I have often written about the women in my life. God has blessed me with some of the strongest women he made. I have an arsenal of female perspective and a gaggle of iron shouldered geese to lean on when my road gets bumpy. This particular story is about Pearl, otherwise known as Ellen Voyles, my sister in law. I don’t usually call her that. We are sister-friends. She is so much more than a sister in law.
I always wanted a sister. I had brothers. I had two step sisters once. Picture Anastasia and Drizella. I was so excited when I found out I was going to have not one, but two sisters!! I made a spot for them in my closet for when they came to stay. I had a trundle bed at the time, I pulled the trundle out and left it set up so they would feel like they had a ‘spot’. The older sister was a senior in high school and didn’t come very many weekends. The younger one was a year younger than me and came to visit a lot. She and I made friends quickly. Well, I did. You know me, I was full of big plans, I had visions of us becoming inseparable. We would do everything together, go shopping and do make-overs on each other and we would be there for each other when children were born and when family died and we would make super cool nicknames for each other. Maybe we would even have our own secrete language like twins sometimes did! Gasp! Slumber parties with all of our friends, mom making a batch of cherry chip cupcakes! We would, of course, share favorites in every thing! I took the fantasy of having a sister and ran as fast as I could with it. I always do this. I’m forever excited and enthusiastic. Even now, at the age of fifty, my balloon doesn’t land. I’m the ant moving that damn rubber tree plant. Unfortunately, in this situation, I was flying a kite made of fantasy and destruction. I was ten miles down the road with my kite before I realized that the kite string had been cut, the kite was on fire and it was headed for the side of a barn.
What I found out rather quickly was, she was a brat. Unfortunately, I was a brat too, and this was a one-brat-household. My dreams of my being the Marcia Brady to her Jan skid down the hot slide of life.
So there went my dreams of a sister. I eventually got married and was blessed with two sisters-in-law. I have loved these girls for thirty-three years. However, we have always lived so far away from each other. We’ve always been friends, we keep in touch even now. With busy lifestyles and long distance, it has been hard for us to have a close knit relationship. I always thought, ‘One day’. We think that about a lot of things, don’t we? One day we won’t be as busy. then we will……
So then a bunch of other crap happened that you don’t want to hear about right now and I met my second husband. In comes Pearl, Stage Left.
I came up to the lake house for the first time one afternoon in early summer. It was HOT! I had my hair cut in a cute little pixie and I had been tanning a little bit so my legs didn’t look like a can of busted biscuits. I wore a knee length skirt and my good luck t-shirt and my old keds tennis shoes. Pretty cute sea going fare. We skipped down to the boat, Yes, I said skipped, anyway…We skipped down to the boat and hopped in and Ken took off like his pants were on fire. We hurled around the lake five or six times going about two hundred miles and hour and I couldn’t see a damn thing because my skirt had blown up over my head and I was too afraid to let go of whatever I was hanging on to. When he finally did slow down, it was with a jerk and I fell forward and smacked my forehead on the windshield in front of me. While I was trying to rearrange my clothes and smooth down my hair, he stuck his hand out and said “Wanna go meet my brother?” Grinning, I said “Sure!” Inside I was thinking “Holy crap they are going to think I’m Guy Fieri” because there was no way my hair was going to do anything at this point but stand on it’s ends and I wasn’t completely sure if I hadn’t peed myself. Hustling me up the hill to their house, we stepped up onto the porch and rang the bell.
Ken ushered me in, I sat on the loveseat with him and was immediately warned not to pet the dog who was cheerfully wagging his tail at me. “He’s a fraud and he bites.” I nervously laughed. Then Jim started. I didn’t know he had started then, I do now. “So, Tracey, you have how many children?” Without missing a beat, “I have five children. All under the age of seven.” Everything just sort of stopped. I laughed and said I was just kidding. He looked at Ken and said “Brother, I was going to ask you what the hell were you getting into?!” This was the beginning of a fantastic friendship for me. Jim and Ellen have become my family.
More importantly, Ellen Pearl has become my sister. Pearl is long and lean. She looks as if she swam her whole life. You can see her standing on her toes on the cliffs of the Norfork Lake, ready to push off. She has this marvelous head of steel and pearl hair. It’s the hair everyone wants. It’s natural curl is perfect and her only styling tool is a bobby pin. She isn’t a chirpy morning person. You have to quietly let her adjust to the day with her coffee. She is always calm. I have never seen her flustered, I think that is one of the things that draws me to her. That and her eyes. She has the warmest eyes. She is unwavering in her attention when it is placed on you. She isn’t fussy in her clothing. She always looks smart and neat. Last summer I got so tickled with her, She and I were texting and she said, “I got a floral blouse.” I commented something non-committal, Ellen doesn’t wear floral blouses. In fact, I think I might have said as much. She said something about it being time for an old woman floral blouse. A few weeks later we went for lunch. After we got out of the car and exchanged hugs, she said “Look! My floral blouse!” It was beautiful. She was beautiful.
Ellen is gifted in many areas, painting is one talent that I am struck by. Her paintings speak to you. That sounds so cliche. It’s not deep enough. Trying to mark this with words makes it too small. There were several paintings in the house when I moved in. My favorites changed with my mood and temperament. Now my favorite painting is the one we received as a wedding gift. I had mentioned periodically that this certain painting was my favorite of hers. When it came time for our wedding, she told me to pick out my favorite painting. I told her I loved them all so much, for her to just surprise me. I knew which one I loved, but I knew it was dear to her too. I would never have asked for it. On our wedding day, with no fanfare and all the love in the world, she gave it to me. It’s a soft painting. All whites and blues. There is a figure and he is reaching towards Heaven and releasing a bird. It’s not a dove. Not to me. It is the most peaceful work of art I have ever seen. I have it hung on the wall at the end of my bed. It’s what I see when I wake up and when I fall to sleep. It represents friendship, love, marriage, beginnings, family.
Pearl is also hysterical. She doesn’t even mean to be. She said she thought she might be going crazy because she was making sounds. Sounds? Sounds. She said her Godson asked her why she kept making that sound then she sort of made a ‘puh’ sound with pursed lips. I tried to imitate it, failed. She did it again. I tried again, sort of got it. If something is dumb now, we just make that sound. Our own secret language!!
When we first met, she kept calling me Sheila. She said I didn’t look like a Tracey, I looked like a Sheila. So I became Sheila. Belle introduced her to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back and they became Becky. Pearl, aka Becky, decided that Kennedy needed a name also and after long consideration, Kennedy became Maggie. Maggie Mae from Rod Stewart fame. Pearl said when she heard that song she could just see it was Kennedy Rod was talking about. So here we are, from left to right, Sheila, Becky, Becky and Maggie. Please to meet you.
Ellen Pearl Becky makes excellent strawberry cake and slaw. She introduced me to Japanese dumplings and how to make them. She has taught me how to pick colors for cabinets, tame a Voyles man and how to smile when you don’t want to smile.
Ken and I hadn’t been married very long when we have our first grown up fight. I was mad and had my feelings hurt. I shoved my feet down in his boots, there was three feet of snow on the ground, and went stomping over to Ellen’s house. I knocked on the back door, she took one look at me and pointed the way upstairs leaving Jim bewildered in the basement. I laid my case out and cried and bawled and she quietly set a box of tissues in front of me and started talking. She became my lifeline in this part of the world. I hadn’t had that since I left Indiana. I’ve made a lot of friends, but not like this. She’s my sister-friend. We have gone through alot together in five short years. She has been my calm in the calamity more than once. When it came time for Ken and I to get married, we started discussing who we would have perform the vows. Immediately I asked if we could ask Ellen. I called her and asked her if she would care to be ordained and to marry us. She happily excepted. She wrote our vows, I still have the little black folio with her handwritten vows in it. No words were ever so full of love. They were written for us and to us. She has such a deep connection with Ken and it showed in the words she chose to use. We are connected now, Ellen and I. Not by our circumstances, but by the bond of sisterhood. I cherish her friendship. God always gives you what you need at the time you need it. Thank God for Pearl.