Join us today in the Prides Hollow laundromat, where the faded pageant queens hold their own kind of court, and the gentle hum of a dryer can heal a wounded soul. Come meet Pearl, the queen of this laundromat. And Trulee Dupree, living a fairy tale gone bad. Both are holding a secret, that after today, won’t be. In today’s touching episode, we get a look at what real courage looks like when women link arms together and refuse to budge.
Prides Hollow is full of southern humor and inspirational stories that make you cry a little, think a lot, and swear you know some of these people in this tiny little town about a mile and a hair past nowhere.
To watch the video version of this story, go to www.PridesHollow.com – to listen to the audio version go to Buzzsprout (or your preferred podcast provider) and to join the city go to www.Patreon.com/kellyswanson
Have fun in Prides Hollow, where the simple life is revered, ordinary heroes are appreciated, and the stories are never fancy – they’re just about the people. Once you visit, you never want to leave.
Today’s story is about Pearl, who had no intentions of cashing in on Old Man Wither’s challenge, as her world just didn’t have any extra space for doing brave things. But sometimes, you don’t do something brave for yourself. You do it for someone else. And that’s what happened to Pearl.
It was just another Saturday in the faded laundromat where the story takes place – over on the east side of town, where most of the blue collar folks hung out. Rose was setting a rack of for sale dresses out on the sidewalk in front of her consignment shop Second Hand Rose. A skinny tattoo covered fellow stood there with his arm draped over a girl’s shoulder, staring into the window of the pawn shop with the We need your gold sign in the window that had been up there for years. The steam of the laundry’s vent was sending out the clean smell of detergent into the street mixed in with a hint of chicken grease from the dimly lit bar, where most of the plant workers gathered to enjoy the game in peace.
Hambone was sitting on the bench out front like he did most every day since he retired. Just making sure nobody started any trouble. Not that he would have been in any shape to help. Hambone had finally gotten clean somewhere around last summer – which is why he was now sitting outside the bar rather than inside it – and while his mind was pretty sharp again – well, the rest of him hadn’t quite caught up.
The laundry held no cute quippy name like Suds and Duds, or Wash and Whirl. There were no pretences here. It was simply called Laundromat. Like its inhabitants, what you see is pretty much what you get. Simple and unadorned.
The cracked and faded sign left no illusions about what to expect inside. Something about the place just made you feel sluggish as soon as you walked in. Like time was forced to slow down to meet the rythm of the wash cycle. And every moment felt like an eternity with only one TV up in the corner that was always set on cartoons without the sound – as if to trick people into a false sense of happy. The fluorescent lighting and the plastic chairs with metal legs, gave the place a cheap look like the auto shop with the burned coffee smell. There was a vending machine that on a good day was stocked – and a sad stack of worn magazines that still thought McDreamy was alive.
There was an occasional male in there, but for the most part – it was their safe space. These women claiming their usual spots, and checking the plant by the door on their way in, to see if it needed water. They all took ownership of that plant, like an untended child.
The beauty parlor in Prides Hollow was where the polished women went – the laundromat was where the others went – where the polished would not dare be seen. Now you up in the big city, you’re all used to washers outside your house. But in Prides Hollow, well, having to use the laundromat, was sort of a sign. And for as loud as Myrlene, Vyrlene and Shyrlene’s House of Beauty would have been on a Saturday, was how quiet that laundromat was. For there was an unspoken code that talking should be reserved for only when necessary. And when things were said, well, you could pretty much trust that they would never be repeated. Which is way more than we can say for Myrlene Vyrlene and Shyrlene’s.
While the beauty parlor set were intent on catching up with the latest gossip and who should win the pageant this year, while getting their roots highlighted – the laundry set were more the type to be gossiped about – the tarnished homecoming queens, mothers and wives who slipped in here with another load, appreciating the peace and quiet and pretending they don’t know their husband is next door at the bar, and not at the hardware store like he claimed. A few sneaking out the back door for a smoke even though they quit years ago. Here the women held a different kind of court. Where crowns and pageants were now quite silly. And most of the heart throbs they once giggled over as young girls, had become as average as the worn khaki’s swirling through the spin cycle.
Now don’t hear me say I’m judging one group or the other – for as we all know – in this world there is quite a lot of overlap. So I’m not claiming one place is better, nor the people sitting in their seats. I’m just saying one place is shiny glamour and glitz, and the other is not. And as soon as you try to judge, you’ll see the most unexpecting frumpy woman, pull out a set of lacy panties from that washer that would make you gasp.
Despite its tired atmosphere, there was something gentle and calming and warm about that laundromat that kind of wrapped you up, like in a hug. Made you feel like you didn’t have to be something else. Or try too hard. And sometimes that’s just what a woman needs.
This Saturday looked pretty much like the others with its usual cast of characters. Hambone sitting out front of the bar next door dozing. Pearl was emptying the trash in the laundromat, complaining about her hip again, and mumbling about something that had ticked her off. And something was always ticking off Pearl. Didn’t take but a newspaper article to get her started.
She was the queen of that laundromat. The one you went to if your quarter got stuck, or if you forgot detergent, or someone left their clothes unattended for too long. She owned the place, or so we figured. If it was open, she was there.
Her name didn’t fit her at all. I think it was more wishful thinking on her mother’s part, than a reflection of the life she was born into. If you think of pearls as dainty and cultured. Well think again. Pearl was built like a linebacker and had the mouth and five o’clock shadow to match. You could hear her raspy voice, crafted by decades of filterless Camels, a full block over, yelling at the cats gathered around the back door of the laundromat. Damn cats, she’d mutter, knowing full well it was her scraps that had made them bring back their friends. Pearl actually lived in the back of that laundromat, in a tiny room with a small refrigerator, a stove, and a bathroom. A little black and white TV perched on a dinner tray. And a recliner that she slept in most nights. Occasionally one of those outside cats snuck in when Pearl wasn’t looking. And she pretended not to notice.
There was the lady in the blue jeans and white button down shirt in her regular seat, knitting. She’d look up every so often to check the dryer time, or to smile sweetly at someone. But that was all you’d get from her. She was one of what they called the quiet people in town. The ones who hadn’t grown up here, or even in this country. The ones who felt it best to just live out their lives quietly minding their own business. Beautiful knitting she did. Never knew what she did with them. She could sell them that’s for sure. But somehow I pictured those blankets going to people she loved. Sometimes she would hum one of her hymns from church, and a couple of other ladies would join in. And they’d start harmonizing. And you couldn’t find a church choir out there, that could soothe the soul like that sound. Sometimes you don’t really need words.
You had the granny crew gathered in their usual weekly spot, with their assortment of grandchildren sleeping in their carriers or draped around their laps like sleeping cats.
Trulee was sitting there up against the window, where the sunlight shined down on that bruise that looked pretty fresh. And once again, they pretended not to notice. Life had not been kind to Trulee Dupree whose troubles had all started the day she laid eyes on that no good stink of a boy named Earl who had promised to make all her dreams come true. If you had known her back when she was a young girl – why you would not even recognize this woman today, who just cowered like a dog in a corner hoping not to be noticed. There was more than one woman in that town whose prayers included requests for that man to be removed from this earth. And not one of them felt guilty about it.
Waynona was perched on a counter top puffing on one of those vape things that made the room smell like strawberries. She was wearing a skimpy sundress that was bordering on inappropriate for a woman her age. But she didn’t care. Waynona was fighting the aging process for all she was worth. The laundromat wasn’t quiet when Waynona was there. She ignored the code of conduct, just like she ignored the fact that that drugstore #27 platinum blonde in a box was not doing her any favors. She sat perched on that counter top swinging her feet over the side. It was her favorite spot for people watching. She could see everybody and was available for comment when needed. She had accrued quite a collection of opinions (and men, if we’re being honest) in her life which she shared openly and often – the opinions I mean, not the men – at least not by choice. And so for a handful of quarters, you could get your clothes cleaned to the tune of Waynona’s words of wisdom, which just like the machine, had a setting called gentle agitation.
That day Waynona was particularly chatty. Her voice a little higher in octave, with a dash of frantic to it, that made you wonder just how good a grasp she had on her life. How maybe it was more than just needing to be seen and heard. She was the one who started it. The conversation I mean. As usual, she started it, dominated it, and never quite knew when to end it.
But somehow she got on the subject of Pearl and asking her all these questions that were none of her business. Like why she lives in the back. Was she ever married? Did her mamma run the laundromat too? While we were quite sure that Pearl could take on all of us at once and win, and might possibly have served time in prison according to rumors – for some reason Pearl had a soft spot for Waynona. And humored her. And you can bet everybody was listening real hard. For this was much better than the faded magazines.
Turns out that, no, Pearl had not been in prison, wherever did we get that idea? That she hadn’t been really much of anywhere, if we wanted to know the truth.
Not even like a trip or a vacation? Waynona asked. I mean even she got to go see Bruce Springstein at Myrtle Beach once. And, yes, Waynona, you did tell us how he locked eyes with you and blew you a kiss from stage, and that’s why you named every dog you had Bruce after that. Good thing you hadn’t gone to see Enkelbert Humperdink in concert. And we’d all laugh, even though we’d already heard it like a million times.
Not even a trip, said a Pearl. And she had a firm look to her mouth. Even firmer than normal if you can imagine. It was a subtle look that said she was ready to have this conversation be over. But Waynona didn’t speak subtle.
You mean the only place you ever go is like to the grocery store? She asked sarcastically.
Pearl stopped sweeping for a minute and hesitated. Not even there. She said. And the way she said it, we just knew. How did we not realize it before? Nobody went to church with her. She didn’t have kids that we knew of – so we never saw her at PTA or school functions. In fact, not a woman in that room could recall seeing Pearl anywhere – but here.
Waynona stared at Pearl with wide eyes and sucked in loudly on her vape. And it was clear she wasn’t gonna let it go.
It’s complicated whispered Pearl, turning away to sweep somewhere else and grabbing her hip. The gentle whir of the washers and a tennis shoe thumping an odd rythm in a dryer was the only sound as people digested the obvious. That Pearl didn’t just not want to leave. She couldn’t.
In a town as small as ours, there are definitely rumors, and people know more about families than they should. What we did know about Pearl’s mamma wasn’t much, but it was enough to make sense of things. And out of respect, I won’t share it here. But let’s just say that while Pearl had found a way to forgive her mamma, the side effects of that – well, not so easy to let go.
So gruff old Pearl was holding a secret. And now – well, she didn’t look so gruff anymore. I guess that’s the way it is when you step into someone’s shoes for a minute. You realize there’s more to them than what you chose to see. I’m pretty sure that most of us are writing the wrong story about others.
Nobody said anything after that. Waynona got sidetracked by the new postal carrier walking past the laundromat window, and doesn’t he look just like a young Bruce Springstein? And then the room calmed again – lulled into its original state of hushed swishing.
Waynona had just jumped down to switch her clothes, when the brown oldsmobile pulled up front and Trulee tensed as Earl’s workboot dropped out of the side of the car. And he had one of his looks.
We all tried to look preoccupied so as not to make Trulee feel bad for belonging to such a hateful man. Even Waynona knew not to comment.
Earl just stood there leaning over the car door, chewing on a fast food straw, with a disgusted look on his face – motioning for Trulee to hurry. Like she was wasting his time. We could see the empty beer cans on the ripped front seat upholstery. Not one of us could imagine having to climb inside that car.
Even Hambone was sitting at full attention on his bench outside the bar. Hambone had known far too many men like Earl. And those stories never ended well.
That’s when Pearl stopped sweeping and said something none of us had the courage to say before. You don’t have to go back.
Which was kind of ironic, if you think about it. The woman too afraid to leave, giving advice to the woman too afraid not to.
Trulee didn’t answer and her shoulders drooped a little in disappointment. It’s complicated, she whispered.
The tiny bell on the door sounded extra loud for some reason as we watched her make her way to the car. And something happened. She stopped. Right before stepping off that sidewalk. And she turned. And she looked back into the window and found Pearl. And locked eyes with her. Just the smallest of a look in her eyes. Like maybe?
It was one of those moments that is probably faster than it feels. But it felt like it lasted a lifetime. Like you could see Trulee’s entire life flashing before her eyes – including the next chapters. And it was like she wasn’t even there. Her hands dropped, and the basket of clothes just fell into the street. And Earl is moving to get back out of the car. All in slow motion.
And then there was Pearl. And this look. Like her entire life was flashing in front of her eyes. And I swear even though she didn’t say a word, she might as well have – because we all knew exactly what that look meant. If you do it. Then I will too.
Pearl’s broom fell to the floor. And she stood up taller like her hip had never had a bad day. And she took a deep breath. And pushed open the door of the laundromat and set one foot outside. And then the other. The hardest step she would ever take in her life. Nobody said a word. Nobody moved. Afraid the slightest noise might scare her back inside. This woman who had not stepped out of this place in more years than we could count.
Time was suspended as Trulee turned away from her husband, and took a step towards Pearl – the hardest step she would ever take in her life. For nothing matters as much as that first…brave….step. After that, the rest just fall into place.
They stood paused on the sidewalk, both women, arms locked fiercely – and leaned on each other with the weight of a thousand wishes. Breathing in their first taste – of freedom.
It took Earl a minute to get over the shock of what he was seeing. And then a growl came up deep from his throat and he got out of that car slow and easy with the purest of evil in his soul played out right there on his face.
And the women in that laundromat needed no prompting. No plan was necessary. They stood up fast and together – as one. They pushed through that door and stood arm to arm, in a line behind Pearl. Their lips pulled back in a growl – coming to protect their own. With the combined strength of their hardships. The grannies. The quiet people. Waynona. The tarnished homecoming queens rising up with a roar that they would not be defeated. Or at least die trying.
Earl made one last attempt to grab his wife, and things happened fast for a minute. But as it turns out, Hambone is stronger and faster than he looked. And with just enough mean left in him to do what needed to be done. And that day a tired old cleaned up drunk, became a hero.
And don’t you be thinking that it had to be a man to save those ladies. I’m quite sure they could have more than handled it on their own. Especially since we’re pretty sure a couple of them were packing heat. They were just too polite to take away Hambone’s moment as he hammered Earl upside the jaw – knocked him out cold – while somebody called for the sheriff.
They didn’t see much of Earl after that. According to the speculation over at Myrlene, Vyrlene, and Shyrlene’s – some say he left town. Others say he got a job up north. And some whisper that things were taken care of, he won’t be coming back, and nobody needs to worry about it. The details don’t really matter only thing that matters, is that Trulee is free. And now when she comes into the laundromat on Saturdays, well, remember that young girl I told you about? Well, she’s back.
Both of them qualified for getting their share of Old Man Wither’s money, because both of them, even though unplanned, did something very brave that day. They both decided to donate their money to the women’s shelter a couple of blocks over, where Trulee and Pearl both walk every Sunday afternoon to volunteer. It’s about 854 steps there and back. Pearl knows because she counts every one.
That day we learned that bravery is often found in the courage to just take that one first step. And then the rest sort of fall into place. And that first step? Well, if you have someone to take it with, it’s even better. Funny thing about bravery. It’s contagious. Isn’t life neat that way?