In today’s edition of Park Cities People, we published the second part of Buddy Macatee’s three-part essay on “Lee Park Inn.” You can find Part 1 below.
I got a facial tic every time I thought about my all-male boarding house, the Lee Park Inn. It rose three floors above the corner of Hall and Hood across from Lee Park, two blocks off Oak Lawn, and some 34 young men resided there on a week-to-week basis.
The manager, Doris McKelvey, had grown weary of looking after so many young men, who, she said, “rambled about during the night on the old wood floors and frequently wore costumes.” Besides, feeding them two meals a day was too much work. (Her previous job as the third floor maid at the downtown Statler hadn’t required cooking or managing occupants, and she wanted to return to the Statler.)
Many young men had moved out, they told me, because “Mother” did not provide enough food, and the window units did not cool their rooms. Finding a replacement for Doris — who, listing to port from the large wad of keys on her hip, gave me her notice, but said she would stay until I found someone else — required immediate attention.
Wondering where I would find her replacement, I experienced an “A-ha!” moment: the apparition of Eunice, the cheerful cashier at Mecca restaurant, where I ate about once a week. I could see her round, beaming face and hear her asking, “Was everything all right, Hon? They’s plenty more food if you’re still hungry.” Eunice wanted everyone to be happy, savoring a full plate of food. Calling everyone “Hon,” she made us all feel loved. Eunice would be perfect for the boarding house!
Now I knew Eunice, who weighed about 200 pounds, couldn’t climb stairs like Mother McKelvey, but I hoped she would calm everybody down by feeding them all they could eat and providing a homey atmosphere. I’d give her a management fee, and I could stay away. I liked the sound of it. When I discussed the details with Eunice, her eyes sparkled. She liked the concept of running her own business.
Mother McKelvey danced a jig out the front door after calling a cab for the Statler, and Eunice moved into the manager’s quarters.
After a look around the dimly lit kitchen, she had Lucious, the Inn’s peg-legged handy man, clean all the pots and pans and mop the floor, while she checked out the pantry and the two refrigerators. I gave her the keys to the Inn’s pickup truck and $100 to buy groceries for the residents. She got behind the wheel of the old Dodge and took off for the Farmers Market to buy a lot of food cheap.
Four hours later, she called to say she had Lucious pour water into a washtub and fill it with lima beans. “You always soak lima beans,” she said. “Makes ’em swell up like bird eggs.” She’d bought “hotel bacon so thin you can read the morning paper through it, chickens so old and tough they can only be barbecued, and over-ripe fruit and vegetables, but not so’s to hurt anybody.”
“Hon, don’t you worry none about taking care of this place,” she continued. “My boy, Milford Jr., is coming down from Childress to move in and take care of the maintenance. That boy can fix anything. And, he don’t eat much. He’s thin like his daddy — wherever he is. Between Lucious here and Milford Jr., we won’t need no outside service. Milford Jr., will just park his little trailer back there by the garage and live in it. Behind them shrubs, no one’ll ever see it.”
The trailer was there, in full view, the next day when I dropped by. It was a 1951 Airstream Mini, not much bigger than a Volkswagen bus. On the back steps of the Inn, there was a shirtless man with a pink Mohawk, wearing jeans, boots, and a tool belt — obviously Milford Jr.
When he looked at me, I remembered a poster advertising a zombie movie. His eyes appeared not to have pupils, like Little Orphan Annie’s. The rest of his face was flat and listless, and his ears flared like the pectoral fins on a catfish. “Come on up here, hon,” Eunice said to me. “I want you to meet Milford Jr.” From the way she was smiling at him, you’d think he was a chicken fried steak with cream gravy.
“How are you, Milford-er-ah Jr.,” I said, extending my hand.
“All right,” he said, his open stare going beyond me to his distant star.