LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Technology — computers, cell phones, Facebook and email — may frighten some who are half the age of 85-year-old Pearl Marcum, but she is very familiar with how to point and click and navigate the Web. She uses the devices to keep up and stay close to family and friends.
“I love my computer,” she said. “And, I love hearing from my children and grandchildren when they email me. I also play games on the computer and look up things I hear on television. And I don’t go anywhere without my cell phone.”
Marcum, who grew up in what was known as the Owsley community of Laurel County (located in the Sublimity-Lily area), recalled the time, if you wanted to send a message to a loved one or friend, you wrote a letter or postcard. You didn’t use a phone or a computer.
And she remembered learning to drive a stick shift. “I was 18 when daddy taught me how to drive in his old stick-shift truck. He sat with his hand on the emergency brake in case I ran off the road.”
One of 10 children — two girls and eight boys — born to Willie and Minnie Johnson Hodges, she lived on a farm where they raised most of their food. Marcum still lives on land that was once part of her family’s farm.
“Like most children in the community we had a very average, happy childhood,” she said. “But we learned to work.”
“We grew most of our food and raised animals that were slaughtered for meat. Canned most of the vegetables and traded eggs for coffee and sugar at the community store,” she added.
Marcum attended grade school at Owsley Community School, located near the site of Gilbert’s Chapel United Baptist Church, and high school at Lily High School. “We lived almost two miles from Lily High School, and most of the time (we) walked to school,” she said. “Back then we only attended school for about seven months, August to February. We didn’t go during the really bad weather months, and I don’t remember missing a lot because of bad weather.”
Pearl and Paul Marcum were married on Sept. 27, 1947. They had four sons, Jerry, Lonnie, Kevin and Lynn, three of which Paul saw grown and married before his sudden death in 1985. Kevin, the youngest, was in high school at the time.
Lonnie and Kevin reside in Laurel County, Jerry in Franklin, Tenn., and Lynn is deceased. The sons have blessed Marcum with 11 grandchildren, the youngest being 7 years old, and five great-grandchildren.
“I have babysit all of them,” she said. “Four of the grandsons at one time. They are now juniors and seniors in high school. Most Friday nights, they stay with me and on Saturday morning they want biscuits and gravy.”
She also babysits with her friends’ children whenever needed.
“I worked in housekeeping at Laurel Heights for five years, and loved it,” she added. “I still go back there to visit with the residents and co-workers. And the second Saturday of each month, my church, Gilbert’s Chapel United Baptist, has service for the residents.”
Marcum is a charter member of Gilbert’s Chapel, becoming a Christian at age 15, and the only charter member still attending the church.
“We have a great pastor, Joel Holcomb. And he and (wife) Amy have a wonderful, little family.”
Marcum is a very active member of her church. She works in Vacation Bible School, cooks, cleans, and does whatever needs to be done.
She also mows her own grass, runs a carpool for the family when needed and is the first in the neighborhood to check on the sick, visit neighbors or fellow church members in the hospital or collect money for flowers when someone dies.
“If anyone needs anything or help, I’m usually there.”
In what spare time she has, she may read and crochet. “I have crocheted 10 caps this winter and have given them all away but one. I’m also reading “Nearing Home” by Billy Graham. And I can relate to that.”
Marcum said today people rush around too much.
“They are always in a hurry. I think we should enjoy things more.”
“My life has not been that different. I have always tried to be honest and treat everyone good,” she added.
Neighbor Liz Lewis describes Marcum — “If you see her, she will be dressed nicely, have on her makeup and be serving somebody in one way or another. Her life is devoted to helping others. I guess what is unique about Pearl is that she continues to display the characteristics and values of the ‘greatest generation,’ especially in a time when there are so few people to look up to. She is a role model. No gimmicks, nothing she sells, nothing that she makes ... she just continues to shine a light in this small community, day in and day out. I’m 61 years old and, when I ‘grow up,’ I want to be just like Pearl.”