More from “Nosey Parker” Interview of his cousin, Jimmy Parker
Alan: You’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of great stories, but if you could only tell one more before you died, which one would it be? It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, but tell us whether it is or isn’t.
Jimmy: Well, first let me address your ‘true or not’ thing.
Once when we came back from an overseas assignment, my son and I got involved making a porch off the back of our house there in a Washington, D.C. suburb. Not a deck, mind you, a porch… a full Southern Living edition porch.
We soon got way over our heads. Had the back side of the house pretty much torn up and winter was setting in, and we had only a tiny idea anymore what to do with all those holes in the wall.
A guy named Dutch at the McLean Hardware Store came to our rescue. I would go in to see Dutch with this problem or that and he always knew what I needed to do next. And he’d direct me to some aisle in that old store and give me something that I’d need and I’d be on my way.
One day, it must have been Saturday, I was in the McLean Hardware store talking with Dutch when he told me about being in the U.S. Navy during WWII, on a ship in the Pacific when dangerous things were happening on top… kamikazes maybe. And he was called on to lean over backwards in this flooded compartment below deck, and underwater reach out as far has he could with a hack saw and cut this burst pipe on one side of a break and then the other. He, of course, had to come up often for air. Took him all day, he said. Toughest job he ever had to do.
A year later we joined the Methodist church in McLean, Virginia, and when we were introduced to the congregation one Sunday, Dutch was also being introduced as a new Deacon.
Later, with my wife, daughter and son at my side I caught up with Dutch in the church parking lot. You can ask my family about what happened next and they all remember it the same way: I told Dutch that I didn’t know he was even a member of this church, but boy did it make things seem special for me, that I really appreciated his help back during my porch-building days and I remembered that story he told about having to lean over backwards in that flooded compartment and spending all of one day cutting a pipe between times he had to surface to get air.
You know what he said, Alan?
He said that he was never in the U.S. Navy. Didn’t serve in WW II.
Well, someone told me that story. I didn’t make it up. Must have been I was in talking with him one day, some guy came up, told that story and moved on and, as crazy as it seems, in time I gave Dutch the credit.
Your mind will play tricks on you. Sometime it ain’t your friend.
And then at times your truth is different from others’. I’ve filed hundreds of Intel reports in my life and getting at the truth is sometimes very difficult. You know you get three people to see the same accident; you could get three different stories. And sometimes in getting a report from an agent, there might be a little personal windage involved. Everyone has their biases.
And with the information highway that was started like 30 years ago, truth’s even harder to get at, because there is so much info out there to pick and choose to get what you want…
But I know what you mean? I’ll let you know if my stories are taken from real-life or are my inventions.
And I do have some stories about things I’ve seen and done. There was an article in Readers Digest years ago by a woman doctor who said it was her observations that most people on their death beds talked about people in their lives… not money or titles or houses or even accomplishments. People. And that makes sense to me. Most of my stories are about people I’ve known and fixes they’ve gotten themselves in.
Alan: Don’t have any one favourite person or one favourite story.
Jimmy: Probably I got 30 stories that top my list… including the account of my dad, yours, Aunt Wilma, Mamma Parker (our grandmother). Sad, hardscrabble, but — ending with Aunt Wilma — very hopeful.
In that top 30 list is also this story.
Brenda and I arrived in Udorn, Thailand in November 1971 on my first CIA assignment. For Christmas we went to the local Catholic orphanage on the edge of town and there, as we were being escorted to the back to await the Air Force Santa Claus, we passed the nursery. There was only one sad-looking little boy there and Brenda asked about him. The nun leading our small parade said he had always been sickly. Didn’t expect him to live, really, but he had survived. Recently he had a growth surgically removed from his stomach and had been standing up now only a couple of days. My wife asked if she could carry him to the back and the nun opened her palm towards the little runt. Brenda swept in and as she approached the boy his head tilted back to follow her and his eyes got very, very big. When she picked him up, his immediate response was to push away and sort of at his arm’s length continue to look at Brenda with very serious little boy doubts.
In the back however he came to like his position on her lap and once when she went to put him to the side so that she could play with some of the other kids, he reached his two scrawny little arms out towards her and she picked him up again.
She went back to see him the next day, of course, and then a few days after that. She said that he seemed to recognize her when she came in that third time. And she said he seemed to like being with her as much as she liked being with him.
There was much going on with my job and it was probably a week or 10 days later when I went with Brenda back to the orphanage, but by this time she had seen the boy maybe four times.
This was visit five.
She wanted to ask if we could take him home overnight, and when she stopped by the front office to talk with the head nun, I walked on back to the nursery.
Off to the side, hell I didn’t know which of those dozens of kids was the scrawny kid Brenda was after… they all looked pretty much the same to me, dark hair, diapers, all in the same colour/style of bassinet.
When, down the hall you could hear Brenda talking and laughing with the nun and clearly you could hear her footfalls… and there in the middle of that nursery one little boy stood up, suddenly energized like you can’t imagine. Eyes wide, standing as tall as he could, he leaned to one side of his bassinet so as to try and look around the corner of the door where Brenda’s voice was coming from, anxious, straining to hear, waiting to see… and then Brenda turned the corner…
I think an American kid would have yelled or maybe jumped up and down, I don’t know.
But this scrawny Asian kid, he just stood tall and still there in his bassinet looking at Brenda…
but he had the greatest love on his face. Not two years old, that kid you could plainly see loved that tall American woman with his heart and his soul and his 30, 35 pounds of everything. His face just beamed great joy… accentuated by standing so tall with his glowing smile and dancing eyes.
Without a sound, his happiness just took up the whole room. It was an amazing picture… of this kid who had nothing to call his own just days before… though now clearly possessing an enormously wonderful emotion.
And Brenda? I think she cared for him as much. I don’t think she knew love like that until he showed her what it looked like.
The kid’s our son, Joseph. He and Brenda — more than 40 years later — still share a special bond, a bond that his wife does not mess with and I do not mess with.
U.S. President George Bush talked about a thousand points of light. One of the most brilliant shards of light I have seen in my lifetime came from the love on that runty kid’s face that day when Brenda came round that corner into his orphanage nursery.
But then orphanages play another significant role in my life — Brenda’s dad was raised in one… but that’s another story.
As is the story of our daughter, Mim, who we adopted one week after we adopted Joe.