Reflections … on a mother remembered

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 10, 2003

The name of the famous man escapes me, but the story remains vivid in my mind.

This gentleman had been called to his mother's bedside and his prayer was that the fight would get him there in time.

As he looked out the window at the angel white clouds, every thought was of his mother. He wanted desperately to be there to say a last goodbye.

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He had accomplished a great deal in his life and received many awards and recognitions. She would whisper how proud she was of him.

The plane landed and he rushed to he hospital. His mother was weak but she pulled him close to her.

But to his surprise, she said nothing of her pride in him, instead, she ask, "Son, are you proud of me."

What mother doesn't want to make her children proud?

The other night, a man had occasion to express pride in his mother. And, that opportunity came because of a "happen so."

Sarah Bowden and her daughter, Laura Carpenter, were returning from a visit with her son and his family in North Carolina. They stopped at the Georgia Welcome Station and Bowden wanted something to read so she picked up the Northeast Georgia Living Magazine.

Having been a teacher herself, an article title, " Š on a teacher remembered" caught her eye. She found the story interesting, but was taken a-back when she read the name of the "teacher remember."

Mrs. Allie Park had taught school in the same system as Mrs. Bowden and she knew her son.

The article told the story of a wonderful lady and a dedicated teacher and the positive impact on the life of a young boy.

At first Mrs. Bowden thought about taking the article to Bill Park. Then, she wanted to do something to make it very special.

Park often cooks for the Wednesday night suppers at Brundidge United Methodist Church and thought nothing of being asked to flip burgers for the cookout.

After supper, Mrs. Bowden stood and told the story of how she came in contact with an article about someone from Pike County.

Park listened attentively for "it was a very interesting article."

When Mrs. Bowden read the name of the inspirational teacher, as Ms. Allie Park, Bill Park stood up and said, proudly, "That's my mother!"

Allie Park came to Henderson to teach in 1920. She met her husband, got married and taught a few years before staying home to care for four children.

"When she first taught, it was in a one-room school house that actually had two rooms because it had two floors," Park said. "After all the children got in school, she went back to teaching, but this time it was in a three-room schoolhouse."

Mrs. Park taught elementary school all her career, but Bill Park missed having his mother as a teacher because he had passed the grades she taught when she returned to the classroom.

Park said his mother was known as a kind-hearted lady who had her students ' best interest at heart.

She taught at Henderson until that school closed, then she moved to Goshen. While at Goshen she went to Auburn to work on a master's degree in special education.

"From what I've been told, my mother was the first special education teacher in the county," Park said.

Mrs. Park was a dedicated teacher, so dedicated in fact, that she continued to teach at Springhill a couple of years after she retired.

What made her so successful as a teacher was that she carried her maternal instincts into the classroom.

"My mother was a very loving lady," Park said. She was strict on us children but she was strict in a loving, caring way. She was kind-hearted but we had to mind. We didn't have a choice."

Park said he got one whipping in school.

"But then, I got a worse one at home," he said, laughing. "My mother enjoyed people and she would do anything she could to help them. She was very community oriented. Back then, people had to do their own income tax and she would do taxes for anyone who asked without any charge. Times were hard back then and she did anything she could to make life better for others."

Park was proud of his mother in every way, but he knew he wasn't cut out to be a teacher.

"She tried to push me into teaching, but I knew that wasn't for me," he said. "I wanted to be a civil engineer."

Whether Mrs. Park was disappointed that she couldn't convince her son to teach, no one knows. Probably not, Park said. "She wanted people to do what made them happy and to have a better life. But, I guess, her greatest legacy is that six of her granddaughters and one daughter-in-law are teachers.

Linda Scott teaches at Pike Liberal Arts, Sharon Rhodes teaches at Charles Henderson High School and Susan Renfroe in Ozark. Three are retired — Vickie Fannin from Goshen, Gayle Forith in Wisconsin and Mary Ann West, Ohio. Aletha Park is retire from the Ozark City Schools.

Allie Park died Nov. 11, 1985.

"That was almost 20 years ago and I still miss her very much," Park said. "We were very close. I always remember mama on Mother's Day. I have so many fond memories of her. I want to keep them close, especially on her special day."

… on a teacher remembered

By Hank Johnson

For the small, shy 7-year-old boy, the first year of formal education in a three-room schoolhouse in rural South Alabama had been an exciting but sometimes painful adventure.

Learning to read and write and count were challenges he had tackled with zest, and mastering the rudiments of these skills filled him with pride and rewarded him with feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment.

But the happiness, he had experienced from his success in the classroom had been tempered by the hurt he had endured on the school bus, on the playground and in the lunchroom.

As the summer ended and his thoughts turned to beginning a new school year, his mind was filled, not only with plans for meeting the new learning challenges that lay ahead, but of the taunts and ridicule that had been so much a part of the first grade and almost certainly would resume within a few days.

Children can be cruel, as anyone who is deemed different can readily attest. For this soon-to-be second-grader, the thing that set him apart from the rest was what optometrists in that post World War II era called a "lazy eye."

His playmates were less charitable. They called it like they saw it. To them, he was just "cross-eyed," and when the need arose for a laugh from the crowd or when an easy weapon was needed to exact revenge for some perceived insult, the two hurtful words rolled off their tongues without hesitation.

Lacking the maturity and experience of an older person, it never occurred to him that the insecurity borne of a right eye that insisted on turning toward the nose was of little consequence compared with the suffering of classmates who lived with limbs withered by polio, or cleft lips or uncontrollable stuttering.

The teasing they endured must have been horrendous, but in the myopic mind of 7-year-old, his affliction was the one that mattered most.

Nor did the verbal bullying end when his parents - encouraged by a teacher who realized his vision problems affected his class work - took him to the optometrist who prescribed a pair of wire-rim eyeglasses.

The corrective lenses coaxed the lazy eye to work in tandem with the other. And, while the thick glasses that sat on the bridge of his little nose improved his vision and solved the problem of the crossed eye, they did nothing to stop the incessant teasing.

Now, instead of "cross-eyes," he had become

"four-eyes." The spectacles presented his playmates with a new disparaging appellation to pin on him. But more than that, the glasses automatically relegated him to second class status when it came to choosing up sides for games. After all, in the mind of the team captain, anybody who wore glasses must have poor eyesight and probably couldn't hit or catch a ball.

Further compounding his bid for acceptance was the knowledge that his parents had forbidden him to indulge in the kind of uninhibited play that other kids took for granted. Struggling to raise seven children on the meager income of a sharecropper, they could hardly afford to buy a second pair of glasses broken during a headfirst slide into second base.

Even in the classroom, where he proved to be a better than average student, he held back when the teacher asked for answers and questions. As a boy who wore glasses, he already had one strike against him. He dared not risk being labeled an egghead. In the lore of the ball field, only eggheads were even worse hitters that those known as four-eyes.

Had it not been for a wise and caring second grade teacher, the lad might very well have condemned himself to a life of mediocrity or failure in both intellectual and athletic pursuits.

But Ms. Allie Parks, the same woman who had taught the father who has passed along the weak-eye gene, saw something unique in the little boy who routinely kept his chin tucked on his chest to avoid eye contact with others.

She noticed that on those all too infrequent occasions when he smiled, a pronounced dimple formed in each of his cheeks. She called them, "my little sugar pans" and she seldom missed an opportunity to bend down and give him a hug and a quick peck on the cheek.

More than half a century later, after a successful career in a profession that often champions the cause of the underdog, he still remembers the kind words spoken by Ms. Allie Parks, and the special love and attention she showed him. After all, if Ms. Parks could see beyond the crossed eye and the heavy glasses, maybe others could, too.

Ms. Parks taught many wonderful lessons in that little schoolhouse at Henderson, Ala., but none more valuable than the importance of individual attention and the lasting impact a few kind words can have on a young life.

Editor's Note: Hank Johnson was born around Troy - "not in a hospital, however."

He grew up in the Phenix City-Columbus, Ga. area, attended the University of Georgia and worked in Athens for 34 years. He is now retired and writes for the Northeast Georgia Living Magazine, Franklin Springs, Ga. He has two aunts who live in Henderson, Verbie Johnson and Estelle Scarborough, and another aunt, Evie Williamson, in Glenwood. This article was reprinted with permission from Northeast Georgia Living Magazine, Melissa Herndon, editor.