It was at Youth Camp that I was first introduced to Brother JL Parker. He had white hair, a friendly countenance, and an expressive tongue, verbally and physically. He had a million one liners, but he also had a way of running his tongue out of his mouth that conveyed a lot more information than any words could. I was still a teenager and I could not resist smiling when he was around. He was the Sunday School director at his church and had brought a load of teenagers to camp and stayed around as a counselor to make sure they all behaved.
I was playing guitar at that Youth Camp, probably rather poorly, but I was giving it all I had. After that first service Bro. Parker came up to me and talked about guitar. As a young person it was encouraging.
“I’ve got a Gibson The Paul guitar at the house.” He said.
“A Les Paul?” I asked, not familiar with the The Paul model.
“No.” He shook his head. “The Paul, baby.” He stuck his tongue out a little bit.
The next night as I was playing guitar, he made eye contact with me from the back of the sanctuary, and made a motion like he was playing guitar.
There was a girl that I was interested in that week at camp. When you’re a teenager, you think you’re being sly and no one notices who you like. Let’s be clear about this: old people know. Bro. Parker caught me that week right after I left off having a conversation with that girl.
“I just want you to know that I’m pulling for you son. I’m on your side, you just hang in there like a hair in a biscuit, she’ll come around.” After I was through laughing, he switched gears on me. “But let me tell you something, y’all better not be playing licky face!”
JL Parker had the unique ability to be the most affable person in the room without losing the respect of the people he was leading. He was serious about things that were important, and was not afraid nor ashamed to let you know it.
“I made up my mind a long time ago that I was going to be the friendliest person that I could be. If someone meets me, I want to be the nicest person that they met on that day. If you do that, you won’t have any trouble making friends.”
I moved back to Alabama in 2017 and began attending church with Bro. JL Parker. He was so full of energy, so funny. He had lost his wife a year or so earlier. “I loved that woman.” He told me more than one time. “It’s really hard to imagine losing someone you’ve lived with for forty years. I miss her every day. Being lonely is hard.” Bro. Parker could just say the facts.
For the past year or so his health has been rapidly declining. He shook my hand one night after church,“I need you to do something for me.” he said. There are some people that you are willing to do anything for.
“Yes sir.” I said, with ready ears.
“I got that old The Paul, I want you to put some new strings on it. I’ll pay you for the strings, it don’t matter what kind, your preference.”
“I have a pack at the house that won’t cost you a dime if you let me play that guitar at church one night.”
“You got a deal!”
The following Sunday I was playing the newly strung and serviced guitar during service when Bro. J.L. Parker walked across the platform during the middle of a song.
“You like that guitar?” He asked in my ear.
“Yes sir, this thing sounds great.”
“Well you can have it!” He said as he walked off.
There are few times in life where you laugh and cry at the same time. This was one of those times. If this was him showing me how much he loved me, the message certainly got through. He had a way of doing things in a big way. I glanced back to where he was now standing, and he stuck his tongue out and played a little air guitar.
Bro. JL Parker passed on to his reward today. It’s a tall task to convey the character of a man like JL Parker in any amount words, but if I could only use one it would have to be: Faithful.
JL Parker was my friend and I loved him. And I’m going to miss him.