The first thing that strikes you about Rosemary Parsons is her height. She says she is 4-foot-7, “But you can say ‘4-8.’ ”
She has short, curled hair and glasses. Her Warsaw home is small and tidy. Vacation photos adorn the wall, and dance awards surround an 8-by-10 photo from 2010 of Rosemary dressed like a flapper with a yellow boa and tap shoes – but we’ll get to that later.
First, we have to focus on her bucket list, the item that would make most people say, “There’s not enough money in the world to make me do that.”
Rosemary turned 90 on Sept. 24. Six days later, she and her 70-year-old son jumped out of an airplane.
When Rosemary was 75, she declared she wanted to skydive for her 90th birthday.
Admittedly, she never thought she’d have to follow through. Who expects to live to be 90?
As her son, Steve Parsons, realized his mother was serious, he decided he would accompany her on the jump.
“I had to do it,” says Steve, 70, of Albion. “It wasn’t on my bucket list, that’s for sure.”
The two jumped at Plymouth Sky Sports in Plymouth. Dozens of family and friends tagged along – and stayed put on the ground – to help Parsons celebrate her birthday.
Mother and son each did a tandem skydive, which is when a novice jumper is attached to a professional skydiving instructor. Each put on a special suit and harness and was attached to an instructor before boarding the airplane.
On the flight up, Rosemary and her instructor were seated on the floor.
And she was calm.
“I tell you, a month before, I went and deposited my money. I shook,” she says. “That day, I woke up. I wasn’t a bit scared. … I’m sitting there (and I’m telling myself), ‘You’re supposed to be shaking. What’s the matter with you?’ I’m as cool as a cucumber.”
It took about 15 minutes for the plane to reach an altitude of two miles (10,560 feet), Rosemary says, and at 10,000 feet, the hatch opened.
When it came time to jump, Rosemary’s instructor stood at the hatch and leaned out. There is a bar for the novice skydiver to rest his or her feet on, but because of Rosemary’s height, she couldn’t reach the bar. Which means, as her instructor leaned out, she dangled.
And then they jumped.
Rosemary bought a video of the dive, and it shows a composed woman with a surprising amount of grace, considering the average speed of a freefall is 120 to 130 mph. She doesn’t shout or scream or curse or yell.
“It was awesome,” she says. “It was a 120-mile-an-hour wind. My hair stood straight back. I really liked to free fall … I just smiled the whole way down.”
Another jumper had cameras to take photos, and Rosemary’s professional skydiver had a camera strapped to his wrist. At one point, the other photographer asked her to blow kisses, but the wind resistance made it difficult for her to lift her hands to her mouth. In the resulting photo, it almost looks as though she is about to take a drag of a cigarette.
Though apprehensive about the jump at first, Steve says he’s happy he skydived with his mother.
“I figured if she could do it, I could do it,” he says. “It’s a 100 percent adrenaline rush when you’re up 10,000 feet and you jump out of a perfectly good plane.”
So what does a 90-year-old woman who has jumped out of a plane set as the next item on her bucket list?
“I’m afraid to ask,” Steve says.
It’s something Rosemary is certainly thinking about.
“You always have to have something to look forward to,” she says. “One gal said, ‘You could try out for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.’ ”
She won’t scuba dive – she’s afraid to put her head below water – but she does like to travel. She’s been to Europe five times, but did have to back out of a cruise around Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji the day the ship left. She needed to have triple bypass surgery.
“I still have that (cruise) on my bucket list,” she says.
Those aforementioned dance awards and that flapper get-up were from dance cruises, which she has attended for the past six years.
This year, she won a gold medal on the cruise and was named “Senior Idol,” which is kind of like being named cruise queen, Parsons says.
Parsons took up tap dance when she was 71 because she’d always wanted to learn.
“During my time, during the Depression, there was no one to come give a lesson,” she says.
She was a part of the now-defunct Dancing Grannies for 23 years, which performed tap and line dances. After the group split up – because members died or lost their drivers licenses and couldn’t make practices or performances anymore – Parsons joined Alley Kats, a local dance troupe of seniors.
“A lot of people say I inspire them to do things,” Rosemary says. “I guess that’s what I was put on Earth to do.”