Pearly Mae’s Gift & The Gift of Pearly Mae

22 01 2011

If you were asked the question, “Are you doing what you thought or hoped you would be at this point in your life” what would be your answer?  I’ll a venture a guess that a good number would have to answer no, and yes, I’m one of them!  I never had aspirations for pursuing the occupation I find myself in today. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my job, I do; but it’s a far cry from what I aimed for.  This once upon a starry-eyed dreamer had visions of producing million selling records and playing to arenas filled to the rafters with fans that had come to see and hear him perform his music.  Yes sir, dreams are good and even better when you’re able to live them out, and yes, there are some who do get that chance and to them I offer congratulations.  However, for the majority of us, well, life seldom leads down the road we hoped.  That happened to be the case also for the person who influenced my life the most during my youth.

Young Pearly Mae would sit quietly in the night, close to the big tube radio, turning it up just loud enough so as not to disturb her sleeping family.  Closing her eyes, she would be whisked away to cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Saint Louis, and Miami where the nightlife and the party never ended.  With the gala came the music; oh, that mystifying beautiful music!  Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.  She would envision in her mind the giant ballrooms where the orchestra played and singers crooned to a room full of people who had come out in their evening best, men in tuxedos and women clad in the finest dresses that were the rage of the day.  With eyes still closed and a soft smile on her face, she would envision being in the midst of the festivities, surrounded by all the fun and laughter, singing to the melody and dancing the night away with a tall dapper gent who ccouldn’t take his eyes off of her radiant beauty; so wonderful she thought.  When opportunity allowed, Pearl would go to the local movie house to take in a picture showing some of the great orchestras and singers she listened to, plus other stars of the big screen.  Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Laurence Olivier were among some her favorites.  The world that she saw on the big screen and listened to on the radio was like viewing life on another planet in comparison to the rural ways she had grown up knowing in Southern West Virginia.  Nevertheless, Pearl felt she just had to experience that world someday; she just had to taste that life if only for just a moment.  That was not to be the case.

Meeting a man who convinced her he could take her to see the bright lights, music and stars, Pearl married; but unfortunately it wasn’t long before she realize her decision would not lead down the path to her dreams.  Stricken with sickness, her new groom was unable to work so Pearl was saddled with supporting them.  A nephew she cared for moved in until he joined the service to fight in WW2.  Then her oldest sister died of cancer and Pearl found herself raising a niece; later down the road, me.  Pearly Mae now reconciled to the fact her life was headed in a completely different direction than the one hoped and yearned for.  

 Pearl did get to travel even with the circumstances the way they were.  With the war effort going on, Civil Service jobs were available.  These positions were temporary, but they offered pay, travel, and places to live.  The labor at times was hard, but Pearl was up to the task.  Working these jobs allowed her to see and board huge ships as they came into the Chesapeake Bay and Richmond, Virginia even if it was only to clean them.  Crossing the country by rail gave her opportunity to see places she had only read and heard of.  She not only saw cities she had wanted to visit, there were wonderful sights like the mighty Mississippi River, the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Salt Lake of Utah; simply magnificent!  Beyond that though, her favorite experience was something that Pearl had a knack for, making new friends. Seems people always enjoyed being around her because of her positive attitude and fun ways.  Whatever cares she may have held, nobody would know what they were.  She was too busy making other folks feel good rather than talking about her life.  Hard work and long hours on your feet would make the joints ache from the rigors of these government jobs.  Nevertheless, at the end of a day Pearl and some of her coworkers would muster up enough energy to go somewhere where they could unwind a bit.  In Utah, it was a little tavern where they could listen to a jukebox, drink a beer or two, or maybe a glass of Mogan David grape wine, something that Pearl enjoyed on occasion.  On of the best things about these little get-togethers was her discovery of a delicacy she had never had before, and fell completely in love with its tantalizing taste, Pizza!  Work and life took my beloved Aunt Pearl many places, but never for the reason she had dreamed of in her youth.  It was now for the care and need of others.  When we moved to Ohio, we had three elderly ladies as neighbors.  Pearl was always checking on them or you might find one or more of them sitting in our house talking to her while having some coffee, and an occasional glass of Mogan
David Wine.  We use to grow the biggest garden on the block (back in those days, the only one, too) and she was always bagging up vegetables to take to someone.  Many times, there would be a knock at our door in the night and someone would come asking to borrow money.  She seldom turned anyone away even though she knew, with some; she would never see the money again.  Then there were the yard parties; oh, those splendid yard parties!  Along with a large garden, Pearl had the biggest watermelon patch on the east side of town.  And what do you do when all those melons ripen at the same time?  Well, I suppose you could open a little stand out front of the house and sell them. On the other hand, you could invite every neighbor in a three-block area over for a good old-fashioned watermelon feast!  Everyone had a good time with the grand lady of the front yard gala the gayest.  If people were happy, then that made her happy!

It was a sad day for me when Pearl retired and chose to return to her roots in West Virginia, a decision she would end up regretting most of the time there.  A sister had come to live with us and Pearl promised her when she retired they would go back home to live.  She looked forward to it herself at first, going back to her roots, being close to her brother and other sister still there.  But it didn’t take long for her to realize she wasn’t a country girl anymore.  She had grown accustomed to living where everything was close enough to meet her needs and she could fend for herself.  Down in small rural village in the hills of West Virginia, she was dependant on others to her get around, something that she was not accustomed to.  But like everywhere else, Pearl picked up where she had left off, looking after the needs of others, having people in her home as often as possible and making them happy to be with her.  That was her gift; that was her life.

When her beloved sister Dot went to be with the Lord, something happened, a strange occurrence in Pearl’s world. For the first time in her life, she was completely alone.  Her brother Sam lived just up the road and would stop in most days, but still, at night, to close the doors to an empty house left her lonely and a little empty inside.  I began hearing from her more often. Where we used to talk on the phone twice a month we now spoke twice a week and sometimes up to an hour a time.

One Saturday Aunt Pearl saw where an old movie was going to be on TV that evening, one she had seen years ago; and it had all the stars and music she had fallen in love with as a young girl. The thought of it swept her back to that time of laughter and gaiety so long ago.  Pearl had become active in her church since returning to West Virginia and loved every minute of it and the people that she met there.  But right then, at that moment, there was a need in her to do something she had not done in years.  Grabbing up her purse she walked up the road to a small grocery and purchased items she would need for the evening; a six-pack of beer, a large frozen pizza; and a bottle of Mogan David Wine. Popping the pizza in the oven, she poured a glass of wine, and then another.  The movie started just as the pizza came out hot and ready!  Placing it on a tray next to her chair and the beer on an end table at the opposite side, she was ready for her evening.  Two glasses of wine, half a pizza and three beers later, the night was over!  She told me later how she woke up sometime in the early hours of Sunday looking at a TV that had turned to snow.  (This was back before TV programming ran 24/7; must be a scary thought to some of you young people.)  Laughing, she told me; “Funny, it didn’t have that affect on her some fifty years ago!”  Rising from the chair, she packed up the leftover pizza and placed it in the trash.  Then she dumped out the remaining three bottles of beer.  There was no need for them now; she had enjoyed her visit to yesteryear, now it was time to get back to today.  (She did keep the wine; just in case!)

I’m sure there are ones who would not approve of Pearl’s little binge.  Most likely, it was never a topic she discussed with many either, especially at her church.  Personally, I think God smiled down on this trusted servant of His that night the same way He always did.  Using powers of imagination, I envision God turning to one of His angels and saying, “Michael, take some extra angels and post them around Pearl’s house; doesn’t look like she’s going to able to lock up tonight.”

Most of Pearl’s life consisted of caring for the needs of others.  Often her’s was a hard world, one that others would not envy.  There were moments she had to have the strength and stamina of two, going on less sleep in a week than others would get in a night.  She threw off the dream of nightlife, song and endless gaiety for an existence that kept her in servitude the majority of her days.  And you know what?  I know, she wouldn’t have changed a thing if she could.  She came to recognize her calling–to be a comfort and aide to others.  She was the listening ear and the warm smile that let you know she was interested in your story; and in you.  Most of all, Pearl knew her Lord.  She knew a new day was coming that would be full of joy, laughter, song and praise.  That day came too soon for all of us who loved this dear woman when her life here on earth ended in tragic car accident.

During certain quiet moments, Pearl’s memory comes to visit me, similar in manner to when she would watch over me as a child, making sure I was okay, just as she did for so many others also.  I know I will see her again; she won’t be hard to find.  I’ll just look for the throne of God where saints will be dancing, singing and making merry around it as a praise offering to their Lord.  That’s where my Pearly Mae will be; can’t wait to join in!

We will dance on the streets that are golden
The glorious bride and the great Son of man
From every tongue and tribe and nation
We’ll join in the song of the Lamb


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