Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Family Mystery

Annie Pearl Nace, daughter of William Robert Nace and Sulmena (spelled Sulmenia in one entry in the family Bible, Sulmana on her tombstone) Frances Spence Nace, was born on February 9, 1890, in Lithia, Virginia. Lithia is not far from Buchanan, in Botetourt County.

At the time of her birth, Annie Pearl Nace had three living older sisters—Mary Lucy (born January 31, 1885), Mattie Blanche (born October 16, 1886), and Cora William (born December 12, 1888. And older unnamed sister was born and died on February 18, 1884. Her other living sisters Ossie and Zora would be born in years to come, as would at least one more unnamed girl who died as an infant in late 1891.

Back row: Cora, Blanche, Lucy, Pearl
Front Row: Wm. R. Nace, S. Frances Nace, Ossie

Like her sisters, Blanche and Lucy, she was known by her middle name, Pearl. Her older sisters married—Blanche to Howard Ruble, Lucy to Charlie Mays, Cora to Thomas Owen (T.O.) Hunt. The older sisters left Lithia—the Rubles to Roanoke, the Mayses to Richmond, and the Hunts to Boones Mill.

Pearl never married, but she had a beau, Otha Young. Pearl and Otha must have been serious about each other to travel all the way by train to Roanoke to have their picture made together at the Davis Photography Studio on Salem Avenue.



Pearl never left Lithia. She took sick and died suddenly on July 30, 1911. She’s buried in the Lithia Baptist Church cemetery. Her death is a mystery.

No long ago, in one of the boxes I’ve been going through, I found a yellowed fragment of her newspaper obituary, in which some of her church friends extolled her virtues. Her death was a surprise. No one expected it. Apparently she was sick for two or three days before she died.

My grandmother (Blanche) would sometimes talk about Pearl living but never about her death. My mother would never talk about it much, either. Grandma was a great believer in ghosts, having once seen one—but she never elaborated on the details. Someone—a cousin, I think—once told me Grandma had once seen the ghost of her sister. I don't know if that's true or not.

When I was a kid and asked Mama why Aunt Pearl didn’t live a long life like her sisters, she replied that Pearl’s boyfriend once said that if he couldn’t have her no one else would either. I think Mama said that he’d given her a box of candy a few days before she died. (How would Mama have known this? Mama was born two years after Pearl died. Unless her mother or her aunts. . . .) Could Otha have been responsible for Pearl's death? How?

A decade before my mother died, I asked her again about Pearl. She denied ever telling me that Pearl’s boyfriend had anything to do with her death. About that time, Mama’s cousin (Zora’s son) also wanted to know about Pearl; she wouldn’t tell him anything either. “I wish Billy would just leave it alone,” she said to me. That was the last she said of it.

Leave what alone? I wonder. Why the big secret?

Several months ago, I showed Pearl’s picture to a friend with psychic abilities. “Oh, she was poisoned,” the friend said. She didn’t elaborate.

If Otha really gave her candy, wouldn’t she have shared it with her little sisters? If the candy were poisoned, wouldn't the sisters have gotten sick, too?

On one of the two identical pictures I have of Pearl and Otha, someone has taken a sharp object (a pin? a needle?) and scratched it across Otha’s neck. Why?

I’ve Googled the name “Otha Young” and haven’t found much. Someone by that name was married in West Virginia a few years after Pearl died. Was it the same Otha Young?

Maybe Pearl did become ill and was treated with a home remedy. (Another friend, upon studying the picture, had gotten the impression of a rash—or hives.) Morphine was legal then, and I know my great-grandmother used it for some recurring pain that she had. Laudanum was readily available—and was sometimes used to bring on menses should a female be several weeks—or even several months—late. Take a big dose and jump from the pasture fence or the high side of the porch—soon you’ll be regular again. Paregoric was a still popular home remedy when I was a kid. Among other uses, it relieved babies’ teething pain. My grandmother took it for stomach cramps. Most households had it. Could an overdose of some narcotic have poisoned Pearl when it should have cured what ailed her?

I guess we’ll never know for sure. Some things remain a mystery.

Happy 118th birthday, Pearl.

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