She is, in a word, stunning.
She sits straight up in a comfortable chair in a comfortable room surrounded by photos of the main pleasure in her life; family.
On Saturday, Nov. 27, Mary L. Parks, a woman who has experienced a World War, the scope of Civil Rights and the invention of cell phones (that she does not use) will turn 100.
You would never know. Parks, surrounded by her daughter Mary Ella and granddaughter Targie Folds at the house on Wellington Street she and her late husband Eddie Lewis Parks bought and built in the mid 1950s says her life has been a steady study in work.
“I work hard every day,” she says.
She still, Folds says, makes her bed. She still sweeps and with the help of grandchildren she maintains a beautiful sun room filled to bursting with flowers and plants.
Born in Greene County to Cap and Margaret Johnekins in 1921, Parks’ earliest memories are of snatching handfuls of cotton bolls along with her 10 siblings as the family worked in the fields. She was, she recalls, 5 or 6 years old when she followed her mother in the field. “We would pick the cotton and put it in her sack.”
“Even if you could only get a handful you put it in the sack.”
And it was all day, she says, from daylight to dark. She also worked as a cook and had other domestic jobs before she started Parks Beauty Shop near her house on land given to her from her father Cap.
Completed, the shop measured 564 square feet and quickly became iconic. The Morgan County world’s problems and joys came to Parks Beauty Shop, says Mary but it never left. “If we were talking in there we would leave it in there,” she says.
“And sometimes people didn’t even get their hair cut, they just wanted to talk,” says Folds.
When Parks and her daughter Dorothy started cutting hair, says Mary Ella, the cost for a cut was 25 cents in 1959. In a story published in the Morgan County Citizen in February 2015, Parks said she learned to do hair, especially African-American hair, from her Aunt Bessie Grimes. Bessie taught her niece how to press black hair using a heavy kitchen fork and she taught her how to make curled using fingers.
Parks eventually completed a beauty course through the mail and earned her beautician license.” Parks trained both Dorothy, now deceased, and Mary Ella in cosmetology.
She also trained her children to be financially independent and to work.
“No one is going to give you anything. If you want something, get off your bottom and do it, because no one is going to give it to you. You’re responsible for yourself and you have to make it happen,” she says.
That message came often and early from her father Cap and she says she relied on the message to overcome obstacles and discrimination African-American women faced.
Of Mary and Eddie Parks’ five children, the youngest James Parks, became a Pediatric Cardiologist at the Children’s Healthcare Network of Atlanta from money Mary and Dorothy Parks raised through the beauty shop.
Daughter Evelyn became an attorney, son Eddie Parks Jr. retired from Hercules after 28 years with the company and Dorothy and Mary Ella kept the beauty shop alive and thriving.
“She has taught us a lot over the years,” says Folds.
The house on Wellington Street is an annual gathering place at Christmas for the children, eight grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. Gifts, says Folds, “stretch across the living room floor.” Mary says her children call most every day and Mary Ella stays with her some. Son Eddie comes by and checks on his mother most days, too.
She is loved, she says.
“I don’t know where to start,” she says.