Her friends stateside called her Marisa. That was never her real name. It was a random name she put on a fake ID during her dancing days. She was underage at the time and wanted to sneak from Spain into Egypt to perform onstage.
Manuela Stahl was born in Madrid, Spain on January 3rd, 1927. She died in Texarkana, Texas on November 3, 2022, surrounded by friends and a family who adored her. Over her 95 years, this remarkable woman would pick up other names. Mani. Esperanza. Manoli. Nana. Memaw. La reina de España. Within each name, a story.
Hers was a life full of surprises. In her youth, Mom and her family survived the ravages of the Spanish Civil War. She went on to fulfill her dreams of becoming a professional flamenco dancer. She toured the world with her sister, Isabel, with whom she shared a deep bond. Together they visited over 31 countries. They danced before presidents, sultans, and a king. They appeared in two movies, although she would never reveal this until late in life, for some inexplicable reason. You can watch her performances on You Tube, and please do. In her late 30s, she met an American contractor working in Spain. In spite of the language gap between them, they married. She found herself plopped down in Wamba, Texas—a tiny community on a lonely county road where the people spoke with a Southern drawl and raised chickens and hogs in pastures that sprawled for days. Her husband’s work left her alone for months on end, and she would wonder how she got to this strange place so far from the city life she knew so well. She would raise four boisterous boys and one very stubborn daughter almost entirely on her own. She learned how to turn the soil with her hands. To grow dazzling flowerbeds full of roses and zinnias, and so many vegetables in her garden, plump and hearty. She taught herself how to can goods. To sew. To store tomatoes in Mason jars for winter. She learned English, although no amount of practice would ever help her lose her thick Spanish accent. Why on earth would she ever want to?
Mom loved her life fiercely. Moreso, the people in it. She lived for holidays and get-togethers and a nice cup of coffee. Black with two sugars. Hot, hot. She loved General Hospital and trips into town. Even if she was going to the neighborhood Piggly Wiggly, she would never leave the house unless properly attired—skirt, makeup, necklaces, perfume, the whole she-bang. Sweats and a t-shirt? Not this lady, no way. You never knew who you would run into. Liquor rarely crossed her lips. She didn’t need it. She could have fun going to the post office, and often did. She loved her children with a lioness-like devotion, but would never reveal her favorite, no matter how much they tried. She took pride in her grandchildren and adored spending time with them. Her friends became her extended family—a rich company of Hispanic and Latina women who could bring a room to life with their laughter while keeping her in touch with her Spanish roots. She played the castanets with a rhythm that defied the senses, even in her later years. Clack-clack-a-clack, clackity-clack. Her dessert choice was a piece of fruit, an orange, grapes, or a plum. She could lull a crying baby to sleep with a wave of her magical hands and a Spanish nursery rhyme about baby wolves. “Cinco lobita tenia la loba.” She developed impressive culinary skills, but never stopped doubting herself in the kitchen. Her children grew up in a home full of exotic smells and sounds. The sizzle and pop of churros frying in oil. Paella simmering in the kitchen, the air rich with the aroma of shellfish, garlic and Saffron. The chop of calamari being sliced on the cutting board. Her Spanish tortilla was a party favorite. This is not the tortilla you wrap a taco in. It’s an omelet made for sharing, full of potatoes, egg and onion. It’s delicious, look it up. Her Sunday roast was legendary, the gravy like something from Heaven. She had a deep mellifluous voice that rose above the crowd. She was terrible at keeping secrets. If you wanted to know something, just ask her. She’d spill it almost every time. Don’t fault her. It was her way of being honest.
But her Spanish blood made her quick to temper. Do something against her children and she’d march across town to give you a piece of her mind. Sometimes it was her own boys that were the problem, like young boys often are. When she scolded them, they’d run from her fury. She could tag them from behind at a dozen paces with a hastily thrown shoe. Go three days without calling her, and she’d guilt you so bad you wished you were dead. Mothers have their ways.
When Mom left this plane of existence on a gloomy fall evening after an extended illness, she left a feeling of bewilderment in the loved ones who remained behind. They didn’t know whether to cry at the deafening hole she’d left in their lives, or to laugh at all the beautiful memories she created while she was here. Her family recommends you do both in equal parts–but lean a little more towards the laughter, maybe.
To honor her memory, the Stahls ask that you smile at a stranger. Enjoy a second scoop of ice cream. Call up an old friend for absolutely no reason and say, “I love you”. And the next time you’re at a party, for God’s sake—get out there and dance.
Manuela was preceded in death by her parents Manuel and Carmen del Monte, her siblings Antonio del Monte, Emilio del Monte, Maruchi del Monte, Isabel Magar, her husband Donald Stahl, and one grandson, Michael Kirkland. Remaining family includes Jeri Prejean (Bill Prejean), Joe Stahl (Kay Stahl), Jonathan Stahl (Kelli Stahl), Donny Stahl (Cheryl Stahl), Robert Stahl (Jim Jordan), one sister, Carmen del Monte, her grandchildren, Alicia Potter, Ginny Asimos, Brinlee Stahl, Logan Stahl, Bobby Stahl, Ryan Stahl, Lauren Kennedy, Trey Cook, and numerous nieces, nephews, step-grandchildren and great-grandchildren.