I remember her backyard. She was not a blood relative, but she was the closest thing to grandmother I would ever know. She lived in small white house on a corner lot. There was a garage with only slivers of white paint remaining. In it, a small vacant apartment. There was a cellar off to the left of her back porch. A swing set and a tractor tire full of sand decorated the area between the garage and the house. Sometimes I remember a large garden and sometimes I remember playing Red Rover where the garden would have been.
My childhood was probably a mess during that the years that I played in the yard, ran next to the house, raced over the top of that cellar, and danced between the sheets hanging on the line. What I remember though, is playing in the vacant apartment in the garage, making up stories about who used to live there. I remember running in and out of the house and laughing hysterically when her sister “Weasel Bug” would come over. I remember dancing with my best friends, twin boys, the same age as me. My sisters and I would pretend they were our grooms on our wedding days.
Her little kitchen. Her old fashioned refrigerator. Her peanut butter, butter, and honey sandwiches! Playing cards at the table for hours. The way she said, “shuffle, oh, the buffalo.” I still say that when I play cards and shuffle the deck.
I remember spending the night at her house with our friends. Several of us girls in the spare bedroom and the boys on the the hide-a-bed in the living room or vice versa. We would stay up late stifling giggles and thinking up shenanigans. We would hold our breath and try to be quiet when we heard her coming to tell us to be quiet and then laugh when she left.
Things didn’t stay that way. She was our babysitter, but we were there all the time. It never felt like daycare. It felt like love. It felt like family. It felt like home.
A couple of weeks before 2nd grade, we were dropped off. I don’t remember the day, so it was probably a mundane drop off, like hundreds of times before. What was different I would not realize for hours, maybe even days.
I don’t think it was the first time we had been left longer than expected. I think I know because I remember an answer she gave all the time, “She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes.” We must have asked her a lot, “When is my mom coming?” The last time, no one ever came back to get us.
Things started to change. I think she had a feeling of what was about to come and didn’t want it to happen. I think she felt stuck. School was starting. She didn’t have a car, she didn’t have a driver’s licence. She was too old and didn’t have the kind of money she would need to keep 6 girls. She knew she would have to call for help or we wouldn’t go to school and then what?
I was 8. I was in 2nd grade the first time I went to live in a foster home. After my first foster home, we moved to a new town, a town where we could start over. For a couple years, we would spend one week of each summer with her. Those were really great weeks, but things were not the same. I was not the same. I was older. The things that had happened and were happening affected me. I grew up fast. No more childhood innocence to protect me from reality.
The only thing that stayed the same was how very much I loved her. And to this day, the memories of being a child at her house transport me to some of my happiest memories.
I wanted to visit her today. I wanted to remember her and the beautiful gifts of love and happy memories she’s allowed me to carry all these years. They protected me. The 10 years that followed my 8th year were full of some pretty tough stuff. There were more foster homes, an emergency protective shelter, violent arguments with my parents, depositions and court hearings, and more, lots more.
Eventually, I was able to pull back together the pieces of me that lay broken like a shattered glass. I’m not sure she even knew everything I was going through, but I felt like she did and often felt like she was with me. I remembered her always. Dorothy Pearl was my family. She left an incredible mark on my heart. I will remember her always. And now, I have my own little Mary Pearl to keep Dorothy’s memory alive.