Posts Tagged ‘Louella Thomas’

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


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

Bubba and Louella…Strange and Dear Friends

bubba louellaFor more than thirty years a woman named Louella Thomas worked for my family. She split her week working at our house and at my grandmother’s big white house on Prospect Avenue.

We called my grandmother Bubba, but her real name was Ruth Stell. She was the widow of a surgeon and spent her days trying to help people and keep her life just as it had been when her husband Dr. Jack Stell was still alive.

Louella was my best friend.  She was  my grandmother’s best friend too, Bubba just didn’t  know it.

When I was seven years old Louella saved up enough money to take a three week tour of the Holy Lands with her church group. Bubba was furious, indigent and shocked.  Her maid traveled overseas before she did!  Louella brought me a camel made of straw from Jerusalem. Bubba said it was ugly and made me keep it at our house.

During the sixties, when there was so much racial tension and turmoil, Louella took great care to keep Bubba out of harms way.  Sometimes Bubba drove her all the way home, to the housing projects on Spring Street. But when things were really bad, Louella only let my grandfather drive her half way home, then she took a cab.   She didn’t want anybody yelling at Bubba and upsetting her.

Louella was probably ten years younger than Bubba and over the years she began moving  a little more slowly. When she was close to sixty, Bubba became very concerned because Louella had to drag the vacuum cleaner up and down the big stair case.  So she bought a second vacuum, one for upstairs, one for down stairs. Over the next ten years Bubba ended up buying four or five more vacuums, one for almost every room because she didn’t want Louella lugging them around.

Every afternoon the soap opera The Doctors came on at one o’clock. It was “their story”. Louella would take her lunch at one o’clock and the two old women would sit in Bubba’s bedroom and watch “their show” together.  Bubba’s room was the only room with a tv and it was the only air conditioned room in the house.

If I walked in and interrupted both women would turn  and  “shhhh” me together, almost violently.  Then Louella would wink at me and I knew I wasn’t really in trouble.  As years passed, Louella got too old to work every day. But The Doctors continued. The two old ladies would stay on the phone for exactly an hour watching their show together and talking about the details and plot twists during the commercials. Everyone in the family knew calling Bubba between one and two was useless.

As they got older more of their friends died until they were just about the only ones left. Then the ladies would sit on the side porch together, Bubba in her dress, Louella in her white uniform and they would send to the kitchen for ice tea and ice cream.

Bubba was in her late eighties, maybe even ninety when my brother, Jack, was killed. He was twenty three years old and in college. My father had died just two or three weeks earlier.  I remember that night so clearly. I was sitting with my mother when she got the news. And after just a few moments of thought, Mom picked up the phone and called Louella Thomas. She asked Louella to please take a taxi to my grandmother’s home.  She knew Bubba wouldn’t be able to bear the news of my brother’s death without her dearest friend at her side.

(If you enjoyed this story or hampoland please help my daughter out with her fundraising efforts. Take a look at this link it’s really funny and any little bit would be wonderful. Thanks! DH)



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.”



Piggly Wiggly and the 4th Louella Story

                                                                              In 1968 I was a scrawny little girl, with buck teeth and big ears. But my family had a lovely two story condo on the lake in Hot Springs, AR. We had money.
     My grandmother, Bubba, had an elegant colonial house in town. Louella worked for Bubba, along with another black lady, Iolla, for years and years. But when I was born, my mother’s 3r,d child Louella came to work for us, full time. Thank God.
       Every afternoon when I got off the bus with my Monkees lunch box, Louella was there, waiting and smiling, in her crisp white dress and white hose. Because she was a very dark woman, almost black, the contrast was beautiful to me.
       Loulla always had a peeled apple and a vanilla cupcake on the kitchen counter waiting for me as a snack when I got home. I would eat happily, while she took her lunch and watched Let’s Make a Deal with Bob Barker. Then I would put my head in her lap. She was a large soft woman, and I would take a little nap with my head on her thigh. She had wonderful soft skin, except for her hands and they were like leather and always smelled of bleach. Louella would sa,, “Miss Pooh, I think I’m just your pillow”.

  Years later I realized she was my cushion.

   I was a squirrely, funny looking little girl and didn’t have many friends. But Louella was always there for me and we had a grand time singing and cracking jokes. There were a few jobs Luella really hated, like cleaning the kitty little pan. She would pay me a nickel a week to do that for her.
    When I was six years old I started riding the bus to the Piggly Wiggly with Louella on Wednesday afternoons. Sometimes, if it was raining, she would call a cab. Once in the store, I would happily trot behind her or hold her callused hand, jabbering away. If I behaved she would let me spend my nickel so I could get something from the gumball machine.
   One day I was stunned to find a magnificent shiny new machine that didn’t take nickels. It required a quarter and in return I would get some beautiful jewelry or the biggest bouncy ball I’d ever seen. I asked Louella for a different coin but she said “no”, spending that kind of money on a gum ball machine was wasteful.

    I pouted all the way home and that made her laugh.

    But I had a plan. My 13 year old brother collected coins, all kinds of coins and he kept the in special books. I didn’t have a quarter but I figured I could get one, or something kind of like a quarter, out of one of those books.
   Generally, when Louella vacuumed I went along with her and pushed the vacuum on my hands and knees just for fun but that Monday I waited until Louella was downstairs vacuuming then I snuck into Jack’s room and snatched a coin I was sure would work in the wonderful new gum ball machine.

    Well the plan did not go well. Louella and I went to Piggly Wiggly the next week and the coin, which turned out to be a very rare 100 year old coin, got stuck in the machine, jammed it up. I lost the rare coin, and I did not get my giant bouncy ball. So once again I pouted all the way home.

    Before we opened the front door I could hear my brother, Jack, screaming. “She’s such a little thief Mom. She took that coin and you know it Do you know how much I paid for that? Do you remember how long it took me to find one.”
    Louella looked down at me. I was frozen in fear. “Go on Miss Pooh, open the door.”
   I shook my head.

   “Baby girl, you gotta go on in, might as well open the door”. I knew she was right.
I pushed the door open and could smell the anger in the house. My mother was sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette. She was mad. “Diana Ross McDaniel, get down here.”

   I remember taking tiny little steps. She exhaled and smoke swirled around her head. “Did you steal Jack’s coin?”

   I couldn’t speak. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I started shaking. I had to pea. I heard Louella in the kitchen putting away groceries.

   “Did you?” She yelled.

   Finally, I was able to nod my head.

   “Where is it?”

“At the store?”

   “What store damn it?” she roared

   “I tried to use it in the new gumball machine at Piggly Wiggle.”

   “Oh hells bells, you lost a 30 dollar coin in a God damn gumball machine?”
She yelled at me for what seemed like hours, then stopped suddenly, “Louella go up stairs and get me a brush.”

   “Why?” I said pathetically. “Does my hair need brushing?”

   “Never mind Louella, Pooh, you go get me my brush, right now.”

   “Yes ma’am” I whispered then set off upstairs. I took my time, hoping mom would forget. Jack glared at me then slammed his bed room door.

   When I appeared in the living room again with the tortoise shell brush she said, “Get over here right now, lean over this couch.” Her eyes look hot and black.

   “Momma, can you make Louella come out of the kitchen? Please.”

   “Why?” she barked as she stubbed out her cigarette in a heavy glass ashtray.

   “Cause she won’t let you beat me to death.”
   So poor Louella stood in the living room, tears rolling down her dark cheeks, while I got ten licks with the hair brush. Then she walked me back upstairs and washed my face. My but felt as though it had been scalded. She sat down on the edge of my bed and without saying a word I put my head in her lap. And she stayed there until fell asleep.

*What are you thinking?  Leave a comment and let me know or email to hampoland@gmail.com

I Miss Louella

This is not Louella, but you get the idea

Louella Thomas was a black woman who worked for my family for twenty or thirty years. Well, she worked for my family but Louella was actually my family.

Everyday when I came home from school she always had a peeled apple and a cup cake waiting for me. Then she would sit on the couch and watch Lets Make A Deal and I’d take a nap with my head on her thigh.

Louella would get mad at me because I’d go fishing but I hated throwing the tiny fish back in the lake. So I’d get all her pots and pans, fill them up with lake water, then put the fish in there to swim around. She would find me on the dock, surrounded by pots and pots of sunfish and brim.

I never learned how to make a bed because of Louella, and that problem still haunts me today.

One time, when my mom was crazy mad she sent me upstairs to get a hair brush so she could spank me. I then asked if Louella would come in the room.
“Why?” my mother demanded.
“Because I know she won’t let you beat me to death.”eight year old me said.

Louella also worked for my grandmother, Ruth Stell, on Prospect Avenue.  And one day Louella suddenly announced she was going to the Holy Lands with her church.  She’d been saving her money for more than two years and was heading to Jerusalem for a week.  My grandmother was stunned and  indigent and secretly jealous because Louella was making the trip of a life time before she was.  Louella brought me back a straw camel from her trip but told me not to show it to my grandmother.

When I was an 18 year old debutante Louella was invited to the Ball.  The committee asked my mother to un-invite her becasue she was black. But my mom loved a rightious fight and the committee back down. So, Louella was the first black woman to attend the Debutante Ball.  She sat next to my mother and I gave them both a rose during the ceremony. 

There was a party after the ball and I remember I begged Louella to say. I didn’t understand why she wanted to leave so early because I was, apparently a moron at eighteen.

I remember Louella just hugged me and said, “I think we’ve done enough for one night, baby girl.”

Yeah, she was pretty smart.