Durham County

Meals on Wheels of Durham — one woman’s story

The Meals on Wheels program here in Durham has many clients whose life stories might remain unknown, where it not for the dedicated volunteers and staff who make it a point to forge friendships with those to whom they deliver daily hot meals.

Meals on Wheels of Durham is structured in such a way that those who deliver meals to clients who are home-bound, have the opportunity to become more than dispassionate curriers. One way they do this is to keep the same delivery routes with the same delivery people as much as possible.

I recently interviewed one of our home-bound beneficiaries. Here is what I learned about one of our remarkable clients.

Mrs. Marcella McDaniel was born, in her own words, “on a beautiful, sunny Friday, on April 18, 1924 in Knoxville, Tennessee.” She grew up in a community full of children who played together often. Their neighborhood was very safe and often her family slept with their doors unlocked.

Because the house didn’t have air conditioning Marcella remembers that she, her siblings and friends would make pallets directly in front of the screen door and sleep in the cool breeze of the summer nights.

Her parents were strict and tended to shadow them constantly as they played. Both her mother and father loved to cook and together would prepare Sunday dinner for their family and friends. Some of her favorite childhood memories were when the Pastor and his family would come over for Sunday dinner and afterwards play family games. On nice days they would go outside and get up a game of baseball. Marcella’s own favorites were hopscotch, jump rope and marbles.

She has always loved dogs, and growing up there were always several of them around. She now has had a faithful canine companion for 12 years. (Readers may be interested in knowing that besides the delivery of hot meals to home-bound clients, Meals on Wheels also occasionally provides pet food to those clients).

Life was not always easy, confessed Marcella. As a young child she received the devastating news that she was going blind. The disease required radiation treatment that shrunk her pupils. She has worn eyeglasses ever since. One later surgery was a transplant to allow more light into her corneas. While improving her vision significantly at the time, her eyesight has only worsened over the years.

Despite her vision handicap she was able to complete grades K through 10. Spelling was her forte. In the summers, she and her family would listen to the fireworks, though they never went to see them. She learned to swim, though her parents always feared her being near the water because of her poor vision.

Her compromised vision did not keep her from securing employment. She found work in the shoe section of a clothing store. She remembers being nervous at first but found that her being honest with customers about her being “new,” helped her win their admiration.

Later, Marcella found employment as a caregiver to adults with disabilities. Marcella loved the work and found the people she served sweet and appreciative. It pained her to see their suffering. Her passion for helping the disabled made her dream of becoming a nurse when she grew up, but that dream was never realized.

In her late teens, Marcella and her family moved to North Carolina. She met her future husband while attending church and was married in Durham at the age of 18.

When her husband tragically lost his life to Tuberculosis, Marcella became a widow at the tender age of 20. She recalls the relationship as a most loving and easy one – “it just flowed,” she remembers wistfully. Marcella remarried and had one son whom she adores, “he is more than my son, he is my friend,” she told Ms. Read when describing him.

Marcella is now a proud grandmother and great grandmother. She has a grandson and a granddaughter who, in turn, each have daughters.

When asked what she would wish for if she had three wishes Marcella responded with “good health, happiness and the well-being of my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”

When Ms. Read asked what she would do if she won a million dollars she replied: “I would share it with every one;” then added with a chuckle, “money, you know, is the root of all evil.”

Marcella finds great pleasure in the company of others, and even at 92 owns that she enjoys keeping up with politics. She is glad to be alive and says that she tries to live every day to the fullest.

Her simple advice to others is about gratitude: “You need to be happy.”

Annette Read is the Community Outreach Director of Meals on Wheels of Durham