Caroline Parke has covered a long distance in a short time.
After surviving a traumatic home invasion in 2019, Parke took to strumming her guitar to find some peace and tranquility in the harmony of the chords. Strumming led to songwriting and recording, and through her album “The Road” she is nominated for five International Singer Songwriter Association (ISSA) awards.
Caroline lives in Tulliby Lake, north of Lloydminster.
She had written a couple of songs before, but she had set the guitar aside over the past three years to concentrate on learning the fiddle.
“I was really heavy into the fiddle,” she said. “And then we had that attack and afterwards I would just be a zombie during the day because I wasn’t sleeping well at night. I was always looking out the windows to see if there were people out in the yard, day and night.”
Caroline and her husband had been asleep on the night of the attack. At 2:30 in the morning, he got a call from his sister saying some people had been banging on her windows and were in her yard.
The police had been called, but he went over to see if he could help.
While he was away, Caroline looked out from her house and saw that someone was in her vehicle. Her father-in-law came over to search the property, and while Caroline was out on the front deck a woman jumped out of the flower beds and came at her with a knife.
“She tried to stab me in the face many times. I was knocked down on the deck, and then she ran into the house and slammed the door. And at that point I thought, oh my God, my kids are asleep in their beds.”
Caroline busted the front door open. She and the attacker fought—Parke armed with a flashlight, the other woman with a knife.
“I ended up jerseying her and beating her over the back of the head with my flashlight until she dropped her knife and gave up. She was barefoot, and at that point she had no shirt on, and she started crying and saying I can’t call the cops on her because they’re going to take her kids away again.
“I grabbed a hoodie out of my front porch closet. I put the hoodie around her and helped her up to sit on the bench. And I gave her a hug and started talking to her about alcoholism and how she’s not the first and she won’t be the last, you know, like you can stop drinking any time.
“And I got her calmed down and talking about her two kids—that she didn’t have, I found out later.”
Her husband showed up and guarded the woman until the RCMP came and took her away.
In the time after the attack, “I couldn’t really relax. I was always in a state of panic,” Caroline said. “I switched to just doing the basics, you know, just providing meals.
“I really couldn’t talk to my kids. Because of their ages they all talk at the same time, and you have to be able to hold multiple conversations. I was not able to do that. So I would just cook dinner and go in the bathroom and close the door and leave my husband to deal with them.
“I would have just a few moments during the day where I could just relax and strum my guitar. And that’s how I started songwriting. I’d have 45 minutes of peace where all that terror just dissipated and I was able to just write a song, and quite often I would write it to completion in one sitting.”
Although Caroline’s pivot to songwriting came from a dark and terrifying event, they are not angry songs. Instead, they come from her time of reflection and her desire to express joy and even gratitude.
“There’s one song called Thirty Below. And I don’t know if you remember the winter of 2018, but it was 30 below from Christmas probably right till the middle of March. So that’s a really Albertan song I think,” she said.
“The last song on the album is a ‘sending song’ called Blooming in the Sunshine. And it’s about gratitude, knowing that sometimes we have things that we deeply regret and we don’t think we deserve certain things. And once in a while you look around at your life and think, how did I end up with this awesome life?”
Caroline is nominated for five ISSA awards: Female Rising Star if the Year; International Album of the Year; Female Singer of the Year; Female Songwriter of the Year; and Female Emerging Artist of the Year.
The top 15 finalists are determined by fans and listeners, and the winners are selected by a panel of the previous year’s recipients. “It’s songwriters assessing songwriters, which is kind of a neat concept,” Caroline said.
The voting is open until April 30, and the awards will be presented in Texas in August.
“I’m really happy that I got the International Album of the Year and the International Single of the Year nominations,” she said. The nominated single, “Oklahoma Between,” wasn’t written until the album was in its final stages.
Her last step of approving the album for release—checking the cover art—came at an inauspicious time.
“The album was actually finalized online the same day of the trial,” Caroline said.
“It was a one-day trial in Vermilion. So while I was waiting to testify, I was on my cell phone approving the album design for the cover. That was really pivotal and ironic that, after weeks and weeks of talking with the company that was doing my album design and printing the CDs and stuff, they sent me the proofs that morning.”
Caroline’s attacker was sentenced to three years. She will be released in August 2021, probably to face more charges in Saskatchewan, Caroline said.
“I thought once the trial was done and she got her sentence, and my album was done, I would just go back to fiddling. And then I surprised myself and I just kept writing and writing and writing. I wrote three songs the week before the trial that are not on the album. They will be on my next album. So yeah, kind of a surprise to me,” she said.
She said with just nine years in her community, she stands out a bit among the farmers and ranchers who are known for keeping a stoic silence about their feelings.
“Most of the people I know, especially in the farming communities, are not as open to being vulnerable and they’re quite reserved and private. And so that’s been an interesting challenge for me living here. I’m a different kind of breed than the farmers around here. I’m pretty comfortable sharing my journey,” she said.
Her next album, due this fall, will be firmly in the country vein. Caroline plans to follow it up in the spring with what she describes as a “hippie folk” album.
“I feel like there’s a bit of a lack in the folk department in recent years. Everything’s pop music, pop sounds,” she said.
“So I’m going to do a Western and then a full hippie album. I hope, being able to listen to my music and hear the words, and listen to the stories for what they are, I hope people can find an appreciation for that.”