Monday, June 1, 2015

Another Visit with Daddy’s Letters: 1973

Note: In an effort to preserve some family history in writing, I have been reading the weekly letters that my daddy wrote each Sunday from the early 1960s until the 1990s and will begin posting them on my blog. I plan on summarizing all of them – well, eventually. Eh. Maybe. I hope. If I live... long enough. 
Kenneth, M&D, and I, looking like That 70s Show...
 Also see: What a Life! 1965

New Year’s Day dates the first letter of 1973, and all of us are home for the holidays: Hunter from the University of North Carolina grad school, Margaret from Mercer, where she is in her last semester, Kenneth’s from Mercer as well, but in his sophomore year, and I from LaGrange, where I am about to enter the second semester of my freshman year.

How did my parents manage? All four children in college? They saved, set goals, and made thrifty choices in how they spent money. Sigh.

What a crowded, full house was that for the previous Christmas holiday break! We were six, fully-grown humans sharing a three bedroom, one bath house. Egads.  For a three day period during the Christmas holidays, my mother’s four sisters joined us in that small house. I only have good memories – so with each bedroom full and two sleeper sofas in use – we celebrated the cozy Christmas of ’72.

According to Daddy’s letter, we had all gone to our respective New Year Eve events the evening before. As he wrote, “Hunter and Margaret went out to a party with some friends of Margaret’s. Kenneth went out with some friends from Mercer, and Harriett and Vaughn went to a party.” There is no reason to speculate on what any of that entailed, and trust me, I don’t remember New Year’s Eve of 1972.  If it hadn’t been for the chronicle of our lives provided by my dad’s weekly letter, I wouldn’t’ remember 1973 either. I do remember Vaughn though, my high school boyfriend and first love.

Never mind.

Daddy’s words for this week’s narration included thankfulness. He received several notable Christmas gifts from my mother’s sisters: he “ha[d] been enjoying his new pjs … and “the electric broiler – [that he] used… to make cheese toast.” The gratitude for those gifts, seemingly frugal and practical from the perspective of this day and age, resonates in the words from this letter.  My Aunt Lois had given him paper, carbon, and stamps which he concluded would “come in handy.” Also evident in this last few sentences of this note was a slightly elevated sense of anxiety: “Tomorrow is a new superintendent and the dawn of a new era.”  He closes with “write and thanks for everything.”

As our lives clipped along, Daddy  recorded the basics of each week, and occasionally, my mother scribbled some little tid-bit on the side of the paper in her signature, illegible cursive: “I saw Susan Cowan at church,” or when she gave a speech at a dietetic convention, she scrawled “I wore my new black shoes and a red dress,” a purchase she and I had made at Rich’s for her on a pre-holiday trip to Greenbriar Mall.  Occasionally included in the letter were newspaper clippings, news of my high school friends, or Daddy’s informing me that he had “deposited 50 dollars in [my] account.”

The January 14th letter described an ice storm that struck Atlanta.  When Daddy awoke early that week in the wee hours to the loss of power, he stumbled in search of matches in the dark, struck one, located a travel clock, and set its alarm to guarantee they wouldn’t oversleep. Even though the schools were closed and the power flickered on and off all morning, he and mother both set out for work. He wrote of how the storm impacted almost every day that week including Sunday where there was “no heat in the church’s building except in the sanctuary.”

As February moved into March, they repaired the television, Daddy published an article in a journal, and mother consulted on a film strip, yes, I wrote “film strip,” for a New York company distributing information on the new, low-cholesterol diet.  Daddy wrote “they will pay $50 for a couple of phone calls to their home office.” Daddy spoke at the Metropolitan Council for the International Reading Association, received an engagement to serve on the program at the national IRA convention in Houston, and taught workshops at a classroom teachers’ conference at Georgia State University. He noted “I have a pretty, busy spring.”

Daddy also taught a night class, and he and mother both dashed off to conventions in their respective fields – St. Louis, Denver, Dallas, and Louisville, Kentucky. At one point, Mother had to create a “video” for work that “she worried circles around.”  

One concern of his that showed up occasionally in these weekly letters of 1973 is the turnover and “white flight” from the south side of Atlanta. Like all major inner cities across the United States, the 1970s saw rapid changes in the demographics in inner city neighborhoods and public schools.

Mother and Daddy liked where they lived and wished to stay in their house with its affordable mortgage. They sensed the unrest that was occurring and knew they faced the inevitable. Daddy wrote, “There are ten houses for sale on Brewer [a neighboring street- see We Had To Take Brewer] and four on Oana” [our home street].  “It is just a matter of time,” he concluded. They spent one Sunday afternoon that spring shopping for houses in Druid Hills, a northern suburb, but found the trip “discouraging” as getting a house the equivalent size of the one they were in now in south Atlanta would be “double the price” and “not as convenient.”

They really liked that Oana house, their church, surrounding area, and the location perfect for their lifestyle. They had resolved to stay so as Daddy summarized in one letter that spring:  “that is that.”

Note: They would be one of the last of their friends and neighbors to move. Five more years they would stay there, and they only left when there were several personal assaults and burglaries in the neighborhood. Mother rode the bus to work, and it became unsafe for her to walk the short distance to and from the bus stop. Story for another time … maybe.

Hunter at UNC [I'm betting he didn't read those books.]
Margaret, Kenneth, and I traveled home, when we could get rides, from college many times that spring.  Hunter, being away at school in North Carolina, rarely made the trip. We had various reasons for doing so: “we got a ride,” weddings, bringing friends to Atlanta to shop, eat a good meal, or do laundry, concerts, and doctor appointments. In the letters where he recounts our visits, there is an underlying sense of joy and excitement as they got “to catch up with the kid’s news.”  Daddy wrote that he had taken me back to LaGrange one Sunday after I spent the weekend at home, and proudly told of how  “[I]  was looking great.” My sweet Daddy – no one else loved me like that.

One funny little detail of a Sunday letter is the search for Hunter’s catcher’s mitt.  Did “any one of us know its whereabouts?” I love the simple-ness of this problem. Where is Hunter’s catcher’s mitt? Oh, if life were only that … where is my mitt?   

By the way, Kenneth had his mitt, and after the exchanging of letters of which I am not privy to but read about the conclusion of in another weekly letter, Hunter and mitt were reunited. I assume it was a happy reunion.

At spring break, Margaret went to North Carolina to check out Duke for graduate school, Kenneth went to Disney World, and I went to Jacksonville to spend the break with a friend. Daddy wrote forlornly, “there won’t be anyone home.”

One thing that made me kind of laugh was Daddy’s enthusiasm for shopping at the big, new phenomenon of discount stores --- Treasure Island, and proudly announced that he “found a good pair of shoes and paid half as much” at a outlet for shoes in East Point. They also had started going to the Forest Park Farmer’s Market for fruits and vegetables as the grocery store prices had gotten “outrageous.”

Note: Our neighborhood vegetable man Woody, who use to drive his pick-up truck full of vegetables he picked up at the farmer’s market and then sold to housewives in the neighborhood, had “disappeared.” [Not in the sense of kidnapped but like just one day quit frequenting our street – he came twice weekly when I was in elementary school, kind of like the ice cream man but not as desirable.]

Daddy longed for doing something other than the daily grind: all they seem to do was “work, come home, and get ready to go back to work the next day. We keep hoping that we might get to do something on weekends but that has never worked out for some reason or another. But perhaps with summer coming on, that will change.”

In April, Margaret began student teaching [even though she didn’t become a teacher], I had a tooth pulled and my stereo repaired [hard to believe this made the letter but it did], and Daddy won a free pass to Six Flags after attending a convention in Atlanta for educators. He wrote “so perhaps now I will go.” This is amusing to me – because I can’t imagine my daddy at Six Flags ever. That just doesn’t compute.

In May, Mother and Daddy visited me at LaGrange and came to the annual May Day festivities. They also drove a file of information that Margaret needed for a scholarship down to Macon [where Mercer is located], but didn’t inform Margaret that they left an hour later than intended. Margaret, a worrier by nature, called the Georgia State Patrol twice to check about their being in a possible accident on the interstate. 

My Daddy worried himself sick sometimes, so I guess, she inherited that trait. Lucky her. She and I both seemed to have taken that from him.

Margaret at Mercer's commencement, with rescued mortarboard
After graduating from Mercer and “misplacing her mortarboard right before the ceremony,” Margaret stayed in Macon to work at Red Lobster, but Kenneth headed home to look for a job, and found one at Pioneer Heddle and Reed. At one point that summer, he dropped a fifty pound bale of wire on his foot – and even though he didn’t break it, he  did do a number on his big toe. He stayed out of work a week to recuperate – and I will just interject here that he must have been badly hurt because we McDaniels, we were raised to fulfill our commitments whether work, school, church, or promises to do something with others. Yea. We didn’t “sick out”; it wasn’t in our DNA.

I thought that I had a job at my old haunt, C&S [see Commuting in the Green Goot], but the facility closed. I too had to look for a job – and as a backup if I couldn’t’ find a job in Atlanta, I would go to Macon and work with Margaret at Red Lobster. So. Glad. That. Didn’t. Work. Out.

I found a job at the Atlanta Cabana Motor Lodge restaurant as a hostess, a job that I complained about quite a bit. Because the job began at a ridiculous time in the am, Daddy got up every morning and drove me to it since he didn’t want me catching a bus in the dark. I did “get” to ride the bus home in the afternoons.

There are many tales I could tell about this illustrious summer work, one involving Shriners and another gentleman callers, but … no, I’ll just tell you that it was hard work, early hours and long ones, and that I learned a lot about the “business.”

FTR: Even though this was not written about in the weekly letter, since we were all home to enjoy it – Mother and Daddy celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at The Flame Restaurant at Greenbriar Mall on June 26th. In the letter of July 1, he opens with “it doesn’t seem like just a week ago that you were all here for the anniversary party – it surely was a nice affair and we appreciated so much all you did for us in addition to coming all that distance for such a short time.”

All dressed up for 25th celebration, at Oana
Aunt Harriett, Margaret, Mother, and Aunt Ava at restaurant
Aunt Ava, Lois, Harriett, Hunter, Mother, Daddy, Miss Congenality, Aunt Eleanor, and Kenneth
Kenneth and I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, went out with our high school friends, and spent the summer saving money for college. At one point Daddy wrote, “Kenneth and Harriett went with a group across town to hear some rock group – I can’t remember who if I ever knew.” My guess, in retrospect, is that had my father known anything about this band or what a concert was like, well, we wouldn’t have been going. There is a pretty, good Chicago, the band, story that occurred at Lake Spivey that turned into a disaster, but that is for another blog for another time.

Daddy was busy with his teaching, conventions, and summer time work – and the summer ticked by with its usual day to day. He also noted the hot weather that even my mother, known for always being cold, called “suffering hot.”  We did not have air-conditioning – just window fan units that lulled us to sleep in those sticky, humid, hot summer nights.

On July 3rd,  I celebrated my 19th birthday with two cakes, one baked by my mother and the other given to me by my co-workers. Daddy noted it was “quite a feast.” Daddy loved cake.''

The blogger, circa 1973, at Oana
One of my girlfriends gave me a kitten for my birthday that I named Toke, in what I thought was a clever, but lame and dumb, inside joke.  I have no idea why my parents would accept a kitten into that household, knowing that I would return to college in a month leaving the kitten for them. My daddy was a softie for cats, especially kittens --- my mother not so much --- .

The kitten turned out to be hilarious – as Daddy narrates one of our first experiences with him not long after I got him. Assuming he had gotten out of the house and lost, Mother and Daddy, Kenneth, and I roamed the neighborhood searching high [no pun intended] and low for him, only to discover the whole time he was on the roof of the house.  Apparently, Toke enjoyed watching us, from his perch on the roof, look everywhere we could think of for him – bushes, trees, inside the car engine, the backyard, and neighbors’ yards on both sides. Giving him up for ghost at dusk, we crossed our front yard, approached the porch, and then heard a hearty meow. Looking up, the cat curiously peered over the edge of the front porch roof at us as if “are you looking for me?” and then climbed down to us by the evergreen that grew at the end of the porch.

We weren’t fooled again by Toke. If he went missing, the first place we looked was up – and most of the time that was where he was.  Daddy renamed him “Roofie." We so enjoyed coming home in the afternoons to see that cat sitting on the roof like a mountain goat.     

FTR: I don’t know what happened to Toke/Roofie. Indoor-outdoor cats in those days did not have nine lives, so to speak.

Another story recorded in the weekly letter of the summer of 1973 was about the family's involvement in bringing home Margaret’s in-need-of- repairs VW from Macon, a car that had stranded Margaret on the side of the road on occasion. He noted, “We had to take the back roads since we weren’t equipped to drive on the expressway. I drove Margaret’s friend’s car with Kenneth behind in her VW and then the two of them behind him in my VW with the flasher lights on. It took us three hours for the 80 miles, and we were in a frazzle when we got to the VW dealer in East Point.”

I loved reading about this as I remember how he would fret about cars, car troubles, and car repairs – and when it involved one of his daughters or wife, he just took charge to assure that we were in a “safe” car. Who doesn’t love that about her Daddy?

At the end of July, my parents took a vacation and left Kenneth and me by ourselves for ten days [they were way too trusting] and traveled to visit Daddy’s side of the family in Arkansas and to view some historical sites in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. Fun times, I’m guessing. Meanwhile Kenneth and I threw some parties but didn’t have police involvement.  Victories all around…they, of course, returned to an immaculate house with no sign of … well, you know.

As the summer neared its end, we prepared to go back to academia.  Hunter, who helped Margaret move into her room at Duke told Mother and Daddy that “Margaret’s room was real small” and Daddy wrote, “I don’t know what she’ll do with all her stuff.”

Margaret's Duke photo
The last weeks before I returned to college, informal and spontaneous gatherings of my high school friends occurred nightly. Daddy told of how “there has been a crowd over every night and they stay out in the yard and talk.” [See On Leaving the Front Yard]

As the middle of September came, they were back to their empty nest, working, and worrying about the neighborhood. At the end of the month, intruders broke into our home and in Daddy’s words --  they took  “a book of stamps and a handkerchief from the boys’ room that had quarters in it. Every drawer in the house had been ransacked and the contents dumped on the floor. It took us hours to put it back. Luckily there was no real money in the house.”

This disturbance upended them – they felt so violated, but they had determined that it was better for them financially to stay and wait it out. They had children in college – they had to get through that before they could think about a bigger mortgage. Plus, Daddy felt better after the police told them that it “was probably teenagers.”

Atlanta elected its first black mayor that fall – Maynard Jackson. Daddy, in his typical journalistic style, wrote lightly of the politics of the time; he mostly focused on the broken furnace and dryer, the kitchen faucet repair for the dishwasher [one of those non-installed models that we rolled over from the opposite side of the kitchen and hooked up to the kitchen sink faucet], a new storm door, a broken television “that will disappoint the children,” the pressures of his and Mother’s work, and the concern over the failing health of two of mother’s cousins.  

In November, Mother and Daddy visited Cumberland Mall for the first time and declared it “fabulous.” I was on Homecoming Court at LaGrange and named Miss Congeniality, which is so much better than queen. J

In the middle of the month, Mother’s cousin Ethel died, and they drove to Lynchburg, Virginia, after working all day on a Friday, and arrived at 1 in the morning. The next day they attended the funeral, and it was a “grand affair” as all “parts of the family was represented except Uncle John’s.  [The funeral gathered] quite an array of first cousins and they all came from a distance – we traveled the farthest. We were so glad we went since it was our only chance to see some of them.” They returned to Atlanta on Sunday – a quick turnaround trip. Life [and death in this case] events involving family mattered to them, and they would have made every effort to be there.

Michael and Margaret, all chummy and looking rather collegiate
We all arrived home for Thanksgiving, bringing our fullness and noise back to the house. My sister brought her boyfriend, Michael, and Daddy took him “for a tour of Atlanta.” Margaret took him to “the lighting of the tree at Rich’s,” at the time a big Atlanta tradition, and then he and she attended the rehearsal dinner and wedding for Margaret’s high school friend Terry. Daddy declared Margaret “lovely” as a bridesmaid, and then all except me, who was off till January, went back to college. Daddy signed this letter of November 25 with “Happy Thanksgiving.”

The next letter, dated December 30th, tells of a Christmas that has come and gone. Kenneth and I have been attending “parties” with our high school friends, and Margaret and Hunter have returned to grad school. This letter ends the year the same way that Daddy began it with gratitude for his Christmas gifts of a“new shirt and tie,” and for a “very lovely Christmas.”  He also added that he was grateful for Kenneth’s “raking both the front and back yards.”  I love that – his appreciation for some yard work – but mostly that to him, this gift mattered enough to be mentioned in the letter.

Daddy's gift, Kenneth's yard raking
 As I went through this year of letters, what stands out the most is the simplicity of our lives in 1973, even though they were busy, full of obstacles and setbacks – they appear so ordinary.

Recorded and reported by my father, who even though he suggested the weighty issues of the time, the letters make it clear that my parents loved us, appreciated the home they had, and worked hard for a living to pay bills, maintain a household, and put us through college.  In spite of what was a full life, he never complained, even though he worried, there is no doubt about that. No matter what happened, from the large, societal changes in the city of Atlanta to the silliness of an adopted kitten, Daddy typed the weekly letter and recounted what was on his heart and mind and what mattered the most  – us.

ETA: Margaret made mother's dress for that 25th wedding anniversary because she "wanted her to have something new and pretty," and Kenneth told me that Dr. Reynolds {I can write a whole entry just on him} drained his toe twice and was "extremely painful." 


  1. These stories are cracking me up. Toke the cat for the win.


  2. I just love your daddy. I wish I had gotten to meet him. He and my daddy sound very similar...especially in the love they showed to their children.

    Now I have to say that a cat named "Toke" that was renamed "Roofie" is one for the books. Too funny!

  3. I just love your daddy. I wish I had gotten to meet him. He and my daddy sound very similar...especially in the love they showed to their children.

    Now I have to say that a cat named "Toke" that was renamed "Roofie" is one for the books. Too funny!