot May 15 2015

Donna Stiteler, FL

Senior Writer

Donna’s motto is “Don’t be afraid to walk through the open door.” This has led her to many opportunities as a writer and professional fundraising/marketing executive to give back. She’s helped women work out of poverty in Nicaragua, built medical camps for seriously ill children for the late actor Paul Newman, and created spay/neuter programs for animals in North and South America. She lives both in Florida, where she loves to sail, and Ecuador, where she teaches memoir writing to expats and blogs about travel destinations. She graduated from the University of Florida in Journalism, and has written for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the Sacramento Bee, The Meeting Professional, Central Florida magazine, and other publications. Donna lives with four hyperactive dogs, one skittish cat, and Rowland, her husband of 30 years.

As a Story Terrace writer, Donna interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.

Leaving Louisiana

I was sitting on the front porch of my uncle Jack’s house when his Shetland pony, Rudy, brushed past me, walked into the kitchen, and began drinking water out of an aluminum pale kept by the icebox. To some people, letting a horse live inside would be called crazy, but in the early 1960s in rural northern Louisiana, people weren’t crazy, they were just eccentric.

My relatives lived in a collection of houses lining Cross Lake, and on Saturdays, the home of my daddy’s mother, Big Mama, would fill with cousins and second cousins, dropped at her door by parents who ran like escaping prisoners.

But we didn’t care. At Big Mama’s, the smell of frying bacon woke us, and we downed waffles doused with pure cane sugar syrup before walking Rudy and numerous dogs down to the lake to skip rocks. We’d paddle our pirogues up bayous filled with moccasins and groggy gators while fishing. Then we’d go back to Big Mama’s at dusk when mosquitoes chased us indoors.

When I was nine, my parents divorced, and I thought weekends at Big Mama’s would change, but it remained the constant in my life. But had I known it would all go away overnight, I would have been more grateful to have a horse sitting next to me at dinner.

On the last day of seventh grade, I came home to find our house looking like it had been looted. Our furniture, our clothes, my cat—everything was gone. My mom was standing out front and handed me an empty box. “Fill it up with what you need most,” she said. “We’re leaving in an hour.”

My twelve-year-old mind couldn’t wrap itself around what was happening, and I kept thinking, “Where’s my cat?” Upstairs my sister was crying. “I can’t believe we’re moving. Why?”

The ‘why’ was a paraplegic Black-Irishman my mom had met a month earlier. All I knew about him was that he drank Chivas Regal straight from the bottle, cursed, and swatted at us like we were flies.

“We got married. And we’re moving,” my mom said.

We put our boxes in the back of the ’62 Rambler while my mom unfolded a large map of Florida on the hood where she pointed out our future home. “We’re going to St. Petersburg.”

I was so excited to be moving to Florida, it almost didn’t matter that I was climbing into a car with a stranger who chased us in his wheelchair. I just thought, “Florida, white beaches, boats!”

We left that night. I wondered if Big Mama would be able to find us. I wondered what St. Petersburg would be like. And I wondered if what I was leaving behind, if everything I had lost, would ever be found again.

donna piccc

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