This is a story of a strong resourceful North Georgia woman who was left to raise seven children and run a farm by herself after her husband died. It is told by Barbara Kerby of Cornelia, whose grandmother, Laura Parks, is the heroine of the story.
It starts with Everett Park, a Forsyth Countian who was 35 years old when he married his 19-year-old neighbor, Minnie Cantrell, in 1895. They had two sons, Calvin and Esley, but Minnie died two weeks after their daughter, Mattie, was born in 1901. The baby died 2 1/2 months later.
Everett struggled to care for his two sons and keep the farm going. Soon he visited his late wife's cousin, Laura Propes, across the Chattahoochee River in Hall County. The next day, he wrote her a letter asking permission to court her. It read in part, " ... You may think it is too soon for me to start to hunt a wife, but the sooner the better for me under the present circumstances. Hoping to get a favorable answer from you soon. I remain your friend. E.E. Park."
It certainly was soon because Laura and Everett married three weeks later. Several months later, Laura delivered premature twin girls, Della and Stella. Only Stella survived.
Within the next nine years, the couple had another daughter and three sons. When the youngest, Bill, was 5 months old, the father, Everett Park, died of pneumonia at age 54 on April 11, 1914.
Her husband's death left Laura Park with seven children to feed and clothe and crops to raise. The oldest child was Cal, 17, but with the help of the other children, the family survived and made their crops. Hoke, age 8 at the time, recalled how he and his sister Eddie and brother Lee carried heavy buckets of guano to fertilize the crops while Cal and Esley, 15, did the plowing. Daughter Stella helped her mother care for the baby Bill.
While Everett Park was alive, he insisted that his last name not have an "s" added to the end. Over the years after his death, however, the "s" was added, and the family became known as Parks.
Laura's brood of children attended Harmony Grove School, and all but Stella left home to marry and raise their own families. Stella never married.
The family sold the farm in 1937 and divided the proceeds equally among the children and stepchildren. Laura and son Hoke bought a new farm in the Mayfield Community of Forsyth County near the Chattahoochee River. A new house was built for Laura and Stella.
Several years later, construction began on Buford Dam, and the Parks farm would be inundated by Lake Lanier. As the waters began to rise near their property, the family searched for another farm, eventually resettling in 1954 in their old neighborhood of Harmony Grove less than a mile from their home of 16 years earlier.
Son Hoke could continue his dairy operation, and his mother, Laura, and her daughter, Stella, would have a small home on the property.
By this time, Laura Parks was 82 years old, still making her own lye soap in a wash pot in the backyard and churning her own butter. Though her sight failed, Granny Parks, as she had become known, continued to crochet while listening to baseball games on the radio. She had lived a full and productive life, but died in 1967 at age 94 before realizing her lifelong dream to see the ocean.
Granny Parks' granddaughter, Barbara Kerby, learned that her child would be born on July 25, 1972, 100 years to the day of her grandmother's birthday. The baby didn't come until Aug. 8, but that happened to be the wedding anniversary of her great-grandmother and great-grandfather, Laura and Everett Parks.
Naturally, the child was named Laura in honor of the remarkable and resilient Laura Parks, whose strength and determination became an inspiration for her family and all who knew her.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published Dec. 30, 2007.