Over ten years ago I met, Miss Pearl (not real name), a very plucky, tiny, young acting, elderly lady. Although she passed away a few years later, I want to share some of her story because she was such a fascinating and charming lady.
I especially treasured her friendship during a time when my own mother was in declining health but lived too far away for me to visit often. I guess I kind of adopted Miss Pearl. She didn’t have any children. But she had one other woman and myself keeping an eye on her.
During the early twentieth century Miss Pearl came into the world with many seemingly insurmountable obstacles against her. She was born premature to a North Carolina farmer and his wife.
The doctor considered the whole picture of the effects of this tiny infant on this struggling family during a time when there were no Intensive Care Nurseries. The doctor knew the sad truth Pearl’s parents must face. Raising a large family on a small farm with barely enough money to get by; far from any city; and the grueling labors of farming all summed up to make this baby’s survival appear impossible. A recovering mother and frail baby who couldn’t digest milk would require too much attention.
Upon considering her mother’s poor post delivery health, Miss Pearl’s prematurity and small size, and a cold winter in progress, the doctor sadly told the attending grandmother, “The baby doesn’t have a chance at surviving. Let’s focus on taking care of the mother, since she has a better chance.”
After all the family as a whole had to come first, as well as the livelihood of the farm. The doctor sadly instructed the grandmother to wrap Pearl in a blanket and put her by the fireplace where she could at least die warm.
But her grandmother could not bring herself to follow his orders. She must have had a feeling like some people get when they just “know” something. She kept Pearl alive. She gave the infant meat broth from the pan that stew had been cooked in, rich in protein and fat from the meat juices; and rich in vitamins from the vegetables cooked with the meat. Pearl survived and actually grew into an adult though a very petite one.
As a teenager during the early 1900’s she was still a lot smaller than the other kids her age. But she managed to get a job in a dime store, a rare store nowadays, but common back then.
Later as an adult Pearl worked as a secretary to support herself through college. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree from a college in Greensboro. Having a degree was a major accomplishment for a woman during the time when women were expected to stay at home, get married and have children.
Pearl was hired as a teacher in an elementary school. She loved the children she taught as if they were her own. “Many of her students,” she confided, “loved her like a mother too.”
Soon she met and married the love of her life, Joe, who was the principal at the school where she taught. Years after they married they discovered that Joe, had a fatal health issue that could kill him suddenly with no warning. But they both chose to continue to enjoy their lives as normally as possible, not knowing when the next day would be their last together. After his death she moved to Fuquay-Varina to live in an apartment complex for seniors.
I met her when she was about 92. Pearl lived in Fuquay-Varina where we met at the local buffet restaurant. We were both sitting alone and happened to smile at each other and a conversation quickly ensued. I was struck by her vivacious, friendly nature. Pearl was four feet, five inches of joy, love, and a sharp mind at that time.
Her car was so big and she was so petite that she sat on a pillow so she could peer over the steering wheel as she drove. Pearl only drove around the small town to get groceries, eat breakfast at the biscuit restaurant every morning and lunch at the large buffet every day.
Everywhere she went she made friends. Many Fuquay-Varina residents knew her well. We became friends and she asked me to drive her in her car to a nearby town often to do some shopping. I agreed, happy to be helping and wanting to shop too. I was surprised while walking around in a large department store 20 minutes away from her home that people came up to her and greeted her by name and hugged her. She had friends everywhere!!
There was another nice lady who met Miss Pearl at the buffet restaurant and befriended her. She helped Miss Pearl even more often than I did.
Pearl and her husband were never able to have children. But children seemed drawn to her. (It may have been the other way around though.) Her diminutive size and big smile seemed to draw them to her as those same features drew her to them.
One time I drove her to a nearby grocery store. While I was paying for my groceries, I turned away from her for a few minutes. When I turned back around I had to look about thirty feet away to find her. Miss Pearl had seen a group of school aged youngsters and quickly migrated to them, drawn by their youthful energy and chatter.
At one point she moved out of her two bedroom apartment to “try” a new place. But was not at all pleased with their food, stating it was too salty. (She had high blood pressure and worried about too much salt in her food. But she always ate home-made biscuits at the biscuit restaurant every morning).
Personally I think she missed her two-bedroom apartment in Fuquay-Varina. When she tried to get her old apartment back she was told that the two-bedroom apartments were being saved now for couples and she would have to take a one-bedroom apartment.
She told me that being limited to only one-bedroom made her feel trapped. But then with a twinkle in her eyes she said, “I might just have to get a man to move in with me!”
When asked about the most important bit of wisdom she could offer, she said, “The most important thing is to get to know the Lord and everything else will fall into place.”
Considering her long life with her husband and the love she had for everyone, I would say she had followed her own advice pretty well.
Later I lost touch with her when my husband became ill. I was so glad she had two of us watching out for her. Because she ended up needing a lot more attention than I could give her as she grew even older and more fragile in her health and mind. The other kind lady helped her more as I found myself needed by my husband’s declining health.
I know that Miss Pearl was rarely alone in the world. She felt that Joe was always with her and she always had friends who cared for her. She was a marvelous, walking miracle to the day she died.