Saturday, September 12, 2015

Aunt Pearl and the Conventions of Society

So what did Pearl do to keep her family on edge? How about these episodes?

1. She ran away from home at the age of seventeen.  She may have worked for a while as a housemaid in New Castle, Pennsylvania, although it is hard to track records of household servants. But we do know that sometime in 1903, when she was about 20 years old, she returned home with a baby in tow.

2. She raised that little girl with her mother's help.  There was talk of a marriage (probably common-law) with a man who was willing to give her and her daughter his last name.  He was apparently an itinerant tinker, living in a wagon full of the tools of his trade.  He and his mule made their way from small town to small town, sharpening knives, fixing tinware and other common household objects, and generally making himself useful.  He managed to support himself to his own satisfaction, but would have been incapable of providing a stable home for a family. Their relationship suited Pearl just fine. She could call herself "Mrs." while living independently and doing exactly what she pleased. Eventually he disappeared from her life entirely.

3. She upset many members of the family by leaving the fundamentalist church in which she had been raised and becoming a follower of Mary Baker Eddy, whose Church of Christ, Scientist, taught that all sickness was an illusion and a result of sin.  Both her mother and her sister Lola became practical nurses and supported themselves by taking care of those who were ill.  Pearl escaped all such nasty chores, even within her own family, by denying the reality of illness.

4. During Prohibition, Pearl fell in love with and married a bootlegger who ran his own speakeasy. From what I remember of my parents talking about him, he was a pretty terrific guy who handled this difficult woman without any trouble. Still, for Pearl, his main attraction seems to have been his willingness to break the law.  What fun!

5. After her bootlegger died, she moved into the upstairs apartment in Aunt Lola's house, where the two of them bickered their separate ways for years. When Aunt Lola had to sell her house, Aunt Pearl refused to live with her daughter's family and moved into a tiny apartment above a drug store.

6. On her door she kept a sign posted, telling people what to do if they found her dead. They were to call  a certain number and let medical researchers come pick up her body. They were to give any usable parts to those who needed them and to then let students practice dissection on the rest of her.  Her fondest wish was to continue her "life" as a museum skeleton, where she could be of use to those who needed to learn about anatomy.

7. In her nineties, she lived in a retirement home, where she spent her last days playing pinochle until one evening, she put down her cards, announced she was ready for a nap, and went to her room, where they found her body the next morning.

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