Rex Nelsons Southern Fried Podcast: Growing Rural Arkansas

I remember when Stan Parris played football in the late 1960s at what's now Henderson State University. Though I was a fan of the Ouachita Baptist University Tigers across the street, my father and I attended Henderson games on days when Ouachita was playing out of state or on those glorious doubleheader Saturdays when both teams had home games in Arkadelphia.

Growing up within walking distance of the Ouachita and Henderson football stadiums allowed me to see a lot of skilled athletes.

I lost track of Parris for many years, but to say he has lived an interesting life is an understatement. The Hope native was an All-American football player and wound up in training camp with the NFL's Buffalo Bills. After coaching high school football for a time, Parris became a Southern Baptist minister. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at Fort Worth and pastored churches in Arizona, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

At Little Rock's massive Immanuel Baptist Church, Parris was the missions minister, helping lead 52 international mission trips. He later ended his full-time ministry back in the town where football had once been No. 1 in his life, serving as pastor of Arkadelphia's Second Baptist Church until retirement in November 2016.

While shopping at Walmart, Parris began writing posts on Facebook titled "Walmart Words." Friends enjoyed the slice-of-life vignettes.

"I could never go to Walmart without something happening," Parris says. "So I began writing about my experiences. Friends said I should collect these in a book, but I asked myself if I really wanted Walmart shopping trips to be my legacy."

Parris had kept extensive notes during the mission trips, and those turned into subjects he decided to write about in retirement.

"I also began writing stories about people who had impacted my life," Parris says. "I started with my mom and dad."

Parris contacted a friend from his college days, Dennis "Bubba" Byrd, a retired Arkansas newspaperman. The result is a new book titled "Just Outside of Hope." It's equal parts inspirational and informational as a talented athlete and minister also proves to be a good writer. Byrd, meanwhile, remains a fine editor.

"This book was just words on a page until I asked Dennis for help," Parris says. "His years of experience in writing and editing weren't the only reason I reached out to him. We've been friends since college and we've had similar spiritual pilgrimages."

Parris grew up on Melrose Lane near Hope. The mailing address was Rural Route 4, Box 304.

"Ours was the first house after you turned onto the dirt road that ran alongside Long's Gulf station and grocery store," he writes. "When I say dirt road, think dust--red dust--especially during the hot, dry months of summer. Being an only child and living in the country, I became highly creative at making up games and using my imagination.

"When I was 4, Mother nailed a basketball goal at just the right height onto the large shade tree in front of our house. I would spend hours shooting baskets, making up names for imaginary players and competing in tournaments. Each player had a name and position on the court, and when I shot from that position, in my mind I was that person. I used the unique shooting style I had assigned to him."

Parris was also a regular at Long's.

"Mom bought groceries in town on Friday when she got paid, but we were always running out of something," he writes. "So I would ride my bike down the red dirt road, pick up the milk and bread and ask Mrs. Long to charge it. She would write it down on a small tablet. She would place the Borden milk in one small brown paper bag and the short loaf of Holsum bread in another.

"There was a real art to rolling and wrapping the top of a paper bag around a handlebar grip and riding your bicycle without wrecking or smashing the bread. I was a master at it."

The store was a gathering spot for older men who liked to talk about fox hunting.

"Mrs. Long was always behind the wooden counter, but most of the time Mr. Long would be sitting with the men in the small circle of chairs just behind the Coke box," Parris writes. "I can still visualize the store, and I can remember standing in front of the candy counter peering through the glass, wondering what Mother would do if I bought a Payday and asked Mrs. Long to put it on the tab."

After Parris' mother died, his father sold the house and land, saying it had "served its purpose" and that it wasn't "the same without her."

"The house has been moved to another location, the large oak tree in front of the house was struck by lightning and had to be cut down, the woods on the backside of the property were turned into pasture, and even some of the pine trees my dad and I planted in the front yard when I was 10 have been removed," Parris writes. "He was right. It's not the same.

"Even now, however, when I drive by our old home place, I can still envision it the way it was when it was Route 4, Box 304 on Melrose Lane, or as my dad would always say, 'just outside of Hope.' The Baptist church where I received Christ as my savior is still located a half-mile up the road, but almost everything else in the neighborhood is different."

Parris says he was seated at a church in Russia waiting to preach in 2000 when he thought to himself: "This is a long way from Hope."

"Then the thought occurred, 'but Hope is not that far from me,'" he says. "In that moment, I began to reflect on the goodness of God, the faithfulness of my parents and the wonderful memories of my childhood."

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at

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