He Name Was Pearl

Is there a certain ancestor that you wish you could travel back in time to spend a year with? What do you hope to learn, why that relative?  

Truthfully, I don’t know much about most of my ancestors. I have a family tree so I’m able to find names easy enough, but I don’t know anything about them. I guess I never really got into researching my family tree because without knowing something about the people I’m not too interested in them.

There are a couple that I know about, though. There was my great aunt Lily who decided one day that she had cancer. She went to bed and stayed there for twenty five years until she finally died. I’m not sure what really killed her, but I suspect old age. I’ve also heard stories of one ancestor who fought in the Civil War. Several of his bothers also wanted to enlist, but you had to provide your own horse, and the family could only spare one. I was taken to his grave when I was a child, but I don’t remember which cemetery he’s buried in. Did he die in the war? Yes.

The family also talked a lot about my great grandmother. She was the meanest woman I ever met. My father carried me to her house long before I started school, and I picked a petunia from her garden. She fussed at me, and when we returned a few weeks later there were no petunias at all. “I guess you won’t pick any more flowers will you?” she said to me. She’s the one who got mad because her daughter got married and burned every single thing the girl owned. Mean as a snake wasn’t she?

The person I’d spend a year with is my paternal grandmother. Her name was Pearl Edith Bagwell, and she had a hard time as a child. Her mother was found dead in the family orchard. Someone had undoubtedly killed her because her mouth and throat were stuffed full of dirt. Her father didn’t want to take care of his children, so he gave them to Pearl’s aunt to raise.

I think they treated her well enough, but I also think she did some work that was probably too hard for her. In time she met my grandfather Charlie Pace, and they were married. She worked in a cotton mill her entire adult life and raised two boys, my father and my uncle. She was a religious person who attended services regularly. If there was a revival being held she always asked the ministers to come eat at her house. The neighbor who lived in front of her was also a minister with a large family. Every Sunday she got up early and cooked a cake for the neighbors’ dinner.

After she retired she babysat my sister and me during the summer time. She spent the morning cooking a huge lunch so that my mother wouldn’t have to cook when she got home from work. After lunch we played board games with her. You had to watch her. She’d cheat and laugh her head off about it. Mostly though she let us win. She was the best grandmother a child could ever hope to have, and I miss her even though she’s been gone for many years now. She died in 1971 from stomach cancer. I cooked one of her last meals for her. She said it was the best thing she’d had in ages although I’m sure eating anything at all was torture with stomach cancer.

Why would I spend a year with her? Well, for one thing I’d just like to see her again. I have so much that I’d like to tell her. I hope she’d be proud of me, and I think she would be.

I’d also like to learn how she lived her life with such dignity and grace. She made hard work and personal tragedy look easy, and I know it wasn’t. Everyone loved her. It would be so special to see her from an adult point of view instead of that of a child.

I’m hoping that I’m the kind of grandmother she was. I guess my grandchildren will decide that question.

What about you? Who would you spend a year with?

About Elaine Cantrell

Elaine Cantrell was born and raised in South Carolina. She has a Master’s Degree in Personnel Services from Clemson University and is a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary sorority for women educators. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America. Her first novel A New Leaf was the 2003 winner of the Timeless Love Contest and was published in 2004 by Oak Tree Press. When she isn't writing you can find Elaine playing with her dog or maybe collecting more vintage Christmas ornaments
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9 Responses to He Name Was Pearl

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    What lovely memories of your grandmother! She sounds like a treasure. I think most of the women of that time, especially those who suffered during the depression, were hard workers, but Grandma Pearl really went through a lot. Great post!


  2. You have examples of the two main types of people who have gone through pain in their lives. The first kind can only dish pain back out to others, the second doesn’t want anyone to suffer as they have. It took me a long time to come to terms with hateful, spiteful people like your great-grandmother, but I know know that those people must have been terribly hurt in some way that they could never get past. Fortunately, we seem to have gotten past the pain inflicted by them to be the second type of person.
    What lovely memories of your grandmother! I only knew one of mine and spent little time with her. (My mother died of stomach cancer. It’s a real heart-breaker.)
    God bless your poor aunt, Lily! The mother-in-law of a close relative of mine was told that she had a couple of months to live. Her son flew out 2,000 miles to see her. She spoke her goodbyes to her grandson over the phone. She moved to another state to be close to her sisters….that was probably 15 years ago and she back with her daughter in her home state, doing quite well.


    • Elaine Cantrell says:

      I wish I knew more about my great grandmother’s life. It might explain her behavior. Her son, my grandfather was nothing like her. He must have taken after his father who died before I was born.

      Think about how hard it must have been on my grandmother to have such a mother-in-law.


  3. Jeff Salter says:

    Pearl sounds like an excellent choice.
    But what a shame about that other relative — the nasty one. Life is too short to spend it being petty, vengeful, and abusive.


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