Photo: (l-r, rear) Flora Anna McDaniel holding Eddie Lee McDaniel; (front), James Clifton “Cliff” McDaniel (my dad), and Susie Luvenia “Veenie” McDaniel, who favors my daughter Michelle when she was a youngster. Circa 1919.
Do we ever really know anybody? I knew my Aunt Flora McDaniel (Johnson) as a tall, big boned, gentle woman. With her jet black hair and broad face she looked like an Indian squaw. She was quiet. Never talked much. Never looked at you directly but off from the side, or under her lashes, if you know what I mean. Getting information out of her was like pulling teeth. But when I got into the family history game, I was tenacious about “What was your life”.
As my father’s sister, I knew of course that she was the oldest of eight McDaniel children. At first all I would get out of her was the fact that she went to church every Sunday and took her younger brothers and sisters. That she got a certificate every year for not missing a Sunday. Which was a good thing. I wrote it down.
After several tries (family history digging is seldom easy), I got out of her that during World War II she wrote faithfully to her brothers. There was my Uncle Ed McDaniel, my Uncle Louis McDaniel, and, of course, my dad, Cliff McDaniel. She loved those brothers and was as protective as a she-wolf over them.
It took several tries — over several years as a matter of fact — before she let loose the bomb that this quiet gentle large soul who never missed a Sunday school and took all her brothers and sisters to church, was a scrapper. Yep. There wasn’t a schoolyard bully who dared cast a malevolent eye upon those little brothers of hers who got away unscathed. Bullies were given a good lesson in anger management. It was called “tote a butt whuppin 101”. And this was back in the early 20th century since Flora was born in 1911. Gosh, I loved this story.
What brought it to mind was something Randy — my sister Katie’s husband — said the other day at Thanksgiving dinner, somewhere during the consumption of yams, peas, dressing, and turkey gobblers. — Naturally, we were doing the gobbling; the bird had already gone to his reward, now we were getting ours. — Randy had found a tee shirt online that he wanted to get for Katie. It read, “BACK OFF!! I’ve got a sister and I’m not afraid to use her!”
This so hit the mark for Katie and me that we laughed till we cried. You see, my sister Katie and I are like twins in our ways. Now, don’t get me wrong. We don’t look a thing alike. But we read the same books. We watch the same movies. We both drop off to sleep reading while still holding the book up. Randy and Mike are always discovering that we sisters say and do things alike. Randy says, “Yeah. It’s scary.”
And all our lives Katie and I have been the champions of younger siblings against bullies of all types. Big and bigger. Male and female. Thus, the tee shirt. So, in every family there must be at least one sister who will go the distance — with extreme prejudice.
While still in grade school (I was 12), there was a girl who lived just up the road and who was a passenger on our school bus. She was not very nice. In fact, she was a bully. One day I got to the bus line at school to find my sister Gaynell — a grade behind me — humiliated and crying with everybody laughing at her. The source of the humiliation was the bully girl.
Fists clenched and voice low and tight, I bellied up to her and told her, in so many words, that she was going to get cured of her emotional problem. “I’ll take you on right now,” she said. Not willing to get kicked out of school for fighting, I told her to meet me at the drive at the bottom of the hill where I lived. She agreed.
She arrived eating an apple, paring it with a small knife. “Lose the knife,” I said. She did. And the games began. She was bigger than me and had a longer reach, but she fought like a girl. It’s in fighting style that Katie and I differ. I’m a kicker and take advantage of openings. Sister Katie has a fist punch like a pile driver. She focuses her anger into it. I should say, for the record, that this is now past tense, since Katie is now sixty and I’m sixty-six.
Anyway, it was the bully girl who cried uncle and finally walked away. It was only then that I saw my neighbor, Mrs. McCrory, watching from across the highway. Mrs. McCrory was many things to us McDaniel children. She and her husband owned the dairy where dad worked. She was also our school bus driver. AND, she was my transportation to church every Sunday, which was on the way to hers. She was as faithful a Methodist and Christian as you could ever care to meet. And I thought, “I’m in for it now.”
Mrs. McCrory came across to me and just casually mentioned, “I thought about stopping it (the fight). But I saw you were getting the best of her so I just stayed out of it.” Then she went home. You could have knocked me over with a feather then. Come to think of it, I wonder if Mrs. McCrory was a sister.
Since I’m six years older than Katie, when I left home she became The Sister. Our sister Gaynell is between Katie and me but she’s a pacifist. So the job of Sister fell to Katie. And it was a bad time for our two younger brothers, who started running with some dangerous local boys.
Katie walked into a situation once when our youngest brother Tim was being victimized by a bully whom everyone knew as “Snake”. No. I’m not making this up. He was called Snake for a real good reason. He was good with a knife and loved cowing men and boys by waving it around in front of an audience. Making them beg. This time it was our thirteen-year-old brother Tim, crying and humiliated.
Katie shoved the man away from Tim and offered to kill him with her bare hands. Of course, the man could have taken Katie down in an instant, but the shock value was priceless. He laughed at her and backed off. Later, Snake’s life ended the day he humiliated a Vietnam veteran.
Katie’s “Sister” mode didn’t end when she married, either. It was during her unfortunate first marriage to Clyde that Katie and brother Tim had gone to a family gathering. We McDaniels had known Clyde’s family most of our lives. Katie heard some kind of ruckus in a back room and heard Tim cry out. Tim was still in his early teens at the time. She ran to the door and took in the situation at a glance. One of Clyde’s cousins — a bully, naturally — had twisted Tim’s arm behind his back at an awkward angle and was applying more and more pressure — while the other boys and men were laughing.
Katie’s fist was in a straight line express with the young bully’s nose when her husband Clyde — whose reflexes were like lightning — caught her fist in his hand an inch from the bully’s face. Katie said the cousin’s eyes were so huge behind her fist and Clyde’s hand that they seemed to fill his face. And all the time Katie was spitting not-nice, very loud invective and still trying to get to him with Clyde having to use all his strength to hold her back.
So you see. Both Katie and I would dearly love to have these tee shirts that read, “BACK OFF! I’ve got a sister and I’m not afraid to use her!” Because truer words were never spoken.
Hats off to all you SISTERS out there. Wherever and whoever you are. I know you younger gals are still teaching good lessons to bad bullies.