1891 – 1987
When I was a little girl I lived on Highland Avenue. I was pretty adventurous and loved meeting new people. If memory serves me right, I believe the first time I met Mrs. Parks I was going door to door to sell colored sand in jars that I had made.
I can see Mrs. Parks in a cardigan sweater and skirt and a big warm welcoming smile as she opened her door. One thing I noticed right away was that she had a lot of cats. Everywhere I looked, I saw a cat. This was a dreamland for me because even back then I loved cats! Funny, I don’t remember if she bought one of my jars of sand, but I do remember chatting with her a bit and her inviting me to come back anytime.
I didn’t need to be asked twice that was for sure. I think within a day or so I was back at her door but this time I wasn’t there to sell anything. I just wanted to spend time with this lady that seemed so kind and welcoming. I guess when you are a kid you get kind of use to adults shooing you away as insignificant and she made me feel like I mattered from the very first time that I met her. On this second visit she invited me in. She may have invited me the first time I knocked but my parents had taught me not to go into the homes of people I didn’t know. I’m sure I told my parents about meeting her, and they must have given me permission to go back as long as I didn’t bother her. There it was again, “bother her” like my very presence would annoy someone. If it did bother some, it didn’t seem to bother Mrs. Parks. She immediately had that same warm smile upon seeing me, invited me in and I gladly accepted.
Once inside I was even more amazed at how many cats were all over the house. The amount of cat hair that I couldn’t help but notice didn’t bother me at all. It wasn’t over the top, just more than I was used to seeing since she had so many cats. I felt at home. She would usually sit on her sofa that was against the wall in front of a large window. Right away she would offer me something to drink. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember enjoying my time there and hearing “her” poem for the first time during that first visit. Mrs. Parks would often recite:
If cats were only kittens
And rats were only mice
And elder berries were younger berries
Wouldn’t that be nice?
I went back to see Mrs. Parks quite often. She spoke of the folks down the road that were very kind to her and brought her meals, cut her grass and plowed snow for her. I don’t know that they always did that or if it was just a kind, occasional gesture. I know I was pleased to know there were people looking out for her and her home. I especially loved the big tree in the yard that stretched out so long that it might have needed a brace at some point to keep it from breaking. It was dreamy. I loved her yard too and I remember being particularly excited when she invited me to walk just a bit into the backyard. I think there was a stonewall that separated her immediate yard to another part. I just remember loving it there.
One visit, after we had chatted a bit, she invited me to crawl under a bed that was in a front room with windows facing the street so that I could see a new litter of kittens. Another visit she offered ice cream and as I ate my bowl, I watched as she would take a bit and then share the remaining ice cream left on her spoon with a cat that had seated itself next to her.
I remember her giving me a little tour around the downstairs where she pointed out where she kept her ribbon candy on the table outside of the doorway to the kitchen, or at least that’s what I remember. I also remember a fireplace with a big mantel and on it was a small black-framed shadow picture of a cat on a flower printed background. I loved it. I don’t remember when but at some point she gave me that little framed cat and I still have it today. I’ve taught the poem to my children and I wrote the poem and her name on the back of the frame.
I have carried the only “picture” I have had of her around since my time with her. I am quite pleased that recently someone put a photo on Facebook and it matched my memory “picture” of her exactly as I remember her. I can’t say for sure why she let me, Jennifer Smith at the time, into her life but I’m so glad she did. I miss her. I miss Little Compton. I feel so blessed to have grown up in Little Compton and to have had the great pleasure of meeting and sharing time with such a wonderful lady.
Jennifer Smith Kewley
April 22, 2020
Editor’s Note: Miss Ruth Parks was never married, but Jennifer, like so many children when addressing their elders, was showing her respect by addressing her as Mrs.