Posts Tagged ‘Hot Springs’

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.



God Gave Me A Rock… Literally A Round Gray Rock

peaceI’m reprinting this story because I gave my rock to a friend yesterday.  She is the aunt of a seventeen year old boy who is struggling with all sorts of issues.  She wants to save him so she took her own sister to court to get custody.

When I walked into court I handed her my peace rock because it has the power to help in special situations.

Here’s the story of my peace rock. (And fyi, the aunt’s story had a happy ending.)



A little less than a year ago my brother, Granger, died. It was a pretty horrific and heartbreaking situation. Granger was my last living family member. That’s why I sometimes feel like the last creature from my herd; the last zebra with these stripes.

The day I got the phone call, telling me Granger wasn’t going to make it, I was hanging out with my kiddos, Lexie and Sandor, who was 8 at the time.  We were looking at some funky art in a  tiny gallery on Central Avenue.  When the phone rang I stepped outside to take the call.

I was told he might make the next 24 hours, but it was doubtful.  My big brother was going to die and leave me here, all alone.

My heart thumped with pain and I tried to breath evenly. I didn’t want to break down and wail in front of the kids.  It was really hot that day, almost a hundred degrees but I shivered in the sunshine and I prayed.

“Lord, please help me with this, please help me find some peace and strength to get through this. I don’t have much left. Just help me find some peace, Lord, because I don’t understand this.”

Peace and strength, that’s all I wanted. After I prayed I felt a little better. I took three giant breaths and willed myself not to cry then I walked back into the gallery to find the kids.

Lexie was looking at an abstract painting of a horse, or maybe it was a volcano. I took her hand, it was warm and dry and felt nice. For a moment I stared at the painting with her. “Where’s Sandor?”

“He went out back to play with Daniel and Ben.”

I nodded and decided I wouldn’t tell them about Granger until we got home.

I willed myself not to start crying as I walked to the galleries’ back door. Sandor and two other little boys were squating next to a pot- hole filled with black water.

“Come on Boy Boy,” I yelled. He popped up like a jack-in-the-box and ran to me.

“Look what I found, Mom.” He stuck his grubby hand in his pocket and waited for me to stretch out my hand. Then he placed a smooth river stone on my palm. “Look at it!” he said excitedly.

I unwrapped my fingers and stared at the grey rock. The word PEACE was etched into the surface. I looked at Sandor, who was grinning.”Where did you get this?”

He was bouncing just a little. “I found it in the puddle over there,” he said and pointed to the pot hole. “You can have it,” he said cheerfully than ran off to find Lexie.

Granger did die the next day. I kept that rock in my pocket for the next two weeks.  Now it stays in the cup holder in my car.  I rub when I need to and sometimes, when other people need a little Peace, I share my rock.

I’m pretty sure God and Granger would want me to pass the peace.

**You can comment or write to me at hampoland@gmail.com or find me on facebook. I always need more friends.

Hot Springs’ Talking Buildings…Architecture and Ghosties

arlingtonWhen I drive around Hot Springs there are some buildings who talk to me.  They don’t “speak”, they talk, they chat away like an old buddy.

Central Park Fusion on Park Avenue used to be a bank branch.  My dad designed it in the 60’s, I think. The beautiful rock wall that arches away from the building was such an elegant design touch. The curve and texture of that wall were perfect.  Dad used volcanic rock  so it would match the tuffa rock found in the National Park.  The idiots who knocked a big hole in the wall make me and the building crazy (not the current restaurants owners). Because of the cantilevers and stone work it was one of my mother’s favorites.  That building always talks to me about the power and  importance of detail, even on the smallest projects.

The Arlington of course talks about all kinds of stuff. She wishes someone would fix her up again. She loves warm nights when couples and families sit on the veranda. We talk about nights when Alex and I were dating. We would visit the Arlington to hear the legendary Reggie Cravens play his stand up bass in the lobby. Alex would ask Reggie to play My Funny Valentine and we would dance and laugh along side the tourists.

I tease her about her Christmas decorations.  They are ancient and shabby, but the squeaking made by that Santa and  his
reindeer are the sound of Christmas for me.

ohio clubThe Ohio Club is such an extraordinary building it makes me smile. That gigantic and gorgeous back bar stuffed inside such and tiny and ornate building is ridiculous and wonderful.  The Ohio Club, which is the oldest bar in Arkansas, is the reason we should all avoid chain restaurants and bars in strip malls. I’m so glad my buddy  Mike Pettey has taken that building and restored so much of it’s exquisite history and beauty.

When my daughter, Mary was a little girl we’d listen to a guitar player, Mike Stanley, play at the Ohio Club. He’d sing  John Prine’s “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” and Mary would dance away, shaking her butt and laughing hysterically.

The First Methodist Church has plenty to say. My grandfather was one of the architects who worked on the original sanctuary and it’s stunning.  My dad designed the modern half of the building. He had Mexican artists create the three story Jesus mosaic who towers over Central Avenue, arms outstretched. I was a little girl when the building was under construction but I remember how upset my mom was when Daddy invited all the Mexican artists to the house for dinner without giving her warning.  They filled the house with big smiles and dirty work clothes. Fortunately,  they didn’t speak English so they didn’t understand my parents snarky remarks that night.

jesusSometimes the Methodist Church and I talk about my grandmother, Mooie.  In order to coax the grand kids to be quite in church she kept a roll of Life Savers in her purple purse. ( Mooie never wore or carried anything that wasn’t purple). The Life Savers were always covered with lint from the bottom of her  purple purse so we spent most of the time picking them clean.

The buildings talk and I listen. Makes driving through town pretty interesting.


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.”



How to Win Your Woman’s Heart…Trick Her

usDriving through Hot Springs this morning I started thinking about my husband, Alex….and the night he won me over. Most men have an opening line they use to pick up women. But Alex’s was so ridiculously sincere and immature that it worked.

Twenty years ago Alex was the chef at a Mexican restaurant in a cool old building on Ouachita Avenue.  He was always flirting and asking me out but I ignored him. At that time he was pretty hot,  (that’s sounds bad, he’s still ha handsome man) he had a swimmers body and long black ringlets. Lots of women in town were after him so I figured he was a player and just laughed him off.

One night I was on a date with a landscape architect from North Carolina. Of course we went to Alex’s restaurant, Acapulco’s. My date was sweet but boring and hopelessly in love with me. So he was trying way too hard. Yuck.

When he got up to go to the bathroom Alex blew out of the kitchen, walked right up to my table and said, “What the hell? I saw you first.”

He was so adorable I had to laugh. And we talked until my date came back. He made the mistake of asking Alex where we should go for an after dinner drink.

Alex told him we had to go to “Edelweiss “. It’s now the Brau Haus (and sadly about to close) . The restaurant is in Spencer’s Corner a wonderful historic brick building in Hot Springs. (It used to house a brothel called The Piggly).

Of course by the time we got to Edelweiss Alex was already there, waiting for us. Smiling smugly. It was over for the landscape architect.

So men, this Valentines day be creative, be persistent, manipulative, cunning, deceptive and immature. You’ll win her heart for sure.

Go On And Bulldoze the Malco

Last night I heard from a friend the roof on the historic Malco Theater was so damaged in a recent storm, water was pouring in, soaking the ancient red velvet seats.  Well, this is Hot Springs Arkansas and we have a history of ignoring our most important and significant buildings. We let them rot though they are important and historic. Then they are either unsalvageable or torn down. So we might as well bulldoze the Malco right now so it’s a  quick death.

If you are from Hot springs, Arkansas you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Think about the Python Bath House, The Opera House and now the Majestic Hotel, Medical Arts and Thompson Building.  I could go on and on. Thank God the bath houses are part of the National Park. The United States takes better care of their stuff than our town.

We are all idiots because Hot Springs is a beautiful tourist town, know for it’s historic downtown and magnificent architecture. Still, we all watch as gorgeous 100 year old buildings crumble around us. We shrug as though it’s not our problem Financially that’s so stupid because most of us need the tourists here, even if it’s in  a trickle down kind of way.  I work for a radio station, for the most part local folks listen to radio so we are not directly  dependent on tourists. But many of my clients, restaurants etc sure do need them here. So I need them.

The situation with the Malco, which was originally a vaudeville theater, then turned into a movie house in the mid-1930s…we all grew up there.  It’s part of our history.  Do you remember sitting in the balcony throwing popcorn at people, making out with a hot girl, getting shushed or kicked out?  That’s what we all did in the Malco.

When I was eight years old I snuck into my first scary movie, Scream and Scream Again.  In the first five minutes a guy gets his legs amputated.  I freaked out and started screaming. I didn’t stop screaming until  a skinny teen-aged usher took me by the hand and lead me to the lobby. 

My older brother, Granger, used to drop me off to watch a movie alone when he was supposed to babysit me.  He’d give me a few dollars then go to the Cue Club to play pool for two hours.

The first time I ever saw a digital watch was in the Malco. It was the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die.  Bond looked at his watch, it was digital and there was a murmmer of awe in the theater.

The Malco is part of our African American History with it’s now disturbing back door  entrance for black movie goers.

My father and grandfather were architects so I love it’s textbook art deco design,the huge curved stairway to the balcony is so grand  and the marquee is exquisite, bright and gaudy and beautiful like a bowl full of jelly beans.

 Hot Springs, like many little southern towns, ignores our Architectural History.  No wonder all the yankees who move here think we are morons.  But the Malco is more to Hot Springs. It tells our story,  it’s a character in our life history and it is ours to save.

 Still, nobody is coming up with the money to fix the roof. We should all be ashamed.  I’m as bad as everyone else because I don’t even know who to give my pitiful donation too.

If  Hot Springs, Arkansas, and every other town in America doesn’t come to realize saving our historic buildings is OUR RESPONSIBILITY, we’ll end up leaving our children Wal-Marts and Dollar Stores. We’ll all point to a parking lot on Central and we’ll say to our grandkids, “there used to be a really cool movie theater there, too bad, it’s gone. It was really something.”

As I understand it they just need a few thousand dollars to fix the roof, less than most of us spend on a new lawn mower or eatting out every year.  There is still time to save the Malco, but not much. If we love Hot Springs, the town that raised us, all we have to do is act, move….do something, no matter how small. So the Malco doesn’t become another Majestic Hotel.

 If you have moment, drive past the Malco this week.  If you were one of those loud and obnoxious kids in the back row, if you finally got the nerve to kiss a girl, if you watched a movie that stayed you for years, give a damn. Make a phone call and save your own history and livelyhood.



The Boxer + The Surgeon and Parkinson’s

It’s the 4th of July, I’m laid up in bed but I’m thinking about two men I never knew who had Parkinson’s Disease. I love them both.
The first was my grandfather Dr. Jack Sidney Stell. He was a surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas from 1918 until the mid 40’s.

The family called him Daddy Jack and he was deeply loved in his hospital and in his community. Daddy Jack was a staunch and faithful Baptist but his nurses at St. Joseph’s were all Catholic nuns.

I remember being told a story about my grandfather by very old nuns when I was a little girl. He’d been dead for years but his legend and the tales of his faith continued. 

Daddy Jack was diagnosed with Parkensen’s disease in the early forties, just as WWII engulfed the world. At first the symptoms were mild but they grew worse, as did the war.  Lots of the younger doctors enlisted and there was a shortage of surgeons in the area. Daddy Jack’s skills as a surgeon were desperately needed but his hands were starting to tremble.

So, before every surgery Daddy Jack and his nuns would kneel down on the cold tile floor of the operating room and pray for his shaking to stop, long enough for him to operate.  And it did.

Over and over again the nuns and my grandfather asked God to intervene and still Daddy Jack’s shaking hands. And He did.Dr. Jack Sidney Stell was able, with the help of the St. Joe’s nuns and God, to successfully perform hundreds of operations despite the Parkinson’s.  And when the war ended and the doctors all came home, Daddy Jack retired.

My number two man ins Muhammad Ali. I love him so because of his extraordinary ability to rise above the desiese. He was famous  for his witt, his grace, his footwork and his mouth. Parkensisn took all those things away from him.  And he somehow became more of a man, more of an iconic figure we could all learn from and admire. His silence taught us more, his unsteady steps taught us how to be strong and his frozen face is still filled with love and humor. He is Ali and I love him more now then when he was the heavyweight champ. He is more beautiful, more powerful and important now.

I love these two men so much because they have shown us there will always be grace and  power in faith.

Stupid Wonderful Nicknames Pooh Bear, Bimbo and The Alligator Farm

Standing in the bank, moving money around,  I hear a voice, “Hey Pooh Bear”! I look over and see a 60 year old man, gray hair, lovely suit, waving at me on the far side of the bank lobby. He’s actually the bank president and he was my brother, Granger’s, buddy, forty five years ago. He’s a handsome bank president and he still calls me Pooh Bear.  He gives me a big hug and for a warm moment I’m home again with my brother and all his friends. But Granger has been dead for almost a year. Still, I feel loved because he used my nickname.

Nicknames are a double edged sword.

 By the time I turned 25 I despised being called Pooh Bear with a red hot lava like hatred. Now, when I hear Pooh Bear I just smile because I know it’s someone who knew my family and loved us. It’s a sweet sound.

When new friends use my old nickname it sounds wrong, almost offensive.  If they weren’t part of the history and story they shouldn’t use the name. It’s not their story.  Nicknames are personal, kind of like a secret handshake. If you aren’t part of the club you shouldn’t try to use it.

I have a cousin, handsome and smart guy named Daley. But growing up EVERYONE called him Bimbo. And I thought Pooh Bear was bad.

Growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas my best friends when I was really little (4 to 7) were Pinky and Squampy. Pinky was probably 7 when I was 5 and Squampy was 3. Our moms ran in a local theater group, The Community Players.

 One Friday evening,Pinky, Squampy and I were left alone, again, at the Community Players  while our moms directed and stared in A Street Car Named Desire.

There was a tourist attraction next door to the theater,The Alligator Farm.  It’s a little place with a lot of gators in shallow pools. But there was a big fat tree growing out of the parking lot and it stretched out across the gator pools.

While our moms were busy with Blanche and Stanley,  Pinky convinced us to crawl out on the tree branch, over the alligator pools.

An hour later the adults started looking for us. We’d shimmied out on a thick branch and were staring at dozens of alligators. But Squampy, the youngest, was afraid to shimmy backwards, so we couldn’t get off the branch.

All three of us  were clutching the phone pole sized branch, waiting to get eaten or  for grown ups to find us. If I’d died that day  the newspaper head line might have read “Alligator Eats Pooh Bear!”

Mary, my oldest daughter, is gorgeous now, but when she was little she was kind of silly looking. We called her Buddy Hackett (I swear she looked like him),  and we called her Murry. Why Murry? Because when we went to the beach she refused to keep her top on. So we decided if we called her Murray, everyone would think she was a little boy.

Nicknames…they suck, they embarrass us, we hate them. But now, that I’m an adult and fairly confident, and feeling like I have nothing to prove, Pooh Bear doesn’t embarrass me. It makes me feel loved. Murray makes Mary laugh because she knows how beautiful she is and it’s a great story. 

Once you grow up and figure out who you are, nicknames are pretty wonderful. They are part of your story.  Pinky, Squampy and Biimbo, I still love you.

Got a nickname, a comment or idea…WRITE TO ME at hampoland@gmail.com or leave a comment.