Dorothy Findelin’s eldest son, Patrick who now lives in Virginia with his family, recalls a few great memories of his 95-year-old grandmother, Alma Parker, who currently lives in the Triangle. Born in 1917 in Edgecomb County and married to Shikralla Doumit Farris in 1941, she remains a strong member of the community.
When we lived in Elizabethtown in the 1970’s went to Kindergarten and 1st Grade at Elizabethtown Primary School. After kindergarten I would come straight from school to the Parker Farris Department Store on Ben Street and head for the back of the store where Sitho would keep activities and snacks for me after school. Of all the things I liked to do while she ran the store, I loved making trains out of cardboard boxes and paper bags, and scooting around on the wooden floors of the store. She used to keep small white-and-black striped bags which made perfect smokestacks for the train engines. I remember once when she was helping some customers and I was chugging around the store in my cardboard and paper sack train, I got a splinter and began to cry. She stopped what she was doing to help me, and eventually I went back to playing. Many years later, when I had children of my own whom I have occasionally had to take to work-related activities, I came to understand the patience that my grandmother possessed in order to take care of a kindergartener at her business. I have such vivid and good memories of being in her store after school: finding frogs and putting them in egg cartons, going next door to Eunice Melvin’s bait and tackle shop to see the minnows and crickets, watching the cops chase shoplifters from the Red & White, going to Melvin’s Pool Room when it still had the pool tables in it, and eating leftover kibbe and tabouleh in the back of the store. Sitho always used to say that the chairs in the back of the store had buttons in them that would send in customers on slow days, so when you’d sit down in them to eat lunch the door would open and in someone would come in. Over the years Sitho would let me help out by straightening out the back of the store, getting the empty boxes stacked and ready to go out, making sale signs, rearranging the displays in the front windows, making deposits at the bank, and once I was 16 years old she even left me to run the store for an hour or two while she would go to ABWA meetings. On one of those times when I was alone in the store a woman came in to buy a girdle, and it is a mark of pride with me to this day that I managed to sell her two.
In the summer of 1986 I moved in with Sitho so I could begin college at Bladen Tech, get North Carolina residency, and apply to UNC later that fall. That year was one of the best of my life. Sitho and I got up and had breakfast together nearly every morning, usually eggs and grits, and fresh tomato slices with salt and pepper. She would leave for work about the same time that I would leave for school, and we would have lunch together often (Pool Room hamburgers, of course!). I worked at the Winn-Dixie at night and on the weekends to save money for the next year, and Sitho would always have a hot supper waiting for me when I got home, even on evenings when I came in after midnight. We had great times together, but there were two events from that year which I will never forget, both having to do with my car. In the fall I decided that I wanted to get my car painted.
It was my 1964 Ford Mustang which I had purchased in Louisiana before we moved back east, and it was tan. I wanted to paint it black, and Aunt Lilly’s son Robert knew a good auto body shop in Charlotte which could do the job well but not expensively. I after got Besse painted (I had named my car after Aunt Kathryn’s green Oldsmobile, which I had loved as a kid) I drove it all over Bladen County. My friends at Bladen Tech knew me by my car, and I had more than a few people who just wanted to take a ride in it. One day I came out of the post office, and found that Besse was missing from where I had parked her. I did not get too upset right away, because I assumed that one of my buddies from school, maybe Duane Sholar, had slipped it into neutral and rolled it somewhere down the street as a joke. I began walking from the Post Office towards the library, looking left and right for my car, when a lady on the steps of the library called out to me (she looked like a Cain or a Priest). “You looking for a black car?” she asked, “Because one just rolled by.” I gulped and started running a little down the street until I got to the cemetery and found Besse’s back end sticking up in the air a bit and the hood crashed through the chain link fence around the town’s sewage pump. The pump, fortunately, was not damaged. I didn’t think for too long before getting in the car and trying to move it, and mostly by luck I managed to get it out and back up on the street. Besse had slipped out of gear all by herself and rolled past the library, past a class of school kids, crossed an intersection and drove between two rows of headstones (missing them all) before hitting the fence. I had lucked out so far, but my real luck was being Sitho’s grandson. The police chief, “Trunk” Taylor, called Sitho at the store the next day and wanted me to pay for damages to the fence. I caught the end of the conversation, which went something like this: “There wasn’t too much damage to that fence, and he’s a good boy and works hard and is going to school. You need to just leave him alone.” I never heard another thing about the fence, and got a great new hood for the car from a guy out on Chicken Foot Road who had a field full of old Mustangs he used for parts. Sitho saved the day!
My other memory of Sitho and my car was from the next year, after I had moved up to Chapel Hill. I drove down to Elizabethtown from UNC to help Sitho in the store before the holidays, and we were planning to drive up to Sanford to Aunt Anne and Uncle Bob’s home after she closed for Christmas. Sitho and I closed the store, packed our cars, and set off in good weather, but when we got to Fayetteville a snow storm blew in. The snow fell so quickly that traffic became single-file even on the four lane highway; the only way to keep from going off the road was to drive in the tracks of the trucks in front of us. We saw plenty of folks stuck in ditches, and it seemed as dangerous to try to stop as it did to keep going, so we just kept going – me in front in my Ford, and Sitho in her Olds behind me. I became really focused on staying on the road and trying not to go too fast or too slow, and I kept checking on Sitho in my rearview mirror. I was so focused that I was not expecting it when, at one of the last intersections in Fayetteville, Sitho’s car skidded on a patch of ice into the back of my car. It was just a strong bump, not even a fender-bender, but I jumped in my seat from the surprise. When I recovered my senses I looked in the rearview mirror and there was Sitho behind the wheel of her car, smiling and waving! I laughed out loud and we drove on to Sanford, arriving safely in time for dinner.