Tuesday, August 13, 2013



            My cousin Gary McDaniel is preparing for the last journey of his life. This time he is not getting his gear ready for fishing, or hunting. This time he is not cramming four adults into the cab of his truck so their physical closeness will comfort one another as they drive to his sister Dorothy’s funeral in Montana, all the way from Lake Stevens. This time he’s not packing his beloved grandchildren into the vehicle to take them to the McDaniel Family Reunion down by the Pilchuck River (though we’re hoping he’ll miraculously make it there on August 18th.) Oh, he is preparing for a family reunion all right, a celestial one where he will be reunited with the ones who have gone before. And of course, there will be a river of living water.

            I could talk on and on about how Gary is now a patriarch of our family. About how he built a retail empire and how all of his children now have a store that serves its neighborhood. Somehow we McDaniels seem to have Retail in our genes. I could tell you of Gary’s generosity to the community, and to individuals, but he wouldn’t be comfortable with me talking about that; he never wants anyone to know. But I have seen it, out of the corner of my eye, his gifts of money and of support and of helping people, related or not. I only know that when my own dear mother felt threatened, she said, “Don’t make me have to call Gary McDaniel.” My sister Sally and I knew that meant Gary would be there if she needed him. She knew it, we knew it. Luckily it never got to that point.

            But this little blog isn’t about how the pioneering McDaniels love God, and family, and getting together to share food and tell stories that bring laughter or tears to the listeners (and the best stories do both.) It is about how Gary McDaniel fell in love. With a cat.

            Cats were not a lifelong passion for Gary. “Who knew after all these years of living with me dragging home every stray, that only in the last few years he would become so attached to a cat!” his daughter Tami Bloor said. Gary had nearly 7 decades of life under his belt when he found an abandoned kitten on a fishing trip to Wapato. He named her Rose Wapato. She wrapped her paws around his heart:

            “A few years ago, she came in the house, full of pain, with a broken back. He didn’t bat an eye to pay out a lot of money to get her fixed up and put back together,” Tami said.

            Rose Wapato hung out with Gary as he worked in his yard, cutting and stacking wood, recreational therapy for him: it is how he regained his health and strength after open-heart surgery a few years ago. “I figured it would either kill me or cure me,” Gary said.

            But now Gary was in the hospital, marveling that he had been chopping wood only two weeks previous, “and now I can’t even support my own weight with my legs.” Dozens of visitors came, and Gary told story after story, shared inspiration and jokes and history as he held court from his hospital bed. Yet he missed Rose Wapato. He told Tami that his idea of a good time is petting his cat.

            “Actually, I talked to him about his cat when we visited! He said he used to hate cats….until this special one came into his life! I wish there were a way his cat could be brought to him….I think it would do wonders for his spirits!” Diane Carlson Williams wrote on Facebook.

            The idea tickled Gary, but everyone knew it was impossible. Even if the hospital would allow it, Rose Wapato was the wild card, the loose cannon: she was unused to cat carriers and riding in cars. Not fond of crowds. And would usually not let herself be petted for more than 15 minutes at a time. But Gary’s daughters Kris and Tami had to try it.

            Rose Wapato had been looking for Gary the whole time he is in the hospital. She went to “his usual haunts,” according to his daughter, “from woodpile #1 to woodpile #2 to woodpile #3.” Even though it was probably going to be a failed experiment, they had to bring her to Gary.

She wasn’t crazy about the carrier. Didn’t really enjoy the car ride. Found the hospital smells distasteful as she was carried up to the seventh floor. But then: she saw him. And the love fest resumed. Yes, he looked different than even the last time she had seen him. Much thinner. Now wearing a gauze bandage over a goose egg in the exact center of his forehead, a result of falling in the night. The bandage looked a little like a miner’s lamp, and she was used to seeing him in a baseball hat. Most unusual of all was that Gary wasn’t up and moving. He was flat on his back.

None of that mattered. She had found him! She crawled up on his bed and hunkered as close as she could get. Her paw found his hand. She stayed there, holding vigil, for three and a half hours, till it was time to go home. She came the next day and held vigil, again, holding paws with her beloved companion as visitors came and went.

            This isn’t the first story a pet’s supernatural intuition, and the inexplicable bond between the animal and the human, and it won’t be the last. But because we’re McDaniels, this story will be told for generations to come, often accompanied by Grandma Mac’s homemade bun recipe, with the finest strawberry freezer jam on the planet. It is the way of our people.

o    Michele Kane This picture brings back so many memories of the homes i went into. I would give care while leaving the animals on their bed. There is a bond between a human and their animal that is so powerful. We really never see the depths of it until we see what is going on with your father and his loyal companion kitty. your fathers cat is holding a vigil while you father takes his journey. Kitty has a big part in this process :)
It will be very spiritual to witness this union of these two. I pray for comfort and peace in all your hearts.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sittin' On Top of the World

                It was 1981 when Ronald Reagan was sworn into office as America’s 40th President. He was already an American icon by then: He had been a Hollywood actor, and his last gig was as
The Old Ranger, host to TV’s most popular Western ever, Death Valley Days. The show featured “true stories of the old American west,” and its sponsor was a laundry soap called 20-Mule Team Borax. Ironically, Boraxo and Borateem, the hand soap and the laundry soap, were manufactured from borax: the evaporative mined from seasonal lakes in Death Valley. A white powdery substance, heavy in potassium nitrate, which is the major ingredient in bat and seagull “guano,” or, bat and seagull poop. Ironic because guano is also the major ingredient in an explosive that was used in the 1981 Alaskan oilfields to create gravel pits. The gravel was used to build roads and pads to keep humans from harming the fragile tundra on the North Slope of Alaska.
            One of President Reagan’s first presidential acts was to cancel all unemployment extensions, thereby making the allure of jobs in Alaska’s oilfield that much more attractive.
            And so we came, and so we gathered, in 1981, in the ragtag collection of ATCO units known as Deadhorse, and began our lives together. We had all come from somewhere else, obviously, and we were mostly in our late 20’s. We were cock-eyed optimists, seeking adventure, a job, and whatever the “strange things done in the midnight sun” had to offer.
            This was the year that MTV debuted on Cable TV, playing music videos 24 hours a day. The Walkman was only four years old. We provided our own musical video backdrop to our new lives with our boom boxes, for we couldn’t receive TV or radio reception in that arctic setting, no, not then. Many of us found jobs, or at least the ability to work eight hours for room and board, at a camp owned by Jim and Elaine Childs. They had the only general store and post office in the entire oilfield region. When the Eskimo women in their calico parkas with fur trim would come—having driven 100 miles from Nuiqsut on a snow machine with their toddlers and infants strapped to their chests—we would rush to the large boom box in the store and play Aretha Franklin’s You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman. It seemed like it was an MTV video with the most natural women on earth shopping in our little store, adorned in furs and rosy complexions from the cold, holding the hands of impossibly cute little Eskimo kids in their parkas.
            1981. Queen won the Grammy for Another One Bites the Dust. When some of our group would score jobs working on construction crews on the pipeline, and be bussed out to their jobs every morning, we would play the boom box but loudly sing our lyrics: Boom! Boom! Boom! Another one rides the bus!!
            Alaska’s 302 Union of Operating Engineers moved into our camp. When they would be getting ready to board their buses for a 12-hour day of construction in the arctic temperatures, we would create their video sendoff by playing the exotic new singer Sade’s new hit song, Smooth Operator.  While these young and old and sweet and gruff and burnt out old guys and oh-so-buff young men packed their lunchboxes, we would be singing along with Sade:
Diamond life, lover boy
He move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy
City lights and business nights
When you require streetcar desire for higher heights

No need to ask
He's a smooth operator
Smooth operator
Smooth operator
Smooth operator

Coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago, Western male
Across the North and South, to Key Largo, love for sale

A license to love, insurance to hold
Melts all your memories and change into gold
His eyes are like angels, his heart is cold
            Somehow, they all seemed to love their send off.
            1981. Walter Cronkite resigned after 19 years as head news anchor of CBS News, and was succeeded by Dan Rather. He ended his final newscast as he ended all of them: “And THAT’s the way it was, May 10th, 1981.”
            And that IS the way it was. Anything was possible. We knew we bound for adventure, fame and fortune, lasting friendships, undying love. After all: good girl Valerie Bertinelli from One Day at a Time married bad boy rocker Eddie Van Halen. So we knew we ALL could Walk Like an Egyptian. We knew that everybody could have fun tonight, everybody could Wang Chung tonight. Whatever that meant, it had to be fun. The sky was the limit and even though we might not exactly be living on top of the world, at the moment, you sure as hell could see it from here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Daddy's Dirty Little Secret



I Can’t Remember

            I can’t remember being the one to blow my father’s biggest dirty little secret when I was three years old, but I have been told I was. I was a precocious child. My big sister Sally loved to play school with me so I knew all my numbers (after all, there are only 10) by the time I was three. I also knew all of my letters and had memorized several little books so well, word by word, that people thought I could actually read.

            Joe T. Smith, my father, was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne in World War II. He jumped on Omaha Beach, northern France, on D-Day. Over 80 per cent of his battalion was lost, many of them simply shot out of the sky.  He himself sprained both of his knees upon landing and was hit by shrapnel in his left calf and left forearm that could never be removed.

            He dragged himself to a barn. When the grateful French family discovered him, they nursed him back to health at great risk to themselves. Their beautiful daughter snuck meals out to the barn. One day she said to him, in halting English, “Monsieur? May I tell you sumsing? That leetle mustache makes you look like Adolph Hitler. I ope I have not offended you.” He asked her for a razor and a mirror and shaved the mustache off, never again to darken his upper lip.  When he was well, he returned to his battalion. He never forgot the girl and her family’s courage.

            My dad had some cavities in his teeth when he went in the service. Being wartime, the US Army/Air Corps’ solution to this problem was: they pulled all his teeth and gave him dentures. His social security number was tattooed on them. Better than dog tags.

            When he returned home and married my mother, he told nobody he had false teeth. He slept with them in, and secretly washed them behind the locked bathroom door every day. Nobody knew his secret for 10 years, and my Mom always bragged to her sisters what a sweet kisser Joe was. Minty fresh.

            Until the day he was dawdling me on his knee, and I looked up into his mouth. “Daddy!” You have numbers in your mouth!” I exclaimed. I loved numbers then.

            “No I don’t!” he said, embarrassed, laughing in the kids-say-the-darndest-things kind of way.

            “Yes! You do! 527-35-2258!” I squealed, triumphant.

            “Joe? That’s your social security number. What’s going on?” my Mom said.  But I can’t remember.