Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stories of John C. Parsons

John C. Parsons loved his family. Especially on game night.

My dad's competitive streak is legendary on both sides of my family. Any game he played, he HAD to dominate. His Monopoly skills annoyed my mother so much that Monopoly hasn't been voluntarily played in the Parsons household since the 20th Century.

(On the other side of the coin, he and I also never played Sorry again after I drew the best possible card and accidentally beat him one weekend a few years ago. Mom high-fived me for that one.)

My cousin Winston once told me a story about how Dad hustled him at tennis. Dad took Winston to a tennis court and claimed to be "out of practice" and "it'd been a few years," so go easy on your old uncle, please, Winston?

They got onto the court. Dad proceeded to serve a smoking ace past Winston, who'd had barely enough time to react.

"Fifteen-love," said Dad, stony-faced.

Dad wasn't this way out of malicious intent. It's just how he was. But he frequently made fun of it, and so did everyone else.

I remember my grandfather -- my dad's father-in-law -- calling Dad out during a game of Taboo back in the mid-nineties. The game has a buzzer, and the rules state that, in addition to the forbidden words with each clue, you can't use sign language or hand signals to help your teammates guess the secret word. If you do, you get buzzed out.

Dad, being a naturally animated person, began describing his secret word, and made a couple of broad "you know" gestures with his hands.

Opa immediately hit the buzzer repeatedly.

"Ah ah ah!" exclaimed Opa. "No hand signals! Cheating!"

"They're not hand signals!" exclaimed Dad, still gesturing. "It's just how I talk!"

"It's cheating!" exclaimed Opa, still pressing the buzzer.

One night about a decade ago, while a bunch of my cousins were in town, we all gathered at my grandmother's house to socialize and play and whatnot.

Someone got out Trivial Pursuit. We divided up into teams. And Dad got straight into competition mode.

Trivial Pursuit has these little gray spaces in the outer ring called "Roll Again." They're spaced three or four spaces from each other, and five or two spaces from a pie slice space; therefore, if you got a good roll, you could either go to another Roll Again, or get a slice of pie.

Dad got onto one of the Roll Again spaces during our game.

"Five or two!" he exclaimed, rattling the die in his hand. "Five or two!"

He rolled, and almost immediately picked the die back up.

"Roll Again!" he exclaimed. "Five or two! Five or two!"

He rolled again, and almost immediately picked the die back up.

"Roll Again!" he exclaimed. "Five or two! Five or two!"

And so on. After doing this a few times, Winston piped up.

"WE CAN'T EVEN SEE WHAT YOU'RE ROLLING!" exclaimed Winston. "How in the world do we know what you're rolling when we can't even SEE it? 'Five or two! Pick up the dice! Roll again! Five or two!' How can we TRUST you, John?"

Dad would have protested, had he not been howling with laughter.

***

Back in the Seventies, Dad was a bespectacled teenager with a big nose and bird legs. This earned him the auspicious high school nickname "Mother Hen."

He once told me he was nervous about starting junior high at Edison Junior High in San Angelo; it was supposedly on the "tough side" of town, and someone told Dad that he'd be knifed in the hallway his first week.

It was ultimately a lie, though, because he told me it was the best three years of his life. And it continued into high school.

He was very much a gregarious person back in high school, too. Except when one certain girl was involved.

Mom likes talking about how Dad had a crush on her in high school. She was on the Tex-Ann dance team, and Dad was a trumpeter in the band, and both the Tex-Anns and the band went to all of the football and basketball games.

And Mom likes talking about how aware she was of these "beady little eyes" constantly staring at her from the trumpet section.

She also noticed that this young man, who she knew by reputation and who had some of the same friends, NEVER made eye contact around her. He did a comical double-take and quickly looked away when he saw her across an aisle on the same row at one game, and didn't say much during a German Club meeting held at my mom's house.

Mom also said his face was priceless when he showed up -- with another girl -- to a party Mom was also at.

One day, someone came up to Mom in the cafeteria.

"I know someone who wants to ask you out," said the girl.

"I bet I know who it is," said Mom.

She went out with Mother Hen, and every time my mother told him about something she liked, he'd nervously respond, "I know." He'd already found out a bunch about her from her friends. But he did something right, and they became high school sweethearts, graduated in 1977, married in 1980, and stayed together.

Years later, I asked Dad if any of Mom's high school stories were true. Did he truly have a huge crush on her? Could he not keep his eyes off of her?

Dad shrugged nonchalantly. "I mean, I thought she was okay..."

***

One day in high school, on the last day of school, Dad met some friends at Whataburger on Sherwood Way. They had decided to grab a bite to eat before taking off on a camping trip.

Dad took off his baseball cap at the table. They ate their food, talked and messed with each other as teenagers do, and eventually got up to leave. But Dad had left his cap in the booth.

"Excuse me, young man," an old man called after my dad. "You've forgotten your bonnet."

Dad's pals were merciless. He told me it was the longest trip he'd ever had to endure.

***

One night after they were married, Mom made a ham, and had a leftover hambone.

"We can use this to make beans," she said, placing it to the side.

Dad frowned. "You can get beans from the hambone?"

Mom never let him live that one down. She talked about it for decades, and Dad rolled his eyes every time.

***

Saturday, July 9, 2005

It was the weekend of the annual Beck family reunion in Christoval. Conveniently, my parents lived in Christoval at the time, and it was certainly convenient for an unemployed 18-year-old (me) still living with his parents. The "move out" stigma is technically there once you're legally an adult, but you do get somewhat of a grace period.

That evening, a visiting cousin had just left our house, and as my parents watched the end of the Miss Texas pageant, I was engrossed in a Texas highway map.

"Did you hear about that one girl you went to high school with?" asked Mom, who watched as some blonde from Fort Worth was crowned. "I've seen her around Howard, you know. She was supposed to be in this thing; she won some kind of swimsuit competition or something."

"Sorry I missed it," I said without paying much attention.

(Later that weekend, I kicked myself in the shins for never asking out said girl while I was in high school, but at the moment, my mind was set on navigating a large paper which depicted the state of Texas.)

The map I was reading was a bit dated -- a suntanned and dark-haired Governor George W. Bush graced a photograph on the obverse -- but its age didn't make it any less interesting. It was one of those maps that featured smaller maps of major Texas cities on the back, for navigating those cities and such.

I was in the process of looking over some of those mini maps when my mother switched over to the 10 o'clock news. A young woman sat behind the desk as the lone weekend anchor.

Dad, who was sitting next to me on the couch, looked up at the anchorwoman. "She kinda reminds me of a vampiress," he said.

"A vampiress?" said Mom.

"Pale skin, pointy teeth," said Dad. "A vampiress."

"Noooooo," said Mom.

They argued about it for a little while. An interesting idea entered my mind as I read the mini maps.

"If Brady is the 'heart of Texas,' then I guess Odessa and Midland are the armpits," I said to my father.

"That makes sense," said Dad. "And Laredo would probably be the rectum."

At this point, I began to laugh uncontrollably. My mother gave my father one of those looks, and turned back around to face the vampiress on television.

Dad leaned over to me. "Just don't tell anyone from Laredo I said that," he said.

To this day, I have absolutely no idea what his quarrels with Laredo and vampiresses were.

***

Years after I moved out of my parents' house, Dad and I would text each other during baseball games.

I'm a Los Angeles Dodgers guy; I've adopted them as my National League team. Dad joked that he could never be a Dodgers fan; Los Angeles is much too "liberal." He claimed that he pulled for Kansas City during the 2015 World Series because they were playing the "liberal" New York Mets.

In truth, he didn't care about anyone's politics and was just being goofy, because baseball is baseball. But he did prefer to keep his own fandom in Texas.

Regardless of NL preference -- he and I agreed that the Houston Astros switching leagues in 2013 was stupid -- he and I were both big Texas Rangers fans back in the day. He lamented the Rangers' losses in the 2010 and 2011 World Series.

"One strike away and they let it go!" he told me. "Twice I had my thumb on my phone, ready to text you celebrating that they'd won, and they didn't!"

I kinda distanced myself from being a Rangers fan after their front office forced out Nolan Ryan. The Houston Astros, the Rangers' current division rivals, later became my American League team of choice.

"Hope you don't mind," I said, tipping my new Astros cap at him. "But the Astros are my AL team now."

"Bryce, let me tell you," he said. "I like the Astros. And I like the Rangers. But I don't like the Dodgers. They're in a liberal city, and you know I can't have that."

A couple of months ago, I saw that he had "liked" the Dodgers' Facebook page. He never told me he did that.

***

Long after I'd moved out, grown up, and entered the workforce, Dad and I would meet fairly consistently at Pizza Hut on Knickerbocker Road each Friday evening, to catch up and shoot the breeze. My phone's text history is littered with examples of what became his Friday catchphrase: P.H. at 5:15?

And he always beat me there. I could show up there at 5:15 on the dot, and he'd already have a table and our drink orders. Dad was nothing if not punctual.

And whenever we had a new waiter or waitress, he'd order some drink not on the menu, like "buttermilk" or "Ovaltine." He intended this to be a lighthearted prank to build a rapport with the server, and almost immediately told our server he was joking, but I pointed out that it made him one of THOSE customers.

"They're gonna spit on our food," I said.

"Nah," said Dad. "They know us here."

But it was always a great time. We'd update each other on our work weeks, and he'd give me advice whenever I asked for it.

"I'm glad you take the time to catch up each week," I said one evening.

"Actually," said Dad. "I use you as an excuse so I don't have to teleconference with my boss on Friday evenings."

***

Mom and Dad took a trip to Colorado a few years ago with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.

One morning, they all went to a local cafe for breakfast. The waitress asked Dad what he wanted to drink.

"Buttermilk," he said with a straight face.

"Um, I don't think we have that," said the waitress, doubtless confused by Dad's request. He told her he was kidding, and gave a different order.

She stepped into the kitchen and was back within seconds.

"We do have buttermilk if you want some," she said. "They use it for pancakes, but they say it'll be okay this one time."

He never ordered buttermilk at restaurants after that, for fear that they'd actually have some.

***



 


***

One day several years ago, when I was feeling depressed and heartbroken, my dad met me for lunch at Dairy Queen. I'd told him what was up, told him the whole situation as I had experienced it.

"Your mom and I broke up for a couple of months in the late Seventies, before we were married," said Dad. "And those were the worst months of my life. So I get how you feel. And the best thing to help you heal is the passage of time."

He paused, then said that he remembered that the girl in question -- a crush of mine -- had been flaky and inconsiderate to begin with. This, he advised, wasn't a good thing. He advised me to apologize for my own harsh actions, then block her out of my mind and move on.

"You need to find someone who can be your 'rock,' your foundation," he said. "Someone who you can be a foundation for, too. Your mother has been my 'rock' for as long as we've been married, and I try to be that for her. There's so much I can't imagine doing without her."

They'd been married for 34 years at that point. And him telling me to look for a "rock" was some of the best advice he ever gave me.

I found my "rock" when I met and fell in love with a beautiful and intelligent young woman named Jenn. She stands by me when things are tough, she makes me laugh when I'm feeling low, and she kicks my butt (metaphorically) when I get too full of myself. I married her last December, and I'm head-over-heels for her. With some hard work, I certainly want to be just as good a "rock" for her, too.

Dad absolutely loved Jenn when I first introduced them. His dry sense of humor seamlessly meshed with hers, and they became fast friends. He immediately won over her parents when they came down from Arkansas to visit in October 2015, because he was just that kind of person.

"If your dad and mine got together and hung out, they'd get into so much trouble," said Jenn.

We laughed when my parents, traveling back from Panama, got stuck in Miami and texted us during New Years 2016. And one night, Jenn had me text Dad and ask him if he'd "carb loaded" after a PET scan, and she told me to remind him that she loved carbs, too:



Jenn was my "rock" when Dad died last May.

***

A few stories cannot begin to describe the person that John C. Parsons was. Call me biased, but never in my life have I met someone else so gregarious, so uplifting, so larger-than-life. Most of this was was a result of his massive ego, which, again, he made fun of. I once witnessed him passing out copies of his portrait to his Rotary Club as a gag. Even as he lay in the ICU suffering from the cancer that took his life, he joked with the nurses that he was there for a rhinoplasty.

He had a competitive streak as mentioned above, but he could parlay that into helping his relationships. He constantly strived to be the best friend, husband, father, grandfather, cousin, and uncle he could be. And he wore each of those hats with pride.

He was supremely human and incredibly humble. He devoted his life to helping others realize their own potential, even if they didn't know he was doing that at the time. He was so good at it that he effectively elevated it to an art form.

He had a gift for making you feel like you and he were best friends in the world, owed mostly to the fact that he was genuinely interested in your friendship, and could get along with anyone.

Not a day goes by that I don't think, Dad would have said this, or, Dad would love this.

Case in point: when they dedicated a bench to him at Howard College, I knew he would have been humbled that we were remembering him this way. But I also knew what he'd say, and how he'd say it.

"This bench is great," he'd say. "But I'm a little offended you didn't get a fifty foot statue of me."

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