A Few Notes and Stories about My Dad

Harold Lester McNabb

1926 &ndash 1997

These are just some things I remember and have notes about. I'll add more from time to time. If anyone wants to send me a new story or more information, or to correct something I have here, please email me. I've labeled each paragraph to indicate who provided the information for that story.

[PAUL] Harold Lester McNabb was born August 21, 1926 in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri. He was the fourth and youngest child of Hite McNabb and Hannah Ann Permelia Catherine (Hogan) McNabb. Harold's oldest sister, Effie Ealus (Aunt Ealus) was born in 1917; his brother John Elvis (Uncle Johnny) was born in 1919; and his sister Gladys Ilene (Aunt Ilene) was born in 1922. I was told that there was another sister who was stillborn about a year after Johnny was born, but I don't have any more information on that.

[PAUL] According to Ilene, Harold was always very interested in animals. When he was a boy, Harold would always be bringing home stray animals and taking care of injured ones. He had a "pet" pigeon once, and Johnny and Ealus killed it and cooked it one day as a kind of joke. Apparently Harold was pretty upset and didn't think it was at all funny.

[PAUL] Dad told the story that when he was a child he had been playing outside when his mother called him home for dinner. He ignored her and continued to play on a swing in a tree in a nearby yard. After he had ignored her several times, lightening struck either the tree or something nearby and scared him to death. He thought it was God punishing him for his disobedience. He quickly ran home, but I don't know if he always remembered the lesson.

[PAUL] When Harold was young, the family's house burned down. It was in the afternoon while the kids were in school. Ilene said that the smoke could be seen from the school, and that the McNabb children were called in and sent home early. The family lost nearly everything they owned. They received help from several other families and from the Salvation Army (at least that's what I remember Dad saying). Dad told me that he always put money in the Salvation Army buckets at Christmas because he remembered being helped as a child.

[PAUL] Hite and Hannah divorced when Harold was still in school. The family had never been well-off, and the depression was in full swing, so Harold got a job to help support his mother. After school he would ride across town on a bus and wash dishes and do other jobs to make a little money. He said he gave most of it to his mom for food and other household expenses.

[PAUL] Harold joined the Army near the end of World War II. He was in the 155th Combat Engineer Battalion, 11th Airborne Division - Army of Occupation Japan and his serial number was 37760250. He was stationed in the Philippines for several months. He was part of the occupying forces in Japan and he always had a soft spot in his heart for Japan and things Japanese. When I received my mission call to Japan in 1976, Dad told me stories about some of the people he had known and hoped that I might possibly meet someone he had known. I never did.

Someone may want to write up about how Dad and Johnny built the house next to their mom's (on the corner lot).

[PAUL] After the war, Harold returned to Missouri and went to college. He had been active in religious groups in the army and was considering becoming a minister. He was attending an Old Testament course when he was first "noticed" by Patricia Mae Williams, who was also in the course. She said that this young blond guy would often come in late to class and one time she decided to find out more about him. They were married the 2nd of April 1949.

I'm missing information about his college years.

[PAUL] Harold decided to become an English teacher after becoming "disillusioned" about being a minister. I don't know the issues, but I heard that though he was still religious, he no longer wanted to make it his profession. After Harold graduated from college he taught in Springfield (or Lebanon?), Missouri, for a few years.

I'd like to have more about his early career.

[PAUL] Around 1957, the family moved to Chicago Heights, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago. They were there about 6 months or so until they could buy a house at 223 Arrowhead Street in Park Forest, Illinois. Harold was teaching at Bloom High School. In 1960 Harold got a position teaching English and coaching debate at Prospect High School, so the family moved to Mount Prospect, Illinois, at the end of August 1960.

[PAUL] Harold and Pat had five children: Rebecca Anne (1951), David Alan (1953), Paul Andrew (1955), John Mark (1957), and Martha Jane (1962). Becky was born in Lebanon, Missouri. David, Paul, and Mark were born in Springfield, Missouri. Martha was born in Chicago, Illinois.

I hope Becky will write up the story about Dad and the giant Christmas tree trunk fiasco. It would also be interesting to have info about his work on genealogy, the MW Newsletter, and the Illinois Genealogical Society. Maybe someone can write up the story about Dad and the squirrel. It would be nice to talk about all the things Dad worked on around the house: upstairs, basement, garage, etc. Other things like his gardening, PHS jobs, chewing paper, protection of the Emerson Park tree, post-PHS teaching jobs, all his traveling, etc. would be interesting. Any takers?

[BECKY] My brothers were involved with boy scouting and scouting events, including Pinewood Derby racing.. This was where scouts would build their own race cars and compete in elimination races with each other and other packs for trophies and ribbons. In any case, Dad got it into his head that old Christmas trees would be good for my brothers and their fellow scouts to carve into race cars. [Note from Paul: This was actually not related to Pinewood Derby but from when David and a friend went around gathering up old Christmas trees so they could use the trunks to build something, a raft if I recall correctly. I was just a cub scout then, so it would have been in the 1965-1967 time frame.]

One winter we kept our Christmas tree and, over several days and weeks, amassed several neighbors' trees that had been discarded after the holidays. These were piled in our back yard and never turned into racing cars. I was only mildly interested in the whole thing..HOWEVER, when my mother announced one spring that the pile of trees "needed to go" and my father said he'd "just burn them." Well, my ears pricked up.

I suggested that there were A LOT of trees to burn, (which fell on deaf ears) and my mother said "go with him" (which means "your father is about to do something stupid and you have to be there with him, not me"). Being the obedient child, I went into the back yard with my father, all the while knowing something was not right and---I stayed with Dad. He had charcoal fluid and matches and said that burning the trees would be the quick way to get rid of them. I was a Girl Scout who had attained "Curved Bar" status (a pretty big deal with the Girl Scouts); I was not clueless. I was a veteran of many camping trips with my own troop and had a pretty good idea of what tinder, kindling, and FUEL was. Thinking back on the moment I think I said something like, "don't you think that's going to make a BIG fire???"

My father was many things, among them was "heedless." He was not dissuaded by my comments and proceeded to squirt lighter fluid on the trees that were piled up at least four feet high. Those trees had been cut for Christmas most likely sometime in early November and were now crispy, crispy, brown and properly seasoned. They were unfortunately piled in the furthest part of our back yard which was directly under power lines that ran maybe 25-40 feet above the lawn and supplied all our neighborhood with heat, light, cooking capabilities, and television.

I distinctly remember looking up to see the power lines, looking at Dad, with his can of accelerant, and trying to form the word "no," when suddenly he lit the pile of trees. It all happened so fast (just like on the news). There was a big sound like a very large and very loosely wrapped firecracker exploding and then there were flames that roared impossibly high. I remember looking to the house and seeing someone pulling down a window shade. A few moments later men were marching into our backyard. They looked unusual. These men were wearing masks, very tall boots, and were striding toward dad and myself with hoses! This was the fire department!!!

Dad was busy telling the firefighters that everything was under control (of COURSE it wasn't) and they were telling him the bucket of water he had was not nearly enough to put out the fire (you think?). [Note from Paul: I think Dad had the garden hose out as well, not that that little thing could have made a difference.] They proceeded to drown the flames and all I could think was, "Dad, you can't possibly think that was a smart thing to do." The spokesman for the firefighters told my father that what he did was very unwise. They told him that "neighbors" had called the fire in and that those neighbors were very concerned about the situation. The men did not say "Stupid, this was a dumb thing to do," but they might as well have. I kept quiet and watched and after about 20 minutes, Dad and I were again alone in the backyard. Now there was a big burn pile, a small lake of muddy water and the scent of pine.

We went inside. I knew better than to say anything. Dad went on about how he had it under control, it wasn't a big fire, the neighbors didn't need to be alarmed, the power lines were never in danger, etc., etc. I remember when I saw mom she looked at me and then at dad like she would begin to froth at the mouth if either one of us said anything specifically to her. I did roll my eyes and retreated to my room. To my knowledge, the incident was never formally discussed by them with an audience, and I never remember talking about it with my brothers until we were all old enough to run faster than Dad.

[PAUL] Harold and Pat divorced October 8, 1982, and Harold lived in the northwest suburbs for a while before moving into Chicago. He had an apartment on the north side for several years and then bought a house on Carmen Avenue just off of Western Avenue. His friends all called him "Mac". Harold died in his home on Sunday morning, September 28, 1997. When he failed to show up for a breakfast appointment with some friends, they went to his house and found him dead.