My Mother: The Seen and Unseen

“A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories.” – Honore de Balzac


Mom and Dad (Lois and Leonard), Naples Beach Hotel 2012

     We tend to think about our parent’s life centered around our own. I’m the ‘baby’ of the family (just turned 53 last week) and my mom has said in the past, “How did my youngest get so old?” The ‘older’ boys-Carroll, Tommy, and Paul-arrived on the scene from 1950 up to 1960. We are an American family.

Anita and I have two grown children, Emily and Lincoln. Although they know much about our pre-parent days, there are several years of teenage dating, college, work, living, and the two pregnancies that are revealed in highlights instead of details. When a child asks, “Why?” the parent response of, “Because I said…” is based on history and experience. The art of parenting relies heavily on unseen years that precede the children.

On this Mothers Day, I know many facts about my mom. It is easy to see that she successfully raised four boys. She has been a presence in the lives of each of us and always a supporter of the pathways we have taken through life. Shakespeare wrote,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man (woman) in his time plays many parts.”

My mom has played all the roles very well–daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, employee (General Electric) now retired, Christian. These are the ‘seen’ roles and responsibilities that she performs daily, and does so very well. But I often wonder about the ‘unseen’ roles that she has played during her years, the thoughts in private when alone, the dreams unfulfilled, the life before me, before my brothers, before my dad, before everything.

Mom had many responsibilities in her family as her mother died after childbirth and she was needed to help raise the younger sisters. She married Harvey Dixon, a local veteran of WWII Constabulary Squadron, at a young age and had my two half-brothers, life was moving forward much like a typical rural Kentucky family in the 1940s and 1950s. I’m surprised I know so few details about her years as a young mom and wife. The story should have continued on with nothing but happiness, but many times life throws challenges unexpected. Harvey was killed in a coal mining accident Feb. 22, 1955 and Mom assumed a new role as widow and single mother of two young boys.

I’ve never once heard Mom say ‘times were hard’ or she ‘had it worse than anyone’ or that she was dealt a ‘bad hand’ in life. The tragedy of the situation must have been unbearable at the time but she never mentions it. This is one of the ‘unseen’ roles which I can envision but not know for sure. I do know that in the following years she met Leonard and in 1959 they married. Two more boys followed in 1960 and 1962 with the last being me, the ‘baby boy that was supposed to be a girl’.

If asked how one goes on in life when faced with tragedy, I think Mom would say, “Pray, trust in God, and live one day at a time.” Ask any of the four boys (men) today and all would say Mom is a steady rock in our lives. Ask the grandchildren and now great-grandchildren and they would say the same. I’ll call her today, like every Sunday, and say, “Happy Mothers Day, I love you!” I’ll realize that her greatness comes from ‘unseen’ experiences that lie beneath the surface expressed as love in the ‘seen’ world.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

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Royal Victoria Military Hospital Netley

The once majestic RVMH. The final demolition occurred in 1966.

The once majestic RVMH. The final demolition occurred in 1966.

For those interested in a bit of medical history, especially military medical history, check out my recent article published in Hektoen International: A Journal of Medical Humanities. The story of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital spans more than 100 years, several wars, and thousands of lives of veterans and health care workers.

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White Coat Notes: End of Life Issues

Here is the link to my recent newspaper article.

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The Field Guide — the start of a book-buying life

The First Step collection

The recent edition from the Florida Writers Association includes my short story titled, The Field Guide. My book buying obsession started at age 15 and hasn’t stopped although now a combination of digital and print editions.

Purchase information is listed below.

Parish, Samuel. “The Field Guide.” The First Step, Florida Writers Associaion-Volume 6. Ed. Mary Burton. Sarasota: Peppertree Press, 2014. 185-188. Print.


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The Economy of American Healthcare

Economy and Health

If you have a few minutes and would like to see an overview of the economics of healthcare in America, then watch the linked short movie. It is produced by We the Economy and it is a light-hearted but accurate take on the costs of our health system.

The video is titled, This Won’t Hurt A Bit. Enjoy!

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Literary Influences: Walden or, Life in the Woods

Independence Day, July 4th, 1845:  Henry David Thoreau (HDT) moves to his cabin on Walden Pond.

Occasionally, Independence Day passes without my remembrance of Thoreau’s great experiment, but most of the time in early July I recall the event. The Christian Science Monitor reminded me this year in the article linked below.

“My house is 10 feet wide by 15 long–with a garret & closet–2 windows one door at the end–and a fire-place.”

“But my object is not to live cheaply nor to live dearly–but to transact a little private business there with the fewest obstacles.”           Thoreau Journal entries–1845

Thoreau had an adequate house for his purpose there, not large but devoid of distractions nonetheless. Thoreau spent most of his writing time at Walden Pond working on A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. It would be his enduring story and musings of the memorable trip with his brother, John, in 1839. John Thoreau died just three years before Henry moved to Walden.

Although A Week on the Concord… is a great read, it was not my introduction to HDT. During my junior year at West Hopkins High School, my English teacher, Carolyn Ridenour, included a few chapters from Walden as part of a survey of American literature. I don’t remember which chapters were included nor any great impact at the time. However, something stayed with me about a man living alone in the woods, writing about nature, reading, raising a garden, and seeking the marrow of life in the 19th century.

The original title page of Walden or, Life in the Woods

The original title page of Walden or, Life in the Woods

I’m not sure of the exact date, but sometime in the summer of 1980 leading up to my freshman year in college at Murray State University, I bought my first copy of Walden. The book cost $1.50 in paperback. I could have read it in a couple of weeks even with the load of college assignments, but I didn’t. I read it slower than any book prior to or since then.

My first Walden a Signet Classic $1.50 in 1980

My first Walden a Signet Classic $1.50 in 1980

Almost every page had bits of wisdom. I underlined and wrote notes in the margins as I worked my way through every page and chapter. It was an unassigned part of my freshman year but one that has lasted greater than thirty years.

Walden 003

Walden– annotations and marginalia in my first paperback copy

My college roommate, John Pryor, was a huge music fan. He had pictures of Ronnie Milsap and Henry Mancini taped to the wall on his side of the room. To balance the decor, I needed something of interest for my bland block wall over the bed. So, one evening while studying in the Waterfield Library I found the section of books by HDT and made four copies of a 19th century daguerreotype Thoreau photo. Later that night on returning to the dorm, I taped my collection to the wall. Thoreau was a nice balance to Milsap and Mancini. It was self-expression–my Independence Day with help from Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau from 1856

Henry David Thoreau from 1856

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Father’s Day: My Good Fortune

Father’s Day is here and time to offer a retrospective on my dad. The photo below shows my parents on their 1959 wedding day in Manitou, Kentucky. This was three years before I came into existence. The man in the picture was the same one I knew as a child and nothing much changed about him to this day, other than the effects of more than five decades of aging, which has changed me, too. Someone said, quite accurately, “Leonard has the patience of Job.” That’s a story I’ll tell later, but before that a few thoughts about others that weren’t so fortunate.

Wedding Day

Lois and Leonard Parish, Wedding Day 1959


It’s been interesting to think about the many writers I’ve been drawn to over the years and realize the often painful relationships they’ve had with their fathers. It’s strange because my father and I always had a great relationship and stories of absent fathers, alcoholism, and uncontrolled anger were foreign to me.

No one has written better than Pat Conroy when it comes to telling the story of growing up with an abusive father. The Great Santini was published in the mid-70s and then The Death of Santini: A Story of a Father and his Son in 2013. Times were bad in the Conroy household, but weaving the story of survival through his writing provided the author with some degree of acceptance and love in spite of the scars.

“Without a father’s blessing, a boy’s individuality and personhood are not finished.”–from Death of a Hero, Birth of a Soul by John C. Robinson, PhD.

Receiving your father’s blessing is not something given actively at a single moment in time or written or even spoken. It is something given through a life well lived. A father’s blessing is given daily without saying a word. “Actions speak louder than words,” is never more true than when referring to a father and his children. My father is not a man of many words, but all his words are true, sincere, and never spoken in anger.

Our regional journalist and essayist, Jeff Klinkenberg, recently wrote an article – ‘My dad had an artist’s soul, but a temper that left many scars’- in the Tampa Bay Times. . Klinkenberg’s documentation of ‘real Florida’ is always a joy to read but the story about his father was one of his best as he opened the envelope on his soul. He ends the article with, “He did some monstrous things that left emotional scars. But not for a moment can I consider him a monster. He was more good than bad. He was human.”

“The heaviest thing I have ever had to carry is my father’s fame.” Bogart: In Search of My Father. Stephen Bogart.

Humphrey Bogart was one of the biggest names in Hollywood and remains one of the greatest actors of all times. His son, Stephen, has written a beautiful memoir of growing up in the shadow of the fame of his father (and mother, Lauren Bacall). This was not something I had in my life. I can never recall feeling stress to accomplish something because of pressure from my parents. My parents have always been proud of my path through life, but I realized early on that accomplishments were never connected to their love for me. There was never a shadow of fame in our home.

Jack Kornfield in his book, A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times summarizes the role of a parent. “You look at your children and realize that you don’t own them, and that you cause them and yourself suffering by thinking that you do. Instead, you fully love and care for them and let them live their own lives. And with this simple but profound realization, you become both spacious and more loving.”

Once when I brought home a report card with a C grade, Dad said, “I never brought home C’s when I was your age. Of course, I never had any A’s or B’s either.” He finished his formal education in the 8th grade, but continued his practical education into appliance repair, furniture sales, upholstery, and locksmithing (which I also learned and became quite adept at picking locks). His scholarship was always in the King James Bible; he knew it better than I thought anyone could know any subject.

Robert Bly, although a poet, has written great prose works about becoming an adult and the detrimental effect of the absent father in modern culture and the deficient fathering skills of those who are present. In Iron John he took the Grimm fairy tale and wove it creatively into a modern guide to men on their journey from boyhood into manhood. I highly recommend the book and, if it’s still available, the audio version with Bly’s own vocal interpretation is a masterpiece. His book The Sibling Society expanded on the idea that we have largely become a society of adolescent adults. In the eighteen years since it was published, I find it hard to disagree.

I didn’t realize the depth of immature behavior in adults until I left home. I never saw a grown man or woman complain, connive, argue, lie, cheat, and exhibit overt selfishness until I entered medical school in 1984. And I’m not talking about patients; these behaviors were among students, staff, and professors. Most would say, “You’ve not seen the real world, then.”

Dad’s wisdom was born and cultured in rural Kentucky. His wisdom is centered around the ‘Fear of the Lord’. He imparts his great wisdom by living it. He exhibits all the good characteristics of Buddhism and the Tao Te Ching without having read them. He was present at home as a teacher of wisdom long before the Men’s Movement and Promise Keepers were trendy vogues.

So, now to the story that exemplifies the ‘patience of Job’. A few years ago, Mom and Dad went to Nashville to visit my brother, Paul, the week before Christmas. One of the annual traditions was to go to the Opryland Hotel to see the extravagant decorations and festivities. They decided to drive separate vehicles since my parents were leaving for home after the visit. Around 6pm they left with Dad leading the way in his custom van a few cars ahead of Paul and Mom. In the midst of heavy traffic they lost sight of each other. For anyone who has ever been to the Opryland Hotel around Christmas you know that traffic can be horrendous. This was before mobile phones were welded to everyone’s hand.

Before the short trip, Dad said, “If we get separated, I’ll just park and stay in the van until y’all find me, because if I go inside we’ll have no chance of finding each other. My van sits high enough so you’ll have no problem sighting it.” (famous last words)

The entrance road to the hotel makes a loop around the extensive complex that takes at least 20-30 minutes. Paul and Mom made a full loop in the creeping slowness of the holiday traffic and saw no sign of Dad or the van. So, they made another loop, and then another, and another. Over two hours later, they parked and went inside hoping to find Dad on faith alone. After an hour in the sea of people, no luck at all. By then it was nearly 10 o’clock and they were worried that something could have happened like a car accident or some criminal activity or medical problem. They decided to return to the house and make some calls.

Paul called the police to see if there were any reports of accidents or crime and checked at local hospitals. There was no trace of Leonard Parish. After the futile search, the only thing option was to return to the Opryland after the majority of the people were gone and explore every parking lot that surrounded the facility. He arrived around 1:30am and began the search. By 2am, he spotted a lone custom van with a light on parked in a remote overflow parking area. In the van sat Dad, reading a Gideon Bible. Paul pulled up as Dad got out.

Dad said, “I told you I’d stay put until you found me. Didn’t know it would take this long. Had to use the trash can couple of times. I thought if I went inside to the restroom I’d miss y’all.”

After eight hours of sitting in a van in the winter weather of Nashville at night, Dad was content and acted like nothing had happened. It was a true representation of his personality.

For A Father  by John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us

The longer we live,

The more of your presence

We find, laid down,

Weave upon weave

Within our lives.


The quiet constancy of your gentleness

Drew no attention to itself,

Yet filled our home

With a climate of kindness

Where each mind felt free

To seek its own direction.


As the fields of distance

Opened inside childhood,

Your presence was a sheltering tree

Where our fledgling hearts could rest.


The earth seemed to trust your hands

As they tilled the soil, put in the seed,

Gathered together the lonely stones.


Something in you loved to inquire

In the neighborhood of air,

Searching its transparent rooms

For the fallen glances of God




Father's Day 2012

Father’s Day 2012

I love you, Dad. Have a Great Father’s Day and many more to come. Thanks for teaching me and my family what it means to be a father.

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Teacher’s Tools: Blackboard and Chalk

well-worn chalk on blackboard tray

well-worn chalk on blackboard tray

I enjoy unexpected topics on random subjects that bring back memories or open a new horizon. Such was my experience last week as I read the weekly edition of The Chronicle Review (May 23, 2014) in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The back page had an article titled Ode to the Blackboard. It was written by Professor Michael McFee from UNC Chapel Hill English department. I’ll attach the link here: (although it is probably locked without subscription access)

He prefers to teach using the classic blackboard with chalk even when white boards, dry-erase markers, and high-tech devices with PowerPoint have replaced it in most classrooms. I agree with Professor McFee. Technological advancement is not synonymous with pedagogical advancement. Some things don’t need upgrades to newer versions; blackboards and chalk version 1.0 work just fine.

My school home 1968-1976

My school home 1968-1976


“The blackboard is part of a classroom’s theater, part of the stage for a teacher’s performance.”          Michael McFee

I was fortunate to attend Nebo Elementary School in Nebo, Kentucky starting in the late 1960s. Nebo was a small, rural town situated between the farms and coalfields of western Kentucky just four miles from the smaller village of Manitou, my home. The school had been K-12 at one time; my parents and three older brothers all passed through its doors. I was the last of the family to receive an education there; the greatest challenge saved until the end.

The teachers performed miracles with chalk on a blackboard, depths of patience, and great intelligence. The constant classroom feature was the blackboards that stretched across the front of the room with another one down the side wall. To this day, I remember the names of most of the teachers.

There was Ms. Tucker in 1st grade where I learned to spell my name for the first time–I didn’t know whether to write Sammie or Sammy although my name was Samuel. Third grade was Ms. Barron who taught multiple generations of students including every member of my family from the 1940s onward. She would hand a piece of chalk to each student to practice cursive letters on the board. Ms. Martell took the stage in the 4th grade in a classroom that opened into the gymnasium, somewhat of a noise issue.

The 5th grade was Ms. Hocker, the only African-American teacher in the school. As the 5th grade spelling bee champion I advanced to the county competition in Madisonville in 1973. She drove me to the county competition in her Volkswagen Beetle–I was the first contestant to sit down when I misspelled ‘separate’ by saying S-E-P-E-R-A-T-E. I was disappointed but it didn’t seem to bother Ms. Hocker much. She even bought my lunch before we drove back to the school in the afternoon.

By the time I reached the 7th and 8th grades, all my teachers were men for the first time. There was Mr. Cannon, Mr. Dunville, and Mr. McFadden. The volume of blackboard usage and chalk dust was greatly increased as the math, science, and social studies required extended formulae and explanations to be written on the board.

“…I appreciate what it leaves on my fingers. It’s like having sawdust on your skin after working with wood: a sign of honest industry.”                                                         Michael McFee

The chalk dust was a sign of work on the hands of the teachers after presenting the world of knowledge to the audience of young minds. Much like a carpenter building a house or a coal miner bringing anthracite out of the earth, each exhibited the residual dust on their hands indicating productive labor.

At the end of the day the teacher needed the felt erasers cleaned. The student or students chosen for the honor were usually ones with good behavior for the day. Even I was chosen, occasionally. There were four acceptable methods of getting the chalk dust from the erasers. The clapping method of hitting two erasers together worked fine, but created too much dust close to the face. I preferred the other three methods which involved beating the erasers against a tree, the brick school wall, or the concrete sidewalk. It allowed us to burn off some energy at the end of the day.

chalk eraser


“Writing on a blackboard is like writing a letter, or a poem, by hand. For one class period, what you’ve written is your holograph.

Then it goes away. Like all writing. Like us.

Except it doesn’t, not totally.”                       Michael McFee

Michael McFee is first and foremost a poet. The sentences quoted above, although written as prose in his essay, are poetic. The days of old blackboards and chalk dust are fading rapidly as the digital age continues to expand. As with any teaching tool, whether chalk on blackboards or stylus on computer screens, the tool is not the most important item. The teacher controlling the direction of the tool is the genius that drives education. I’ve been fortunate to have some of the best.

Thank you, Professor McFee, for taking me on a trip down memory lane.

Happy Birthday, Miss Jones. Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post, March 17, 1956.

Happy Birthday, Miss Jones.
Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post, March 17, 1956.




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W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Photo Essay, ‘Country Doctor’

World Family Doctors Day: Celebrating the family doctor around the world. It is well worth the time to revisit photojournalist W. Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’ photo essay from LIFE in 1948. The thirty-eight photos document the challenges faced by Dr. Ernest Ceriani in rural Colorado.

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Key West: The Ferry and Seasickness

view from the Key West Express before departure--serene

view from the Key West Express before departure–serene


The early morning hours of May 8th were beautiful as we drove up Estero Boulevard along the Gulf coast toward Ft. Myers. The sun was rising and we were excited about our trip to Key West via the Key West Express, a ferry to the island. The trip would take about four hours in the comfortable three-level cruise ferry equipped with refreshments, movies, sports bar, sun chairs, and beautiful scenery of the southern Gulf of Mexico. The poem by Masefield describes the feeling as Lincoln, Anita, and I started the adventure.

Sea Fever


 John Masefield


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

from Ft Myers to Key West

Key West Express from Ft Myers to Key West

The first hour and a half went by smoothly. The coastline from Ft. Myers, Estero, Bonita Springs, and Naples began to fade away and finally, south of Marco Island, nothing but the sea was visible and waves. Up and down slowly and more waves, up and down waves of water, then waves of nausea, then waves of sweat. I was smart enough to bring Dramamine for the trip. I wasn’t smart enough to take it before the trip.

The details of the last two hours of the trip are not necessary for the general public. Needless to say, Anita and I were sitting on the floor, heads down, eyes closed. Lincoln wasn’t affected by the rock and roll of the boat; his years of rock and roll tour bus rides apparently good training.

So, although I started with the poem by John Masefield, the parody, Sea Sickness, by poet, Arthur Guiterman became most appropriate.

Sea Sickness


Arthur Guiterman


I must go down to the seas again, where the billows romp and reel,
So all I ask is a large ship that rides on an even keel,
And a mild breeze and a broad deck with a slight list to leeward,
And a clean chair in a snug nook and a nice, kind steward.

I must go down to the seas again, the sport of wind and tide,
As the grey wave and the green wave play leapfrog over the side.
And all I ask is a glassy calm with a bone-dry scupper,
A good book and a warm rug and a light, plain supper.

I must go down to the seas again, though there I’m a total loss,
And can’t say which is worst: the pitch, the plunge, the roll, the toss.
But all I ask is a safe retreat in a bar well tended,
And a soft berth and a smooth course till the long trip’s ended


Sunset Key across from Key West

Sunset Key across from Key West

The beautiful Sunset Key with calm waters was a rewarding end to the ferry ride across the Gulf. The waves of nausea resolved and the week of fun in Key West awaited. Lincoln was ready for the networking with friends and colleagues at the Key West Songwriters Festival and Anita and I were ready for rest and relaxation.

It was appropriate to start with poet, John Masefield, and I’ll end with him, too. His poem Trade Winds is a soothing entry for days on a tropical island.

Trade Winds

In the harbour, in the island, in the Spanish Seas,
Are the tiny white houses and the orange-trees,
And day-long, night-long, the cool and pleasant breeze
Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.There is the red wine, the nutty Spanish ale,
The shuffle of the dancers, the old salt’s tale,
The squeaking fiddle, and the soughing in the sail
Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.And o’ nights there’s fire-flies and the yellow moon,
And in the ghostly palm-trees the sleepy tune
Of the quiet voice calling me, the long low croon
Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.

Author Notes

From SALT WATER POEMS AND BALLADS, edited by John Masefield, published by The MacMillan Co., NY, © 1921, p. 54; first published in SALT-WATER BALLADS, © 1902.




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