No One Has Touched My Life as You Did, "Pete, the Park Man"
Sometimes The Summer Can Get
very hot. Unbearable to be exact. This was one of those summers. I wish now that I could share this is a lighter, more-sensitive tone, but I cannot. Just the truth and the Saturday morning when I met "Pete, the Park Man," and since that hour and a half when I met this young man, I have never been the same. I don't know "Pete" feels right now.
The year was 1987 and I remember it well, because my wife and I, and Angie, our daughter, were very young. And we wanted to get away from our house as those around our hometown in the weekend. Seemed so right as to climb into the car, turn on the radio and find our way to Grenada, Miss., where we were supposed to meet my wife's baby sister and her husband, Chris, at a newly-developed tourist attraction and with all the talk about cooking-out, talking, and kicking-back spelled a great friend--we couldn't wait to be at this place.
I want to share (a bit) of how great everything was during the trip to Grenada--the summer weather hot and the breezes equally hot. My wife and daughter were talking up the cook-out plans, what I liked to eat, what they liked to eat, and how many fish my wife's brother-in-law, Chris, could catch because he was one more fisherman. If it swam, he tried to catch it. Seemed such a paradox, both he and Michelle, my wife's baby sister, both being assistant managers at Walmart near Granada, but Chris had his head into fishing, hunting, and camping. Sometimes all three activities, but no one could say one thing about him--he didn't drink or smoke weed, and was a tremendous provider. He was an ideal guy.
But This is About "Pete", the Park Man"
and how he (without really knowing it) touched my life in such a way that my experience with him is with me today in 2019. Now do not mistunderstand. This experience was not that of a Cosmic Explosion nor was it a paradigm shift, it was just a bit like an eye-opening moment that changed a few things on the way that I looked at other people. (I didn't have to pay those messy $29.95 credit card charges for the self-help books that were advertised on TV.)
Actually, the drive from our hometown to Granada was about two hours--enough driving to get me tired. But we didn't care. We were young and our lives (then) was in front of us and everything to see, do, and experience. I didn't know it, but "Pete, the Park Man," was the center of all of the things we had dreamed of--growth and maturity. Both priceless things in life.
The Drive That Lead
to this newly-developed tourist stop had a gravel road that I really enjoyed because when I was a boy, my family and I lived near a gravel road and I loved it. There were a number of cars and trucks behind and in front of us, but that was to be expected. The event was the opening of that new camping area where people can fish, camp and even barbecue things if they are a mind to. All I was about was eating the barbecue chicken and steak.
The scent of honeysuckle was in the air and that also took me back. I thought that maybe Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) had a hand in designing the landscape of this place because there was the gravel road and now the honeysuckle, yep. Serling must be out there with his hand on this day.
We went around the last curve to the park and we seen it--the parking area and I was glad because I did not see any crowding--plenty of parking slots. This was our day! I even told my wife and daughter how we had been blessed. I slowly drove up to a space that my wife said that it looked fine and within a few minutes, we were unloading and getting ready to unpack the food and meeting Michelle and Chris (if he were not gone to the water area to catch some fish.)
Then we seen it: Parking Attendant on Duty. Okay. We were in the parking area, so now what? Were we to go ahead or wait? I guess at a time like this, we just did as we did if were were in Rome--so we just waited. That was until we seen this bulky hulk of guy, "Pete," who was busy picking-up litter with a stick with a nail at the end. And this guy knew his work because the driving up and parking had no effect on him. He just walked and picked up the paper like a machine that someone had programmed for this event.
Then I Went Over
to where "Pete," the Park Man," was doing his thing and I wondered then if I was to just wait until he finished with his litter detail or what? And now my wife and daughter were getting impatient and that mixed with the hot sun, this mix was not a happy one. My wife would whisper, what is this guy doing? And I had to keep her quiet because I judged the size of this guy who might be a member of the Mississippi State Bulldogs football team and working during the summer for extra money, so I didn't bother him, I just let him work his way toward us as he picked up the paper in his way.
Finally. "Pete," stopped with the litter detail and looked very stern at me. I calculated his size and what he might be capable of doing, so I softly asked, are we supposed to park in this place? I mean, we were not at home and I wanted to show him all of the respect that I could.
"Pete" looked stunned at my question. Not angry, but stunned. I traced the words in my question and didn't find anything vulgar.
"Park? Here? Is that what you asked?" he replied still staring at me without batting an eyelash. Now I was growing very concerned and I began to wonder if I had committed some crime or broken some law here in Granada, Miss., and I have watched those TV movies about how people from out of state are treated in the rural parts of the country (e.g. "Macon County Line.")
"Yes, sir. I saw your sign about us seeing the parking attendant. Is that you?" I asked very polite.
"Parking attendant? Did you say parking attendant?" "Pete"said and now I was scared inside and out.
"Yeah, I just wondered if we could park over there where the other people are parking."
"Oh, I guess," "Pete" explained.
"Well . . .then we are parked legally?" I asked.
"Park? Did you say, park?" "Pete" said with his eyes set with no movement.
"Okay. Do you want us to move the car or what?" I said and now I was impatient.
"Nope .. .park is okay," "Pete" said and walked away.
I was so relieved. But then so nervous when he said . . ."park is okay," did me mean the picnic area or where we had parked?
What I learned from my time with "Pete, the Park Man," was you do not make snap-judgments with any big man holding a stick with a nail on the end.
February 10, 2019________________________________
© 2019 Kenneth Avery