MERCEDES — Lorraine Davis didn’t even know she was losing her mama. She was home in the barn, milking 32 cows.

“My dad was at the hospital, my brothers were gone and my younger sisters wouldn’t think of milking a cow!” said Lorraine. “I’m the only one who knew how to separate the cream from the milk. I got the cows out of the pasture and put them in the stanchions [the metal head rails in dairy barns that lock the cows in place while they are milked].”

Though her mother had 30 gallstones — one as large as a hen’s egg — it was the surgical shock that took her life back in August of 1932. Lorraine was 11 years old, fifth of seven children.

“I remember before breakfast every morning we had prayer service with my mother,” she said, recalling her fondly.

When her father passed away five years later, he gave the family farm to her brother on one condition.

“I’m going to give you the farm if you’ll raise the three younger kids in the family,” said her dad. And the brother agreed.

Now Lorraine was a strong minded young woman and she had a dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher.

“After all the bills were paid when my father passed away, I received about $1,200. I told my brother, ‘I’m going to college,’” Lorraine said. “I worked my way through college for two years while working in the kitchen for 10 cents an hour. I went to our church college at Westmar College in Le Mars, Iowa.”

Of course, someone as cute as a button like Lorraine wasn’t going to be left by the wayside. A Navy man stole her heart.

“I met him in college but he went into the service because they were calling him up. Leonard Lyle Davis was his name. He went through training to serve on the air craft carrier — the Bunker Hill — as a gunner. While he was in the Navy, I made airplanes for two years in Oklahoma City at Douglas Aircraft,” said Lorraine, a real life Rosie the Riveter.

On Lorraine’s 24th birthday, May 11, 1945, the Bunker Hill was hit by several “Kamikaze” suicide planes in the South Pacific.

“My husband was drinking a cup of coffee at the time. He took his washcloth, dunked it in the coffee and put it over his face, so he could breathe, until he climbed to the deck. It saved his life. Nearly 400 died that day,” she said, somberly.

After the war, they moved back to Iowa. Leonard wanted to be a train dispatcher and Lorraine went back to college in order to become a teacher again.

“I loved teaching. I never had an unhappy day! Never!” she said, pounding the table emphatically. “For 35 years and always as a kindergarten teacher.”

Lorraine tells the story of when the principal knocked on her door with five garbage bags in his hand.

“Can I ask you a favor?” he said. “We had a windstorm last Friday night. Would you take the youngsters out and pick up all the paper and garbage on the football field?”

“I’d love that,” she said. “I made a game of it and we went out there and picked it all up. At noon the first grade teacher said to me, ‘What’s the matter with you? That’s not in your contract to go and pick up garbage.’ We had a ball,’ I told her. “We had fun and that teacher couldn’t believe it.

“But that’s the way I lived,” Lorraine said, with sincerity. “That’s the only way to live — is to do what’s right. That’s my philosophy in life.”

Her whole family was raised with that same philosophy — given them by their loving parents. And that’s the way Lorraine has lived her whole life — cheerfully and generous.

But it hasn’t always been easy.

Reluctantly retiring in 1983, she and Leonard traveled the grand United States and the Bahamas. However, it was their trip to Europe she’ll always remember.

“We went to Europe for 18 days with my sister and her husband for our 30th wedding anniversary,” Lorraine said, eyes gleaming brightly. “We had a ball going to Holland, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. I loved it! It was probably the highlight of my life.”

Married for 43 years, Leonard passed in October of 1988 — and Lorraine kept on kicking.

“I made up my mind I wasn’t going to sit at home and feel sorry for myself,” she said. She kept coming to the Valley and enjoyed life at Paradise South in Mercedes.

“I had one boy — Jim,” she said. “Five years ago I got a call on the 29th of January.”

“Lorraine,” the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Jim’s gone.” And just like that her beloved son was out of her life. It was 30 degrees below zero and he had gone off into a ditch. Rushed to a hospital, he was gone in hours.

Now, friends drive her to the Valley instead of her son. And she continues to volunteer in many park activities. At four-feet four-inches, she makes a perfect Santa’s elf and has been doing that for 25 years. Playing cards every night doesn’t keep her from her morning task.

“I get up every morning at 5:00 o’clock and take my flashlight and white cane and walk around the park, putting everyone’s paper [already thrown] on their doorstop. I love to do it. Last year the largest number I did was 99.”

This kindness of Lorraine’s was prevalent in her childhood.

“I went to a country school across the road from where we lived on a farm,” she said. “I went home at noon because I had a baby lamb I had to take care of, the mother had died. One day I said to the teacher, ‘Can I bring the lamb to school?’ I brought a sled and gave the kids rides on the sled and I had the lamb pulling it. We had fun!”

Lorraine still has a garden back home, growing sweet corn, tomatoes and all kinds of good veggies. And again, her philosophy plays a major part in her garden.

“I do it to have something to do,” she said. “But, I give it all away except the little bit I want for myself. That’s what life is all about — it’s more blessed to give than receive. Someone helped me for the first years when my mother died — family, neighbors. I can’t help them but I can help somebody else.”

At 88, she still is looking forward to more years here in the Valley.

“I’m headed for 98,” said Lorraine. “Long as I get a driver to bring me down. This park is 99 percent A+.”

And with a toss of her little white head, typically Lorraine, she graciously said, “Thanks for coming!”