Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Fervent Faith of First-Time Author Mary Lee Crocker Parnell

When you were young, you might have heard from your elders that if you want something enough, and if you pray about it, and ask for it to come true, that indeed your most closely held dreams can come true. Just ask 86-year-old Mary Lee Crocker Parnell of North Zulch; it may take a while, but if you have faith, anything is possible with God’s help.

Proof of fact is in the stories of many exceptional individuals and high achievers whose highest accomplishment at age 40 or 50 began as a childhood dream that they never gave up on. Astronauts, doctors, car inventors, and rocket scientists all began as children who asked “Why not me?” and "Why not?"

On Sunday, June 12th, over 50 people gathered in the Crocker Fellowship Hall of Sand Prairie Baptist Church in North Zulch, where Mary Lee was feted as a beloved church member and first-time author. You see, she didn’t write her first poem until she was 50 years old. It was a delightful message about Valentine’s Day.

In the past 36 years she’s been prolific and faithful in composing poems in honor of her faith, her family, and her coworkers throughout her life. It’s a feel-good book today, titled Down Through the Years in Poetry, published by Martin Powers Publishing in Bryan. The volume contains 75 poems grouped by topic and almost each one is based upon a Bible verse, noted, as well as the inspiration for the message.

Make no mistake. They’re not four-line verses of basic rhyme; they’re complex sentences, brilliantly composed, each one giving the reader a message of hope and a reason to believe, particularly on days when you need a lift.

Mary Lee currently resides in Bryan in a nursing community where she is making strong progress having survived a hefty battle with pneumonia. A church member drove her over from Bryan for an approved few hours away.

She was dressed in an exquisite blue maxidress, with an elegant silk floral print scarf. Her silver hair framed her lovely face that featured no wrinkles and shining brown eyes. Her shined but worn-in cowboy boots completed her ensemble.

As you might expect, there’s a story behind how this day came to be, one that includes the fastest turnaround time ever for a book to go from beginning manuscript to final product in hand—just one month.

In the Bible, several Old Testament chapters are considered poems on their own: Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs), and Lamentations.

The poems that Mary Lee writes are conversational, thoughtful compound sentences, and each tells a story important in, or to, her life. There are poems of faith in God, messages of thanks and hope for her friends and family, appreciation for good friends and coworkers in her career, holiday wishes, and superb birthday cards that defy anything that Hallmark or Carlton Cards could ever dream of publishing.

There were 75 poems in all, typed and xeroxed into a slightly aging cardstock cover coil-bound binder. There was the characteristic font of an ancient IBM Selectric typewriter and it meant that each would require retyping. Only a few cursory edits were required, and a tad of punctuation here and there. As it would turn out, they would find their own order into subject matter grouping as one-by-one, they were retyped.

In order for this dream to come true, that Mary Lee would one day hold her book of poems in her hands, the perfect pathway had to be paved, and once again powered by prayer and in God’s perfect time, things just sort of “came together” in her behalf.

Entirely unbeknownst to her, a dear lady who had met her and joined her in her pew at Sand Prairie Baptist Church in North Zulch had found herself enthralled at the positive spirit and vivaciousness of this precious octogenarian. One of Ms. Mary Lee’s favorite sayings was “Oh, my goodnesssss!” Her phrasing in a lilting voice made a simple phrase as distinct as a verse of music. It was her trademark, or one of them.

Her pewmate, Marcia, had it put on her heart to make Ms. Mary Lee’s dreams come true. She contacted her daughter Maia, an author and songwriter, about how best to go about it. Maia researched and found Ann, a skilled editor in Bryan, and she sent a blind e-mail. As it turned out, Ann was booked but suggested she’d check with a former Aggie classmate, Dawn Lee, to see if she was available and interested.

The e-mail Ann sent sounded so intriguing…a first-time author, aged 86, who had a dream of a published book of her poems. That was all it took. After a quick e-mail exchange, Maia suggested calling Marcia, her Mom, who had all the information. The next day, the phone call came, details were exchanged, and that afternoon, Marcia and I met at Tia Juanita's to review the poems and determine logistically when the project could be done and what it might cost. On May 1, it was decided that it needed to be available in about 4 weeks’ time because if it were to be introduced to the public, it would have to be before everyone scattered to the four winds for family reunions and long-awaited vacations that would occupy much of the next 12 weeks.

The plan was agreed upon and toasted with iced tea over chips and avocado dip. Our mutual plan also began a wonderful new friendship that will endure for years to come. There’s no way, by the way, that this path or timeframe is anywhere near normal, standard, or even possible, unless you are only doing one thing for 30 days. My life and my schedule are anything but predictable, by my own design and wish.

And yet everything fell into place perfectly. Why? I’d like to say it’s because Marcia reminded me constantly to begin each day with a prayer for God to “order my steps” according to His will. Ordinarly, I’m not very chatty about my personal faith with most people outside those who specifically ask me. Yet, I have to step out on a limb here and say that even though I’ve been a person “of faith” all of my life, there are times (most of them) when I tend to forge ahead on my accord, often forgetting to ask for inspiration or blessing and occasionally taking it for granted when it comes (anyway).

Marcia’s example and her gentle words were one kind of a necessary wake-up call to me, though, because things in my life were not going according to plan. Too many obstacles in a smooth path for my liking. Suddenly, the tide turned, and I found myself exhilarated by the one vision of what Ms. Mary Lee’s face would look like when she had her book in her hands at last.

One fine day we gathered at a local restaurant and Ms. Mary Lee’s niece, Joyce, joined us as the third Musketeer. These two girls were the project sponsors and the goal was simply to break even and gift people with an exciting collection of inspirational poems.

We discussed possibilities for getting the word out about the book when it was finished and how it was we would present the book to her. Phone calls, e-mails, text messages and lots of laughter over iced tea ensued for the next 3 weeks. And there sat Ms. Mary Lee entirely unaware of what was about to happen, getting stronger with PT after pneumonia.

After my printing representative pulled rabbit after rabbit out of a hat, production-wise, I imposed on graphic designer Amber’s weekend for a cover and gave her a basic description of “a compilation of Christian poems of faith, hope, and love, from a dear lady who loved nature and nature in the countryside.” She offered—"I’m seeing a field of poppies” and I knew that was inspired. Marcia requested Texas bluebonnets and boom, there they were. Formatting wizard Rhonda worked on a weekend (she never works weekends) for our goal and Marcia proofed what I'd typed and assembled: the book. Joyce planned and coordinated a special day at Sand Prairie Baptist to celebrate Ms. Mary Lee and her book, recruited her delighted sister, Judy, and other wonderful ladies of the church to contribute their special talents. There was about to be much to celebrate and give thanks for.

On Tuesday, June 7, Joyce and Marcia drove over to Bryan and we had lunch to celebrate the arrival of the books, in plenty of time before Ms. Mary Lee's special Sunday, June 12th. After lunch we traveled to the nursing rehab facility where Ms. Mary Lee was looking forward to a "surprise." The photos that follow speak better than words.

You see, Mary Lee didn’t write her first poem until she was 50 years old. Today she works to overcome severe macular degeneration in both eyes that require a special reader to even see the largest print. You’d never know it was a struggle to look at her or to hear her voice. She’s grateful for everything in her life.

Ms. Mary Lee didn’t really need a device to read her book though; she’s memorized her poems and knows them by heart. All of them. All 75. She has delighted her fellow residents at her rehab facility in Bryan by reciting several poems for them. She revealed, “God spoke to me and gave me each of these poems and then told me to commit them to memory because there could come a day when I could not read them, or my Bible, easily.”

Most all poems have an accompanying verse of scripture, indicative of the inspiration for the message. Each one is a gift to people in her family as well as those who’ve never met her.

On Sunday, June 12, over 50 people gathered at the Crocker Fellowship Hall at Sand Prairie Baptist for Ms. Mary Lee’s book signing. As I was invited to address the group and tell the story of how the book came to be, Ms. Mary Lee came up and stood beside me to be able to hear me clearly. As we stood there, arm in arm, I felt the most warm and peaceful hug that transcended this world. Time flew and I couldn’t tell you what I said in addressing the group. Marcia recorded it on her phone. Her pastor, Bro. Larry Andrews, and Music Minister Jim Graham had begun our day with an invigorating worship service that inspired the coming new week.

Joyce held the guide so Ms. Mary Lee could personally autograph her books for her friends. Her best friend from childhood, Cinda, arrived from San Antonio, in the company of two of her handsome (Aggie) grandsons who’d grown up known Ms. Mary Lee as extended family. After 7 decades of friendship, these two beloved sister-friends still talk on the phone twice a day. That fact alone made me smile for hours. When the party was done, all was right with the world, as we parted with half of our entire inventory moved in that one book signing.

The next time you think life has passed you by, all chances to turn your world around are gone, or that there’s nothing new on the horizon for you, take Ms. Mary Lee’s advice and pray about it. And prepare to see a path forward being cleared so you can achieve your heart’s desire. You may be 86 years old when it arrives, but still, there’s nothing quite as sweet as when a longheld dream comes true. It will make you want to say, “Oh my goodnessss!” when it does.

About the Book

Down Through the Years in Poetry by Mary Lee Crocker (© Martin Powers Publishing, 2022) is available for $20 per copy (includes S/H and postage). Remaining copies are going quickly, as she already has another book signing soon. Send your name and e-mail to for information if you'd like to order a copy.

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