"When I was a little girl," remembers 91-year-old Kay Loftfield, "my mother called me Pollyanna, because every morning I would jump out of bed certain that something nice and exciting was going to happen. And I still expect something nice or something happy every day. I can't help it. There's always a reason to go on. If you didn't have that, where would you be?"
That's a question this longtime Payson resident and community activist can't answer she lives and breathes the philosophy that a positive attitude enhances life.
That Pollyanna outlook and a hint of mischief fuel the ever-present twinkle in Loftfield's eye which boasts the kilowatt power of a searchlight.
But looking on the bright side of life is not the most important key to a happy life, Loftfield says.
"First have a sense of humor," she advises. "My mother once said, 'If you don't laugh, you'll cry.' She had a difficult life, supporting and raising us four kids and getting us through school. But she always did joke a lot. She had a wonderful sarcastic sense of humor, and I think a bit of that was passed on to me."
A fair assessment, that. When a recent would-be visitor called to ask for directions to her home, Loftfield gleefully replied, "I'm just a hop, skip and a jump from the cemetery, and getting closer every day."
A Rim country denizen since 1964, Loftfield is known by local long-timers for a number of reasons.
For the past 12 years, she's served up weekly cooking advice, recipes, and stories about the Rim country's best cooks in her local newspaper column, Kay's Korner. She sold women's clothing for 11 years through a little store she owned on Main Street called the Payson Style Shop.
She was a member of the local election board, for which she personally hauled the town's ballots to Globe for counting and validation. She was an early member of the Payson Women's Golf Association. ("I took up the game in order to see my husband once in a while and tell him hello," she says.) And she was a founding member of both the now-defunct Payson Wildlife Society and the still-thriving Payson Humane Society.
"At first we just had a service of finding homes for lost dogs, which I ran out of my store," she says. "When someone would bring in a homeless dog, I'd just take it up and down the street until I'd find someone who'd take it. Finally, we got a building fund going, and some of the local vets got involved ... and that's how we did it."
Loftfield's motivation, purely and simply, was a life-long love of animals which, she guesses, started at the age of 3.
"They tell me that's how old I was when I fell into a tub of rainwater my mother used to wash our clothes," she says. "We had a collie at that time, and I'm told that the collie pulled me out. I wonder if that's why I've always felt a special fondness for animals. My brothers and sisters probably pushed me in the tub. I was an ornery little brat," she says with a wicked, unrepentant laugh.
Such tales suggest that Loftfield missed her true calling storyteller.
Loftfield's memory bank is filled with 'em, and she spins them like a pro such as the tale of a trip to the Grand Canyon she once took with her husband, Fritz, and their two boys:
"It was very late at night, we were all dead tired, and we were pulling this big old trailer. Well, the trailer started wobbling, so Fritz got out of the car and told me to drive slowly while he checked the tires. So I started driving slowly. And I kept driving. And driving ... until one of the kids started crying.
"I said, 'Fritz, look and see what's the matter with the kids?' I turned to look at him ... and he wasn't there! I'd driven off without him! And I couldn't turn the car around with this big old trailer on the back. So I just pulled over and waited for him.
"Eventually he caught up with me, huffing and puffing and hollering, 'Why in the hell did you go off and leave me back there?' He was really mad. I never lived that one down."
Loftfield's life began in Englewood, Colo., where, she proudly reports, "I was born in a tent three days after Christmas." Her family was waiting for their house to be built.
Her father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, so Loftfield's family including her three siblings was rootless for many years. They moved to Yuma, where her grandparents had farmed since 1905 ... to Oakland, Calif. in 1915, where they waited out the end of World War I and survived a deadly flu epidemic ... and to Tucson in 1923, where Loftfield finished grade school, completed high school, and attended the University of Arizona.
"My mother wanted me to be a teacher," Loftfield says, "but I hated the idea of teaching a whole roomful of snotty-nosed kids. It didn't appeal to me. I'd have killed them all the first day. But I never did graduate from college. I met someone I liked better than school. I met him on a blind date, and it lasted 57 and a half years."
That would be her husband, Fritz, whom she met in 1927 and wed two years later. The couple had four children: two boys, Berner and Roger, and two girls, Anne and Judy.
Because Fritz was a civil engineer and a reserve officer in the Civil Conservation Corps, she returned to her nomadic life hauling her kids and kaboodle to CCC camps in Eloy, Nogales, Wyoming, Colorado, California and back to Tucson, where Fritz began building homes made from adobe bricks.
"He made them himself, experimenting with cement (cemadobes) and asphalt (bitudobes), Loftfield remembers. "In 1951, we moved to Phoenix where he became a partner with a former engineering buddy, and they built subdivision homes in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, before we retired to Payson in 1964.
"We used to come visit friends who had a cabin up here, which is the story of Payson's life, you know. You visit someone here, or you drive through one day ... and then eventually you think of it and come back. Everyone I've ever met in Payson says they came here for a visit and decided to come back after they retired.
"Well, that's what we did, too. And I am so glad we did. Fritz died in 1987, and that was rough. But It's been a wonderful life here in Payson. I'm loving every minute."
Of course, geography has nothing to do with it. Kay Loftfield would love every minute of life no matter where she lived, blinding folks with that megawatt twinkle in her eyes.