Vestal Pearl Campbell Garrett Nickol
Birth 9 December 1906 in Kentucky
Death 27 September 1979 in Muncie, Delaware, Indiana, USA
Was she Vestal Pearl or Pearl Vestal? I’ll never know for sure, but one thing I know; no one called her “Vestal.” Oh, the wrath that name would evince.
And that idiosyncracy is an indication of her feisty personality, which is mainly how I remember her. She died when I was just about to turn 17.
Her mother was Rettie A. (Decker) Turner Campbell. Her biological father is a mystery, although I have received a hint through Ancestry.com that might eventually lead me to a conclusion. (See James Matthew Woolverton, born in Pulaski Co and his wife, Aggatha Williams.) Family members told Pearl that her biological father’s surname was “Garrett,” which is confusing because she eventually grew up and married my grandfather, Bradley Garrett. Anyway, her father’s identity is unknown.
Pearl was her mother’s third child of four. She assumed the surname of her younger sister, Nell: “Campbell.”
When Pearl was seven years old, she contracted an illness that left her virtually blind. My aunt, Evelyn (Nickol) Wesner, told me yesterday that Grandma told her she suffered a malarial fever and measles that took her sight. Since they lived in a very rural area with little professional care available, we can only trust Pearl’s word about the actual cause. In any case, it doesn’t appear to have been congenital.
IN 1918, Pearl’s mother, Rettie, collapsed and died. I cannot find any information about that event.
So at age 11, Pearl had no father, no vision, no mother.
She went to stay with her older sister, Ethel, for a time, and then with her grandmother, Emaline Decker.
A kind woman name Delphia Newland sponsored Grandma so that she could attend what was then called, “The Kentucky School for the Blind,” 1846-1937.
While Grandma was there, she learned to do many tasks that allowed her to live quite independently, in some ways. I found documents that showed her participation in a musical play performed by the students. One of the most fascinating things she told me about her time there was that she met Helen Keller.
I believe she was a dancer in this program, as her name is listed here:
She is also listed in this roster:
REGULAR ANNUAL REPORT OF THE BOARD OF VISITORS OF THE KENTUCKY SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND. To His Excellency, Edwin P. Morrow, Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Sir : — The number of pupils under our charge during the past year and eight months in the White Department was one hundred and fourteen and in the Colored Department was sixteen, making in all, one hundred and thirty.
She was still listed in an annual report for 1923.
Recently, my aunt, Pearl’s youngest daughter, told me that while at the school, Grandma was courted by one of the teachers. They actually ran away together to elope, but they were stopped before a marriage could take place. The teacher was let go from his position at the school, and Grandma was taken back as a pupil. I am 53 years old; this is the first I’ve ever heard of this story!
I can’t find documentation for when she married my grandpa, but Mom was born in 1925, and Grandma was married before Mom’s birth. I know that Pearl and Bradley met while working in a hotel in KY. I do not know the name of the hotel or what jobs they were doing when they met. I know that Grandma was thrilled that Grandpa preferred her to her younger sister, Nell, who always garnered attention for her exotic looks (Nell’s biological father was Italian) and for being the baby of the family.
Grandma and Grandpa moved to New Castle, IN, because Grandpa found a job at the Chevrolet plant there. My mother, their first child, was born in New Castle on 12/10/1925, and was named Delphia Lucille, after Delphia Newland who sponsored my grandma at the Institute for the Blind. Grandma chose “Delphia,” while Grandpa chose “Lucille.” Here are Pearl and “Lou,” as my mom was always called.
Grandma and Grandpa had many children together. Because Grandma could not see well, my mom and her subsequent siblings did much of the daily chores and held advanced responsibilities in their household. Even as a young child, my mother was asked to check the vegetables my grandma cooked with to make sure there were no rotten spots or garden worms in the food before cooking. She often dictated to my mother how much of each ingredient should go into each recipe, when and how to stir, etc. Therefore, my mother learned to cook at a very early age, often while her mother called out directions from a bed in another room.
Grandma had a strong drive to care for the elderly. She would go out of her way to make sure elderly neighbors had all the food and medicines they needed when others forgot them or neglected them. She left Indiana and went back to Kentucky to care for her own grandmother when she was near death. In this photo, Nell is on the left, Grandma Emaline center, Pearl right.
Curiously, my grandma was able to find work as an LPN in Muncie. I have wondered more than once how she could care for the sick when her vision was so poor. My aunt and mother have told me that for years, she sat at the bedsides of the very ill, often working the midnight shift. Nurses before her would lay out medicines or whatever she might need to have done before she arrived. So she was able to do things like provide a cool cloth, food and comfort. My mother was charged with washing and starching Grandma’s white uniforms.
Because of her good reputation, doctors knew her by name and recommended her. She was able to network with health professionals and get help for the poor in her community by brazenly picking up the telephone and calling those who could help. The Ball family legacy is huge in this town, and my grandmother often called people in that family to procure help for others.
My grandfather died when he was only 40 years old. This left my grandma with no support before there were social programs. She became depressed and emotionally distracted and absent for a while. Then she met and married Orval Nickol, had two more children with him, and lived with him in peace until she died.
In her later life, she had extensive surgery to correct her vision. The doctors had to go into the eyeball itself and remove scar tissue. She had corneal transplants which required vertical stitches along the front of her eyeball. Recovery was long and arduous, but she could finally see better. She always wore thick glasses, as in this picture at Evelyn’s wedding:
Some incidental things I remember about my own grandmother are: she smoked cigarettes but did not drink or swear (in my lifetime or presence, anyway). She liked the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” She had a good sense of humor but a quick temper. She sat in one upholstered swivel chair in her living room on South Liberty Street most often. I loved to swing on her front porch and sing. The first time I ever ate canned green peas was at her house, and I asked for 2nds and 3rds. She had a garden. She liked “Little House on the Prairie,” because I believe it reminded her of her childhood, in a way. Her voice was on the gruff side, and she could get loud. She was not overly affectionate with me, but I do remember sitting on her lap in that chair. She was quite bossy with my mom, which amused me when I was a teenager. I believe I knew she loved me.
In later life, she had heart failure. At one point she was overmedicated in the hospital and nearly died. She returned home but died about a month after that ordeal.
It was her custom every day to take a nap right after lunch. One day, she fell asleep and never woke up. One of the worst days of my life was having to go out to our garage where my mom was cleaning something and tell her Grandma had passed.
The most pleasant story I have is one Grandma herself told me. When I was very small, maybe two years old, I was sitting on her lap in her house. The Beatles were on TV, and when they finished singing, they waved goodbye to the crowds. I began to cry, and Grandma asked me what was wrong. I sobbed, “They wave goodbye to me!” I think I was probably watching the teenaged girls cry and sensed something sad was happening, and so I may be able to go on record as the Beatles’ youngest-ever fangirl.
I feel relieved and sad to have finally gotten these events deposited somewhere where future generations can see them, if they choose. I’m sad because I wish I had appreciated my grandma more and asked even a small percentage of the questions I wish I could ask now:
Tell me every single thing you can remember about your grandmother and mother. Tell me about when you lost your vision. Tell me about your first day at the Blind School. Tell me how you fell in love with my grandpa. Tell me how you felt about my mother. Tell me how hard it was when Grandpa died and left you with all of those children. Mom says that after he passed, you did not behave like yourself for a while. What were you feeling? If you could have chosen any vocation, what would it have been? What did you think when I was born? How would you like to be remembered?
And I would say thank you for the rocking chair you bought me when I was a child. I still have it. I painted it, and now it belongs to my granddaughter, Josie. And I would tell you that I have the rocker that sat in your house for years. Sometimes when I sit in it, I think of you. You are not forgotten.