Wednesday, July 14, 2004


This is part of an interview I conducted in July, 2003, with 99-year-old Pearl Mt. Castle of Lewisburg, Ohio. Pearl taught school for forty years, usually fifth grade. She taught Sunday School for sixty-four years, retiring from that when she was in her nineties. She still lives independently in the house and on the farm her parents moved into in 1913. She still takes care of herself. She still sometimes refers to herself in the third person, in the manner of old school teachers. I found that my job during this interview was to stay out of the way and let Pearl tell her story. Pretty much I succeeded in staying out of the way; there's no question but that Pearl can tell her story. Try and keep up with us, now.

"With a case of polio," Pearl said, "a person is crippled by it in some way or other. Of course, my crippling was in the ankle and foot, which is what bothers me now, that's my biggest problem right now. After a while you lay the polio aside and kind of forget about it. You put up with it - not being able to wear good-looking shoes and not doing all the things others did. You just make peace with it and go on, on your own, and forget about the difficulties. A thorn in the flesh is what it is, you know. You can't just sit down and do nothing, if you have a mind. And I'm blessed with that, but you have to keep that mind busy, and I've done that."

"My family is all music," Pearl said. "I can tell if you're a half a pitch off. A keen ear. None of our immediate family ever cultivated the music, but we had an ear for it. My oldest brother played the fiddle back in the old days, and all of us sang. I sang a solo in church before I started in school."

"I've lost my voice now, at this stage," she said, "but I've sung for my friends' weddings, at funerals, and I always taught music in school. Many times I taught in other rooms because that teacher couldn't teach them music. She'd come in my room and teach a little writing or something while I helped out with her music."

"I've always been around music some way or other," she said. "In college, I was in choir. While I was teaching in Dayton, I was in the Philharmonic Choir, which was a hundred fifty voices. I sang with them. I directed the choir in my church for fifteen years. I sang in every part of the program they've had in church."

"I taught Sunday school class for sixty-four years," she said somewhat nonchalantly.

"If I had a dime for every hour I spent in the little church up here in Lewisburg," Pearl said, "I could have retired many, many years earlier. I loved the work and was educated to the point that I could be a leader in certain things. When they needed someone to teach the class that was coming out of high school, and there was no place in the Sunday School for that particular age - they had up through high school age - it was 'Pearl, you're chosen.' I taught that class sixty-four years. I was in my nineties when I quit teaching. Some of those students are my best friends now."

How did Pearl relate to those recent high school graduates?

"For a while," she said, "I was almost one of them. I wasn't much older than they were. They were at the place they were either going to college or being employed in one way or another. We studied the Bible."

"I've been in a Methodist church for many, many years," Pearl said, explaining what she taught those young adult students. "There's a set of Bible study lessons that we had. We studied that way - the Scripture, and applying it to the present day. One time I was talking with an older woman who was very strict in her Bible study. For me, studying the Bible, you compare the old time to the new, and apply what you read. That's the way I taught the Bible. Once I was teaching about Joseph in the Old Testament, and I said 'he was just a spoiled brat, wasn't he?" Well, strict woman thought I was being sacrilegious."

It was 1964 when Pearl retired from teaching grade school. "I was 60 years old and 1964 was my last year of teaching," she said. "I could name doctors, attorneys, teachers, farmers, and sweet little old grandmothers who were my pupils. When you are teaching ten-year-olds, you wonder what their potential is, what will happen. One of the best heart specialists in Dayton was one of my little ten-year-olds, and a doctor in Springfield, another doctor in Dayton, and several attorneys. I read their names in the paper and see what they're doing."

"I watch very little television," she continued. "Some of it isn't worth looking at, you know. If I can finish my work, I like to watch the news at 6:00 p.m."

To be continued....


"For Mary, At Work"

How the light shimmers, these
mornings, with you gone to

work & only the wind
to whisper what you would

tell me, suddenly behind
me with your surprise of

arms, hugging. Instead -
my coffee goes cold & I

haven't finished saying
how much I love you.

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