(This is the second in a two-part series about an exceptional Southern woman.)
When my niece, Nicole, asked me to pay a surprise visit to a nursing home patient of hers, Mrs. Wanda Parks, I never dreamed of the friendship that would develop.
Mrs. Parks is now 98. She was approaching 90 when I first met her while she was going through physical rehab after a fall. She is a faithful reader of mine so Nicole thought we should meet.
Soft-spoken, gracious and kind, she is typical of the World War II generation who fought to protect our freedom then built an industrially-healthy America. Her mind is so phenomenal that her son, Thomas, suffers routine defeats in their weekly Scrabble games.
The day we met, I learned she lived in a picturesque, clapboard farmhouse on a beautiful piece of property that is covered with hundreds of colorful flowers. Weeks after our nursing home visit, Tink and I were driving past her house. There, at 90 years old, was Mrs. Parks pulling weeds.
“Tink, turn around and go back,” I said.
When we stopped in her driveway, I lowered the window and, as she turned, I cheerfully called, “Mrs. Parks, it’s Ronda Rich.”
Her pretty face lightened. Her eyes widened. “Why, yes you are!”
After the shock wore off, she stood up, smoothed her slacks and invited us in. What we found in the turn-of-the-20th century farmhouse is true to the World War II generation – the house was not running over with stuff (like our house). No, everything was neat, sparkling clean, and sparsely decorated — not for lack of money but because folks like Mrs. Parks keep only their most cherished items.
I have never been in the home of a World War II participant when it didn’t look like a little dollhouse – all items carefully arranged and the housekeeping perfect with shining furniture and freshly cleaned or vacuumed floors.
Standing in the living room as a soft breeze lifted the voile curtains, it felt like my childhood years had returned, bringing with that breeze the smell of old but trusty hardwood. The kitchen sink and floors sparkled and there was not a speck of dust. To my surprise and the great touching of my heart, I saw — among her few, cherished items – a stack of my books.
“Mrs. Parks,” I whispered, my throat tightening. “You have my books.”
She grinned and straightened her back. “Of course, I do. I love those books.”
Later, Tink commented. “She had no idea that we were coming so she didn’t plant them just for you to see. That’s amazing. I’m glad you got to see how much you mean to her.”
Since then, I drop by whenever possible to see Mrs. Parks. Her mind is astoundingly bright and her stories are important to the history of our country. Her wit is quick and nonsensical. Despite a golden heart, she doesn’t suffer fools.
Usually when I visit, I find her doing one of a few things: playing Scrabble (if she has a partner), studying the Bible, reading the newspaper, or working a crossword puzzle.
My conversations with her are enjoyable and informative to the point that I hate to leave.
Her spirit is tremendous. For Christmas two years ago, she cut up old dresses, aprons, and such and made a special pillow for her loved ones. There were 20 in all.
For her 90th birthday, she had but one request. “I want to ride your horse,” she told her son, Thomas.
Unbeknownst to her, Thomas and his wife arranged a rodeo party. When Mrs. Parks arrived, she was happily surprised to see the horse saddled and waiting. She didn’t hesitate. She climbed right on and rode until her heart’s content.
Wanda Parks, with a sharp mind, has many stories and pieces of world wisdom to share that I believe she will be sharing long after her 100th birthday.
[This is the second of a two-part series about an exceptional Southern woman. Ronda Rich is a best-selling author.]