Robert Cowser

Probably 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, soaking rain.
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, Texas, 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. 
Pearl 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 thank 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.
After we exchanged knowing glances about the excitement surrounding Pearl Davis’ impending visit, John, my brother and I went to sit in my father’s green Chevy. 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 snobbish.
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 sustained them.
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.