Posts Tagged ‘I Granger McDaniel’

Just A Little Drug Deal

granger and kidsWhen I was in labor with Lex, eighteen years ago, my brother Granger came to town.  He picked up Mary and Jack from the elementary school and brought them to the hospital.  But on the way, he stopped at a fairly shady hotel/motel.  He ran into a room for just a few minutes, then got the kids some ice cream and came on up to the hospital.  Yes, Granger had to take care of a little business, it was just a tiny drug deal, before coming up to the hospital. But that was Granger, brilliant, magical but undeterred by the constraints of society or the laws of the land. This picture is from that day, in the hospital.

I lost years, on and off, being mad or offended by Granger. He always said the wrong things, I thought. He told me to ask his ex-wife how to get rid of my crows feet, he showed up two hours late for Thanksgiving dinner, he showed up two days late for Christmas. He told me our family was “redneck white trash perfection”. And teased me for being uninformed because I didn’t listen to NPR.  When I was ten he left me in his apartment with his dog and a loaded gun and told me not to answer the door. He fought with my mom (back then I didn’t know why, now I kinda get it).

I lost time with him because he made me mad because he didn’t act the way I thought he should. Instead he was Granger. I never doubted he loved me, but he hurt my feelings and made me furious.

Last night I was watching a twenty year old video of my daughter Mary, and his daughter Faith playing fooz-ball in our living room.  They were probably eight. I heard Granger talking in the background. Just a couple of sentences but his voice was so deep and musical.  He was talking about getting a tiger cub.

Hearing his voice broke my heart and made me so happy because I miss him  desperately. Why didn’t I turn the camera on him for just a few seconds.

Children of mine, do not waste time, valuable and precious time being mad at each. Children of mine, don’t lose a day of love being offended by some off handed comment, oversight or ignorant stance.  It’s not worth it.  Just love and accept each other, as you are.  Because you are all perfect in your weird, quirky, selfish, lovely way.

It’ll be a few years, I hope, before I get to see my brother, Granger, again, but I promise you, when I do see him I won’t waste a precious second of our time together.

PS If you know any publishers or literary agents…help me out. I need one. Thanks

He Sang “Dixie” For The RAF

dad-4-with-pistol-3Because of all the Confederate controversy I’m reposting this story about Dad in WWII.

My father, I. Granger McDaniel was a true hero and legend in WWII. I planned on writing about a letter he wrote to his mom, after being shot down over the North Sea.

But  there’s another  story I heard over and over again, and even as a little girl, I thought it was really funny.

Dad left high school and ran off, from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to join the war effort when he was just 17, before the United States was in the fight. Because he had some flying experience ended up in England as a piolit for the RAF (Royal Air Forcer) at the ridicuolsy young age of 17. Dad was captain of a Short Sterling, a massive bomber with a seven or eight man crew.

When Dad wasn’t flying, he was in London, and spent a great deal of time in the RAF Officers Club. Every night, when the bar closed all the officers would stand as the band played God Save the King.

One night, after hours of drinking, Dad stood up to address the gentlemen in the club. Imagine a brash teen aged pilot, surrounded by older  British officers, drunk but determined and sincere.   He told the band director they should play his national anthem as well as God Save The King.  He was fighting for their country, America should be recognized. The band leader acquiesced and agreed to play the United State’s national anthem before God Save the King.

Then has asked Dad to sing the song, to refresh his memory. Dad was young and drunk, he thought for a moment then started humming Dixie.  “I wish I were in Dixie, away away.”

Aaahhhh yes, the band leader recognized the tune.

The next night  all the RAF officers stood in reverence as the band played Dixie, then God Save th King.

The following morning Dad walked out of his room and was immediately arrested.  The charge was Treason against the King.  Dad’s superiors thought he was mocking the British Monarchy when he asked the band to play Dixie and claimed it was the USA’s national anthem.

A barrister was assigned to represent Daddy in court.  He was a smart, fat, sweaty man. And when he heard the details of the situation he came up with an idea for a defense almost immediately.

Just a few days latter they stood in front of a judge to plead Dad’s case. Remember, all of England was under attack as the Nazis stormed across Europe. The country was under siege and desperate. So the smart sweaty barrister explained, with elaborate detail, that Daddy’s family was not only from America, they were  from”The South”.  When the South tried to succeed from the Union, Dad’s family fought in the Civil War valiantly, with heart and soul.  Cousins, brothers and fathers died in The War of The States. According to Dad, and the sweaty barrister, our family never surrendered to the North, never acknowledge the losse to the north and in Daddy’s heart,  “The South” was still his nation, therefore Dixie was in fact, his national anthem.

Obviously my father, the arrogant and brilliant teen aged pilot was of more use the England bombing Nazis then he was behind bars. So the judge accepted  his transparent explanation and he was cleared of treason charges.

Six months latter he was shot down over the North Sea and spent four years in POW camps. But that’s a story for another day. Have a wonderful Memorial Day and thank you to all our men and women in the armed forces.

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.

That Deep and Filthy Ditch

I GrangerThis is one of my favorite Irvin Stories.  He told it to me for years and it always meant something different. Now, when I retell it to my kids, I smile cause I realize how much I missed.

It’s the early 1960’s in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Dad was taking two clients to lunch. They stood in sharp suits with skinny ties, waiting to cross the street. There was a guy digging a great big ditch next to the sidewalk. The three men stood discussing plans for a new building. While they were talking the ditch digger mumbled something derogatory, spit on Dad’s black dress shoe, then threw another shovel of dirt in the opposite direction.

Dad’s first instinct was to jump down in the ditch and beat the guys ass. My dad wasn’t a big man but he had a volcanic  temper and was powerful. But he resisted that urge, ignored the spit for a moment, then in front of his clients, said to the guy, “That’s a good looking ditch you’ve got going. You’re lines are straight and it’s nearly perfectly level. How long you been working on it?”

Ditch digger, “Little over a week.”

Dad, “I wish I could get my men to take the time to do a job right like that. It would improve the whole damn project.”

Ditch digger,”Yeah, I try to keep it all pretty tight. I don’t like it when things are uneven.”

“Well keep up the good work Boss.”

“Wait a minute,” the Ditch digger said, as he pulled out his bandana,” I got some dirt there on your shoe,” and he wiped off the spit.

When my son, Sandor hears this story, he focuses on the fact that Dad didn’t jump down in the ditch and fight the guy. Last night he said, “Because then he’d be down low too, and dirty, just like the ditch digger, right?” He’s absolutely right.

But it’s the second half of the story that still blesses me everyday, that reminds me of the never ending power of lifting other up. I can only imagine what Dad’s clients were thinking about their architect.


Tan Fat, White Fat and My Self-Esteem

I GrangerThis Christmas season I’m thinking about all the crazy semi-ugly things my parents said to me…because they loved me.  Having grown up in  the south before being “politically correct” existed, the worst insults I ever heard came from those who loved me the  most.

To hell with the minor league insults the bullies threw on the play ground, my family was brilliant, brutal and pitched a 125 mph insult for fun.

When I was younger my eyes were my best feature. They were enormous and blue, maybe a little too enormous.  One day my mom looked at me and said, “If you were a horse with those eyes….I sure as hell wouldn’t ride you.”

My dad was handsome, suave, elegant and brilliant but he was also an old school Southerner and often times at dinner he would look at my mom or Louella, our maid, and say, “Don’t make the girl clean her plate. Fat ones are harder to get married off.”  Was he kidding, maybe. Did it hurt my feelings? No, I was a boney kid.  But I grew up knowing my Daddy  didn’t want a fat daughter.

One of Dad’s favorite lines was always, “Little girls, as soon as they can open their eyes they can flirt. As soon as they can open their mouths they can lie.” Enough.

My brother’s grew up listening to my Daddy’s one liners so there was nothing wrong when my brother Jack,  was in his early twenties and said to the teenage me, “Don’t forget brown fat always looks better than white fat so stay tan, Sweetheart.” (I always loved the way he called me Sweetheart.)

Bubba my beautiful and elegant grandmother,  worried about my appearances too…because she loved me and wanted me to be happy. One day, when I was seven or eight and scampering and dancing barefooted in her back yard she called me into the house. And said, in a very serious tone said , “Diana, if you don’t wear shoes your feet will get as big as pancakes and no man will ever marry you.”

To this day I run around barefooted all the time. Even in the office, much to the dismay of my employer.

The best/worst thing Bubba ever said to me is so harsh it’s sad and laughable.  When I was eight she became increasingly concerned about the size of my nose. It was just too big for a young ladies’ face . I inherited my father’s nose, which is strong and handsome…on men. So, when I was eight years old and watching the black and white tv at my grandmother Bubba’s house she suggested I hold my nose, literally wrap my hand around my entire nose so it wouldn’t grow.  She was basing her idea on the Orient and the women who wrapped or bound their feet to keep them small. I didn’t take offense to the idea, and sat, with my grubby little hand wrapped around my nose while I watched the Bozo show, almost ever day.

I think my confidence level is reasonable. My self esteem seems to be in tact so apparently my family didn’t actually harm me. Men married me even though I have big feet and a strong nose….and the truth is tan fat actually does look better than white fat.


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.



Child Abuse Or A Swimming Lesson?

jumpThis summer I had to take a page from my own book.  I’ve always said, with passion, as a parent it’s your duty to teach your kid how to swim and ride a bike before they are six.  If you wait to teach them it gets so hard, dangerous and exhausting.

Little kids believe in magic and in a parent’s unquestionable power. So, when you tell a three year old they can float…they believe you…and they do it.  Tell a twenty year old who is flailing in the water “you can float” their brain jumps up and says…”no you can’t dummy, you weigh 130 pounds you’re gonna sink and drowned.”

Over the years I’ve taught Sandor, who is ten, to swim, but not as thoroughly as I should. Last weekend when we made our first trip to the lake he ran ahead of me and threw himself off a dock. There were waves, there wasn’t a ladder, the water was colder than he expected.  He panicked and by the time I got to the dock he was clinging to a cross bar.  I hauled him out and started yelling at myself.

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Sandor now knows something that’s important. Don’t jump in till you know how to get out. This weekend we went to the YMCA and I made him prove to me he could still swim. I watched  him do the crawl down the pool. He floated on his back and I made him tread water for a couple of minutes.  It’s not pretty but it’s good enough.

Poor kids and country kids are at a disadvantage when it comes to swimming, I think. They grow up playing around in creeks with water that’s only waist high, so they don’t really learn to swim. Their parents don’t take them to swim classes because they aren’t members of the Country Club. They don’t have boats or lake houses with docks either so never learn to swim.

I was a lucky kid and grew up on the lake.  One night in October my mom was hosting a cocktail party. I was dressed up in a Sunday dress with tights and little heels.  My father, whom I adored, and I were walking along the boardwalk to a neighbors house when he suddenly kicked me into the cold black lake. The water was so cold I gasped as I went under and swallowed a bunch of water. But I bobbed back to the surface, swam to a ladder and climbed out.

Furious, terrified and shivering, I stormed through the cocktail party slinging water on the laughing guests.  My dress was ruined, my shows were ruined, my hair was ruined and I was a humiliated six year old. I was mad at him for a week. And to this day, people who were at the party still tease me about my soggy and hysterical stomp through the living room.

Daddy said he did it because he had to make sure I knew how to get out of the lake, under any circumstances.

If somebody did that to one of my children I would absolutely explode. But I almost understand his reasoning and motives, now.  Still his delivery in teaching  “life skills” could use some work.

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.


Love The World Like Granger

This morning Sandor, who is ten, found a dead mouse behind the couch. He was so happy. I was disgusted.  but I let him scoop it up in a plastic thing and put it out side. He wanted to save it and show his friend Joe Joe. Yuck…little boys.

As I drove to work I wanted to call my brother Granger because he would love this story. But Granger died a year and a half ago.  As I drove in to town I watched a sleazy looking daddy standing at a school bus stop with his little boy, who was running in circles around his dad’s legs. I see this pair almost every morning and they always look pretty happy even though the dad kind of freaks me out.  He’s got tattoos on his neck and smokes constantly. Still, he looks like a pretty loving and patient dad.

Granger would love that almost as much as he would love Sandor and the dead mouse.

I realized for the 637th time that my brother, Granger, was magical because he loved this world so much. He loved hobos and lizards and BBQ pork sandwiches, BB King riffs, ponies in pastures and tarpon. He loved and hated smells and would comment on the air constantly.  He loved this world with a passion and a vocabulary so colorful it seemed he’d swallowed a box of crayons. Because he was so excited and passionate about everything from old black ladies on bus benches to stray dogs other people fell in love with this world too. His magic and love were contagious.

One day he stood in my office and told me could talk to Alligators. He was serious. And I think there’s a chance he could.

A couple of years ago Granger stood, half drunk, watching my daughter Lexie spar a great big boy  in Taekwondo. He said with pride, “She’s like a dragonfly on steroids.” That one stuck.

When Granger spent a year and a half in prison he made such good friends he insisted I become their pen pals after he was released…so they wouldn’t be lonely.

When he died everybody figured there was some kind of fortune and treasure hidden because Granger was a pirate.  But he loved this world so much and so hard he spent every penny on the people and things he loved. And he loved the world like a man who knew he would not be here for long.

Today, go out there and love the world with all you’ve got. I’m going to try.


For me, looking back,  thinking abut my exquisite  and tragic past is one of the hardest things.  For those of you who don’t know me, here’s a brief retrospect.  My dad and brother died when I  was sixteen. My mom committed suicide ten years later. That left me and my oldest brother, Granger. He died a year and a half ago. So here I am, a zebra without a herd.

Since then,  God has given me the most extraordinary children, family, extended family, husband and friends.  I think he kind of owed me; but that’s between me and God.

This Thanksgiving is tough for some reason.There are lots of wonderful people in the house but I’m thinking about my Granger. I’m listening to Johnny Cash as I make corn bread stuffing and I’m wishing he would call me to talk about the NFL.

Granger thought of himself as a Poncho and Lefty kind of guy, maybe Folsom Prison Blues.  But for me Granger’s song is The Highwaymen. He was Chris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. He was a gift that lives forever, comes back and helps us, he is a part of the universe, the heavens and the earth.

Granger is everything for me right now and I would give ten years of my life for a few minutes with him. He was the beautiful, handsome bad boy, the heart breaker hero and I miss him so much because we were zebras from the same herd.

The family story goes like this. When I was born my brother Jack was 8 and Granger was 11. They brought me home from the hospital while the boys were playing catch in the  yard.  When my dad called them in they  weren’t interested in looking at me. Finally, my Grandmother, Bubba, offered them a quarter each to look at me. Jack said, “She’s pretty cute.” and Granger said, “She’s ok. Come on let’s go.”

Now when I think about Granger, who died 15 months ago, I realize, he is the mist a pilot whale exhales into the black night air,  the exhaust on the interstate and the fog hanging over the Everglades. Granger is a Hot Wheel streaking down an orange track on Christmas morning and , clean socks, and strong coffee.  He is a Cuban pork sandwich in a little shop in Islamorado, a blues riff floating up Beale Street and the perfect three pointer in a college basket ball game. Granger is a hail Mary pass as the crowd holds their breath, he is a cheerleader calling the Hogs at an Arkansas Razorback football game. He is the coral reef off  Key West. He is an elegant sentence in a trashy novel, a dancing old lady and a group of school kids saying the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Granger is all I breath and see and hear and miss. He is the stuff that keeps my heart beating when I don’t think I can take another breath. And I will love and miss him forever.

Granger was my brother. He was a foundation in my life since the day I was born. I can only imagine but never understand the pain and pride his daughters feel.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and a thousand times, I will give thanks for my brother Granger.

Love your family while you can.