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Posts Tagged ‘Ann Stell McDaniel’

A Boy In Love

classMy parents fell in love in third grade, during the Great Depression.

On bright fall afternoon, my father, Granger McDaniel, squatted next to Whittington Creek. Patiently, he jiggled a piece of string. There was a tiny piece of bacon attached. He knew most of the crawdads were gone this time of year but he had a feeling. Finally, Granger watched as a crawdad approached the bacon and snapped his claw onto the meat.

“Gotcha!” he said as he raised the string up and removed the crawdad.  He looked closely at the crawdads face and bulging eyeballs. “I’m keeping you for the baby! He’ll think you’re really funny, I bet.”

He shoved the string, bacon and crawdad into his deep front pocket then without hesitation or thought, started running, into the woods and up West Mountain.

There wasn’t a visible trail but Granger knew exactly where he was going. He expected every rock and log. He knew each fork and tree. He’d run this game trail up and over West Mountain so many times he didn’t really have to think as he ran.

West Mountain was steep, but not terribly tall. Granger reached the summit in less than fifteen minutes.  Grinning,  stopped to take in the view for a moment and get his bearings. Then as quickly as he stopped he bolted down the mountain, sliding and skidding, sometimes sling shotting around thin trees to slow himself down.

Exploding out of the tree line, Granger stopped completely to catch his breath. He whipped off his hat, licked his dirty hand and smoothed his dark shaggy hair.

He was standing on the edge of a manicured lawn. A beautiful white colonial house with dark green shutters and trim loomed in front of him. After dusting off his pants with his hat, he suddenly sprinted to the back door and knocked twice.

He saw Louella, in her white uniform peek out the window at him before she opened the door.

“Hi Miss Louella, can Ann play today?”

“No, Dr. Stell said she needs to practice her piano.” She handed him a small plate with two cookies and a glass of milk. “Eat up and leave the plate on the table.”

“Can I take one of the cookies to my baby brother?”

“It’s your cookie, do what you want.” She watched him for a moment then said. “Tie your shoe before you leave so you don’t trip running down the mountain.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said as he shoved an entire cookie in his mouth then slugged down the little glass of milk.

Louella closed the door as Granger dropped the extra cookie into his deep front pocket with the crawdad. He squatted down and tied the lace on his ragged shoe, pulled his cap down tight on his head and started running.

Before my dad died, when he was fifty one, he told us to pour his ashes on West Mountain, because he’d always be running to his girl.

It’s always been said, my mom and dad fell in love in third grade. It wasn’t always easy.

Almost A Love Story

valMy mom, Ann Stell McDaniel, hated this story, but in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m going to tell it.

My parents met and “fell in love” in third grade at Jones School, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. From day one until my dad died it was a beautiful war zone, a romantic, tumultuous roller coaster ride. Even the first year, when they were just eight years old was brutal.

My mom’s family had money.  She was an only child and her father was a surgeon at St. Joseph’s. In the early thirties they had just moved into a big, beautiful two story home on Prospect Avenue.

For my father’s family money was tight. His family lived on Whittington Avenue, on the other side of West Mountain.  Because there were lots of mouths to feed, Dad always had several jobs to help the family. In February of 1931 he was working as a stock boy at a drug store down town.  Because he was only eight he couldn’t handle the cash register but he cleaned up and made deliveries.

That year there was an enormous box of candy in the front window for Valentine’s Day.  Dad swore it was almost as big as he was. He couldn’t stop staring at the silky read heart shaped box and he knew he had to get that candy for his one true love…Ann Stell.

For two weeks he worked extra hours, even skipping school twice, to save up enough money to buy my mom the giant box of candy. On Valentine’s Day he had just enough money to buy his true love the chocolate she deserved. Proudly, he marched up Prospect Avenue carrying the heart shaped box in both hands.  He climbed the steps to her front door and rang the door ball.

After a moment her maid, Miss Willie answered the door and called for Ann to come down stairs.

Grinning, dad tried to hand my mom the box of chocolates but she shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, my mother doesn’t let me eat cheap candy.”

When she went inside dad trudged back down the steps, then sat down on the curb in front of her house and ate chocolate until he threw up.

Mom really  hated that story. So, in her defense, I will tell you she was very very spoiled and sometimes used her good fortune to take care of Dad.   Every Christmas, when they were little, she would ask for things like Erector Sets,  Army toys and sets of paint, knowing she would get everything on her list. Obviously she was asking for stuff my dad wanted. It’s true, she broke his heart over and over but then she did her best to put it back together.

The Madam in the Whore House Saves Dad’s Day

dad-4-with-pistol-3I’m rereading Slaughter House 5 by Kurt Vonnegut and stumbled across a line I didn’t understand before.  Vonnegut wrote about being free after the war. He is sent to France where they feed the soldiers “malted milkshakes and other rich foods until we were all covered with baby fat.”

My dad, I Granger McDaniel, told a funny/sad story about returning from the War. I was little when he would tell this story so I’ll probably have great big mistakes in this tale. Good news…you won’t know about them.

Once again, I’ve realized I’m the last one who is still alive in my family so I need to write down as many stories as possible for my kids. Once I’m gone….so are the stories.

Dad had been in the German POW camps for four years when he was suddenly freed.  Obviously, he was frighteningly skinny because he’d been  deprived of food for so long. And as the war progressed the rations became more and more meager.

Once a Red Cross package was delivered and a crazed young man in the barracks grabbed a whole pound of butter.  He ate it all at once before the other prisoners could get it away from him. The boy died a few hours latter and Dad was never sure why.

Once he was freed, Dad was delivered to London. In just a few weeks the British fattened him up so much he couldn’t button his pants.  His body was too happy to have food and held on to every calorie. As a result, after four years in a POW camp, he was a roly poly fat boy when he got home to Hot Springs, Arkansas. He said he could tell folks were a little disappointed by his appearance. They were expected a lean, prison hardened war hero.

After a few days at home Dad flew up to New York to see mom. Remember, they had been in love since third grade.  Mom had graduated from Vassar and was working as an actress and model in NYC. But they had written to each other throughout his four year prison stay and were already planning on getting married.

Typical of my parents, after a few days they got into a HUGE fight! Dad was so mad he actually flew back to England, thinking he still had a job with the RAF. But the war was over so dad found out they really didn’t need him. Everyone he had known in London was gone and he had no place to stay.

Depressed and lonesome he wandered through the streets of London in uniform. He’d been through so much but was still just a boy of 21 or 22.  It started raining as he walked on the cobblestone streets then suddenly he heard a shriek. Someone, a woman, was screaming to him, “Irvo! Irvo is that you? Irvo…up here!!!”  He spun around, looked up and saw an old fat woman with a great deal of make up, leaning out a third floor window, waving and flapping at him furiously. Walking back he realized it was the aging madam of a whore house he’d frequented. She took him in for a few nights until he found a way to get back to the States.

For years my mom and the madam kept in touch. As a child I loved the elaborate Christmas cards she sent  every year. In the seventies, my Mom toured Europe and tried to find the whore house and madam who took Dad in. But they were all gone. Nothing was left but the dark cobblestone streets of London.

 

 

Louella and The Hot Springs Debutante Ball …It’s Historic

arlingtonI was, without a doubt, the world’s worst debutante in Hot Springs Arkansas history.  Thinking about it makes me grimace a little now.

I was invited to be a debutante because my mother was one and my family constantly hosted parties for girls.  But the timing was terrible and my mom, Ann Stell McDaniel, always wanted to make a point. Her grandstanding and gift for theatrics was the only good thing to come out of my debutante season.

I didn’t want to be a debutante but my mom said I had to do it, for my grandmothers.  I was in college in upstate New York at the time. So mom told me to go shopping alone in Ottawa, Canada. I didn’t know what the hell kind of white gown to buy. I ended up getting a silky mermaid/Grecian toga gown rather than a great big poofy antebellum wedding dress.

The other girls looked virginal, I looked like a lounge singer.

My father had died the year before, so my brother, Granger, was supposed be be my escort.  Unfortunately, Granger was wanted for questioning by the FBI at the time. They wanted to visit with him about a boat load of something that left the Island of Belize. So, Granger was a little tense at the time and
Here’s the great part of the story, though.  When we gave the debutante committee a list of those we wanted invited to the Ball we included Louella Thomas (who had raised me) and Iolla Jacobs. Both women had been part of our family for more than thirty years. Mom and I wanted them there. The committee did not. We were asked us to reconsider. Apparently African Americans had never been invited to The Ball. mom was kind of annoyed.  Still Grang and I made it through the dance lessons and cotillion. He kept a bottle in the car and made me drive him around all week.

Ann Stell was in her element, a justified, righteous war. With seething eloquence she told them Louella and Iolla would be sitting right  next to her at The Ball.  And  when I presented her with a red rose she wanted me to give one to Louella too. They didn’t’ like that at all but had to relent. They knew my mother was brilliant and noisy.

Louella and I went shopping for her white dress together.  Mom wanted it to match her own.  I remember being in awe of the contrast between Louella’s beautiful ebony skin and the creamy fabric. We laughed and giggled and she called me “Her Miss Pooh”. At the time she seemed ancient but I realize now she was probably only sixty five or seventy  years old.

The night of the ball Louella and Iolla sat next to my mom in the Arlington Ball Room. Granger looked beautiful and I took his arm. He walked me across the room and I presented my mother and Louella each with a red rose. Louella was crying, mom was smiling.

After the Ball there was  a party. I caught up with Iolla and Louella as they were leaving. Two beautiful black ladies in an ocean of white and red.

“Hey, you can’t leave yet.  You have to stay and dance.” I said innocently, sincerely and stupidly.

Louella just  smiled and hugged me.  “Find your brother to walk us to the car,Baby Girl, I think we’ve done enough for one night.”