Chances are if you visit Signature HealthCare, you will be greeted with singing by two of its residents. A tape recording of Preston and Blanche Parris’ singing a duet is often played over the speakers at the facility to the enjoyment of the residents, staff and visitors.
Blanche, who will be 90 in September, and Preston, 94, are celebrating their 72nd wedding anniversary this month. They married in 1941, two years after meeting, and have lived in Cleveland since. “I still have a pretty good mind at 90,” Mrs. Parris said, laughing.
They met at the old Assembly Tabernacle on Central Avenue — right on the corner, Blanche said — when she was only 15. She and a girlfriend came to church and Preston came with the other girl’s boyfriend to walk her home. The boys waited outside and when they started off, Preston began walking with Blanche.
Two years later, the couple married. She was 17 and he was 4 years older. The Parrises had two children — Linda and Randy. Their daughter died of breast cancer when just 53.
At age 14, Blanche worked in a family home and took care of two little girls. She did laundry on a rub board, starched the girls’ dresses and the husband’s white shirts and cleaned house — for $2 week. But she said she learned from her employer — from what she expected.
She remembered washing clothes at home in the backyard in summer and in the kitchen in winter, getting water from a well. Her mother had a big washpot which was heated outside.
“We were poor, but honest,” Blanche said.
Blanche went to work at Hardwick Woolen Mill when 16 — she told them she was 18. She did her job well, but quit when she went to work in sales for Dobson Merchandise. The teenager worked in the department store and was trusted so much, she was actually left in charge in the manager’s absence to take care of money.
Then after their children were older, she began selling beauty cosmetics for Beauty Control and teaching classes in skin care and makeup.
When complimented on her youthful skin, the young nonagenarian said her mother had good skin, which “gave me a good start naturally,” she explained. “Even in my early teens, I wanted to look good.” She said her mother never used any skin care products.
If Parris seems a familiar name, you would naturally associate it with roofing. Preston, who worked for Brown’s Foundry, began his business on the Parris’ back porch (with gutters) when their children were small — a business which evolved into roofing and worked out of the back part of the foundry building. With his retirement from his own business, his son bought Parris Roofing and now it is run by Randy and grandson David.
“We have had a good life — enjoyed it,” Blanche said. The Parrises joined Cloverleaf Baptist Church when young and Preston served as choir director. “He loved it,” she said. “He loved to sing.”
She added that he didn’t have musical training, but had an ear for music and a natural voice talent. And, oh yes, she sang too. “I couldn’t sing like he did,” she said, “but I could carry a tune and harmonize — sing pretty good.”
They agreed their marriage was meant to be — “we just walked into it.” There was no formal proposal, Blanche added.
She divulged her secrets of a good marriage: “Give and take — and most important, being faithful.”