Saturday, May 9, 2009


(Sherri, Me, Don, David, Alicia, PapPa)

I suppose when you grow up in one place, you have friends whom you've known since childhood. But as a child who moved a lot, my oldest friendships are with my cousins. They were the ones we reunited with when we returned from my dad's military assignments.

On our return from Guam, my parents, sisters and I walked off the plane in Alexandria, Louisiana. Both sets of grandparents were there to meet us. When I learned Nanny and PapPa were on their way to meet my baby cousin Marella and watch my cousin Don ride a bull, I asked if I could join them. A few minutes later I was in the car heading to Texas for the second time that day. (We'd changed planes in Dallas for our flight to Louisiana.)

I was excited to see my cousins again. The last time I'd seen Don, Sherri and David was two years before. That summer we'd caught fireflies in mason jars, played Lost in Space on our grandparents' front porch, and watched Don and his friend simulate a bull ride with a rope and barrel. His friend would pull on the rope and Don would hang on. When Don fell off, he got up and tried again.

That summer I never dreamed that Don would ride a real bull, but two years later I sat on a bleacher at a rodeo and watched my cousin emerge on the back of one. Don put his heart and soul into the event. But it was a very short ride. It didn't matter to me though. I was excited and proud of my cousin for planning and going after his dream. I remembered the bucking barrel.

Don approached his life the way that he rode that bull. He put his heart and soul into everything he did. As a young man he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought it and won his battle. Maybe because of that, he crammed a lot of living in a few years. Like he had that summer of the bucking barrel, he held on tight, falling off a few times and trying again. I wish his ride would have lasted longer. Rest in peace, Don.

Donald Lee Willis

September 1959-May 9, 2009


  1. What a wonderful, loving tribute!

  2. Thanks, Gwen. Don will leave a hole.