Above, Kathryn Parson on Barry Hansen’s horse, October 15, 2006.
by Gideon Pellegrino
The cuckoo clock on the wall is ticking. Faintly, but still it ticks. Reminding me that time is constantly passing. Forever moving. Never stopping, not even for a small moment to let us catch up. We pause and hold our breath, but no, time does not stop.
Time… whether we like it or not, is fleeting. But if you don’t mind, take just a few minutes with me. I’m going to grab hold of time for a moment. I’m going to capture time in my hands for just a second or two… and then hold time out to gaze upon it.
Please, do join me.
A little white house sits in the middle of Ozark, Missouri. And within this house lives one of the sweetest ladies I have come to know. With a story as great as hers, it’s hard for me to know where to start. So, like most stories, I guess I’ll just start at the beginning.
September 9, 1916, is the day this story begins. With a hot September draft in the dinning room of a small farm house near Rogersville Missouri, came the first daughter of Baxter and Mary Wills: Kathryn Wills.
Kathryn became the oldest of three sisters: Kathryn, Reba and Harriet. Being the oldest she had to take up a lot of responsibility growing up, saying, “Harriet is my baby, I basically raised her myself. You see, Mama was in her 40s when Harriet was born and she wasn’t feeling too well, so I took care of her as my own.”
I ask about her parents, what they were like, and, after about ten times of repeating my question for her hard hearing, she answers, “They were wonderful. No girl had no better parents than I had, honey, and I can say the same about my husband and aren’t I lucky…they were lovely people.”
She continues painting her picture from the past and I step onto the canvas with her as she shows me around. On her right hand middle finger she wears her father’s ring that his mother gave him on his 21st birthday. Both his and his mothers initials are engraved on the inside. She twists it around and around and whispers almost to herself, “Not all the money in the world could buy this ring from me.”
Between helping with her sisters and helping her father, she always had something to do. Little Kathryn — being a daddy’s girl from the start — was out in the fields as soon as she was big enough to walk.
“I helped Daddy farm,” she explains, “ We were buddies.” They had two barns that joined together, one for the horses and one for the cows.
“What kind of cows did you have?” I ask. “Jerseys mostly. Around 20 of them.” “And you milked them all by hand?” I continue.
“We didn’t even know what a milker was when I was growing up, honey.” she laughs, “We had no electricity or nothing. I milked, honey, from the time I was big enough to sit up almost. ‘Cause I liked to be wherever whatever was going on, ya know? And like I say, I followed my daddy everywhere he went and he was, he was a jewel.”
In the spring of ’34, the start of the depression, Kathryn helped her father plow 40 acres of corn ground with her horse she also rode to school everyday.
“Money was scarce and hard to get ahold of but by me helping him and saving him all that money, I got some of the prettiest clothes that summer. He took me to Springfield and dressed me up!”
Not long after she graduated from high school in ’34, she married Ward Parsons, the love of her life, in ’38. “Honey, he lived just west you know and I knew him all my life. And he tried to go with me in earlier years but I couldn’t see him through the smoke ‘cause I was going with a kid I was going to school with. But finally that fell apart and I took up with him. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Mary Wills holding Reba at 6 months of age. Kathryn is four years old. 1920.
Kathryn Wills and Ward Parson, summer of 1937.
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Grandma’s Goodies & Gumbo
Grandma’s Goodies & Gumbo is the best of Southern Louisiana cuisine and the best of Iowa’s candy-making tradition. Located in Hollister’s historic Downing Street, our menu includes Spicy Creole Gumbo, dinner-plate-sized Cinnamon Rolls, Peanut Brittle and much more!
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Wilson & Co. Barbershop
Wilson & Company Barber Shop in Downtown Hollister, Missouri, is a favorite hangout. Owner Davy Wilson is an traditional barber offering straight-razor shaves, quality beard products, and plenty of time to sit back and talk fishing, faith, hunting and community.
Davy doesn’t take appointments. Just come on in! “You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t stop in for a cut!” says Ron Williams. Come in for some of the best shaves and haircuts this side of the Mississippi.
J Loehr Custom Engraving
Jeff Loehr creates custom hand-made jewelry and engraves guns and knives. His Forsyth shop includes all kinds of jewelry, artwork, handmade soap and guns. “I can take your idea and turn it into a one-of-a-kind treasure.
Visit our Forsyth shop. Tell us your jewelry and engraving ideas. We would love to create an original piece for you. Be sure to read our blog posts on our new site as well. Don’t be shy. Come on over!
Faith’s Journey is one of the nation’s premier Southern Gospel groups. Led by Jonathan and Deana Edwards of Branson, Missouri, you can expect anointed singing, God’s message and an uplifting and encouraging experience. We perform nationwide.
Join us at God & Country Theatre on Branson’s famed 76 Country Boulevard, see us at Silver Dollar City. Visit with us at an upcoming church concert! Connect on Facebook. Sign up for our newsletter. Pray for us as we minister through song.
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Tompkins Wellness Center
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The Snowdeer Saga
SNOWDEER is the Christmas story of a young buck living in Doe Run. His Christmas wish is to pull Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. Plum Puddin’, SNOWDEER’s friend from Possum Holler, helps by taking the young buck’s letter to Santa.
THE ADVENTURES OF SNOWDEER, PLUM PUDDIN’ & PURPLE MOUSE continues the adventure! Friendships are forged as these lovable characters come together on a magical quest. As they stumble upon elves, talking horses and singing cats, you’ll discover the power of friendship!
Above, Bill, Kathryn and Marvin Parson on Ward’s restored tractor, July 6, 1997.
Marvin, Kathryn and Bill Parson, 1946.
Kathryn Parson, 100 years old, Ozark, Missouri. 9-10-2016
FROM SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS
“And this way runs the trail that lies along the higher, sunlit hills where those who journey see afar and the light lingers even when the day is done.”
— Harold Bell Wright, 1907
Continued from above
She and Ward would ultimately find a little house in Ozark to settle down in; the same house she still lives in to this day. Ward worked the gas station just walking distance from the house. Most of the nights Miss Kathryn would sit at her sewing machine, facing the window and occupying herself until she could see him walking back home. As soon as she could see him, she’d hop up and put supper on the stove.
“I’d always get just a little dolled up just for him when I could see him coming.” She smiled at me then, the same smile anyone in love owns. Ward and Kathryn soon had two sons, Bill and Marvin. Those boys mean the world to her. Both played basketball growing up, traveling all over town for competitions, and of course, their momma went to every game. Bill served in the military, training in Fort Leonard Wood when war broke out.
He was sent to Vietnam, coming back to Colorado after being scarred neck down by shrapnel. “They brought him to the veteran’s hospital in Colorado and Ward was working at the gas station at the time but Marvin and the boys that worked for him took over so we could go out there. Ward started driving and on the way got tired and sleepy so he let me drive…and I didn’t just drive, I flew!”
Marvin had to go into training but was never sent to war.
Ward passed away several years ago, but if you ask Miss Kathryn, he is still the best thing that ever happened to her. He still lives in her memories and she holds him close in her heart along with all the cherished moments of her mother and father.
Miss Kathryn has been going to the same church nearly all her life. Smyrna Baptist Church sits in a little valley near Rogersville. With only dirt roads and half-surrounded by a creek bed, the church became hard to get to when winter rains came.
Driving a buggy, Miss Kathryn’s family started to go to Harmony Baptist Church but in time Miss Kathryn found her way right back to Smyrna. And to this day she claims it as her one and only church home. “I was in this church even before I was born,” she says.
And this Sunday, you’ll see her in the second to last pew, singing the old hymns of the faith. Her favorite is still #176, Fanny Crosby’s 1870 song, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.
If I look back I’m likely to get a quick wink from her blue eyes. What amazes me the most is the way she cherishes every little gift. I watch her spreading her love and warmth to every heart she can reach. And I sit back and watch.. And there’s not a more perfect picture to admire than a life of a small town girl that owns a heart bigger than the world.
I find it really difficult to sum up 100 years in a single story but I think I’ll stop now, leaving you with one last note to ponder upon.
I had left the interview with one question unasked.
So at last night’s church service I go to her and ask, “Miss Kathryn?”
She looks up at me with her warm blue eyes. “Yes, honey?”
I continue with my question, “Miss Kathryn, may I ask, out of all your life, out of one hundred years of living, what is the most important thing you have learned?”
Her eyes drift as she thinks about my question. Then after a moment or two she fixes her eyes back on me, gripping my arm with her hand. “Well honey….I’d say the most important thing I’ve learned from life…is how to truly, truly love people.”
And with that note she smiles and wanders away to go from person to person doing exactly that.
about the author
Gideon Pellegrino of rural Rogersville, Missouri, is StateoftheOzarks youngest intern. At only 16, she is a gifted writer looking forward to earning her degree is journalism and music (or maybe the other way around) at College of the Ozarks. She squeezes her writing time in between milking cows and practicing the cello.
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Rod Phillips is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer living in the Missouri Ozarks. He has toured with Michael Martin Murphy, the New Christy Minstrels, and Jim Stafford, produced 14 albums, and plays 13 different instruments. He is also a published novelist.
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Fall in the Ozarks: 3 Weeks Difference
You can call me a nut, but I have something for photographing prairie grass in the Ozarks. In this field is the species called Broomsedge, Broomsedge Bluestem, Yellow Bluestem, or Whiskey Grass. Though some may call this species a weed, this grass brings back fond memories. As a young boy in Ozark County, I would crawl through our field laden with broomsedge in the fall and wintertime. Crouching though these brown tufts, I would try to catch rabbits, flush out songbirds, or just sit in the middle of our field watching the wind gracefully bend and whip these brown wisps in our meadow. Even today, I never get tired of seeing this lowly prairie grass. It still does my heart good to see these golden boughs waving back at me every autumn & winter as I travel down an Ozark highway.
State of the Ozarks Cookin’ — Spiced Crabapples
“Made a batch of yummy spiced apples! Thank you for the recipe!” — Ron Regehr, StateoftheOzarks Subscriber
Spiced Crabapples (Makes about 6 pint jars)
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole cloves
4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups water
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
8 cups stemmed crabapples, pricked with a fork
1. Tie cinnamon stick pieces, allspice and cloves in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag.
2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine sugar, water, vinegar and spice bag. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Cover, reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Add crabapples and return to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, for 10 to 20 minutes or until crabapples are tender. Do not overcook. Remove from heat and discard spice bag.
3. Meanwhile prepare canner, jars and lids.
4. Using a slotted spoon, pack hot crabapples into hot jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar. Ladle hot syrup into jar to cover crabapples, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot syrup. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 20 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.
— page 161, The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, edited by Judi Kingrey and Lauren Devine, Robert Rose Press, Toronto, Ontario 2006