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Posts Tagged ‘Hot Springs’

When a Couple Crosses the Line and Turns…..OLD!!

Saturday morning, I have to drive 14 year old Sandor to his job at 10:30 am.  He’s a busboy and a crazy popular pizza restaurant.  But today is different, I’ve convinced my husband, Alex, the sometimes curmudgeon, to drive with me and stop by the wonderful Hot Springs Farmers Market afterwards.

The top is down, I have a convertible, the morning is beautiful and our son, Sandor is in the back seat.

Alex looks over at me. ” I can’t believe you made me wear this sweatshirt.”

“Come on, it’s soft and nice and new, what’s the problem?”

“I like my old red sweatshirt. I don’t care what people think.”

“”You look really nice, though,” I pleaded.

“Sandor, she’s being mean to me.”

I rolled my eyes, looked at him and smiled, “What? I’m making you go to the Farmer’s Market on a beautiful Saturday morning. That’s so awful?  I’m sounding like a Jewish Grandmother, right?”

“What ever, the Elite Eight, NCAA,  first game starts in three hours.”

I playfully smacked him. “What ever, I’ll have you home two hours before tip off. Just enjoy the morning.”

And then were were silent for a moment.  I looked in the rear view mirror and locked eyes with Sandor. He smiled at me. “What? What are you grinning about?” I asked him.

He just shook his head, “You guys are adorable.”

We got Sandor to his job on time.  I stopped the car and looked at Alex, “Adorable. He called us adorable. You know what that means?”

Alex pulled a cigarette out, waiting to get out of the car so he could smoke it. “Hell yeah, he’s calling us old.”

“Exactly!” I said.

“It’s ok, we still got it,” Alex said to me, trying to dismiss the fact Sandor called us “adorable.”

Alex and I now comfortably fall into old people grumbling, bickering, bitching.

I looked at him. “We still got it?”

“Hell yeah,” he replied ruefully, like a dude from The Outsiders.

“Well ok then. Let’s tear up the Farmer’s Market.”

*Apparently I will never ever, ever get back on Google Adsense, cause nine years ago I messed up.  That means I’ll probably never make money from this blog.  So….you comments and support mean everything…otherwise why would I write.  Let me know what you think. Please.

 

 

 

Horsey Healing

img_0038Everyone has wounds, unique emotional scrapes and scars. Childhood and growing up, family and friends can sometimes  beat you up and leave sore spots that we try to ignore or cover up.

I have a running joke that I cheerfully keep all my emotional skeletons locked in a closest and that’s where I want them to stay.

If we are lucky in life, we  find salves and ointments, activities, places and people who make us feel better as humans.  There are things that can smooth the rough corners and edges of life.

This year I discovered a place, right down the road, whose sole mission is exactly that.  The Loco Bonita Ranch has some horses, a lot of them: and these animals have magical gifts.  They make people feel better.

Seven years ago John and Sonja McCaleb opened their ranch and their hearts to folks who need them. Kids who have to live in “children’s homes” , stroke victims, students with emotional struggles and adults with unnamed, but very real pain have a place and some horses who understand. It’s one of the craziest most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Sonja, John and their horses are quiet and kind, patient and encouraging.  I watched as ten year old girls, twenty year old men and middle age ladies suddenly found peace as they  brushed a 2,000 pound horse and talked. Years of physical and emotional pain dissolved as the horses nuzzled on them and tried to nibble the buttons on their shirts.

A lovely woman I know had a stroke a few years ago. She hadn’t been near a horse in forty years and all she wanted to do was ride, one more time.  Sonja and John made that happen and it was beautiful. There were tears and laughter and horse poop and the world was right for an hour. Despite her disability she left empowered, knowing she could still do anything she set her mind to.

High strung, anxious, angry teens slow down as they figure out how to brush a horse.  The look into those big dark eyes and breath in the peace of Loco Bonita. Sometimes as John or Sonja shows them how to take care of a horse they tell their stories….for the first time.

Kids who have been abandoned at home and bullied at school discover they have the ability to brush, saddle, bridle and lead an enormous, beautiful horse. And they can ride that huge animal without threats or abuse but with understanding and strength.

John and Sonja refuse to charge for any of their services.  They just won’t do it.

The eighteen horses at Loco Bonita along with the Llama, goats, pigs and dogs do wondrous good in the world.  The ranch is a place of peace and power, of grace and beauty.

Over the past 7 years Sonja estimated they’ve had at least 5,000 folks come through Loco Bonita and every one has been touched and helped by a horse. Both John and Sonja work full time.  They help people because it is their passion and God’s plan. If you would like to visit or make a donation to help feed a horse (they eat a lot) let me know and we’ll make it happen.

Peace be with you,

Diana

hampoland@gmail.com

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.

Our First Date….A Hot Springs History Lesson

alex and me (2)Alex and I met in 1991 or 92.  I’d just started The Springs Magazine and he was a hot shot young chef in Hot Springs. I turned him down a couple of times cause he was a player then finally relented.

Back then Alex was a stud, lean (he’d been a swimmer at Michigan State) long curly black hair and lots of black chest hair. He was swarthy and smooth.

I relented and said yes to date.  I remember I was wearing a short black gauzy dress, it was mid-summer and so hot.  We went to Brewskies on Ouachita Avenue first. Mike Stanley was playing with Danny Smith and I realized Hot Springs had amazing blues.

Then we drove in separate cars to the restaurant cause I was being cautious.We met at The Majestic, an old restaurant, not really cool, but he was a chef and seemed to know what he was doing. We sat in the first booth, closest to the door, under the thick floral curtains.

majesticI thought it was incredibly cool when Alex left me and walked right into the kitchen to talk to his friend Butch, who was running things that night.

He ordered some kind of smoked trout dip as an appetizer. I don’t remember the rest of the meal. but our waitress knew Alex and was obviously flirting. He was really handsome.

After dinner we walked out and he stood in front of me looking so hot. I thought he was going to kiss me. Instead he reached into his jacket pocket and handed me something wrapped in a napkin.

It was a quartz crystal, three points and incredibly clear.

He said, “I collect them. I found that one in Mt. Ida.”

Oooookay.

Then I waited, smiling, thinking he would lean in and kiss me.

But he didn’t. Instead he walked around and opened the door of my Toyota. I climbed in, waited, then drove away thinking. ‘Either he doesn’t dig me or he’s a total weirdo.”

Twenty something years latter we’re sitting here watching The Big Bang Theory waiting to pick up child number four from Taekwondo. We’re good.

So next time you drive past the burned out remains of the Majestic Hotel remember some great romances were born there with reasonable women and handsome weirdos.

 

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.

Big Willie The Catfish, Louella and Liz

catfishThe true story about the day my cousins and I caught Big Willie and I got my butt beat.

We grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas and my family had a lovely 1960s condo on Lake Hamilton.

At seven, Liz was our beautiful, blond brutal dictator, I was the goofy looking six year old and Mikey was a scrawny tough ass five year old who would bow up on a bus or throw down with a bear. He was too stupid or stubborn to realize he only weighed fifty pounds. Mike thought he was Tarzan and Cold Stone Steve Austin rolled up in a taco with hot sauce.  At five he was a hard core bad ass.

We  were young but together we were formidable and frightening, full of really bad ideas and virtually unsupervised for weeks at a time. At my house the only adult who ever attempted to keep an eye on us was Louella, our friend and maid for more than thirty years.

There was a lady who lived at the end of our boardwalk named Mrs. Williams. Every day at four she would lovingly feed all her “pet” fish in Lake Hamilton. She tossed out hand fulls of corn and bread then watched as schools of fish appeared. There was one massive, elephant sized catfish who showed up every afternoon, named Big Willie.  He was nearly as long as a baseball bat and as fat as a foot ball. This guy was beautiful. And Mrs. Williams loved him.

Liz, Mike and I were not allowed to fish anywhere near her end of the boardwalk but one day…Mrs Williams went on vacation.

Brown and barefooted, wearing nothing but groovy swimsuits, we hauled our fishing gear to the end of the boardwalk ten minutes after Mrs. Williams backed out of her parking spot.

Mikey bounced up and down on his skinny little legs as we watched the fish circling under the dark water.  We threw in a hand full of corn and the fish went crazy. Lake Hamilton boiled with fishy action.

Liz packed a piece of hot dog and a bread ball onto a hook and dropped  the line in. Mikey and I  were lying on our bellies, staring at the fish. Then it happened. The line went taunt and Liz sarted saying, “Holy crap, holy crap.”  Reeling hard, Liz leaned back and Mike and I jumped to our feet.  Instantly,we realized she had hooked Big Willie on the first try.  It was unbelievable  She cranked on the reel and we saw the massive gray fish rise to the surface then pull back on the line. The reel screamed. We were no match with out K-Mart Rod and Reel. Big Willie pulled line like a yo-yo. Liz screamed at Mike, “get the net, Michael Clark get the damn net!”

The net was taller than Mike, but he snatched it up then stared into the water, waiting for his chance to scoop up Big Willie. Liz made an executive decision, we couldn’t wait any longer. She shoved five year old Mikey into the lake and started screaming at him.  “Scoop him up,  Mike. Catch him.”

I helped her hold the rod as the fish tried to get away from Mike, his net and kicking legs.  There was fishing line, splashing, screaming and then suddenly Mike yelled, “He’s in!”

Tiny Mike tried to hold the net up as he treaded water but the fish weighed too much.  Liz dropped the pole and stretched out on the boardwalk to grab the net.  She pulled the net and the gigantic fish onto the hot wooden planks while I helped 50 pound Mike out of the water.

Liz had Big Willie, flopping furiously in the net. His catfish mouth gaped open, he looked so angry and slimy.  His whiskers were at least three inches long and we had no idea what to do with the monster.  The hook poked though his cheek and the bread ball was still on the hook in his mouth. His eyes rolled in our direction and we all stepped back.

Liz pushed Mike. “Get the hook out.”

“Hell no. He’ll get me .”

“You get the hook out,” I said to Liz.  She looked at me as thought I was made of cat poop and stupid. Then she picked up the net, we had to help her. And we walked toward my condo as Big Willie flopped.

Finally, we got Willie back to the condo.  Liz looked at me. “We can put him in the bathtub right? He’ll be ok.”

I nodded stupidly.

Then we smuggled Big Willie into the condo, we made it upstairs to the bathroom.  I filled the bathtub with cold water and Mike leaned against the door so Louella couldnt’ push it open  Finally, it was full. Mikey held the net as Liz and I raised the fishing pole Big Willie was still attached to.

We got him out of the net into the gleaming white tub. And for a little while, we all held the pole and watched him swim slowly around the tub. The hook was poking out of his face and he was tethered to our pole but he didnt seem to mind

Ginally Mike stepped into the bathtub and started laughing as the big fish swam past his leg.  Liz and I got in too and we giggled like maniacs as Big Willie swam between and past our legs.  Liz had the reel, then let line out, we picked up our feet so the line wouldn’t get tangled. We laughed so hard Mike started peeing in the tub.  The we laughed even harder…until Louella walked in.

It was terrible. She screamed until my Mom arrived. We had to take Willie to the lake, cut the line and let him go. Then I got a spanking and I’m pretty sure I could hear Liz and Mike laughing in the next room.

It was a great day

PS

Recently my cousin had surgery and the tough ass woman is back! I love you cuz and Bubba too.

The Strange Truth About Burly Webb

grizzlyWeird things have always happened in my life, crazy coincidences that defy explanation.  But one of the all time greats is a Hot Springs story.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago I wrote a novel, Invisible Branches.  It’s the story of a pregnant bookie in Hot Springs who decides to break away from her horrific boss.  He’s a pretty nasty dude who owns a bunch of strip joints and runs numbers.

I based this dangerous villain on a local man named Burly Webb. Burly owned or ran a lot of local late night clubs in the 80s and 90s.   Because so many folks were, ripped off, cheated, robbed and  savagely beaten in his parking lots, Burly had a pretty terrible reputation.

But for some strange reason, Burly and I became friends. He helped me out a couple of times and never asked anything in return. People under estimated him, and thought he was just a stupid violent guy. It’s true, he was uneducated but he was anything but stupid. He was however a very dangerous and violent man. Even my own brother, who was a professional smuggler, didn’t like the fact that I was friends with Burly Webb.

In the novel, the character Hurley, only had one leg.  He lost his foot and half a leg when he stepped in a bear trap in the woods. It was a pretty gruesome scene.

Before the book came out, I told Burly I’d written a story and he was the bad guy.  He thought that was just great and bought ten or twenty copies to keep at the bar. I doubt he ever read Invisible Branches but he loved knowing he’d been immortalized. People told him how horrible and monstrous his character was in the book and that just made him laugh.

Then something freaky happened. Six months after the book was published Burly was out in the woods cutting down a tree.  The chain saw slipped and he cut off his own leg, exactly where his character lost his.

The real Burly recovered, he got around on crutches after that. he still thought it was funny as Hell that he’d done virtually the same thing in the book. He never got mad at me but our friendship wasn’t quite the same.  I think made him a little nervous. and who can blame him?

Burly died a few years ago.  The character Hurley died too in a pretty nasty way.  I think about this strange coincidence sometimes and it reminds me how much power the written word holds. Humans are the only animals on the planet who have the ability to write things down, so when we do, we need to be careful and get it right.

 

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.

 

 

The Wisdom of Dawond Pickney

dawond pickneyWhen Dawond Pickney was ten years old he remembers holding a spit bucket in the corner of a boxing ring for his father Harold . “I was his trainer, his corner man, his cut man, even thought I didn’t really know that much about that.  I’d get him up in the morning and make him run and work out. But you know I was a young guy so he could run over me, I guess that’s why he used me as his trainer. He didn’t have the discipline, he liked to party and do other things a fighter’s not supposed to do.”

In the movie Knight’s Tale John Thatcher, a poor father tells  his young terrified  son to “Change his stars.”

Most of us  blame our stars for all the misfortunes and bad luck in our lives. Very few are ever brave enough to actually try to change our stars, to step out on faith and try something that’s probably impossible.

Dawond Pickney is a 35 year old MMA fighter in Hot Springs, Arkansas. As an amateur he was 7-5, as a pro he’s 1-1.

Thirty five is a little old by most people’s standards, but Dawond doesn’t see it that way, “I’m pretty sure I still have a few good years in me,” he said so quietly I had to move the recorder closer to his face.  But that’s Dawond. Despite his success  in the cage and his reputation as one of the most dangerous cage fighters in Arkansas, he is humble and unassuming… no chest thumping…no bravado.

When he’s in the cage it’s a different story.  There he has an almost laser like focus and intensity. He stalks his opponents as though the outcome is inevitable fight.  His hands are ridiculously fast, but there are professional boxers on both sides of Dawond’s family. His grandfather on his mother’s side fought Leon Spinx (who went on to be world champion) twice.

“My dad was a good fighter, a terrific fighter, but he just never had any discipline. But watching him, that’s how I figured out how to be a good fighter. From the time I was little, we’d watch his fight films every week, two or three times.

Several years ago Dawond’s cousin brought him a poster for what they thought was a tough man contest. He entered, not knowing much about MMA.  “That first fight I was nervous and I hadn’t trained.  I told my mom, “dog gone, I’m nervous” and she said ‘You better not lose”.

Dawond won with a first round knockout.

When I ask him to tell me about his mother he leans back, “My Mom, she’s a good good woman, beautiful woman. She supports me, she’s at all my fight. She goes crazy. They video taped her once running up and down the isle yelling ”you better not lose, you better knock him out.”

dawond 2If you tell most people a young man is training in mma or cage fighting they assume it’s a bad thing, that mma breeds punks and thugs, like pit bulls.  For Dawand, it was the opposite and everyone around him realized he needed to be focused on something. “People who knew me coming up, well I was wild, so they knew it would be good for me it helps me stay focused and determined. I was really wild, but this helps me, it grounds me in a lot of ways. And I like the discipline. I love the discipline.  Martial Arts is a discipline and to be a good fighter, whether it’s boxing, kickboxing, JiuJjitsu, you gotta be disciplined. ”

With that in mind, Dawand trains two or three times a day, five or six times a week.  In the morning it’s an hour or more working on stand up skills and cardio. During his lunch break at work he goes to the gym and focuses on strength, cardio or circuit training and every night, Monday through Friday he’s at the gym from 6pm-9pm training with his team. And he works full time 40-50 hours a week.

“If you read about the best at any sport it’s all about the discipline and drive. They other day I watched a video on Arnold Schwarzenegger  and he was talking about “the drive” and  what it takes to the be the best. You can’t say “maybe I’ll do something” you gotta say “I’m gonna do what it takes to accomplish my goals.”

“You gonna have failures, get whooped, you might get dissed, but you gotta have that drive. I remember one day I got knocked out, really knocked out and I ain’t gonna lie, my dad was in my corner and he said, “now this is what it’s gonna take to see if what type of fighter your gonna be. Are you gonna quite or are you gonna hit the gym and try to be a successful fighter? I said “I ain’t no quitter”. And that’s why I’m here today right here. I don’t know how good I’m doing but I’m gonna reach my goal…to be the best fighter.”

Other fighters and his coach, Bob Edmonds, are blown away by his skill and technique.  But it’s the man’s attitude, discipline and work ethic that are awe inspiring and set the standard at Off The Chain MMA. When I mentioned to one fighter I was writing about Dawond, he just smiled, shook his head and said, “man Dawond is awesome.”

MMA is plagued by stereo-types.  Lots of fighters jump on top of the cage after a win, they scream and flex up. It’s easy to assume humility isn’t part of the mixed martial arts world. But Dawond destroys that misconception. “I read about George St. Pier and he said “every time he goes in a gym he’s a white belt. Ever time, and me too, I’m the same way, especially when I go cross train. I go everywhere but when I walk in the door I never voice my opinion. I’m there to learn.”

Since the dawn of time some men were born to fight, some were born to watch. And when Dawond tells me he’s not afraid of anybody and he’d be willing to fight anyone….I believe him.

“It’s like my daddy used to say ‘You see me fighting a bear you better help that bear’

Dawond loves to fight, he loves the discipline and he loves his family and daughter. He brags about her and  she motivates him to do other things, not fight, but to be a great dad. “My little girl she loves to fight, but she’s a good girl, she walks past people,  and says excuse me, she’s a good kind girl.”

What drives a man to push himself so relentlessly? It’s hard to say, but some men have the drive, the discipline and the guts to change their stars. And it seems, Dawond Pickney’s stars have already started shifting.

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Story Ever Told…Keeping the Faith

dad 4 with pistol (3)I’ve promised my kids I would write this story for a long time. It’s tough because it may be the greatest story every told, and I’m not sure I have the words.

My father, I Granger McDaniel, did not serve in the American military but he absolutely served, saved, survived World War II.

My dad was a short but quick and charming kid  when he was in high school in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1940.

Hitler was slaughtering  Jews in Europe but America had not yet  joined the forces to defeat him. My dad wanted a piece of the action, he wanted to fly,  he wanted to save the world and he wanted to impress my mom.

So, at the age of 17 he dropped out of Hot Springs High, forged his own high school diploma and ran away to Canada.  Because he’d been taking flying lessons at the Hot Springs Memorial Field the Canadians considered him a pilot. They shipped him to England where at the age of 17 he joined the RAF, the Royal  Air Force.

He had just turned eighteen when he was made the Captain of a Short Sterling bomber with an eight man crew. Eighteen years old. Over several months he and his crew flew lots of successful missions and raids. They delivered their load, dodged gun fire from land and air and did their part to  beat back the Nazis.

After completing a mission in 1942 Dad and his crew were limping home, across the North Sea after being  hit by enemy gunfire He crash landed the plain in the North Sea. My father was able to save some of his crew but not all.  They floated for  days in a rubber dingy before being picked up by a Danish fisherman.

While on board Dad wrote a letter to his mom. I’m holding the letter now, so I’m gonna let him tell the rest of the story.

“Dear Mom,

Now don’t go get all worried. I am o.k. On a Danish fishing boat at the present. Spent four days in a dinghe. Jerry will treat us ok. two of my crew are with me, I lost four. Tell Cal and Dailey to be good and take care of you. I will try to get my pay sent to you. sorry i let you all down, thought i was going to win this war. I had a hell of a crash in the sea. I was thrown through the wind screen and swam with full flying kit to the back and pulled two out. It sank before I could get the rest. Two of them were shot anyway.

Tell Cal not to forget all the things I told him and that with faith he doesn’t need to worry about anything. Maybe I can study Architecture in prison camp.

Write to Air Ministry and tell them to send all my pay home. I hope dad is feeling better and Ginia and the baby are ok. Dad always said would stick my neck out too far. Now I’ve done it. I am lucky to be alive tho.

Tell Choate he thinks he was pretty sly I guess.

I guess I kinda got my flying career cut short huh? I got four engine stuff anyhow….

Honest mom, I want you all to know, I tried to save my crew. I could have had em bail out in Germany, but I thought I could take em home on 3 engines but soon another cut. I tried to get em to crash positions before we hit, then I tried to pull em out but I got two and it sank in  1 1/2 min. My wirless (I can’t read his writing) was sending S.O.S though wounded.

I didn’t have my time all in my log. I wish you would write and try and get it.

Right now I got me a big black cigar, guess I better enjoy it.

I think I will be able to write through the Red Cross. Please don’t worry now. Just have faith.

Give everyone my regards   Bud.   Irven Granger McDaniel”

Everytime I read his words I am stunned by the grace, composure and selflessness of that eighteen year old boy. Strange things went on to happen. He spent four years in POW camp, but he was able to study architecture. He escaped so many times he was called “The Cooler King” and he was part of The Great Escape from Stalag III.

I was only sixteen when my dad died. but I hope his service to the world and faith will never be forgotten.

I love you Daddy.