Both My Mrs. Parrys
When I was in kindergarten my teacher's name was Mrs. Parry.
I loved Mrs. Parry.
She would sometimes let me be the wake up fairy after nap time. Only those lying the most still could be woken up by being anointed on the forehead with the star on the end of the fairy’s wake-up wand.
She also let us make pottery, although being the creative genius I was, I decided to make a copy of my pet rat, Mr. Spreckels, instead. He was splotched with blue and white, and I even got to put a glossy coat of glaze on him so he would shine. I put holes for his eyes and mouth, so he could eat the raisins I pushed in there when I thought he was hungry.
In my little world, all teachers were named Mrs. Parry. This is because one day, Mrs. Parry didn't come to school. We had a substitute teacher that day. And sure enough - her name was Mrs. Parry. I also loved this Mrs.Parry.
I loved her and knew she, too, was a great teacher. Because she was my Mom. And I, too, had the last name of Parry. These things happen in small towns.
As it turns out, my parents were good friends with Mrs. Parry. She wasn't actually my aunt, or anything like that, evidently. I knew this because she never visited us or my Aunt June on holidays.
She also didn't have a husband. I knew this because I got to stay at her house for a day or two during one hot summer. I simply never saw or heard of any Mr. Parry.
I remember lying in her hammock in the shade, swinging slightly, one of my favorite things to do. Especially when it was this blistering hot. She was by her house, watering her plants. I heard a rustle in the grass below me. I looked down.
My eyes met the cold stare of a rattlesnake. I froze. Too scared to make a sound, Mrs. Parry must have been feeling my feelings. How else would she have known to come spraying with her hose to chase the threat away?
I remember the dreadful experience of not being able to get cool when it was night time. I was supposed to be sleeping. The fan blew warm air onto my damp, sweaty sheets. I lay awake, wondering why I was at Mrs. Parry's house. Why was I not at home with my brother and sister and Mom and Dad?
Somehow, Mrs. Parry must have been very important. There was no other explanation. After all, she saved my life today.
As days stretched into years, I found myself living in another town and going to a different school. I would sometimes wonder what happened to Mrs. Parry.
My Mom was now an English teacher at the local high school in a whole new place. My Dad was living with some other woman. My Mom would lock the three of us out of the house every now and then so she could “be alone.” She would cry sometimes when the rent was overdue and my father hadn’t sent his child support check. Sometimes my stomach ached in front of an empty refrigerator.
I still loved to swing. Like I did in those good old days of kindergarten. I would swing as high as I could before the chains bent and I couldn't go any higher. I would fly out of the swing at that highest point - flying, flying for just a few precious seconds, then land with a thud in the playground sand.
Some of the kids at the high school I attended called my mother “mean Mrs. Parry.” She had a reputation for being really hard. Mensa group founder and college bound student mentor, she demanded a lot of work from her students. Our house was toilet papered and our car was egged every Halloween by football team players.
My own Mrs. Parry left when I had just turned 19. Out for a joy ride in a sports car with a good friend, they had a couple glasses of wine at lunch, and missed a curve. She died suddenly of a broken neck. At least that’s what my Dad said. If she had suffered, I doubt he would have told me.
He called when I was at work. I was at a public pool in charge of a bus full of people with developmental disabilities. I took the phone wondering why and how my Dad, who I rarely ever saw, found me at a YMCA in the middle of the day. “Hi honey.” he said. “I’m sorry to call you at work but your mother is dead.” I looked at the phone. “Not MY mother” I said, and hung up. I walked out to the bus and my coworker followed, leading our troop of students.
“Chris, I need you to drive us back to the activities center. My Dad just told me my mom died.” She stared. We loaded the bus and I climbed into an empty seat. Some of the passengers were rocking back and forth. I could hear Jimmy chanting “Her mom is dead. Her mom is dead. Her mom is dead. Her mom is dead.”
At the memorial service I remember feeling a sense of almost rage every time someone came up to me and said “I’m so sorry.” There were no words for how I was feeling. The word “sorry” just smacked at my ears. It felt like a hollow memory ricocheting off my head. An echo suggesting an event that never should have happened.
It wasn’t until we were cleaning out her apartment that I found the many notes from her students thanking her for her patience, kindness and support. I found Mr. Spreckels in a box. I found a poem written for her by one of her best friends. She had many. Margie. Jane. Millie. Joan. Berniece.
Berniece came to visit after my Dad was gone. She would take all three of us kids to the school playfield on a weekend. Without my Mom. She would say “scream at the top of your lungs! As loud as you can! As long as you want!”
When Aunt Berniece left, she never said goodbye. I knew she wasn't my real aunt. She didn't come to our house on holidays. I never saw her at Aunt June’s house. She would leave a message on our blackboard in the kitchen. “You have a choice for how you feel.”
Suddenly Moma was only available as an image frozen in a photograph. A thought left in ink on a piece of paper.
Sometime later I had a dream. One of those extremely real kinds. I had been driving for miles and miles. I finally stopped at a gas station. As I was about to start pumping my gas, I looked up to see my mom, standing there. I rushed up to her and began to give her a hug. She moved transparently into my body and we rocked back and forth like we did when she was alive. She whispered “I just wanted a chance to say goodbye.”
Once I was all grown up, I had a friend born in Persia. She was artistic and beautiful. She could dance like a willow being blown by the wind. Eva seemed exotic, fragile and safe.
We were talking about my name one day. She said "your name has a lovely meaning in Farci." All I knew about the word parry was that it meant to match skill at the tip of a sword. And that it came from my Welsh grandfather who immigrated here to America to work for the railroad.
Eva said "Pari in Persia means angel." I didn't know if spelling made any difference. I didn't care. This notion really worked for me.
My Mrs. Parrys were definitely both angels.