If you’ve been in the floating homes community for more than three years, you’ve probably read the Dinghy Dame’s resident profiles called Water You Doing Here? For 20 years, Donna Lunsford wrote those profiles. “The Dinghy Dame was a lot of fun to write,” she tells me with a smile. “People talked to me even though they knew I was going to poke fun at them.”
Donna stopped writing the profiles after she had a stroke and needed time to recover. “I’ve still got all my marbles,” she assured me. Her recovery took about a year. Then she applied her Dinghy Dame humor to writing a book called A Day in the Orifice. It’s a wide-ranging romp through “50 years of medical memories” or “feelings and healings,” as she refers to her career drawing blood, taking x-rays and caring for patients in a hospital and a general practitioner’s back office. You’ll see what tickles and delights her, what captures her attention, and since she loves to teach, likely you’ll learn something.
For example, I didn’t know people’s nose and ears never stop growing. Did you?
What’s the most shoplifted item? Preparation H. You can probably guess why.
Which season of the year brings people to the doctor for animal bites and injuries? Early spring. It’s mating season.
Donna writes about the natural environment’s influence on groups’ skin, hair and body type across eons. Historical oddities show up. And there’s a lot about mosquitoes, ticks, flies, lice and mice, orifices, and diseases people get from international travel. She tells readers how to identify fake pharmaceuticals and which medical tests tend to be overdone.
Growing up in a small railroad town in upstate New York, Donna was one of those kids involved in everything: sports, music, exploring the natural world, writing for the high school paper. She was both a tomboy and the homecoming queen. “I’m five foot two and I won second place in the State girls’ high jump” she says, laughing. “The girl who came in first was like six-two.” Donna caught crawdads and snakes and her hunter father taught her how to skin rabbits.
Her tastes are still eclectic and her curiosity insatiable. She enjoys gardening, cooking, photography and reading. “I go through phases. Right now I’m reading about World War II, a story about female spies. I just finished reading about American Indians.” If you bring up a subject, chances are good Donna can talk with you about it. And if not, she’s guaranteed to ask questions. As Donna will tell you, she loves to talk. During our interview, she asked me nearly as many questions as I asked her. Guess that’s what happens when you interview an interviewer.
“I’ve got a great sniffer,” she says, wrinkling her nose and inhaling twice. At work, she once smelled bacteria growing in the office incubator and could sometimes diagnose illnesses. “Testing a person’s sense of smell is a way to diagnose early Alzheimer’s,” she tells me, using her hands to demonstrate moving peanut butter closer and closer to a blindfolded person’s nose. In her book, Donna says she’s told the person in line in front of her “at the bank or super market that they smell like they have strep or that they have a mole on their neck that looks worrisome or that their fly is unzipped. Most of them are appreciative.”
Donna’s sniffer gave her her first impression of Carl, whom she ultimately married. In 1987, when she was going through a divorce, friends invited her to a party. She wasn’t aware they were matchmaking. When they stopped at Carl’s house to pick him up, they waited a long time. Eventually, he came out and slid into the back seat with her. “I said, I smell K2R spot remover.” Indeed it was. Carl was late because he’d been trying to remove a stain from his jacket. “We started telling jokes and laughed all the way to Alameda.”
Donna and Carl live at 21 Gate 6 ½. She’s lived here 33 years, he 45 years. There were a lot of “near misses,” before finally finding each other. Carl is a jazz banjo player—part of the 1950s-1980s Turk Murphy Jazz Band—who’s performed all over the world. When Donna was 16, she played jazz coronet. One evening, her father took her to a jazz club in New York City where Carl played 6 of 7 nights each week. It was his night off. First near miss. While married to her first husband, Donna’s father and husband were on a ferry where a jazz band was playing for a Golden Gate Bridge celebration. Her father took pictures and told her he’d heard a great banjo player. Near miss number two. Looking through a family photo album with her brother, she saw pictures of Carl playing 10 years before they met. After Donna and Carl were married, he showed her a picture of him on stage in Boston with an audience looking on. He didn’t realize it, but the picture caught Donna in the background. She was in her early twenties. “It was kind of meant to be,” she says, showing me the photo.
Despite a stroke, Donna’s memory is phenomenal. “I remember almost every joke I’ve ever heard,” she says, laughing. She recited with gusto a poem about a missing boy made of chocolate she wrote in the 1970s. “I even remember my ex-husband’s Mastercard number.” And she reeled it off.
Who knows what she’ll do next. “I’m like a dandelion,” she grins, raising her chin and blowing. “Look to the wind and see where you’re going to go.” We talk about life on the docks and my writing resident profiles. “You’ll meet a lot of characters here,” Donna tells me, without irony. “I just enjoy people,” she says. “Don’t you?”
To read more Dinghy Dame profiles look to the Back Issues—located at the bottom of the right-hand column of this page. Until we manage to index all the stories in the back issues (any takers?) you’ll need to individually select a back issue of the Floating Times and scroll down; you’ll then easily find the Dinghy Dame column.