all of us recall foolish acts that we regret moments or even years
after the incident. When my younger brother, our cousin John, and
I were teenagers, we once privately ridiculed the behavior of some
of our relatives at a family reunion.
In the summer of 1953 the family decided to meet at the farmhouse
where my father’s youngest brother and his wife lived. Since the house
was small and could hardly accommodate the thirty people expected
to attend, the plan was that the men and children would stay outside
under the sycamore trees while some of the women prepared a meal in
the small kitchen. Before daybreak the morning of the reunion, however,
it began raining. The rain continued throughout the day, a steady,
|Some of the men
sat on the edge of the front porch, protected from the rain by the
eaves that extended over flower beds in front of and beside the porch.
Others sat in the porch swing and on chairs brought out from the kitchen.
My brother R. L., John, and I stood for awhile in the living room.
Two or three of the men questioned John about his baseball season.
He played in a youth league sponsored by the American Legion in Kilgore
where he lived. He had planned to practice pitching and catching that
morning, but the rain prevented him from doing so.
Before we three decided to go sit in our family car, we overheard
my mother and her sisters-in-law talking about the imminent arrival
of Pearl Corley. Though I learned later that Pearl had been married
a short time to Tennyson Davis, my aunts and my mother referred to
Pearl by her maiden name.
Corley was a complete stranger to my brother and me. I had heard her
name perhaps twice in my life. She was my father’s first cousin and
also a cousin of John’s mother. She moved from Mt.
Vernon, where she grew up, to Dallas
before I was born.
Walter, my Aunt Margie’s husband, volunteered to drive the four miles
to the drug store in Saltillo
on Highway 67 to meet the Greyhound bus Pearl had boarded earlier
that morning in Dallas.
|“How many years
since you all saw Pearl?” Margie asked, as she sliced the chess pie
she had baked the night before.
“Lordy, I can’t tell you,” Susie, my father’s oldest sister, answered.
“I think it was around the time Grandpa started sellin’ groceries
from the front room of his house. You remember, of course, that his
store and blacksmith shop burned to the ground. He never rebuilt ‘em.”
“You saw her jus’ before she moved to Dallas.
So did I. That was right after Tennyson Davis died,” Dessa, another
of my father’s sisters, added. She was peeling the shells from hard-boiled
eggs and slicing them in halves. She probably could have performed
the task as well even if she had been blindfolded.
“What did Pearl’s husband die of?” Viola, my youngest uncle’s wife,
asked. Viola married into the family years after Pearl moved away.
“Tennyson died during the flu epidemic in 1918,” Margie said. There
was a wistful tone in her voice as if she were remembering others
who had also died during that sad time.
we exchanged knowing glances about the excitement surrounding Pearl
Davis’ impending visit, John, my brother and I went to sit in my father’s
Daddy had rolled up the windows because of the rain, and we left them
closed. Even if our uncles on the porch had been interested in what
we were saying, they could not have heard us.
Safe in our retreat, we laughed about the excitement our mothers and
aunts displayed in anticipation of Pearl Corley’s visit. We also prepared
ourselves to laugh at the stranger from Dallas,
discreetly of course. We expected her to be eccentric and perhaps
Within a few minutes, Uncle Walter’s brown Plymouth turned off the
main road into the drive that led to the house. After he stopped the
car, the door on the passenger’s side opened, and a tall woman stepped
onto the walk leading to the porch.
My mother and my aunts hurried from the kitchen, and Pearl Corley
met each one with open arms. She was wearing a beige cape that fell
almost to her waist and a skirt to match. The varied shades of green
in her blouse complemented the color of the cape.
As most women did then, she also wore a hat. It was the kind of hat
Queen Elizabeth II wore a few years later on occasions when she appeared
in public. The hat had a soft brim that framed Pearl’s face. I learned
later that she worked for years as a saleslady in the original Neiman-Marcus
store in downtown Dallas.
With a gentle rain falling the rest of the morning and into the early
afternoon, Pearl and her cousins reminisced about earlier days. They
talked about difficult times when their youth and their camaraderie
Though that day I joined my brother and John in ridiculing the anticipation
our mothers and our aunts showed regarding Pearl Corley’s visit, I
can say many years later that I understand their enthusiasm. There
are several cousins whom I would enjoy seeing as much as my parents
and my aunts enjoyed reuniting with Pearl.
shoe horses, don't they?" Guest Column, January
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