Our Good Neighbor Parrish Rhodes

Joanie Miller

scan2-webParrish Rhodes passed away on March 13 at age 84. I know many of you knew her.  She lived in Asheville for 15 years, on Chestnut Street, and before that, Montford Avenue. When she found out she didn’t have long to live, she wrote a note to a few friends that was practical and a little irreverent. Her last line was, “Don’t pity me—I’ve had a reasonable run!” Her daughters, Heidi and Marla, flew in to help when Parrish was feeling ill, staying at her bedside. She died soon after in a hospice care facility.

Parrish was a community-minded yet independent spirit.

Joe Newman wrote:

As far as I know, she was the first in Montford to put up a Little Free Library. The first one was in the community garden at the corner of Waneta and Montford. She ordered and paid for it, and David and Leslie Humphrey of Square Peg did the carpentry, painting, and installation.

In addition, Parrish contributed to the Montford Music and Arts Festival every year, and listened to the music from her front porch. I believe she contributed what the bible calls the “widow’s mite”—a small gift that means a lot considering the modest means of the giver.

She was a cool, artistic, generous woman.

Jennifer Thomas of the former Walk-In Bakery on Westover:

Parrish found my bakery after I advertised it in the Montford News. She didn’t waste time becoming a regular and trusty customer ordering granola every week along with rye or sourdough whole wheat. She would alternate the slices of bread in the freezer for variety. Of course I would always get drawn into long conversations with her. . . . I must say that every time I saw her my encounter was always unique and stimulating. She was never banal.

But the first meeting with Parrish was about 20 years ago at the Montford laundromat which preceded Nine Mile and Pyper’s Place. Our washer was broken and I was settled in the laundromat for several hours. She was there hanging out waiting for her laundry, sketching or reading or just being friendly.

An Accomplished Woman of Many Interests

Lively and inviting, cussing hard and laughing harder, Parrish was a beautiful tribute to creativity and original thinking. She was comfortable living alone. That said, she very much enjoyed a good conversation, about cooking, jazz, painting, movement, books, or the environment and our carbon imprint. She was adamant that we as a community should not feel powerless, and wrote to local papers about climate change, what we as a community could do, never just a complaint, always gentle, well researched, substantive.

Parrish played jazz on her keyboard with abandon, having played the piano all of her life. She was often frustrated that she couldn’t find difficult enough sheet music. Her daughter Heidi said she handled knitting the same way. Not able to find patterns challenging enough, she’d just go it alone and make them up.

From a review by Parrish on eBay:

“Probably my favourite collection of all times. Almost every number makes me smile with delight – Pascal Wetzel’s transcriptions are luscious – wish I could find more from him. I leave the piano with a grin on my face and goosebumps on my arm. I only play Brubeck, McPartland, and Bill Evans now, after about 50 years of classical playing. Didn’t do a lot of grinning with Mozart or Beethoven…”

From an exhibit flyer in 2004, Asheville Gallery of Art, where Parrish’s art was being exhibited:

“Out of this World consists of a series of watercolor paintings on canvas and paper, based on views from the Hubble telescope, NASA, and other astronomical sources.

Rhodes taught herself to paint in the 1980’s to express her delight at being on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the coast of England. In the mid 1990’s she moved to New Zealand to study the Maori language. While there she began teaching watercolor classes at the local art clubs, and exhibiting and selling in local art galleries. Rhodes has painted and exhibited in England, Australia, Canada, and Germany [and more recently in Asheville and Hendersonville].

She became well known for the success of classes she taught in “right brain” drawing, basic watercolor, and experimental watercolor. Rhodes firmly believes that Betty Edwards’ “right brain” approach should be learned and taught by all elementary school teachers so that children will grow up with creativity as an integral part of their consciousness.”

Her Early Days On Stage

Heidi told me a story about when Parrish played a lead role in St. Louis Woman at the Nashville Community Playhouse in 1952. She had been courted by Nashville theatre, though any long-term success wasn’t to be realized because Parrish’s mother wouldn’t hear of it, and she had to move back home. The musical was a collaboration between Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Parrish played Lila, one of the leads. The co-authors of the book St. Louis Woman were Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen. Cullen was a black man, and when he and his wife showed up at the theatre (facts here cannot be checked—it might have been Mrs. Countee Cullen alone), they or she were not admitted entrance due to their skin color. When she heard that this was happening, Parrish refused to go on that night, until Cullen was then given a seat (although at the far back of the theatre).

Parrish Rhodes’ To Do List

Finally, I end with something Parrish’s daughter found while sorting through her things. As Heidi said, it’s more of a bucket list (this isn’t exhaustive, and I wish I could share it in her own handwriting):

  • go on a helicopter
  • hot-air balloon
  • glider ride
  • learn to sail (done)
  • have an exhibition in the U.S. (done)
  • ride Concorde First Class (crossed out because one can’t anymore)
  • ride First Class internationally (done)
  • learn to play the flute (done)
  • play piano for an audience (done)
  • own an electric car
  • ride on a Harley Davidson
  • see the whales
  • learn hypnosis
  • see/participate in a Christo happening (she wrote him a letter, but never heard back—they conjectured Christo thought she was too old)

I’m not sorry Parrish left so swiftly after her illness; she wanted it that way. But now that weeks have passed, the reality that we’re not going to have coffee (she’d say her daughters thought she made lousy coffee, but she didn’t mind!) over lively talks in her sunny living room about crazily divergent topics, we’re not going to shop at Green Life, where she would impart ideas and wisdom only a true foodie could know—those are in the past. As talented and young-hearted and worldly as Parrish was, she was also a truly comfortable person to be with. Our tattooed 84-year-old friend is gone, and I just want to say, Christo got it wrong.