Daniel Randolph Deal came from two distinguished Virginia families: the Randolphs of Roanoke and the Deals of Lynchburg. The prestige of such ancestors did not enhance his family's business acumen, unfortunately. Chief among the family's financial blunders was his great grandfather's foray into the tobacco business.
After making a fortune in the pulpwood business (recouping the family's losses in the Civil War, or, as his own grandfather laughingly called it, the War of Northern Aggression) Great Grandfather Deal looked about for a new venture likely to yield the resounding profits of the pulpwood business. He came across the Brown Company and the Reynolds Company, both in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Rather than acting prudently and investing moderately in both; the old man followed a hunch and bought hugely in Brown.
Then came the Depression. Great Grandfather Deal died a few years after the Brown Company did.
Grandfather Deal, the current patriarch, continued to operate the pulpwood business into the 1960's, but with increasing ill luck. Finally, he sold most of the remaining timber holdings to a man who sold off the trees, subdivided the land, and made a fortune constructing ranch style homes for the people of Lynchburg and Roanoke. Grandfather Deal then retired to pursue his passion for the history of the South and of his glorious ancestors.
Thus, though the blood of John Randolph of Roanoke flowed in young Daniel Randolph Deal's veins, great wealth, alas, flowed elsewhere.
By American standards, Dan was quite well off; well-to-do might be aptly descriptive. In his own mind, however, Dan was an impoverished aristocrat, one forced to suffer through life with little more than a fine home in a superior neighborhood to live in, excellent clothing to wear, and one of the cheaper Porsches to drive.
Daniel grew up in his grandfather's home. The environment provided by a would-be Southern aristocrat obsessed with family and regional glory might not have been the best for an impressionable sort like Dan Deal. How he got there is a testament of the Southern will.
Dan's father, Augustus Stuart Deal IV, rebelled against the well-modulated inefficiency of his father. He broke with family tradition, attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University instead of the University of Virginia and becoming, instead of the historian his father had hoped, that most practical of types, an engineer.
Stuart, as he was known, further shook the family tree by taking a job with the Department of Highways and working as an on-site coordinator during highway and bridge constructions. It was at one of these sites that he was killed. An I-beam became overbalanced and broke a cable on the crane that was moving it into place. The out of control girder swung into Dan's father, killing him instantly. Dan's grandfather ever after referred to Interstate 81 as: 'The road that killed my eldest son.'
Dan's mother, a career minded interior design major from VPI, albeit with impeccable family credentials from Richmond, was so shocked by her young husband's death that she had a nervous breakdown. Young Dan, then two, was sent to his grandparents until things could be sorted out.
Unfortunately, during her therapy Dan's mother transferred her affection for his father to her psychiatrist, a Frenchman trained in Switzerland visiting the United States as a clinical professor at the Medical College of Virginia. Once she had recovered, she married her therapist, thus making the transference complete.
Grandfather Deal frowned on the union, coming as it did only four years after her husband's death and two years after her recovery. When she came to Lynchburg to reclaim Dan, his grandfather refused to give him up.
"He's a Deal," the old man told her and her dark, slender escort. "A Deal of Virginia. This is where his blood is. This is where he'll remain." His hand tightened on his six-year-old grandson's fingers as the opponents squared off in Grandfather Deal's lawyer's office.
Dan's mother, blonde, with large gray-blue eyes whose features Dan had inherited pleaded quietly, "But he's my son. I need him. I need to see him; to be with him."
"And you shall see him. When you are here!" Dan looked up at his grandfather. The old man's voice sounded like God's.
Dan's mother flinched, and the Frenchman patted her arm and spoke to her in a foreign language. She responded in kind. Dan watched them, then turned to his grandfather. The patriarch was looking at the couple in disgust.
Dan's mother recoiled from Grandfather Deal's stare and turned her gaze to her son. He gave her the same scathing look his grandfather had. She gawked pitifully for a moment, then rose from her chair and fled the room. The Frenchman rose, bowed to all present, and followed her. She signed custody of Dan over to his grandfather a few days later.
Thus was Dan's opinion of women and foreigners formed. His grandfather brought him up to be a Southern gentleman. He taught him to be unselfish, moral, and scrupulous. He taught him to be chivalrous to but mystified by women. He taught him to brook no insult. He taught him manners, and he taught him comportment. He tried to make him in his own image.
As he grew up, Dan realized that it was not always easy to follow the strict code of gentlemanliness that his grandfather adhered to. By degrees he came to moderate the precepts he had been taught. Gradually, he reached the conclusion that birth and social position were more important than breeding and behavior in marking out a gentleman.
The reduced circumstances of Dan's family were not so severe as to preclude all private education. He attended Episcopal parochial schools until his high school years. Then, at his own insistence, so as to make himself a more likely candidate for scholarship money, Dan matriculated to public high school.
In high school Dan was editor of his school newspaper, a frequent contributor to the literary magazine (mostly poetry), and, lest he be thought merely an intellectual, co-captain of the tennis team. In fact, he won the state singles title his junior year.
His academic prowess was envied. He eventually graduated third in his class of four hundred. He scored over 1400 on his SAT's and was a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist. One of his poems was chosen for a national anthology of student poetry. His newspaper won a Columbia University journalism award.
During his senior year, Dan was offered scholarships at both the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia. Virginia offered an academic scholarship; William and Mary, a partial academic, partial athletic one. Although flattered by William and Mary's acknowledgement of his athleticism, he opted for the University of Virginia. It was the family school, his grandfather told him. It was the better school, his uncles told him. It was the more prestigious school, Dan decided after reflection. That convinced him.
On the strength of his family's name and his own quiet demeanor, Dan pledged an exclusive fraternity. His uncles paid the difference between his scholarship and his fraternity's dues.
At Virginia Dan again attained some distinction. He was an officer in his fraternity, a student member of the honor council, and a magna cum laude graduate, B. A. in English.
Dan decided early in his undergraduate career to attend law school after graduation. Although well suited to the field temperamentally, he decided that becoming an academic was too impractical for one as non-peripatetic as himself. He had written a series of clever, but too obvious poems for the student literary magazine; these convinced him that he was not a writer. There was no family business to enter. He was uninterested in medicine. He had a detached manner and was well spoken. The law seemed the obvious choice.
His excellent undergraduate record and a fine performance on the L.S.A.T. secured scholarship offers from, among others, Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He considered the school with friends who were attending and found it suited him academically and temperamentally. He wished to attend law school somewhere besides Charlottesville. When William and Mary did not offer the level of scholarship support he thought he deserved, the choice was made.
He spent the summer of 1975 leisurely house sitting for one of his English professors in Charlottesville, visiting Lynchburg occasionally to see his family. He read a great deal, all of Austen and most of Dickens. He considered whether he would go to work for his uncle's firm or try for a post with one of the large firms in Richmond. He dreamed of his success and of lovely women.
His future, carefully planned, lay before him, calm and reassuring.
© 2002 TheNewSouthernGentleman.com