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Coast to Coast

By Emma Fitzgerald

Legally Blonde, a popular 2001 movie, stars Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a young woman who moves from coast to coast and experiences different cultures. The movie is a favorite of Arlington resident, Catherine Donnelly. She feels she can relate to the main character, as she herself moved cross country throughout her life, bouncing around between California, Texas, and Massachusetts.

Catherine “Cate” Donnelly Daniels was born in 1943 “during the war.” Her father served in the conflict and would go on to work as a policeman for forty years after his return home. Her parents and family were originally from Somerville but moved to Arlington where Cate and her siblings were born and raised. Cate is the eldest of seven children and is three years older than the second born. This age order would have Cate taking care of her younger siblings, and she had lots of responsibilities.

As a child, Cate was close with her mother’s parents and describes them as “gentle people.” She also has fond memories of spending time in her paternal grandfather’s house in Ossipee, which was one of her favorite places to visit as an eight-year-old.

Growing up, Cate loved playing baseball as she was considered a “tomboy.” Unfortunately, sports weren’t deemed appropriate for girls during this time. Regardless, she loved bike riding, climbing trees, and helping her dad around the house. She would even help her dad with his side job, putting up wallpaper.

During high school, Cate attended St. James School while continuing to help out with her siblings. She worked at a coffee shop as a waitress when she was fifteen. Cate then went to work at Filene’s Basement in Boston for two years before she graduated high school in 1961.

Following graduation, she worked for a year as a clerk for the water department at town hall, then for five years at the police station. At twenty three, she decided to pursue a volunteering opportunity with the Appalachian Vista Volunteer program and left Massachusetts.

Cate would continue to move around and pursue different interests and careers. At one point, she was even on track to become a nun, but she decided to change her path. She moved to California, which offered a first taste of a different culture and atmosphere. She met her husband in California; then five years later, they moved to Texas with their six-month-old son, John, and three-year-old daughter, Kim. They lived in El Paso for four years, then moved to Houston for six years.

After getting divorced in 1979, Cate found herself a single mother. Fortunately, she found a “Parents without Partners” support group, which she notes was “amazing.” There was this sense of community and togetherness in Texas, something she hadn’t experienced back in Boston. Houston at the time was on the rise, full of young people, and Cate likes to describe it as a “new, young rebel.” She felt like everyone was together.

When Cate decided to move back to Massachusetts, homesick for New England culture, she created one of her fondest memories on the way home. She drove a 21-foot truck back to Boston with her son, enjoying the time together. When she returned to Massachusetts, Aunt Cappy, who is her biggest influence, “bent over backwards”  to help her feel loved and supported.

Cate is very close to her granddaughter, who is now 26 years old, and has raised her since she was three. Her granddaughter is someone she loves dearly and is a big part of her current life. Cate spends her time challenging her intellect. She really likes taking writing classes and often will go to different senior centers. She has gotten involved in art, coloring, and drawing and thoroughly enjoys continuing to learn. 

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