How many of you remember Minnie Pearl from the Grand Ole Opry? That woman was a character! She would shashay out onto the stage, swinging her full skirt from side to side, a large price tag hanging from the brim of her hat. And, she'd stop in front of the microphone and yell 'HOW-DEE'?. The crowds would go wild.
She'd start off telling stories about her Uncle Nabob, his wife Ambrosia and of course, Brother, who was smart but slow-witted. They all lived in Grinder Switch. Her comedy routines always brought down the house.
This is where the story gets interesting, to me, anyway. I hope you find it entertaining as well.
Colley was hired as a drama coach for the Wayne P. Sewall Producing Company, a small Atlanta theatrical organization that sent directors into small Southern towns to put on amateur plays in local schools. It was for this reason, in 1935, that Colley found herself in Baileyton, Alabama nearly broke, and right smack in the middle of a major snowstorm.
Minnie Pearl wrote about this incident in her autobiography.
“My train pulled into the little depot in the middle of a blizzard. I was the only person who got off. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and already almost dark, with snow falling so heavily I could hardly see.”
Without anyone there to meet her at the station, Colley managed to finagle a ride to the school house. The drive was dangerous, them slip sliding all over the place as they drove along the dirt road. She finally reached the school. No one was there except a small group of teachers who were meeting with the principal.
When the meeting was over, Colley realized the principal hadn’t expected her to arrive due to the weather. Nonetheless, she was there and needed a place to stay. Unfortunately, she had used most of her spending money to pay for her ride from the train station to the school. So, the principal came up with a plan.
Colley recalled. “There I was with $2 left in my pocket and Cullman 15 miles away by an icy road that would certainly be impassable at night. By this time, it was already dark. Someone suggested a family that lived in a mountain cabin about a mile from the school. ‘I’ll bet they’d take you in,’ the principal said.”
The family in that mountain cabin happened to have been my great-grandfather's sister and her husband and children. My (Willie Latane Barton)'s great, great aunt, Mattie Butler Burden.
I am sure they welcomed Miss Colley with a warmness that southern families are known for. She probably shared their meager supper and slept in a bed with some of the children. Little did they know that they were hosting a woman who would become world famous with her "Howdy" and that price tag hat. The character, Minnie Pearl, had a good deal of Mattie Burden in her. Sarah wove some of Mattie's ways into her Minnie Pearl persona.
Minnie Pearl was as far-fetched from Sarah Ophelia Colley as she could be. Sarah was born on October 25, 1912, the youngest of five daughters of a well-to-do lumberman and his wife. Growing up she loved to dance and dreamed of becoming an actress. After high school, she went to Ward-Belmont College, which was Nashville's most prestigious school for young ladies at the time, where she majored in theater and dance. She became one of the Grand Ole Opry's most loved and revered members.