Robert Lee Parmelee 1919-2011
Arthur Hugh, Leander Burton, Timothy Truman, Timothy, Mark, Job, John, John

Muskogee (Okla.) Phoenix, Oct 14, 2006


By David Gerard

Muskogee, OKLA. -- "So what are we going to do about Bob?"

Bob Parmelee is still living in his car, and this past week, we at the Phoenix received several calls asking what we should do about Bob. The callers, Bob’s neighbors, were concerned this time not about summer’s heat, but how Bob, who is 87 years old, will be able to take winter’s cold, living and sleeping in his car. (Photo credit: Jennifer Lyles)

This past summer, Bob, left, joined the ranks of America’s homeless, which according to some estimates, totals about 3 million men, women and children. Bob doesn’t fit the typical notion of a homeless person – somebody who wanders from one place to another. Bob won’t leave one place – the place where his home had stood on Arline Avenue. The house was falling in. Neighbors complained about its deteriorating condition. The city condemned it, worried that one day a collapsing roof and ceilings would kill Bob.

The city arranged for Bob to move into Honor Heights Tower and demolished his house. But Bob wouldn’t go to the living center. He wanted to stay where his house had been, where he lived for the last 30 years, where he lived for 13 of those 30 years with his wife, Ada, who died from cancer in 1989, where his horse, Stormy Moon Chick, still lives in a small shed and pen.

When Phoenix reporter Liz McMahan wrote a story in extremely hot August about Bob sweating it out in his car on his Arline lot, kindhearted citizens arranged for Bob to move into a house located south of town on a parcel of land that had room for Stormy. The compassionate citizens even said they would build a shed there for the horse.

Bob told McMahan that he didn’t know there were so many good people in the world — Bob obviously had lost some faith in humanity with the loss of his wife and with whatever else happened over the last 15 or 16 years to diminish his sense of belonging and brotherhood in the human race. But Stormy never got there, and Bob stayed two days at the property south of town. Then he drove his car back to Arline, and he’s been there since.

Now, winter is approaching. Temperatures dropped into the 30s one night this past week, and neighbors are calling, asking what’s going to happen to Bob. And Bob, who said earlier he was just waiting to die, is getting weaker, thinner and more frail. His hearing is almost gone. I called his name loudly when I went to see him this past week, and he never seemed to hear. He was jerking in his sleep inside his station wagon, and as I started to leave, he opened the car door and spit. Then he shut the door and was back to sleep before I could get to his vehicle again.

A church congregation in town is talking about building a house in another part of town for Bob. The church wants to help Bob and give him a place in which to spend his last days. But the question is whether Bob will stay there, or whether he’ll get in his car and motor back to Arline Avenue. You’d like to think that Bob would accept the generosity of others. You’d like to think that the state could take charge of Bob – get him out of his car and into a warm building with a bed and bathroom.

I know our society believes in allowing citizens to make decisions independently, even to the detriment of their health and mind, but Bob’s gotten to the point where he’s weak in body, mind and spirit, and not making good decisions. He’s let cynicism or stubbornness smother his good senses, or else senility has.

Bob doesn’t need to be living in a car in the cold, and if he makes it through the winter, he shouldn’t be living in his car in the heat next summer. So what are we going to do about Bob?

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Update: Bob died in 2011. His obituary.

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