Stentorian

church 1010
Photo by Cora Simpich, “borrowed” from the internet.

My dad had a colleague, Harold Parker. Maybe you don’t do this, but there are some people — not many, but some — who when I think of them, a one-word summation comes to mind. For instance, there is a man here in town who when I see him, although age has mellowed him, always brings to my mind “bombastic.”

For years and years, whenever I’ve thought of him, which hasn’t been that frequently, the word Harold Parker has always called forth is “stentorian.” This morning I looked it up, and the family Merriam-Webster puts it under is “loud,” which is not where I go with this word.

When M-W starts splitting hairs, this is how they define stentorian: it “implies great power and range.” And that’s where I put Harold Parker — or at least his speaking voice.

Because my dad was a professor, many of his colleagues were “doctors,” holders of doctor of philosophy (PhD) degrees. To me and my friends, most of these people were nonetheless referred to as “mister” or “missus.” One man, not particularly well-liked, insisted people refer to him by his title of doctor and would correct them if they got it wrong. (His word: Pompous, generally followed by “ass.”) But without even trying, Harold Parker just always came across as Dr. Parker.

I’m pretty sure “whimsy” was not a word Dr. Parker was familiar with, nor would he approve. He always seemed a very stern fellow (unlike most of the other people who had offices alongside my dad’s in Crawford Hall), and while my dad was known for inserting Star Trek references into his lectures, I doubt there were any extraneous references of any sort in Dr. Parker’s classes. Unless maybe it was the word of God.

When Dr. Parker was not elucidating history to students, he was bringing the word of the lord to his flock in Lake City. I don’t recall the denomination of the church (Presbyterian, possibly), but I amused my father no end when I confused two Lake City landmarks and called the cannibal’s site “Packer’s Place” and referred to the church as “Parker’s Misery.”

I never heard any of either my dad’s or Dr. Parker’s history lectures —

[One of the great regrets of my life came after my dad had died and a student graciously offered his tape recordings of that semester’s class. Inexplicably, we turned this offer down. I deeply wish one of my dad’s colleagues would have accepted the offer on our behalf and tried again later when wounds weren’t so raw.]

— and the closest I got to Dr. Parker’s bully pulpit in his church came when a high school principal, alarmed at the high incidence of pregnancies in the school, wanted to implement some basic sex ed. Furor ensued, of course, and the issue ended up in front of the school board, an entity I reported on for the Gunnison Country Times.

Something like 80 people spoke at that meeting, and of them, I remember two: one of Tia’s friends, from a conservative, religious family, courageously stood up and said she thought it was important for the schools to teach this because students might not get this information at home. The other was Dr. Parker, opposed to the plan, who stood up and — in stentorian tones — proclaimed, “We are not cows and bulls in the pasture.” That’s a direct quote, all these years later.

With that, I am turning this over to Jim Baril. At his memorial service a couple of weeks ago, his son read an excerpt from an undated essay he and his sister had found, they think written perhaps 20-25 years ago. The family also offered copies of a more extensive excerpt for people to take with them, and I finally got around to reading it this last weekend.

In this section, Mr. (never Dr., and I mean that most affectionately) Baril was recounting a memory from his long teaching career:

The sad memory from my teaching days concerns the death of a colleague, Chuck Livermore. Chuck was a teacher with one of the most charming and disarming wits I’ve known, and though he had been diagnosed with and was suffering from an incurable liver cancer, he never lost his delight in expressing that wit.

One example. Shortly after he’d learned of his condition, he and I were working at his desk on a scholarship application. It was for a student seeking a double major in English and history and Chuck and I were her advisors. Harold Parker, from across the hall, took the opportunity to drop in and express his sympathy to Chuck. Harold, like Chuck, taught history and he was also a minister for a church in Lake City.

“I’m sorry to hear about your health, Chuck,” he began, but then said something that unsettled me and, I thought, might upset Chuck — though I suppose it was an entirely appropriate remark for a minister to make.

“So, Chuck,” he said, “have you made your peace with God?”

Without batting an eye, Chuck looked up at Harold. “I didn’t know we had quarreled,” he said.

Mr. Baril went on to report that while he found this funny, Dr. Parker was a bit taken aback. Nonplussed, probably. I had no idea this was in the essay, nor had I ever heard this story before, and I laughed out loud when I read it. But as I told my salsa sibling Wendy before I read it to her, this is so much funnier if you actually knew Dr. Parker. We are not cows and bulls in the pasture.

The last time I saw Dr. Parker, I was at the senior care center, visiting someone else. He was a resident there, stricken with Alzheimer’s, and I’d heard more than one person speculate that he would have hated to be there, fearful of appearing undignified. But the last day I passed him in the hall, he was in the thick of a lecture to his students. While I’m sure we would all rather have our wits about us, this did not seem undignified. It even seemed like it ought to make him happy. His voice wasn’t as large and commanding as it had once been (never just “loud,” Merriam-Webster), but it was dignified — and still stentorian.

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