| Charlie and Betsy|
Rockingham County Fair 2014
Today, the world’s a little sadder place today because a good man has left us behind and gone on to his reward.
While I honestly can’t tell you much about Charlie Parks…I can’t tell you his actual date of birth, his kids’ names, how many grandkids there are…or if he had a cat…I can tell you this one thing.
Charlie Parks was a good man. And, he meant an awful lot to a whole lot of people.
As part of a promise to my eldest daughter, nearly 10 years ago, I found myself driving through the most incredibly dense fog I have ever seen, to a place I’d never been, with a mini-van full of chickens. Yep. Chickens. While it’s not the strangest thing I’ve ever done, I was certainly out of my element.
Toughchick, who was then still just “BirdbrainB” (nickname courtesy of her sister), was intent on turning her chicken hobby into a paying proposition. She had heard of a poultry sale in a little town north of here and off we went.
The fog made it next to impossible to see anyone else who was set up for the sale. Or, if there were any customers. But, suddenly, out of the mist came an older gentleman in a stingy brimmed felt fedora with a jaunty little guinea feather in its band. His brilliant green “brew-thru” tee-shirt lit up the morning fog. For some odd reason, he reminded me of some odd combination of my granddaddy and Merle Haggard. As a career army man, I am certain he would have hooted at any perceived similarities.
“Well, Halllloooo, ladies!” He introduced himself and informed us about the rules of the sale. This was Charlie Parks… the de facto face of the poultry sale, a slightly gruff, grandfatherly sort of character who seemed to know everyone and everything as it pertained to poultry.
Later, as I was watching over the chicken charges, (because my poultry enthusiast had to do a little shopping as well as selling) he came back. We talked about all sorts of things and he was greatly impressed that my then teen-aged daughter had been raising chickens for over ten years. He invited her to attend the Poultry Fanciers club meetings and take part in the poultry show at the R'ham county fair. Near the end of our conversation he said, “yeah, it’s great to get kids involved with poultry…keeps ‘em off of dope and all that crap!” Later, I would come to know that this saying was part and parcel of Charlie’s outlook on getting through to the younger generation. It's hard to say just how many people have been affected by Charlie's infectious love of poultry.
As time wore on, poultry club meetings, poultry sales and the poultry show at the fair became part of our lives. And, so did Charlie. As president of the club, he would call to inform “that girl of ours” (as he began to call my eldest) of various and sundry events. He recognized a kindred spirit and took her under his wing. If he couldn’t get a hold of her, he would talk to me. Every conversation followed a similar pattern. He’d holler “Hey Hun!” (more because he probably couldn’t remember my name than anything else) ask after the Boss and the folks in Mbrk that he once knew, and how the Farmers’ Market was going. At some point in every conversation he would say, “that’s a real good girl you got there, mama…y’all done good!”
He had no way to know how much those words meant to me. No way at all. Validation from the older generation isn’t something I’ve had a whole lot of in my life. Positive reinforcement has been sorely lacking. Yet, he said this every time I talked to him. Later, when he got to know Blondie as well, he changed his comment to include girlS plural. (and he was right…we do have good girls…and we “done good”)
So, it wasn’t surprising that I sent him cards for his birthday and holidays. And, after each card, he’d call and we’d talk some more. He said the cards meant so much…and I told him it was the least I could do, he was so kind to my daughters, but I never told him all the details about why I appreciated HIM.
However much he may have meant, Charlie was the last person on my mind that awful night in April 2010 when the nurse handed me my critically injured daughter’s personal effects. I stuffed the blood-spattered wedding ring and her wallet in my pocket, unable to truly comprehend the situation. By the morning the horrible reality had set in and when son-in-law asked me to help him through the mountains of paperwork, I made myself look in the wallet for information that we might need. Inside I found a check for a large amount made out to the Poultry club of which Toughchick (survival granted the new nickname) was now secretary. Neither my son-in-law nor I had any idea what it was for. And, Toughchick was in no condition to answer.
Figuring that president-Charlie was the only one who could solve this mystery, I called him. Through my tears, I told him what happened and why I was calling. He was shocked at the turn of events but assured me that I didn’t need to worry about that particular thing right now. He inquired after the prognosis and promised prayers. And, he told me everything would be all right.
I figured that was that.
But, no. He called me once a week for his update on the progress report.
“Hey, Hun. How ya doin’? How’s that girl of ours?” for weeks and weeks he called. He still called after recovery was certain. Sometimes he called just to check on me. When she got well enough, he called her even more often than he had before the wreck. It was no wonder that when we finally made a trip to the bank, (the check was to open a poultry club checking account) that the customer service rep thought he was Toughchick’s granddaddy, and remarked how sweet they were together.
So, today, when I got the news, I cried. And cried. Big, ugly tears. Toughchick said it’s the saddest she’s ever felt about a person’s passing, and I cannot disagree.
It wasn’t that it wasn’t expected. Charlie wasn’t young, his heart wasn’t so good, and he sorely missed his wife.
But, still, I am so sad that Charlie is gone. Sad to know that I won’t ever pick up the phone and hear that gravelly voice say “Hey Hun, how’s that girl of ours?” Sad to know that he won’t be at the fair, watching over the poultry barn or talking about Muscovy ducks. And, sad to know my grandsons won’t know this special man. But, at the same time I know he’s been reunited with “Momma”, who got to Heaven a few years ago and there is some comfort in that.
Borrowing a few words from Toby Keith, I can honestly say:
I'm not cryin' ‘cause I feel so sorry for you
I am cryin' for me!
I am cryin' for me!
-Toby Keith “Cryin’ for Me, Wayman’s Song”
Rest in Peace, Charlie! We will all miss you. You were a good man.