By Melodie Page, 1st dan
Today would have been my mother's 103rd birthday. She is not alive to day, but she did live to be 102 years, one month and five days. She, Hazel Leigh Whitney Parcel, was an amazing woman who had many exciting experiences in her life. She had many years to learn from her mistakes and gain tons of wisdom. In 1935, while attending a Bible institute in Denver. CO, she decided that she wanted to be a missionary to Africa after hearing an African missionary speak at her school. My father also attended the school and was also inspired by the African missionaries' talk. After graduation they decided to get married and go to Africa together. They had five children, two of which, my middle sister and myself, were born in Africa. Even though my mother probably never even heard the word "Taekwondo" until her seventies or after, she lived her life by the tenets of Taekwondo, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. There are many examples of situations in her life that she embodied these tenets.
My Mother had a strict Grandmother that she lived with during her childhood. I am sure that her training in courtesy began there. Children in those days were trained to respect their elders, say yes ma'am and yes sir, be seen and not heard and not interrupt adult conversation. My mother was also expected to do many chores around the house and to get good grades in school.
In her autobiography, A Clay Pot Named Hazel, my mother describes some of her experiences at the Bible Institute. "To help us learn to work with different types of people, students changed roommates every two months". The only way you can get along with new roommates every two months is to have a fair amount of courtesy in your personality.
Later on in her life our family traveled a lot when we were back in the United States in order to raise financial support for the missionary work. We visited a lot of churches where we children were trained to be polite to the members of the congregation, and the hosts that put us up for the night. We were always to eat what was put in front of us and be grateful. My older sisters remember also being tacitly required to help in any way possible. My Mother led by example. My mother also never wanted to impose or cause extra work for people that hosted us. She would take our own sheets and towels to use so that extra laundry would not have to done by our hostesses.
When my mother decided to become a missionary, she also decided to become a nurse in order to help the people she would minister to, medically. After returning to the United States permanently, she worked in hospitals wherever we lived and was the main breadwinner for the family. We finally settled in Wichita, Kansas in1967 after living in Nebraska and New Mexico after our return from Africa. She worked at St. Francis Hospital in the intensive care unit. Evidently, one day she gave the wrong dose of medication to a patient with no dire consequences. Apparently she didn't tell anyone at that time. When my mother was 98 my sister who she lived with, noticed she was receiving a lot of mail with an R. N. In the return address. R. N. Stands for registered nurse. My sister asked her what was going on but my mother only said, "Maybe I'll tell you some day." After Mom died my sister had to go through her papers and found these letters and read them. That was when my sister was able to determine the whole story. The mistake had been weighing on my Mom's mind so she decided to confess. She wrote a letter to the head of nursing at St. Francis hospital.
Upon receiving the letter, the head of nursing decided to read the letter at the next department meeting. She encouraged the nurses at the meeting to write to my Mom and share the mistakes they had made in their careers. Mom must have cherished these letters because she kept them the rest of her life.
My Mother persevered through so many challenges in her life. In her twenties she set three main goals for her life. She wanted to be a mother of a large family, she wanted to be a nurse and she wanted to be a missionary to Africa. Before my mother and father got married she started nurses training in Colorado Springs. He was living in Denver and they saw each other rarely. But in 1940 they got married and started their family. My oldest sister and only brother were born in quick succession. Mom never complained but she always had difficult pregnancies. Yet she went ahead and experienced five of them (lots of nausea) so that she could have a large family. That's almost four years of complete misery. It takes perseverance to get through that!
Having children interfered with Mom and Dad's planned departure for Africa, but they were finally ready to go when they discovered that children were not being issued passports because of the war. Dad was urgently needed to help with the mission work so the hard decision was made that Dad would go on to the Congo and Mom would stay here in the United States with the children until the war was over. She had one more year of nurses training to complete so she went San Bernardino where she had friends who would care for my brother and sister while she attended school.
Nurses training wasn't easy back then. It was a 24/7 endeavor. They would work an eight hour shift and attend classes and study and try to get a little sleep all in one day. That's not including having to starch and iron uniforms, whiten shoes and don those white stockings (seams perfectly straight). Mom lived at the school and got to see her children on weekends sometimes.
Finally the war was over and Mom and my brother and sister were issued passports to travel to the Congo. Mom had finished her last year of nurses training and had graduated and passed her boards. At last she was a full-fledged registered nurse! After packing, getting immunizations, and some French lessons Mom and my siblings traveled to New York City by train where they were to fly to Africa on Pan Am. Dad had purchased the tickets in the Congo because the price was better, but upon reaching the New York ticket office they were told there were only reservations for one child. After much communication between New York and Congo the matter was apparently resolved. Mom had planned a weekend trip to Philadelphia to visit old friends before leaving for Africa. While there she received word that all planes of the type she was scheduled to fly on were grounded due to a tragic accident in one of them. All that type of airplane were out of service until it could be determined what caused the accident.Pan am had nothing else available because the war had just ended and planes were in short supply. Mom and the kids were stuck in New York for seven weeks until Pan Am could finally put them on a plane bound for Liberia.
After flying by way of Labrador, Ireland, and Portugal they finally landed on the continent of Africa in the city of Casablanca. They still had to fly to Liberia but after stopping there to let off the other passengers the plane flew on to Kinshasa, Congo.
From there they were to fly to Bukavu where Dad was waiting for them. However as soon as they got to Kinshasa they were told that they had just missed the flight and it only went once a week. So they waited a week and went back to the airport to continue their journey. However they weren't allowed to board the plane because supposedly one of the children's fares had not been paid even though my Dad had bought tickets for one adult and two children originally. Evidently this mistake had not been taken care of in New York as had been thought. Unbelievably my Mom and siblings had to wait another week to get to Bukavu and to my Dad. I am still not sure if they ended up paying for an extra child or if it finally got straightened out.
My Mother could easily have given up at any of these setbacks and decided just to stay home in the US. She could have sent word to my Dad that she wasn't coming and that he should make arrangements to come home too. But no she did not. She had her goals and she did not waver. I am sure she felt discouraged and exhausted at times but she kept pressing on until she made it ti the Congo.
One of the areas of my life where I struggle with self control is eating too much. If my mother struggled with this She was able to control it. She was never overweight her whole life. She would eat small portions and often would not eat both pieces of bread when eating a sandwich. She worked very hard cooking on a wood-burning stove, ironing with flat irons, and washing clothes with wringer washer that had a handle agitator. She was always up early to start her day of work. Even in her nineties when she came to visit me she would do cooking and cleaning for me while I was at work. One day when she was not feeling well because of her angina she apologized to me for not doing housework that day. "I'm afraid I didn't get much accomplished today" she said to me when I got home. Of course I told her that she did not have "accomplish" anything at any time during her visit but being idle just wasn't in her makeup. In her 100th year she decided to write a book about her life. She worked diligently almost daily to get it finished "in time" before she passed but made it and saw it published a year before her death. In the week I spent with her before her death she mentioned that she had two other books planned that she had hoped to write.
Indomitable spirit is closely tied to perseverance and my Mom had plenty of both. One of my favorite incidences showing Mom's indomitable spirit involved our German Shepard dog. His name was Nippy and the only thing he loved more than my Mom was chasing goats. The African men owned lots of goats and goats were their bank accounts. The goats were mainly used for trading and were especially useful for buying wives. One unfortunate day Nippy caught a goat and ripped its belly open. Men armed with spears came to our house and demanded that we turn Nippy over to them so they could kill him. The goat wasn't dead yet and my quick thinking Mom made a deal with the men. If she could save the goat then they would not kill Nippy and we would ensure that he would not chase anymore goats. They brought the injured goat to her and she sprinkled some penicillin powder in the wound and stitched the poor creature back together. The goat lived and our dog was saved! He did have to wear a muzzle for awhile after that until he understood that goats were off limits.
My Mother was so determined to help the Africans and to serve her family that she labored day in and day out for years. The list of the things she did just goes on and on.
She did all the things a Mother usually does for her children, cooking, feeding, bathing, cleaning, changing diapers ( cloth ones), laundry, and sewing clothes for all of us on a treadle sewing machine. Then there was her medical clinic where she stitched up wounds, treated diseases, dispensed vitamins and worm medicine, administered vaccinations, and delivered babies. She wrote primers and song books for the Africans in their language, Kilega, and had them printed. She taught school to the children. She translated portions of the Bible into Kilega. She trained young men in the rudiments of first aid to help her in the clinic. Our family would sometimes travel to other villages and I would "help" Mom tell Bible stories to the children with paper figures of Bible characters and a flannel covered board. On Sunday's she would teach Sunday school to the Africa kids and play the piano for the singing during the church service. The indomitable spirit she showed to get out of bed every day and work so hard is just unbelievable.