Viviane Fotter is one of the strongest women I have ever known.

She worked in the Diamond Match factory in Oakland for 34 years while raising six boys, has had more surgeries than you can count, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and other serious health problems, and never complains. She’s always smiling.

Viviane, who will be 91 in January, now is in hospice care and living in Benton with her son, Steve, and his wife, Linda. She left her waterfront home in the Belgrade Lakes because she needed more round-the-clock care. Viviane is in a wheelchair, on oxygen and fragile, but that doesn’t stop her from chasing adventure.

“She’s working on her bucket list,” Steve told me this week. “We got her in the pool last summer. She was with the grandchildren, and they were splashing each other. She wanted to go down in the basement to see my trains, so we carried her down the stairs in the wheelchair and she loved it. She stayed for about an hour.”

Steve had called to invite me to share in another of his mother’s bucket list forays. I was honored to be invited to such a momentous occasion, which I will tell you about in a moment.

But first, I must relate that Viviane and I go a long way back. I met her 27 years ago when we were hospital roommates, and we have kept in touch through Christmas cards ever since. She had back surgery requiring her to lie flat on her back. I had intestinal issues and could not eat. We were both in rough shape, but we lifted each other’s spirits by talking and telling stories long into the night when we couldn’t sleep.

On Mother’s Day that year, 1993, Steve came to see her in the hospital, armed with his guitar, and sang to her. It was the sweetest thing, and something I have never forgotten. Steve is a guitar teacher and performer and loves his mother fiercely. In January he hosted a big 90th birthday party for her at a Waterville restaurant attended by dozens of friends and family. There was a nice lunch, a big cake, stories told, lots of laughter, and of course, Steve sang her favorite songs.

Mike Schimpff, right, and Alan Getchell help Viviane Fotter, 90, move from wheelchair to saddle Wednesday in Clinton. Her grandson Joe Fotter waits on horseback to help her take a birthday ride on Taylor. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

But back to Viviane’s bucket list.

“A month ago, Mom blurted out of the blue, ‘I’ve never been on a horse,’ ” Steve told me. “I had no idea it was on her bucket list. I’ve been with my Mom 65 years and I didn’t know that.”

Steve vowed to grant her wish. On Wednesday, a warm, sunny fall day, I drove out to Steve and Linda’s house where their nephew, Joe Fotter, helped get Viviane into the car to head to Silver Lining Acres, a horse farm a few miles away in Clinton owned by Joe’s stepdaughter, Kyrstie Tracy. Before leaving, Steve presented his mother with a pretty chocolate cake with orange, yellow and white frosting and topped with a plastic horse. On the cake was written the words, “Congrats, Mom.”

You see, Viviane was about to ride a horse for the first time in her life — a lifelong dream since growing up in Waterville, one of nine children, she told me.

“I think I’ve done most everything I wanted to do,” she said. “But the horse … When I was about 10 or 12, growing up in Waterville,  we went to a farm. It was about apple time and these people had horses and when I saw that horse, I thought he was beautiful, and I thought, someday I might be able to ride. I’ve mentioned it as the years go by. Then Kyrstie got her horses and I thought, ‘Gee, I’d like to go and have a ride around that arena.’ ”

We all drove to the horse farm where Steve’s friends Mike Schimpff and Alan Getchell, and Getchell’s daughter, Ellie, 8, were waiting to help. Kyrstie also was there with Taylor, an easy-going, 12-year-old Appaloosa. A Fotter family friend, Monica Charette, was ready with a video camera.

Steve presented his mother with a bouquet of red roses and baby’s breath and the action began.

Viviane Fotter, 90, gets comfortable sitting side-saddle on Taylor with her grandson Joe Fotter assisting Wednesday in Clinton. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The men loaded Viviane, in her wheelchair, onto the bed of a pickup truck, which then was backed up to the horse. Joe climbed onto its back, behind the saddle. Viviane was lifted onto the saddle, sideways.

With Joe’s arm wrapped around his grandmother and Kyrstie leading the horse, they entered the arena and circled it several times. Kyrstie’s 4-year-old black English lab, Duke, followed along. Playing his guitar, Steve sang, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again …” as he strolled with the group.

Viviane, donning a brown cowboy hat, was beaming.

“Giddy up there, girl,” she said to the horse. “You’re a good girl.”

It was a joyful several minutes, and, as all good things must come to an end, the entourage eventually headed back to the gate.

Viviane thanked everyone very much, and they all clapped. I asked her what she thought of her ride.

“For the record,” she said, “I thought it was wonderful, amazing and awesome.”

She turned to Kyrstie to thank her for helping to knock another item off her bucket list.

“Any time,” Kyrstie replied. “Anything for you, Viv.”

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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