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MARGARET PARSONS ANDREWS
How many of you were graced by my mother’s smile? In Parkinson’s there’s a term called “Stone Face”. The muscles contract creating a scowl and the ability to smile is lost. But mom chiseled away and defeated “Stone Face”. I think she communicated best during her last years through her smile. My mother’s story is one of determination.
Mom had many amazing qualities; but I will share two that made her one of the most unique and courageous women I’ve ever known. She was a problem solver, and her solutions were sparked by “I have an idea”. She was nick named the “Spark Plug” and when “I have an idea” was ignited, her second attribute would follow; unstoppable determination. Procrastination wasn’t in her vocabulary.
Mom was a creative thinker. She had the idea for the city of Duluth to buy the Baptist Church building and use it as our city hall. That idea served our city beautifully for more than 20 years.
Here’s another example… Mom wanted to learn to swim. So in college, she simply jumped into water at the deep end and fought her way back to the side. She did this until she learned her one and only stroke, her version of “the side stroke”, which served her well since she ended up marrying my dad who was a waterbug.
Mom was born in the white house across the railroad track which serves today as the Duluth Montessori School. That was before the Calvin Parsons family built their home across from the Park Café. Duluth was extremely rural. Mom told me that in school, students had a choice to either go to school in the afternoons or pick cotton during cotton season. Mom, Kathryn and Ann, attended high school in Atlanta, NAPS, (North Atlanta Presbyterian School) and college at Wesleyan in Macon Ga. Mom majored in Drama to help her overcome her shyness. But it wasn’t on stage that mom discovered her talent, it was from painting the backdrop for Alice in Wonderland. Her parents, Mr. Calvin and Ms Kate made it possible for mom to study art at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta the next year, after that she spent the rest of her life trying to get to her easel.
A busy life stepped in the way. She and dad worked in the family retailing business. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, and most every relative in Gwinnett County and around Atlanta worked in one of the many retail stores; Parsons of Duluth, Buford, Cumming, Norcross, Alford Brothers, Cofer Brothers, and more. Mom’s artwork was put on hold, except when she was sick and bedridden. She would paint my brothers, or my portrait, from her bedside making us pose for long hours. It was when she broke her leg snow skiing, and she had worn out all of us from posing, that she introduced her sister, Ann Odum, into the world of painting. Ann was a natural and we all love Ann’s work and book; Duluth Through the Eyes of One of its Own. She says that she’s the most famous artist for one square mile.
During these long years of retailing, mom enjoyed my dad’s passion…boating. They hauled their little boat to every lake in north Georgia and docked on joining as charter members The University Yacht Club on Lake Lanier. But it wasn’t their boat that they took with them on Sunday afternoons to the Yacht Club, it was binoculars. You see, the water wasn’t there yet. It took three years for the lake to fill but the adventures of membership there has lasted a lifetime. For All of the Parsons family joined in on boating and skiing and we spend our free time on the water today.
After Bill and Bob came along, mom wanted to buy a houseboat. She didn’t shop for one like most people do, but she said… “I have an idea”. She pulled out her sketch pad and designed a houseboat. The front patio converted into a huge playpen, every inch of it was practical and slept more people in a square foot of any boat I’ve ever seen. After she was through drawing, she handed her plans over to my dad, a Georgia Tech engineer, to make sea worthy. The boat was built in Duluth out of steel; it seemed like we were building an arc for it took a long time, but once in the water, we enjoyed that house boat for more than 15 years.
Mom never studied architecture, but when she was ready to move out of our house on Hwy 120 two doors down from here, she simply said, “I have an idea” and she designed the “A” frame house that is on the backside of Norman Circle. She had another idea and designed a lake house at Lanier-- Each time, handing off her plans for to my dad to construct. Later her sister Ann, and husband Wally, built next door at on Lanier. Visits to the lake were part of mom’s routine.
During all these years of raising a family and running a store, there wasn’t a pathway for retiring. Parsons was a general store supplying Duluth and other towns with most everything; groceries, hardware, clothing, shoes, building materials, toys, bedding, china,…well, the way my brother Ted described it, “if we ain’t got it, you don’t need it.” Mom said, “I have an idea” and all agreed to divide the stores between the three families. She retired and finally was free to spend time in her art studio.
But life through her a curve ball. In 1985 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I’m sure she mourned on the inside, but on the outside, she didn’t ask “Why Me?”, but rather “Why Not Me?” She studied her disease and helped to found a Gwinnett Chapter of the Parkinson’s Foundation. Jef and I accompanied mom on a cruise with the National Parkinson’s Association to learn more about her disease. Mom’s symptoms deteriorated to the point where she could not control her involuntary movements to even sit in a chair. I remember our Thanksgiving meal at my house where mom knocked over glasses and plates and fell out of her chair multiple times.
She discovered an exploratory program at Emory called “deep brain stimulation” where doctors inserted two probs into each globe of her brain, wires behind her ears with batteries behind each shoulder blade. The experiment was a success. Although she still suffered with “freezing” and pain the stimulator removed her tremors. She was the oldest candidate accepted into the program at 72 years old.
Then mom had another idea; “If I can’t paint, I want to make something so others can.” She joined a small group of women that made up The Gwinnett Council for the Arts in Lawrenceville. Mom described to them grandiose plans of a State-of-the-Art fine arts center in Duluth. But she did more than talk about…she sketched it! Those girls didn’t know what they were in for. Mom sketched a glass pyramid similar to the Louvre, a gift shop, gallery, school and a sculpture garden. But God was good to mom, because these women weren’t “wall flowers”, they claimed the dream with her! The Hudgens Center for the Arts became a reality and was built in a cow pasture which today is part of the Gwinnett Civic Center and Arena. Thanks to the generosity of Scott Hudgens and other contributors, it was named one of the most outstanding suburban Fine arts facilities in America.
It didn’t stop there, she had “another idea” and this was to create a children’s Fine Arts Museum. She was disappointed that this idea did not exist in America, but she found one in Vienna, traveled there, met with the director, and recharged the same group of women again, to build the Jacqueline Casey Children’s Museum. Both facilities were built without a penny of taxpayers’ dollars.
You may ask how I can stand up here and share this story about mom and keep my composure. You may be thinking, why is Kathy not crying?
(Read quickly) Mom broke her leg snow skiing, her back sledding, and her back again falling down stairs. Her shoulders were bone on bone and she had osteoporosis. 30 years of Parkinson’s with medications every three hours with difficulty of swallowing. A hip that broke three times, within a month, and most recently a femur. She had immaculate degeneration; she could not read, write, walk, and struggled with talking. However, if you asked mom how she was doing, she would say “I’m fine” with a smile and actually mean it. She never complained. But as her daughter, I saw my mom living in prison. Now she is free. She has traded her wheelchair for wings.
I’m also not crying because Mom’s limited palate that she used on earth to create art, she gladly traded “up” for a palate of every color every made or that will ever will be made.
I’ll miss my mother deeply, but my faith tells me that my mom is free… and this is a time for celebration!
As a prop; mom’s easel with her latest painting of water lilies, and her wheel chair with her smock draped over it. Her painting smock was one of my Delta serving smocks from years ago. She used it for more than 15 years.