It was a summer day in 1957. I was five. My playmate, Sis Pearlie, was about 65. There wasn’t a record of Pearlie’s date of birth. Grandmama Hill said they could share hers, April 1, 1892.
Pearlie Mae Frederick was a petite, energetic, black lady who lived a few feet from my grandmother’s back door. I don’t remember her husband, Bose. He had worked for Granddaddy on his farm. They had one daughter, Fannie Mae, who moved to Miami when she was young.
Miami was good to Fannie Mae. She asked Pearlie to come live with her. Pearlie said a tearful goodbye to Grandmama, then boarded the Greyhound bus in Unadilla. Five miles later she got off in Pinehurst. Pearlie loved her daughter, but Miami was too far away from Pulaski County.
Pearlie’s home only had two rooms. A double-sided fireplace opened to each of them. Granddaddy kept firewood cut for both houses. Pearlie had a small ax she used to chop her own kindling.
My mother was born in 1926. She grew up with Pearlie as her friend and caretaker. They took cane poles and freshly dug wigglers up and down the nearby creeks. Pearlie taught Mama a lot about fishing. She also taught Mama a lot about life.
I’ve never known a person with a more loving heart. I think Pearlie’s only vice was her friendship with Prince Albert. Maybe she had two, if you count dipping snuff from the brown Maccoboy bottles. The snuff seems an odd habit now, but it wasn’t unusual at the time.
Grandmama bought the groceries and did the cooking. Pearlie helped clean up the kitchen. If there were leftover grits, she would let them cool in the pot until they stiffened. Then she would dip out a tablespoon and have a bite or two. I sometimes do the same thing today. The taste is okay and the memories are delicious.
Grandmama washed their clothes and Pearlie ironed them. She swept the yard with brooms made of gallberry bushes tied in a bundle. Around her ankle there was always a dime, held there by a light chain that ran through a small hole. On Sundays she put on her finest and enjoyed her friends at Lynwood Baptist Church. She had a picture of Jesus in her home. Jesus, no doubt, had a picture of her.
When Grandmama’s eyesight grew dim, the characters on television were blurry. Pearlie would serve as her eyes, when needed. They were a good team.
Despite our age difference, Pearlie was a wonderful playmate. I was the youngest of seven grandchildren. She entertained and loved this generation, just as she had my mother and her two brothers. That summer day in 1957 is perhaps my favorite memory.
Pearlie was prancing around the back yard, leading our two-member band in a spirited combination of marching and dancing. We each had a metal pot, borrowed from the kitchen, and a wooden spoon to keep time. Pearlie led the singing of, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I followed her lead, both of us focused more on volume than style.
I don’t remember what I complained about. Maybe I wanted to change songs or maybe I wanted to change games. Pearlie leaned way down low, as she often did, to be on my eye level. Usually when she did that, it was to make a comical face, knowing it was easy to get me to laugh. This time, though, she gave me something to think about.
Pearlie smiled sweetly and put her hand on my shoulder. In her most tender voice she said, “Child, if you don’t like my peaches, then don’t shake my tree.” She paused for a moment, then banged on her pot. We marched again like saints, confident that one day we would both be in that number.
I was just a kid, but I was old enough to know that I didn’t really have any reasons to complain. Sixty years separate me from that summer day, but time hasn’t dimmed the value of her lesson. Pearlie taught my Mama a lot about fishing. She taught us both a lot about life.
Pearlie might have been better off in Miami. Our family was better off that she stayed. I don’t know if she made the best choice or not. I just know that I’m glad she got off the bus.