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Former maid for author has her own stories to tell

She's been a writer, teacher, speaker and a maid, so 86-year-old Idella Parker says she knows what today's kids need: a good education.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


DADE CITY -- Black History Month walked into Pasco-Hernando Community's east campus Friday night in pale yellow high heels, and she told more than 100 people in attendance that they won't be able to do what she did.

Not without going to school.

"I got by, but you can't do what I did because that was yesteryear," said 86-year-old Idella Parker, a writer, speaker, teacher and former maid for Pulitzer-Prize winning author Marjorie Rawlings. "You've got to be educated."

Parker was the featured speaker during the college's annual Black History Month celebration, held this year on the Dade City campus, 36727 Blanton Road.

Rawlings, the woman whose floors Parker scrubbed for 10 years, wrote the 1942 book Cross Creek, an autobiographical account of rural Florida, both black and white. Fifty years later Parker wrote the flip side, Idella: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' "Perfect Maid."

She has since written Idella Parker: From Reddick to Cross Creek.

On Friday night, her 86 years were hidden behind her impulse to clap and tap her heels to the tune of Wade in the Water. "All right," she said under her breath while keeping the beat.

Her speech was laced with stories about her time with Rawlings, including the three car accidents they got into or the time she refused to hem and press Rawling's dress for her because it was a last-minute request. But her talk always came back to a central theme: Get an education.

"You can't even be a garbage man if you don't have knowledge," Parker said.

More than 70 years after the fact, Parker still needs a tissue when she explains why she dropped out of school in 10th grade. It cost a quarter to take the bus to school in her small town of Reddick, just north of Ocala, she said. One day when she arrived home from school her mother had her head in her hands.

"She didn't have the money," Parker said.

So Parker went to work. Eventually she landed in the wilderness of Florida, Cross Creek. She and her boss became friends -- until company arrived and the interracial friendship was tucked away from sight.

In the more than 50 years since then, race relations have changed, Parker said, returning to her theme of education.

"All the doors are open," Parker said. "When I came along all you could do was teach school or nurse."

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