Retired businesswoman Lorine Parks is a role model for living life with gusto and seizing the moments every day. Even as she wrestled with final details for the publication of her first book, she found time, all on one recent Sunday, to receive a Rotary award for her length of service, participate in a monthly poetry workshop, and then attend a theater event in support of local artists. On Thursday, June 6, Parks will realize a long-held dream and publicly present her first book of poetry, "Catalina Eddy," at a reading and book signing at the Downey City Library in the Cormack Room from 2-3 p.m. The title poem was inspired by the name of a local weather pattern beginning over Catalina Island that brings low cloud cover and foggy mornings to the mainland.
Parks has an irrepressible imagination, and given the human tendency to personify our weather with human names and attributes, one poem led to another - Mae Gray, June Gloom, Polar Flo, and the fierce relatives of hurricanes Camille, Gustavo, and Ernesto.
The result is a masterful collection of poems that grew into a noirish mystery about the Family - "meteorological guys and dolls, molls and mobsters" as poet David St. John describes them. Catalina Eddy, for example, is a small-time con man and ladies man in pearl gray spats and a fedora: "an easy midnight guy" who "frazzles your curls." Things got a little sticky for Eddy with the Mob, and Mae Gray is missing.
Weathercaster Fritz Coleman of KNBC describes her work as "A lovely treat for those of us that ponder the daily ebb and flow of the marine layer!"
For 35 years, until her retirement in 2010, Parks was the owner of Stonewood Travel, but throughout her busy life, she has always written poetry, even as a child.
Parks is a prolific writer who finds subject material in daily events and news stories. Although she studied classical literature, her first published book is fanciful and fun. Hurricane Camille is personified as a vibrant grande dame leading a conga line with swaying hips and an "ample bosom." (In 1969 Camille was the strongest of the Category 5 hurricanes.)
For Ernesto, the costliest hurricane in 2006 although only a weak tropical storm, Parks created a persona that is downright frisky. "I guess you can call me a blowhard, a guy who can't connect," he explains. Ernesto is "the one that got away but whose foreplay no one can forget."
NEW YORK CITY
Originally from a quiet suburb in Pittsburgh, Parks moved with her family to New York City when her father was transferred there by his company 1948. World War II was still fresh in everyone's mind, and the United Nations was a young organization established with the hope that it would be an effective vehicle for world peace. Parks says it was life-changing to be just seventeen and so close to the center of world history. She was drawn to the cosmopolitan nature of the city and fantasized about working at the UN. She had little idea that later choices would lead her to the life of an intrepid world traveler.
After graduating from Wellesley College in Boston, Parks returned to New York to complete a masters degree in comparative literature at Columbia. It was marriage and working for the airlines that ultimately led to the rich tapestry of her life experiences.
Parks and her husband, a doctor, lived on the Piute Reservation in Northern Nevada for a year while he completed a public health service program. She later taught at Saginaw Valley College when the family moved to Michigan.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
It was an opening at the Gallatin Medical Clinic that brought the family to Downey in 1969, and Parks truly made California her home. The family didn't just vacation and camp in the Sierras - in 1971 she and her husband and children all climbed Mt. Whitney and Half Dome! Not many natives can claim that.
As her family put down roots, Parks decided to build on her earlier experience working for Pan Am in New York and establish her own travel agency. Her first trip to Europe had been in 1957 with her husband when they took advantage of deeply discounted tickets through her work with the airline.
Europe was still rebuilding after WWII, and Parks, a young wife of 26, remembers beggar women with babies at subway stops and cathedrals in Italy. Outside of major tourist centers, she says the rubble was still in piles.
Committed to building her own agency years later in Downey, Parks prepared by going on study tours offered by the airlines and tourist ministries.
She had the rare opportunity in 1974 to spend two weeks behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. The Soviets were fiercely proud of their country and wanted more contact with the west. Parks says she filled at least thirty single-spaced journal pages, and the trip left a deep impression, despite some of the obvious official propaganda.
Her trips were often exhausting, she says, because there was little leisure time and she kept copious notes. Parks remembers one time getting back from a week in Tahiti and Bora Bora, changing clothes, and then leaving for a two-week safari in Kenya. Altogether she has been to 99 countries, and 20 times to Paris.
"For at least 30 years I had a privileged look into the complex world scene," says Parks. She had little clue when she first came to New York and was inspired by the United Nations that she would achieve such a level of familiarity with the world. Now, she says, daily headlines from places like Cairo and Jerusalem bring up memories.
Despite her business responsibilities and extensive travels, Parks always found time throughout the years to serve as a community volunteer. She was the President of the Downey Symphonic Society for many years, and still serves on the board, as well as being a board member for the Downey YMCA and the hospital.
She is a longtime member of Soroptimists, and has perfect attendance with Rotary since she joined in 1988 as one of the first four women admitted to the Downey organization. Parks is the third most senior woman in Rotary in southern California, District 9280 , which encompasses about 60 clubs.
Given her literary interests and talent, it is no surprise that Parks is the Literacy Chair for the Downey Rotary. Occasionally she can also be seen helping to staff the little book store run by The Friends of the Library.
Devoted to poetry, Parks participates in regular workshops and has served on the Board of Tebot Bach. With support from the Downey Arts Coalition, Parks curates monthly the poetry readings, Wine+Words.
Parks's book signing for "Catalina Eddy" at the Library on June 6 is free to the public. Refreshments will be served and there will an opportunity to ask questions of the author.