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.