I’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 firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on facebook. I always need more friends.
Tags: Ar. I Granger McDaniel, faith, Hot Springs, Peace
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.
The 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.
Sometimes 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.
Tags: ghosts, Hot Springs, I Granger McDaniel, Mosaic Jesus, Ohio club, Park Avenue, Reggie Cravens, the Arlington Hotel
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.”
Tags: African American History, Ann Stell McDaniel, Arkansas, Arlington Resort Ball Room, black history, debutante, Hot Springs, Louella Thomas, The South
Driving 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.
Comments OffTags: alex hampo, Brau Haus, chef, Hot Springs, men, romance, Spencer's Corner
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.
Tags: Architectual History, Architecture, Arkansas, Art Deco, Hot Springs, Malco, Movie Theaters
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.
Tags: ali, boxers Heavy weight champion, faith, Hot Springs, jack stell, Parkensins's, St. Joseph's Hospital
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 email@example.com or leave a comment.
Tags: Alligator Farm, Arkansas, Community Players, Daley McDaniel, growing up, Hot Springs, nicknames, Pinky, Pooh Bear
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
Tags: AR, catfish, cousins, Hot Springs, Lake Hamilton, Lix McDaniel, Louella, Mike McDaniel
When I was little my best friends were Louella, Liz and Mike, my cousins. Actually they were my only friends. When Liz was seven, I was six and Mike was five we caught a giant catfish named Big Willie. We didn’t know what to do with him so we dragged him back to my condo and put the bastard in the bathtub. We let that 10 pound monster swim between ournaked legs until Louella, our friend and maid, walked in and started screaming. Then we all got spanked.
I was jealous because Liz and Mike had a pet pig named Charlie Brown. he was a really big pig, not one of these hot dog size pygmie things. Liz would climb on board the 300 pound beast, Mike would pull his tail and off they would go. Both Liz and Charlie Brown screaming across the pasture.
Mike was a tiny kid who looked like a redneck made man in the mafia. And we would fight, I mean really fight, like midget wrestlers, all the time. Once, when were were five and six, we climbed the tree in front of Mike’s house. Then we started arguing. What could we argue about in a tree? I don’t remember but something got us going.
Eventually, we started throwing punches and trying to choke each other, on a branch… in a tree. We were screaming and our teenaged brothers, Ricky, Bimbo, Granger and Jack came out to see what we were doing.
They started laughing at the Arkansas spider monkeys fighting in a tree. Then Mike threw a haymaker and we both fell, ten or twelve fee,t onto our backs. The fall knocked the wind out of us both and we lay there, under the tree, thinking we would die. Gasping, flopping and clutching our bony chests. Of course that only made the brothers laugh harder. (I’m pretty sure there was beer involved)
Cousins, we all grew up in the same, insane universe. We understood everything about each other without speaking, because we were all born and cut from the same rough, misshapen fabric. We were family. We had the same blood and nothing is more profound. Time and history doen’t matter if you are cousins because you share the same DNA and history, they are woven together, like an Indian braid, inseparable and unbreakable.
Twenty or thirty years passed and I hadn’t seen or spoken to Mikey and Lizzy but the moment we were together again, the moment our voices touched, we were bonded, thick as thieves, intertwined by a blood line so powerful and unique no one else could understand or interfere. If Mikey or Liz called me today and asked me to drive 3,000 miles to pick them up in a truck stop there is nothing that could stop me. Because it’s been so long I might not recognize them when I got there but we would find each other and do what needed to be done.
We are family and together we will walk to the magnificent , golden gates of Heaven or the torterous fiery gates of Hell… together. Our past is the same and our future will be too. Because we are family, we are cousins and we will always be together. Always.
Tags: Arkansas, cousins, family, Hot Springs, Louella, McDaniel
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.
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