They had my attention now, but I kept slipping in and out of the perpetual state of terminal boredom that came with just being there. Except for the last three and me, the rest of the depraved and deprived in our class had high-tailed it for home. As it turned out, this was also the real beginning of a situation and series of events that made a huge hole in the mound of red clay of the valley and changed our lives, forever.
One of our fellow inmates in what I usually referred to as this “crappy clap trap building of boredom”, was a girl. Beulah Pearlie Mae Quick was someone that Uriah, Whit and the rest of the class had admired, at a distance, but mostly feared and avoided. She had a habit of cocking her head to one side, with her hands on her hips, grinning and making a quick one liner that often left the slower kids in the group feeling extra special. Extra special stupid. They often laughed and found it funny or on rare occasions felt insulted if they were quick enough to understand her remarks.
Her father, a drunken Catholic Irish had fallen in love with the beauty and grace of her black mother. Before she was born, he prayed nightly for a light colored child. When she came out mostly white, in gratitude, he shouted, “Thank you, Jesus” and named her Pearl. She had blue eyes, skin the color of her paternal grandmother and now was her parent’s favorite’s jewel. Fortunately, she had inherited her mother’s mind, spirit and control, too.
Beulah Pearlie Mae was the tallest, skinniest, plainest looking and as it turned out the smartest 12-year-old in the class. Her head hung to one side like a tall sunflower stalk whose seeds were about to drop in the Fall. Fortunately, by the time the boys in the class caught up, she was able to stand erect with her neck adjusted and be about the same size as they were. And she was able to retain her use of the tilted head and neck to express either sincere concern or disbelief. Quick to answer the teacher’s questions and always ready for a contrary argument, she often offered brilliant flashes of insight and experience far beyond her years. If she hadn’t been such a colossal pain in the ass, she would have won the teacher’s pet award, hands down. As time passed without any notice, she eventually developed bumps, two in front and one in back in strategic locations that greatly and gracefully changed her pole-like appearance.
The first time I remember seeing Pearlie Mae, the sight of her had provoked a barrage of loud, fall down, scream and yell, slap your ass laughter from Uriah and Whit. From that day on she had become not only the butt of their shenanigans, but also a never-ending source of juvenile pranks and asinine entertainment.
“Hey, Whit, what’s the difference between Pearlie Mae Quick and purty damn quick?” yelled Uriah.
“One leg is both the same!” shouted Whit from across the room.
“No, Dummy! That’s the answer to what’s the difference between a duck. She’s just ugly is as ugly does.” was Uriah’s ignorant and hurtful response.
Beulah Pearl had been born at a time when parents never knew what an unborn infant’s gender might be. She had blue eyes and a little darker shade of white than one might have expected from a kid with an Irish name. Since the population of Georgia in the previous century was sixty percent colored, it was reasonable to surmise that there might have been a shadow in wood pile a few years back. In this genetic crapshoot or wheel-spin of gender selection, after a long drawn out and painful labor she finally squeezed out. She was followed in quick succession by a squad of scrawny little brothers in various shades of color whose sole goal in their scruffy lives was to make their sister miserable in as many different ways as their quirky minds could devise. Beulah’s dad, as a feeble useless witness had described her birth as “sorta like trying to stick an angle worm up a wildcat’s ass.” Her mother said she thought that since it wasn’t his ass, he definitely had the story ass-backwards. Well, backwards or forwards, there she was, Beulah Pearlie Mae Quick. As it turned out she came equipped with a quickness of both mind and spirit. Her Mom idly observed from time to time, however, that if she had really been quick the birth might have been a hell of a lot easier.
Even though I had gotten all this useless historical information about the family by just watching, asking and listening, I wasn’t able to figure out how it had resulted in the person that I sat behind in school every day.
Now with everyone gone home for the day except Uriah, Whit and Pearlie Mae, I made myself as inconspicuous as possible and hoped that I wouldn’t be noticed. I had been listening to all of this nonsense and wasn’t a bit surprised when Pearlie Mae interrupted Whit and Uriah and asked,
“Hey, what are you guys working on today?”