My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon
It’s a wonder I even liked my cousin, Pearl when we were growing up in
the 1940s and 50s. She was beautiful and she was good. She was also
a hard worker. My Grandmother Junkins, whom I know meant it for my
own good, was always comparing me to Pearl to point out precisely
where I needed improvement. Unfortunately for Maw, I never got fired
up for self improvement. The way I saw it, Pearl was born with
advantages I didn’t have.
She had a happier family for one thing. Her father was a religious
man, but not a fanatic. Her parents adored each other and their three
children. In addition, Pearl was born beautiful. She inherited the
dark complexion and black hair of her Cherokee blood from both
parents. She didn’t need any cosmetics to enhance her looks and
didn’t use them. Slender and graceful, she moved like a dancer. She
had a beautiful smile, but if she had moments of hilarity, I never saw
it. Dignity seemed to come to her as a birthright.
As Maw reminded me frequently, Pearl was a worker too. Her mother
died when Pearl was a teenager, and since the older daughter was
married by this time, all the housework and cooking fell to Pearl.
Uncle Roy’s house had no electricity, so she cooked wonderful meals on
her mother’s old iron cookstove. She milked the cow, churned butter,
took care of the chickens, fed the hog, and still looked like a
And she sang. Uncle Roy and his children formed their own gospel
group, specializing in songs that the Chuck Wagon Gang made
famous–”Walk on the Sunny Side,” “After a While,” and “Some Glad
Young men around Carter’s Quarter noticed Pearl for sure, but most
were too intimidated by Uncle Roy to court her. One boy didn’t get
scared off. Jimmy Nolan was Pearl’s brother’s best friend, and the
friendship allowed him to see Pearl other than in church. He took
advantage of that to try to impress her. Perhaps because he was a
little younger than her, Pearl refused to give him any encouragement.
Jimmy finished high school and was drafted. During eighteen months of
service, he saw a lot of the world other than the mountain of Georgia,
but he never saw another girl that interested him. When he came home
he had made up his mind that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
He later said the only way he could see her was to go to every church
service in the country, and that’s just what he did.
My grandmother did not approve. As far as I knew, she had no specific
complaints about Jimmy. He simply wasn’t good enough for Pearl. But
then nobody would have been good enough, in Maw’s opinion. She called
him “that Jimmy.” “That Jimmy was setting with Pearl in church again
last Sunday,” she would report, frowning, or “That Jimmy was at every
revival meeting last week, setting with Pearl.” Finally, it was,
“They say that Jimmy is trying to talk Pearl into marrying.”
Marry, they did, and life changed for Pearl. Jimmy loved boating and
hunting. If Maw had still been living, she wouldn’t have believed her
Pearl in a swimsuit or strollicking all over the country on hunting
and boating trips, even after they had a daughter.
On one of my last visits to Uncle Roy’s house, I had a glimpse of the
new Pearl. She and I were both wearing jeans. Probably in response
a look or a comment from Uncle Roy, Pearl said, “Daddy doesn’t like us
“It’s not me you have to worry about,” he replied. “Read your Bible.”
Pearl winked at me, and as Uncle Roy left the room she said, “The old
folks won’t ever change, but I think we’re okay.”
I nodded. I was okay. Thanks to Maw’s comparisons, I’d improved more
than I probably ever would have done on my own. And if I never made
A+, that was all right too.