Ottis Jones Parker - my father.
My father grew up in the small community of Simpson, Vernon Parish, Louisiana. He was the youngest of four children, born when my grandmother was about 39 years old. His older sister Luna told me that he was a surprise to them and, being a teenager she was a little embarrassed about a new baby coming along. But, after he was born, she loved him dearly and the whole family spoiled him.
Ottis and his nephews, Wayne Lewis and Mertis Lewis, who were near his age, were as close as brothers would be. Mertis died as a very young child, but Wayne and Ottis grew up together.
Ottis was a thin, small boy, and not the rough and tumble athlete, but he loved basketball. In the small community, basketball was THE sport. He played it and he watched it. As a small child, he liked to watch the basketball games in the school gym, and would sit on the floor as near the players as he could get. Once he was stepped on by a player running out of bounds and had his leg broken.
Ottis was a good student in school. He almost made valedictorian, but missed it by only 1/2 point; he was beaten by a female cousin. He received a scholarship to go to Louisiana Tech, and went for about one week. He got homesick and quit and went home.
Ottis remained at home in Simpson, taking jobs as school bus driver or mail carrier. When his father died in 1940, he took his mother and brother to Shreveport to stay with his sister Luna. As my mother tells the story, Luna thought they were coming to visit for a while, but they never left once they got there.
In 1941, at age 25, Ottis decided to enlist in the army before they drafted him.
The term of service for enlistees was one year, so he signed up. As he was standing in line waiting to enlist, he met a young man from Bienville Parish named Shelton Crowell, and soon the two of them became fast friends. Shelton told Ottis about his young niece, Pauline, who was then in her senior year of high school. He encouraged Ottis to write to her and perhaps later go and visit her. Ottis thought it sounded like a good idea, so he wrote to her, signing the letter, "Love, Ottis". His second letter to Pauline was signed "With love, Ottis." By the third letter, he apparently was enamoured enough to sign it "With much love, Ottis." He still had not met Pauline in person, so Shelton arranged for a week-end visit to Bear Creek. When they arrived at Pauline's house, she and sister Evelyn's sister-in-law were sitting on the porch when the car approached. Pauline was wearing an old black housecoat. She jumped up and ran into the house to dress properly for her visitors. Meanwhile, Shelton and Ottis drove up and got out of the car. Ottis told Pauline later that he thought at first the girl on the porch was Pauline and that he was not too impressed.
Their courtship began and continued throughout the year of Shelton's and Ottis' enlistment. They visited Pauline and Shelton's girl as frequently as they could get away from Camp Claiborne, the army base south of Alexandria, Louisiana where they were stationed.
Just a few weeks before their year was up, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. declared war against Japan and its allies. President Roosevelt extended the enlistment time of the servicemen who were already serving, so Ottis and Shelton had to remain. Fearing that he would be shipped overseas before he could establish a lasting relationship with his sweetheart, Ottis proposed marriage earlier than he might have in normal times. They set the date of the wedding for February 28, 1942. On a visit to his sister Luna'a house, he broke the news of the engagement to them. His sister Luna told about it: "I remember one weekend he came up here in his little old Coupe. He was out working on it trying to fix a flat tire. I said, 'Well, I wouldn't fool with that; you're not going anywhere.' He said, 'I am, too. I'm going to see my girl.' I said, 'I don't know what in the world you want to go way off down there to see that girl for; she doesn't care anything about you.' He said, 'Well, she may not care anything about me, but I do about her, and I care enough for her that I'm going to marry her'".
At the time of their marriage, Ottis was a sergeant in the Medical Detachment of the U.S. Army. He served in India for about eighteen months as a supply staff sergeant. He was never engaged in combat during his tour of duty, but he saw enough of what the violence of war does to men, that the stresses of war caused Ottis to receive a medical discharge. He was sent to San Antonio, Texas, where he remained longer than he would have, because he broke his arm while playing basketball.
Upon his return from the service, Ottis, who had been a mail carrier prior to his enlistment in the service, got a job as a meter reader for the Southwestern Electric Power Co. in Shreveport, where he worked until his death.
My memories of my father as a parent were that he generally left the parenting up to my mother, but when it was necessary to intervene, he was very strict on us. He knew how to use his belt when we would not mind him. But, we were basically good children so we didn't need much disciplining. Of course, the times I remember him disciplining me were the ones I felt were unjustified. Once, a neighbor told him I had taken my younger sister Joan down onto the railroad track near our house when a train was coming by. The truth as I remember it was that we had gone onto the tracks, but it was after the train had passed. He chose to believe the neighbor and not me, which offended me deeply. Now as I reflect back on it, he might have been justified in spanking me, as I don't think I ever took her to the railroad track again.
When I was in the sixth grade, I was invited by a boy to go to a movie with him.
My mother let me go. When my dad found out about it, he sent her to the movie theater to bring me home. I was terribly embarrassed, and I don't think I ever spoke to the boy again.
Ottis loved all sports, particularly basketball. If he did not participate, he spectated. He took us to baseball games, to watch the Shreveport Sports play in the Texas league. We watched the Southwestern Electric Power Company baseball league games. When we went to Simpson to visit his family, we generally went to basketball games played at the high school. When television came along, he watched all sports, boxing, wrestling, football, baseball, basketball -- those were his favorites.
When the first television stations began broadcasting in the Ark-La-Tex area (Little Rock had the first station within broadcast range) we got a television set. No one that I knew of owned one, I suppose because there was not station in Shreveport, so reception was below par. But we watched the Little Rock station, and sometimes the Alexandria station, through the snow on the screen.
I guess at times I must have played the role of the son my dad never had. He built himself a small workshop in our back yard where he kept his carpentry tools and where he went to "putter". I used to sit beside him and watch, and sometimes he would let me help him do some of the wood cutting. He made a weather vane which hung atop his workshop until the weather ruined it; he made a wooden swing, several bookcases, a chair, some knick-knack cases to hang on the wall, and a desk. Several of these things still exist. They were crudely made, mostly of plywood, and worn and weathered from years in the barn, but they are family treasures. When our little two-bedroom house became too small for a family of five, he converted the attached garage in our house into a den, and added a bedroom over the den, doing all the work himself.
When Ottis was about 39-40 years old, he took a correspondence course in electronics and learned how to repair radios and T.V.'s. He fixed several radios and televisions for family members. He planned to set up a repair service when he retired from the electric power company.
The men who worked with Ottis all liked him. He would bring them home with him during the day to get their meter books ready to turn in. He liked to socialize with the men and their families. Southwestern had a big Christmas party every year, especially for children of the employees. Every year at the party, Santa Claus would come in and pass out presents to all the children.
Ottis must have been tone-deaf, as he could not carry a tune. In spite of this, my mother liked to sing and she encouraged him to sing with her. Once, my mother invited Harold and Adeline Anderson, some good friends from our church, to our house to sing. The four of them had such a good time singing hymns that they decided to do a "special" quartet number in church. So I played the piano for them and they did their quartet and it went over nicely; the people at church were all good friends and very tolerant musically.
Ottis lived to be nearly 42 years old. I remember the night he died. It was a Wednesday night, and we had been to church. We came home and were getting ready for bed. My mother and father were in their bedroom. My dad reached over to turn on the TV set and just fell over. He bumped his head and it bled a little. Mother called for us girls all to come there. I got on the phone and tried to get the operator to send for a doctor, but I guess I couldn't give her the name of a doctor, so my mother took the phone and asked for an ambulance. Meanwhile someone was sent to the Kenny house to ask my aunt and uncles to come over. When my aunt arrived she took Ottis' hands and massaged them and tried to revive him, but I think he had actually gone before she arrived. I can remember seeing him make a sigh and sort of go limp. It's the only time in my life I have ever been present at the moment someone died.
Ottis died on December 10, 1958. He would have been 42 on December 26th. I think he had a premonition of his death. Since it was the Christmas shopping season, we had already done a lot of preparations for Christmas. My mother had asked for a Waffle Iron for Christmas, so we had purchased one. I was going to wrap it up and put it under the Christmas tree, but my dad said, no, not to wrap it up. He asked me to make him a waffle. I protested that it would ruin her Christmas present. He asked me to please make the waffle now, because he might be dead before Christmas. I made him the waffle and then wrapped up the waffle iron.
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