Parma (127 Miles): Story Behind the Song


 

I remember my first visit to Parma, MO.

My first and only visit.

I took in the lush Missouri green as Gary and I sped down Highway 53, the fields of crops interrupted by old, broken-down fences and familiar small-town houses, left to someone by someone’s grandfather before everyone moved to town.

I watched each scene fly by serenely as I rested my head on the window. Peace flooded my soul that day, as the golden fingers of the sun reached through the tired stalks, setting the fields on fire, bathing us in amber.

Unexpectedly appealing.

Especially considering where we had come from, and where we were going.

It was June 5, 1999.

My honeymoon.

And we were racing to a sleepy Southern town to hold the hand of a dying man.

 

Yes, I remember the long, meandering drive to Parma, and the pleasant visit with Gary’s Uncle Dub once we arrived. It took all of three minutes to drive through the town my husband’s parents grew up in. Three minutes from one side of town to the other— maybe five to slow down and see the sights.

644086_4469616296875_881453891_nThe old abandoned café Frank and Hattie Edge used to own; Grandpa Dennington’s old house; the town square, where Grandpa Edge, on a dare, once carried a case of beer around the block on Sunday just as church was letting out.

You know, just to be ornery.

But mostly, I remember the stark white walls, the stale, sterile smell of the nursing home.

The lone black-and white picture hanging in a plain small frame, out of place on the otherwise empty wall.

So handsome. I marveled, looking from the image on the wall to the man in the hospital bed— the same face, now worn with age and struggling to hang on.

Frank Edge.

Frank & Hattie Edge (middle); w/ grandkids Gary, Gregg, & Debi Dennington

“Grandpa, this is Gary,” Gary said in his gentle, calming, Gary kind of way. “Can you feel me squeeze your hand?”

Frank’s eyes moved beneath his eyelids as he pulled at Gary’s hand, trying desperately to move a body that had given up on him.

“Don’t get up, Grandpa, it’s okay. I’m here, you don’t have to say anything.”

The old man relaxed a little, but he did not loosen his grip.

“Grandpa, I have someone I want you to meet. This is my wife. Her name is Monica.”

I said hello and it was very good to meet him, reaching out to touch his hand as I spoke. To my surprise,  he grabbed my hand with fervor, and refused to let go.

My heart rose in my chest, a lump forming in my throat at this act of acceptance. It was as if he were throwing his arms open to me— a total stranger— and saying, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

I looked up at the handsome man on the wall, then back at the frail figure clutching my hand. And as tears seeped from my eyes, my 22-year-old heart had an epiphany.

This is the same man.

I looked at Gary.

This is the same man.

Time stood still and I saw myself, old and wrinkled and dying in a bed.

This is me. This is my future.

This is my family.

Until that moment, in the ignorance of my youth, I regarded elderly people as somehow different from me.

But suddenly, my sight had changed. I had a quantum leap into the future, a look back on a long full life, and a flash of understanding that death and old age are foreigners to us all. That we’re looking out at the world with seemingly immortal 19-year-old-eyes— and by the time we catch up with the fact that mortality is gaining on us, we’re staring it in the face.

Gary continued to talk to Grandpa, and as we stood there, I felt the strength of generations flowing through this dying man’s hand to me. I felt the deep roots, coursing through the ground, reaching up to wrap around me and graft me in.

The epiphany was complete.

This is my heritage. It’s been given to me.

I’m a Dennington.

 

Lorine Dennington (middle); Lola Dennington (right); Hattie Edge (left)

December 24, 2015.

Christmas Eve.

I stood with my husband and our children, around another bed.

This time, the unpleasant smells and unfeeling walls of the nursing home had been replaced with all of the familiar sights and sounds of home. Lorine Dennington lay peacefully awake in her own bed to speak with us one last time.

She had not been out of bed much of late. But she knew we were coming for Christmas, and she rose to the occasion.

After rallying her strength to get out of bed and have dinner with us, my mother-in-law lay comfortably tucked in, propped up just enough for a little conversation.

As Gary spoke to her in his typically calming, Gary kind of way, I remembered meeting her father Frank so many years ago.

I hid my tears, knowing that God had given us the gift of this one last goodbye.

My heart smiled knowing that my mother-in-law’s children were able to let her die the way she lived— in her own home, surrounded by the people she loved.

And she did. Last Tuesday, on January 19, 2016. Just short of one year after my father-in-law, her husband of 62 years, passed away.

12553036_10208362282872622_337204434331478323_n

May God bless her soul, and the soul of my dear, sweet father-in-law who gave me this legacy as well.

Like Frank Edge, Dean Dennington also threw his arms wide open to this young little daughter-in-law. He joined us as we fed the poor in Branson, MO, and cheered us on as we preached God’s Word. He kissed my hand and made me feel like a princess, because I knew I’d been kissed by a king.

And before he died, though dementia had taken its toll, he would still grab my hand, pull me down next to his chair, and refuse to let go.

The roots are running deeper all the time.

This is my legacy.

This is my family.

I am a Dennington.

 

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Parma (127 miles)

Words and Music by Monica Dennington
{verse 1}

127 miles to Parma

But it’s okay

Slow traffic keep right

We’ll all get moved out of the way

Cause in the space of time, you know we’ll all be slowing down

So right now I will run with all my youth into your

Sleepy Southern town

{chorus 1}

To tell you, it’s all right

You know it’s gonna be okay

Don’t worry

If you’re feeling tired

Or if you can’t recall my name

Just sit awhile with me

And feel the warmness of my hand

And let those cars go by

There’s so much they don’t understand

And it’s all right

127 miles

to Parma

{verse 2}

The rain is coming down

Out here on highway 53

The crops are coming up

And they are drinking quietly

And isn’t this like us—

Your memories falling on my head

I’m growing up so strong

Raised on these tears the sky has shed

{chorus 2}

And you tell me, it’s all right

You know it’s gonna be okay

Because love lasts longer than your youth

And love is stronger than my decay

So sit ahile with me

Forgive the trembling of my hand

And let those cars go by

There’s so much they don’t understand

And it’s all right

127 miles

to Parma

{chorus 3}

And it’s all right

You know love always makes it through

And I find the courage that I need

Here on my

Journey back to you

So sit awhile with me

And feel the warmness of my hand

And let those cars go by

There’s so much they don’t understand

And it’s all right

127 miles

to Parma

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