On Her Birthday: The Second-Best Thing about Donna


There’s always a lot of scrambling to be number one.

first best

To be the best. To be first. I learned at a very young age that being second is way better. I found this out, because I am a second sister, the younger sister of the best big sister in the world.

Everyone who knows her would clamor to offer their opinion about the best thing about Donna. And they would all be right. All those things they could name would be best things. I even have my own best thing about Donna. But today I offer the indisputable second-best thing about Donna.

Donna loves Secretariat.

Yes, my sister loves the 1973 Triple Crown winning thoroughbred horse, Secretariat.

We were not horsey girls.

We didn’t ride horses or collect horsey toys. We were too old for My Little Pony and wouldn’t have been interested anyway. There were no stables or riding lessons or equestrian longings in our youth.

We do have a signed copy of Misty of Chincoteague, but that’s because someone in our family knew the author, Marguerite Henry. And our mother was born on Chincoteague Island, and our grandmother lived across the inlet from Assateague Island, still famous for the annual wild-pony penning event.

But we weren’t horsey girls.

And well yes, our granddaddy did love to bet on the ponies. But I think a lot of people’s loveably disreputable, scruffy commercial fisherman granddaddies probably also love to bet on the ponies. This still didn’t make us horsey girls.

And it sure doesn’t explain Donna’s love of Secretariat.

She has bookmarked links on her computer to archival videos of his famous races. Given the chance, she’ll narrate them for you, better than the dated announcers of the period.

The Kentucky Derby:

  • “He’s still accelerating in the final ¼ mile! Still accelerating!”
  • “He broke last, last! And he wins!”

The Preakness Stakes:

  • “He broke last again! But he makes it all up at the first turn!”
  • “And then Turcotte just puts the whip away, just lets him run.”
  • “He really should have the track record. There were problems with the timer. It’s very controversial. But they’ve clocked it separately and he beats the official time. He really should have the track record.”

The Belmont Stakes:

  • “Most of the other horses that year didn’t even enter the Belmont, he was such a heavy favorite.”
  • “See how far in the lead he is? The camera can’t even get the other horses in the same shot, he’s so far out in front.  Thirty-one lengths!”
  • “People didn’t even cash in their tickets. They kept them for souvenirs.”

I know that’s what you would have done, Don.

What explains our obsessions? Is it ever possible to completely articulate the pull of the things that move our souls?

Secretariat was a stunning, exhilarating creature to see run. He was perfection, an athlete who couldn’t disappoint through embarrassing affairs or disillusioning statements, or petulant behavior. He was pure joy to watch and cheer. But that still doesn’t add up to his deep, spirit-stirring appeal to Donna.

Watching Secretariat run moves her in the same way melody moves her. And harmony, and voices and instruments raised in song. Music comes in many different forms. Beautiful songs, loving children, and transcendent horses.

Music is at the core of her being. And that actually is the very best thing about Donna.

big sis tolerates opining little sis

Happy birthday, my sweet sister.


2 Responses to “On Her Birthday: The Second-Best Thing about Donna”

  1. Sydney Says:

    Well! This new information about Donna makes me WANT to see the movie. I was already going to go because my horsey friend Tabitha insists and because I feel an obligation to give extra reverence to native Virginians. But now! NOW I will be able to imagine Donna’s quickening pulse with the approach of every race, and her running commentary after the starting gun fires! Countdown to October 8, 2010!

  2. Donna Says:

    OMG! You are way too kind and I love you so much.

    First comment to Sydney. Did you say October 8? That’s my wedding anniversary! As we often quote in our family, “It’s like a little clue.” (Suz will give you the reference if it doesn’t ring a bell.)

    Secondly, I myself am at a loss to explain my attachment to Secretariat, but I’ll share this tidbit which was in a special that aired about him and can now be viewed on Youtube. Apparently Jack Nicklaus actually cried when sitting alone in his living room watching Secretariat win the Belmont. It was explained to him later that all of his life he’d been striving for perfection on the golf course, and he’d just witnessed perfection on the race track. By the way, the William Nack biography of this magnificent animal is a terrific read. And the appreciation of Secretariat written by Tom Callahan in the Washington Post following the horse’s death can still make me cry.

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