Chick Parsons, Genuine Old-Timer
By Peter Parsons
When the four Parsons brothers reminisce about their father, “Uncle Chick,” (* footnote) it is surprising how different their memories of him are.
MICHAEL, the oldest brother, remembers Chick’s bringing home a baby elephant one day well before the war. This was when he was manager of Luzon Stevedoring Company and living on Roberts Street in Pasay in a huge house with extensive back lawn that ended at Dewey Boulevard. Manuel Quezon and family lived next door.
Mike’s story is that a circus had come through town and could not pay all of its port fees. The management gave our dad an elephant as part of the final payment. Mike also remembers wryly that Katsy, our mom (Katrushka Jurika of the Zamboanga Jurikas), very shortly had Chick remove the poor animal to some other, more distant location.
MY EARLIEST memories of my dad indicate a lot of horse activity in our lives. I used to stand near the hobby horse cage at a polo club, probably Los Tamaraws (sp?), and watch him hit the wooden ball for what seemed like hours.
Chick often took the whole family riding on the beach at Baclaran in the late afternoons. He taught us how to say “Mariveles” (“It sounds a little like ‘marbles.’”) on these rides, and Corregidor, Cavite, Bataan. He warned us to watch out for mudfish because if a horse stepped on one it would buck and kick out. Katsy’s horse soon illustrated just what he meant, stepped on a fish, bucked and took off down the beach, Chick in hot pursuit.
PATRICK says that Chick often told him that the happiest days, the happiest moments of his and Mom’s lives together were those early days in the late 1920s spent in Zamboanga. Chick was managing a lumber yard at Panabutan for the Myer Muzzal company. He often had dealings with Stefan Jurika who had a trading company in Zamboanga.
As our Uncle Tom Jurika puts it, “It was not long before Chick began paying a lot of attention to one of my older sisters, Katrushka.”
The wedding took place in October of 1928. At that time my father’s true age was 28, although his parents had faked a birth certificate in Tennessee showing him to be two years younger. Ironically, this is the only document I have run across (except for his prisoner exchange papers for the Italian ship Conte Verde, out of Shanghai in 1942) where Chick entered his true year of birth, 1900. And equally ironic is the fact that Katsy’s birth year was listed as 1910 instead of the correct 1912– the only document where her birhdate is misstated! She was shown to be 18 years old whereas she was in fact 16. The only family witness to the marriage was Tom Jurika, Stefan and his wife Blanche having been called away on medical emergency.
One of the best letters we have found in Chick’s collection is the one he sent the Bishop of Zamboanga reminding him of the time of the marriage, requesting him to be there on time. He assured the prelate that he, Chick, would be there on time himself. Uncle Tom says that Katsy was late!
WHAT BROTHER JOE remembers most about Chick are the post war years the two of them played so much golf together. They had a long-lasting bonding on the golf course and became very close. Joe says that “Dad was my hero and my best friend.” They were quite a combo and took not a few chits from unbelieving and often unsuspecting opponents. Joe eventually became a scratch player and Chick’s game, in spite of his love for it, began slipping, as did Chick himself. Eventually he was reduced to merely walking the courses with his nurse and enjoying the afternoon breezes and sunsets. The year of his death is without doubt, 1988.
LEWIS E. GLEECK once wrote rather disparagingly, I thought, that Chick was not really an “old-timer” in the Philippines, but that his wife was since she was a Jurika. Her father Stefan Jurika had come out in the Spanish American War and decided to stay and make his fortune in the islands, specifically in Zamboanga.
I am happy to say that Chick came to the islands in 1906, with a brother of his mom’s (Etta Searcy). This uncle, Oscar Searcy, had been enticed to join another uncle, Moody, who had come earlier in the “SpanAm” War and also decided he liked what he saw. This was actually a return to the islands for Uncle Oscar, for he too had been in the Spanish American War eight years earlier.
Chick lived with Uncle Oscar and his wife, Aunt Tot, on Calle Real in Intramuros, went to school a few blocks away behind San Augustin Church at the Sta. Potenciana School. Chick called it that, but it was not the original school of that name, in fact a school taught by nuns in order to preserve the virginity and marriage-worthiness of proper young women from Spain. Chick’s school was in the same location as the old girl’s school. Sharing a part of this location was the Health Department of the new American Civil Government—where Uncle Oscar was employed. There young Chick took all his classes in Spanish for three years until he returned on Uncle Oscar’s first home leave in 1909. So I reckon this makes him a genuine old-timer.
When he finally began telling us about those days, a couple of years before his death, he talked mostly about Uncle Moody whom he seemed to like more than Oscar. Moody did a lot of hunting, he owned an automobile. He had investments in Zamboanga, and–horrors–he had married a local woman.
Chick always told us that this woman was from the Meer family of Batangas, and that her father went on to become an official in the Bureau of Internal Revenue. But in the correspondence surrounding Moody’s death, it turns out the woman was from Leyte. Oscar, on home leave in the States cabled that the death proceedings be delayed until his return. But the reply was that the widow appeared with a certificate of marriage between her, Marie Daylo of Tacloban, and Moody. She showed up at the funeraria, took Moody’s body away; and no one knew where he was buried but a researcher has sent me a photo of a gravestone in Shelbyville, Tennessee, bearing his name. I am guessing that the body was found, retrieved and delivered to the States for subsequent burial there. It is possible, however, that the stone was placed in the cemetery sans the human remains which might remain somewhere in the Philippines!
Oscar was fit to be tied. He had forbidden young Chick to visit Moody, but Chick snuck over there often and said he liked the woman. In the American community, poor Moody was considered a “squaw man,” and was somewhat ostracized.
What Mr. Gleeck, and everybody else (including Chick’s own wife and sons!) knew was that Chick had gone out to Manila in 1921 and gotten a job as one of Governor General Leonard Wood’s secretaries. This is true, but he had been out earlier, had returned to his family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, finished high school there and took on all kinds of employment until he got restless as an adventuresome 21-year old.
His employment after high school, where he excelled in typing and shorthand, as well as Spanish, included a stint with the DuPont Company in Delaware as a master stenographer. It was there that he somehow acquired a tattoo of an eagle whose wingspan covered his whole chest, left to right, and in whose talons were the flags of eight countries. It was said to have cost “less than a decent breakfast.” When the Japanese were chasing him throughout the Philippines in WWII, he had to keep his shirt on at all times.
He and a pal, Charles Strom (of California), worked their way out to the Philippines on a freighter in 1921. In Manila Chick decided to jump ship, but the other Charles stayed aboard and returned to the States. The plan had been to earn enough money on the voyage to pay for college education.
Chick was a particular favorite of Wood’s because “I was not a repeater.” This meant that Chick got down the Governor’s words on the first go-around. He got so that he could perfectly render the Governor’s signature and often was given permission to type letters, sign them and send them off without further ado. He lived in Malacanang Palace where he was pretty much treated as a son by the Woods. It was the Governor who taught Chick how to ride horses.
He was never to finish college, as much as he valued education, as he began to take on increasingly important jobs in the private sector upon leaving Wood in 1923. A check of the records on all the campuses of the University of Tennessee does not show him enrolled there at any time. He nearly finished a term at UP where he took night classes in commerce, but we have a letter from him to the University asking for a refund on the incomplete semester. He was off for Zamboanga! His life was picking up steam and there was no stopping him.
* Footnote: Chick Parsons was known to many people in both pre-war and post war Manila as “Uncle Chick.” All the kids in the Pasay neighborhoods where Chick and Katsy were raising their first three boys, Mike, Pete and Pat, called him Uncle Chick. Both Mike and Pete remember complaining to their parents about this and thus got permission to call their dad what everyone else called him. [At the same time, Mom became Katsy.] During WWII he was known to his peers and comrades as EL Chico, but that is a different story.