Thursday, February 9, 2012

Honoring Pearl (DeZarn) Willoughby

Pearl DeZarn (25 Jan 1944)
Today is the 87th anniversary of the birth of my husband's mother, Pearl (DeZarn) Willoughby. She's been gone from this world for 28 years now and Michael still misses her every single day.

Pearl was born in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana on 9 February 1925 to Frederick "Fred" and Nannie (Gambrell) DeZarn. Pearl would be the second of four children: an older sister Lavadia Eris "Boots" born in 18 May 1923 in Clay County, Kentucky, a younger sister Nancy born in Ohio, and a younger brother Raymond Louis born 11 April 1933 in Williamstown, Grant County, Kentucky. Michael's middle name is Ray after his uncle.

Despite Ray's birth in Kentucky, the DeZarn family lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Tragedy struck in 1938 when Pearl's mother passed away on 3 September. Pearl was only 13. I can't imagine what it must be like to lose your mother at such a tender age.

I don't know exactly when or where Pearl met James "Jim" Willoughby (born 16 May 1911 in Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky) also living in Cincinnati (hopefully the 1940 US Federal Census will help to clear that up). Jim and Pearl were married on 10 August 1945 in Cincinnati. Jim was a widower and Pearl would become the step-mother of Jim's daughter Loretta (born 14 June 1932) who was also age 13 when her mother died.

Somewhere between 1945 and 1948, Jim and Pearl would leave Cincinnati for Houston, Texas. Jim would find work as a machinist and all three of their children would be born there.

Jim and Pearl (date and place unknown)
Michael is the oldest of the three children, followed by Juanita a couple of years later and Perry born 29 November 1962. Pearl's brother Ray had also moved to Houston by the early 1960s. Michael remembers his Uncle Ray living with them for most of his childhood. Pearl would often return to the Cincinnati, OH/Covington, KY area to visit her sister Nancy. Nancy is still living and loves to talk about Pearl, often remembering how close they were, how lovely Pearl's hair was, how much she loved her. The DeZarn children would lose their father in 1966 and their oldest sister "Boots" in 1969.

Fred DeZarn and Pearl Willoughby with Nancy's children, ca. 1951
One of Michael's favorite early memories of his mother is of her baking in the kitchen. He loved to help her mix the batter in the bowl and to lick the spoon afterwards. He remembers being read nursery rhymes, and going to the corner store for her.

Jim would lose his battle with leukemia in 1978, five months shy of their 33rd wedding anniversary. Pearl would become a grandmother for the first time in January of 1979. By the end of March 1982, she would have five grandchildren: 2 girls and a boy for Michael; 2 girls for Perry. I wish she could have lived to see her youngest grandchildren, our children, Laura and Zechariah.

Pearl's health was not very good towards the end of her life; she had smoked most of her life and was no stranger to alcohol. Her body finally gave out and she passed away at her home on 6 January 1984. She was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Houston, not far from her husband.

Grave Marker for Pearl Willoughby
Michael with Zechariah and Laura
Even though Pearl is not with us anymore, I swear I can feel her presence, usually in the kitchen when I'm cooking. Which is weird because we've never met. But I can feel her standing there on my right, just a little behind me, and I feel like she's giving me pointers and suggestions as I cook. I've been cooking a long time now so it's not like I don't know how. I think it's because I'm cooking for her son and she's helping me to get it "just right".

So many times when I look at Laura, I can see Pearl. It's in Laura's hair (that infamous hair), her cheekbones, her eyes. Even the whiteness of Laura's skin. Not to mention that headstrong, insistent personality. Pearl is with us, of this I am sure.

Happy Birthday, Pearl. You will always be in our thoughts, forever in our hearts.

Love, Niecey

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