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Elizabeth Abraham Deal

January 27, 1917 – May 30, 2007
By her firstborn, James Robert Deal, II

Elizabeth Abraham Deal was born in Clarkesdale, Mississippi on January 27, 1917 to Lebanese-born immigrants. She moved with her family to Blytheville, Arkansas, around 1923. She studied for eight years at Immaculate Conception School.

Mom died Wednesday May 30, 2007, here in Washington state where she lived her last five years with my wife and me. I am her first-born son, lawyer and mortgage broker (Blytheville High School graduate, 1965).

As a child Elizabeth wanted to be a doctor. She didn’t make it herself, but her second-born son Chad Logan Deal (BHS 1969) did. He is a rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, and a recognized authority on osteoporosis.

Father and mother Chadad and Helen Abraham owned a dry goods store located on the west side of Railroad Street between Main and Ash. They built the Abraham Motel at 1020 South Division, remodeled in 1964 by Elizabeth and her husband Jimmie into the Drummer Boy Motel and Restaurant. Today it is the Wilson Funeral Home.

Elizabeth understood Arabic to a certain extent but did not speak it well. Chadad forbad his children from speaking Arabic, believing that they would never master English if they spoke the old country language. After school she worked in the family dry goods store. Elizabeth vividly remembered some policemen beating up a black man and Chadad intervening and defending him.

The Lebanese were considered second-class citizens, much like the few Chinese and Jewish residents of Blytheville. They were allowed to attend white schools, but socially conscious whites preferred not to associate with them. Occasionally, people in Blytheville would call Chadad and his family “dirty Jews.” They didn’t know the difference between Lebanese and Jewish. Perhaps because the Abrahams were discriminated against, they had a compassion for Blacks. They were on good terms with Blytheville’s small Jewish community.

Most of the Lebanese who immigrated to the South in the early decades of the 20th Century were Christian and not Moslem, although some were Moslem, and Chadad befriended them and invited them to stay in his home. Chadad was descended from Maronite Catholics, while Helen Nassif Abraham came from a Greek Orthodox family. There were no Orthodox churches in the South, and so the Orthodox usually became Catholics.

Elizabeth dropped out of high school because Chadad wanted her to get married early to one of his Lebanese friends. Elizabeth did not find any of them interesting. So she returned to school and graduated from Blytheville High School in 1937 at age 20.

At this point Elizabeth wanted to be a nurse but did not know how to apply, so she put all 12 years of her report cards in an envelope and send them to the Catholic nursing school in Jonesboro. She was accepted, but Chadad would not consent, saying “No daughter of my is going to empty bed pans and scrub naked men.”

However Chadad was willing to send Elizabeth to Draughon’s Business College in Memphis. She took a weekend job working for Deal Flooring typing letters. There she met James Robert Deal (Sr.), known to all as “Jimmie,” son of the owner, Albert Deal. Jimmie was a hard wood floor layer during the day. At night and on weekends he was a drummer and singer in a Dixieland band. It was 1937 and the Great Depression was in full swing, but Jimmie drove a nice car with a trailer full of musical equipment and had money. Elizabeth found him much more interesting than the Lebanese men she had met. She had an intuition from the start that they would marry. Elizabeth’s typing was not very good, and she was nervous working for Jimmie, so she ruined a score of letterhead pages to finish one letter.

After dating less than a month, Elizabeth they took a drive to Blytheville to meet Elizabeth’s parents. As they were passing through Marion on Highway 61, Jimmie said, “This is Marion. They say Marion is a good place for marryin’. Do you want to get married?” Elizabeth thought he was joking, so she joked back and said “yes.” Jimmie decided to take her seriously and did a u-turn. They went to see the justice of the peace, and the ceremony was over in a half hour. They continued on to Blytheville. Chadad and Helen liked Jimmie and gave their approval. Only then did they begin their honeymoon.

During World War II, Jimmie and Elizabeth lived in California. Jimmie worked as a set decorator in Hollywood and later as a railroad brakeman. They lived in a small trailer and moved wherever the railroad sent them–from Los Angeles to Mexicali to Indio.

Returning to Blytheville, they found the town booming. An Army Air Force base had opened there, and thirsty soldiers came into town at night and on weekends, wanting a place to drink. Chadad set up a beer joint for himself on the southwest corner of Railroad and Ash. It did a land office business. So he set up another beer joint for Elizabeth and Jimmie just around the corner and to the south on Railroad. It too did a land office business. So he set up a third beer joint further to the south for his daughter Marie and her husband Lonnie Manning. It was just as busy. Elizabeth would go to work at 5 pm, and take two dimes from two soldiers, ring up the sale in the cash register, open two taps and fill two glasses of beer, and give them to the soldiers, and do that non-stop until after midnight.

Running a beer joint was not to Jimmie’s liking. He was a committed Missouri Synod Lutheran, and Lutherans do not look favorably on drinking. So he and Elizabeth opened The House of Charm and did interior decorating. This business did well enough, however, Jimmie was on a religious quest for truth. He and Elizabeth visited many different denominations. For a while Elizabeth and I became Lutherans. They settled on the Church of Christ, which follows the New Testament as literally as possible and regards itself as replicating the original New Testament church. They were both rebaptized. Jimmie accepted a call to preach in Aubrey, Arkansas, not far from Helena. Elizabeth became a preacher’s wife. However, Jimmie had two sons with health issues, and the $100 per month salary was not enough to cover expenses. So Jimmie had to return to being a businessman. He continued to preach occasionally.

The family moved to Osceola, Arkansas, where Jimmie went into the paint store business with Mr. Kennemore, and where I attended second grade. The next year Jimmie took a job for Goldsmiths in Memphis heading up the sewing machine sales department, and the family lived in West Memphis, where I attended third grade. I was a cub scout, Elizabeth was den mother; my younger brother Chad was mascot. Greater opportunities presented themselves in Lincoln, Nebraska, so the family moved again, and I entered fourth grade. However, when the first blizzard hit at Thanksgiving, Jimmie announced that Nebraska was “too cold for man or beast.” We towed the 42′ x 8′ Schultz mobile home back to Blytheville and parked it at the Abraham Motel so we could be close to the Abrahams and Helen Abraham’s good cooking.

Jimmie and Elizabeth set up Deal’s Sewing Machine Exchange, which expanded soon into Deal’s Fabric Center. Later he set up Deal’s Custom Decorators as a separate business and ran it, while Elizabeth continued to run the Fabric Center.

Chadad Abraham died a few weeks before JFK was assassinated in 1963. He loved the young president so much that we said he would have died anyway when he heard the news. Chadad left the Abraham Motel to Elizabeth. She and Jimmie remodeled it into Deal’s Drummer Boy Restaurant & Motel in 1964. For many years it was the finest steak house in town.

In 1975 Jimmie and Elizabeth decided to sell all their businesses and retire. Elizabeth chose to pursue her life-long desire to be a healer and attended Cotton Bowl VoTec. At age 63 she became an LPN. She was amazed that she could study complicated scientific topics and learn them. She worked for almost 20 years at Beverly Senior Home with sick, disabled, and elderly patients, realizing her dream to care for others.

Her family wondered why a 60, 70, or 80 year old woman would continue to work. It was not just work for her; it was the realization of her calling. Elizabeth had spent so many years wishing to be a healer, and given that she had started so late in life, she did not want to miss one minute and never wanted to stop.

Husband Jimmie achieved success intervening in Middle South Utilities (now Entergy) rate cases. He saved Blytheville rate payers millions of dollars. He was so good that Middle South offered to hire him and pay him a huge salary. Jimmie declined. When he died at 86 in 2000 “Deal for Mayor” was still painted on his garage on Division at Hearn.

Jimmie and Elizabeth attended the Church of Christ. After Jimmie died she attended the Methodist Church. In her old age Elizabeth returned to the Catholic Church.

Elizabeth was witty and wise. She advised her sons, “When someone pays you a compliment, say thank you, and believe him.” She also said, “When someone gives you money, say thank you, and accept it.” She said, “Sometimes it is better to pay a little more and have something worth keeping.” At a time when racism was a common theme, Mom taught her sons a respect for all.

Elizabeth encouraged her two sons to go to college, and financed our tuition out of the coins that piled up in the cigarette and soft drink vending machines at the Drummer Boy.

Elizabeth retired the second time in 2001 because of health problems. The vertebrae in her neck were collapsing. She claimed it was the result of a crazy patient at the nursing home who snuck up behind her and smashed his fist into her upper back. Brother Chad, head of the Osteoporosis Division at Cleveland Clinic, arranged for her to have an operation. A titanium appliance was installed that supported her top seven vertebrae, which were fused together. Elizabeth lived in such agonizing pain for the first year that she was even disoriented about who we were. “Are you my son,” she asked once. “I’m not sure who you are, but I know you are someone I love.” Gradually her memory recovered.

She lived with Chad in Cleveland and then with niece Yvonne Manning Marshall in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 2002 the family asked if we wanted to take Mom. I said, “She took care of me when I was helpless, so I want to take care of her now.” Mom moved in with me and my new wife Emelyn. Emelyn became Mom’s primary care giver, and was like like a daughter to Elizabeth. The three of us were a happy family for the last five years of Elizabeth’s life. When Emelyn and I went out for a date, Mom volunteered to come along and pay for the movie and dinner. Chad and his family visited Elizabeth frequently. Without Mom as the magnet, the two families would not have been as close as we have become.

Elizabeth was never a complainer, even when she was in pain, and her neck pain was very bad at times. She was good at getting people to laugh.

Elizabeth fell ill in 2007 when an infection developed in her upper neck. It is common for a metal apparatus to harbor bacteria in its nooks and crannies. Antibiotics cannot kill the bacteria because blood flow to areas near the metal is limited. A Group Health surgeon went into the wound twice to clean it out. The wound healed, but it was discovered that Elizabeth’s aortic valve was 60 percent obstructed with plaque. The aortic valve leads from the heart into the aorta, the main artery leaving the heart. Although her heart was strong, it could not force enough blood out through the constricted aorta. Blood was backing up into the pulmonary artery, and her lungs were filling with fluid. Her liver and kidneys were receiving insufficient blood flow and were gradually failing. So they were not cleaning her blood, which in turn was affecting her heart. She was too old and fragile for an operation to clear out her aortic valve. Death was certain; the only question was how quickly it would come.

Elizabeth became weak and wanted to sleep most of the time. She needed help just to roll over. She was a tired of being confined to bed, of breathing through a nasal canula to get oxygen, of being catheterized, of being unable to get up to urinate, of having to defecate in the bed and be cleaned up, of having to be hooked up to a PICC line to receive medicine intravenously. She said she was ready to go. Occasionally, she would raise her hands and say “enough.” Mentally she was ready to go, but her body was not. She had a strong heart that was not ready to quit.

For a few hours each day she would wake up and eat a little and talk and laugh with us. I played guitar and flute for her and sang. Mom always liked my music and encouraged me to sing and plan. She was apparently having epiphanies thinking about her coming death, because occasionally she would exclaim, “Wow!”

As she was dying we reminded Mom that she was a big success, that she fulfilled her childhood ambition, went to college, and became a nurse, and that she raised up a doctor and a lawyer son. I reminded her, “If you had not believed in me, I would never have believed in myself.”

The day before she died, Mom rallied, and ate a lot. We thought she might even regain her strength and come home. But an aide fed her a lot of macaroni and cheese. Florence Joyner Griffith, Flo-Jo, died after eating a lot of cheese. Cheese has a tendency to produce a gluey mucous in the lungs. During the night Mom had extreme difficulty breathing. I slept beside her to monitor her condition, give her water, and call the nurse for help.

In the morning I sat by the bed and worked on my laptop. She said: “Son, I think I’m ready”. She asked me how to die. “Stop breathing”, I said. And soon she was released.

Elizabeth is survived by her sons, attorney James Robert Deal II (Blytheville HS 1969) and Chad Logan Deal M.D. (Blytheville HS 1973), and by nieces Sandra Manning Kennemore of Conway AR (BHS, 1964) and Yvonne Manning Marshall of Charlottestville VA (BHS, 1968) and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

(Click here to read about her husband, Jimmie Deal.)