Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #42 – “The Angel of Arkansas”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

I spent last night in Conway, at the home of Wanda Fincher, the Angel of Arkansas.

If ever a human being deserved sainthood, it’s Wanda, who would go to her death denying she deserved any honors not bestowed on everyone else.

From the very first time this tall, dark-haired, string bean of a gal wrapped her strong arms around me and gave me a typical Wanda hello I knew I was in the presence of someone special.

Raised as an orphan in the little town of Walnut Ridge, for a while Wanda took the last name of her first husband—Lovelady—and being a loving lady is what she’s all about.

The calling that took her out of Walnut Ridge was nursing. Wanda became an Air Force nurse. She’s divorced now. Never had any children. But Wanda’s raised zillions of foster kids.

Not official ones, that the county gives you. Unofficial sons and daughters. Drop-offs from shamed mothers. Babysitting jobs that ran years instead of hours.

She adopts adults as well. Through her church, Wanda became involved in an outreach program for convicts, and countless parolees have lived on her big lakeside property. Just as she’s cared for the abandoned children, so Wanda has watched over these troubled grown-ups. She’s gotten them jobs and, several times, spouses as well.

Wanda has never met anyone she didn’t love in the best way, and if you love people you’ve got to help them, right?

Need money but can’t go to the bank because your credit’s deader than a flattened rabbit? Have a drug habit you can’t shake? In pain over abuse you were afraid to report?

All you’ve got to do is run into Wanda somewhere, and the minute she finds out your problem she does what she’s got to do. Often without you even knowing.

When Gwen the Beautiful first went blind, Wanda was at our ranch every week, bringing us the next week’s worth of meals and cleaning our house.

She brought a gardener too, and plants from a nursery owned by a couple she helped get started. Why, she even tried to get Chet the Unhandyman a job!

Wanda’s not just a goody-goody. She’s smart and funny and does the kind of physical comedy that could’ve made her the Lucille Ball of the South. Why tell a story when she can act it out?

Which isn’t to say that she’s a quiet woman. Wanda knows how to talk, all right. Even Robin Williams would have to let her have the floor.

What brought me to Wanda’s last night was her standing offer of the finest in hospitality. I’d dropped Gwen off in Hot Springs for a weekend with some old friends, and just couldn’t stand the thought of the long, lonely drive home.

It was a typical Wanda evening. We had dinner with her two nieces, Sarah and Charla, who live in Wanda’s guest house while they’re going to college in town. And with her next door neighbor, Ashley.

And her best buddy Freddie and Freddie’s teenage son. And another buddy, Linda the Private Detective.

Oh, and another friend, David, who mistakenly thought this was Bible study night, but stayed for the laughter and the eats.

And there was a lot of laughter.

Especially when Gwen called and Wanda told her, “You can be proud of your husband, lady. He’s here with five women, and hasn’t hardly laid a finger on one. ‘Course the other four’re powerful tired…”

But this morning when I was leaving, Wanda looked troubled.

“Lordy,” she said. “I’ve got all these ideas. Half-written books. But the only writing I’ve been able to finish was writing I did for other people. People who’re famous authors. While I’m just the ol’ gal from Walnut Creek.

“Sometimes,” she said, “it breaks my heart, to not be known as the writer I am.”

Then she shook it off. “But not now! Lordy, not now!” and with a hug and a little kiss she pushed me into my truck.

As I drove home I thought about what Wanda had said, and how much I disagreed. She’s every bit as good with words as those people she worked for. And, books or no books, everyone who knows her—including Almighty God—knows what a brilliant author Wanda Fincher is.

We know it by the way—every moment of every day—the energy-filled Angel of Arkansas writes her loving, giving, hilarious, and utterly bodacious life.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.