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Parrish shows 90 years of amazing fortitude

Bonnie Bucy Living Writer • Dec 17, 2015 at 7:00 PM

Even at 90, she’s still 100 pounds of energy. 

She might vary by 2 pounds, more or less, but she’s stayed that tiny weight all her life. She said her mother told her she only weighed 6 pounds at 6 weeks old.  She only knows she has stayed tiny and slim from the beginning.

But, it’s no wonder. Parrish has run 100 mph for nearly all of her 90 years. She was born on a farm on Burton Road near Highway 109, attended LaGuardo grade schools and Mt. Juliet High School through the 11th grade.

“The buses stopped running, and we had to walk 3 1/2 miles to school and back, and I quit going,” Parrish said.

Upon leaving school in 1942, Parrish went to work for the Garment Factory, where she stayed for 30-plus years and “loved it, although my sister, Helen, got a job there, and she hated it.” Parrish said she remembered making buttonholes, belt loops, bar tacking and sewing on buttons.

Back when she was 85, ReRe – as her friends affectionately call her – had a visitor comment that she certainly didn’t look to be 85 years old, to which Parrish replied, “That’s because I’m not 85 years old, I’m 85 years young.”

Now that she’s 90, she still feels the same way, although she doesn’t do quite as much as she did five years ago. Where she was tending and reaping four vegetable gardens a year, selling 1 ton of vegetables, canning, making preserves and all kinds of relishes, chow-chows, jellies and jams and kept several flower gardens thriving, she has slowed down almost completely on the canning and preserving – much to her customers’ regret. She’s also not doing as much of her own plowing on the four big plots as a neighbor, Homer Dudley, plows and plants her fields now. Even at 85, she was getting out and marking her rows for planting with string so they were straight and had a little tiller that she would use to keep her gardens weed free after planting.

Parrish met John Thomas Parrish – who everybody called Buster – at a ball game.  He lived just up the road from her, and she admitted she felt he was the one for her upon meeting him at that ball game. He got out of the service in 1945, and they married a week later. It was a wonderful marriage that lasted 52 years until his death in 1998.

The couple lived in a Lebanon apartment for a while after marriage

“Buster became a tax assessor for Wilson County, and we moved to this farm in 1951,” said Parrish. “He was working at the tax office, and I was working at the Garment Factory. When we’d get off at night, we’d come home, plant gardens and work them. Buster also made stock feed for sale. He’d get a big truckload of corn from Kentucky, mix it with other stuff, grind it and sell it.”

After Buster died, Marie Parrish took over all the gardening and farming herself. After seeing 500 tomato plants, cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers, okra, zucchini, corn, green onions and melons are planted, she waits until harvesting time these days with the follow-up taken care of by friends when the produce is delivered from her gardens to her stand and refrigerated storehouse.

“Things don’t stay in the refrigerator very long, because I’m having to constantly refill my stand,” said Parrish.

“Marie’s Vegetable Stand” has operated for 35 or more years.

“It started as a little round table we set out there soon after Buster and I moved here and got the gardening going,” said Parrish. “We had a cup for people to put the money in because we trusted them to operate on the honor system. That didn’t work out, and Buster made a wooden box for the money.  Somebody busted that. Finally, a neighbor who worked for a metal place made her a metal box that’s bolted to the tabletop, and the robberies have virtually stopped.

“People still leave me the sweetest notes in the box along with money,” Parrish said with a grin. “I call them my love notes. They may be complimenting me on something or say they were short on money and would leave the rest they owe me when they come back by. Some even leave me extra money.”

Her day still starts with a cup of hot chocolate. She drinks it, washes her cup and dries it and then refills it with Honey Nut Cheerios, which she prefers to eat dry. Lunch is a couple of bite-size Milky Ways and a Dr. Pepper. She keeps a lot of ice cream and popcicles.

Her kitchen still looks out on a hummingbird feeder, but her kitchen table looks bare in that a few years ago it would have been covered with jars of her home-canned tomatoes, pear preserves, homemade apple butter, Chow-Chow and her famous October relish.

“The October relish recipe came down through my family, and that’s what they always called it. But, everybody today knows it as ‘Do Me Good Relish,’” she explained.  “It is all fresh, has a bit of a bite and really accents beans, scrambled eggs and anything else you want to put it on. My customers are so unhappy that I don’t have it for sale any longer, but I just can’t stand or handle the big, heavy pans I have to in order to make it. This was the first year I didn’t make it, and I miss it, too.”

She said she never even realized she would still be operating the stand and doing all the other stuff at 90.

“But I love it. I have met so many nice people and have a lot of regulars,” she said. “And, there’s still new customers coming every day and I like to meet and get to know new people.”

Parrish’s only roommate these days is an 18-year-old, gray, long-haired cat named Prisilla. Prisilla used to spend her days sleeping on the back of Parrish’s rocking chair.  Except when Parrish came home from the grocery store with plastic bags full of groceries. The first bag Parrish emptied, Prisilla would jump into it and her mistress would swing her around and around until Parrish was worn out.

“Unfortunately, old age sets in and affects us all,” said Parrish. “Today, instead of swinging in the bag, she sleeps next to the door between the freezer and the door. But, she’s my partner, and we love each other and are company for each other.”

Her niece is Tina Stockton, wife of developer Tim Stockton. She commented a few years ago, “Everybody loves ReRe. All of her customers bring her Christmas presents and cakes and things for her birthdays. But, mainly, she such a hoot. She’ll make you laugh long and hard at the stories she can tell. And, she’s so down to earth and loves to see people.  She is an inspiration to everyone who meets her.”

Speaking of telling stories, here are a couple of her favorites.

“I started making money at an early age because the other kids would pay me to say certain words that I would mispronounce. Then, there was the time when we lived on the farm with a tin roofed house. My sister, Helen, and I caught Mama’s prize rooster and climbed up a ladder sitting there.

“We took him on the roof and tossed him down the chimney. It cooked him on the way down. We went and retrieved him, took him to the water trough and tried to revive him, but he was dead. Mama wasn’t too happy about us killing off her best rooster,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.

Parrish has attended the LaGuardo Baptist Church all her life, where everyone refers to her as “the tomato lady.” She admits there is a church closer to where she lives, but she prefers to drive to her longtime church home.

And yes, she still drives at 90 years of age. Although she has several nieces that are always coming by and picking her up to go and do things, Marie will periodically go by and pick her sister up and they will go into Lebanon and do things like shop, eat out, etc.

Asked about traveling or taking vacations, Parrish said her parents lived close, so she and her husband didn’t have to go visit them on vacations and were able to do some traveling while he was alive. She said she loves her life as it is today.

“I’m forced to get up and get dressed every morning so I can stock the vegetable stand,” she said. “Then, I have to go down every few hours and check to see if I’ve sold out of something.  Also, customers come knocking on my door to see if I have any of my canned items, which I’m sorry; I have to tell them no. I just didn’t have the time or energy to make them this year.  Or, they’ll come knocking to say I’m out of an item.”

Each afternoon Parrish will check her products one more time before nightfall.

“I am planning on continuing to do what I’m doing until I can’t do it any more,” she said. “As long as my days go on and I’m able, I will do what I do.”

Parrish’s house is filled with antique chairs, lamps, knick-knacks and other items. She said she doesn’t necessarily collect them. They just came with her.

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