Of the 10 children growing up in a Durham household, Pearl Tibbetts Sawyer was always last. \
“I was always behind no matter what they were doing,” Sawyer said.
“‘Where is Pearl?'” she recalls her mother hollering often. “My reputation in the family was that I would be off in a corner with my nose in a book. My mother stated it a little differently. I was the ‘cow’s tail.'”
“I grew up in a big household, and it got pretty noisy,” Sawyer said. In search of peace, Sawyer would go out for a walk along the brook that ran next to her family home. “It was a nice clean brook that kind of sang as it went along. I liked to go out there because in my mind I was writing stories.”
“I have always had an interest in writing,” said the Auburn poet and 1939 graduate of Farmington High School. “That was my best subject in school. I loved books with a passion.”
“I think I was 7, visiting my grandmother in Farmington, and she introduced me to my first library. And that was just wonderful, because I learned that you could take those books home with you, read them and then take them back and get some more.”
Sawyer refers to childhood memories of musical brooks and quiet libraries as “blueberry memories,” because they take her back to when she was a kid picking blueberries, one of her favorite things to do.
“I loved things I could do by myself,” Sawyer said. She still does.
Sawyer’s favorite hobby is making bread, something she can do on her own while thinking about what to write next.
Sawyer is a mother, student, community volunteer, breast cancer survivor and a advocate for the elderly. She reads to residents of local care facilities as a member of the Senior Readers Theater.
“We had eight gigs last year,” Sawyer said. “It’s really great fun.”
“I truly am a champion for the elderly, because I think society still has not caught on to the idea that they don’t make grandmothers like they used to,” she said. “I think the elderly have to learn that they can do what they can do and not accept help unnecessarily.”
“Because I carry a cane, people are always leaping to help me, and if I drop that cane someone’s going to pick it for me. But I spent a month at (a care facility) in rehab, and it really scared me to see what can happen to a person that’s in a place like that. I realized I didn’t have to lift a finger, and everything would be done for me, and after a while I wouldn’t want to or wouldn’t be able to do for myself.”
“When I left there, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t let anyone do for me what I can do myself. But I had to learn to give consideration to my friends who truly want to help. It’s a two-way street. I have to put my pride in my pocket sometimes,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer’s bread is a big hit with family, friends and members of her church, but most around town know Pearl best for her poetry.
“It took me forever to allow myself to even think of myself as a poet,” Sawyer said. “It was when people started calling me one that I thought, maybe this (denial) is foolishness and maybe I can just say, I am.”
Sawyer is her own worst critic. “I have high expectations of myself and often I am disappointed, but it keeps me trying to do better. I think deep down inside that the most important thing for me would be if someone could read my words and somehow be helped,” Sawyer said. “That’s a big reason why I do it.”
Sawyer has published seven books of poems since her 80th birthday. Many of those poems have been written while sitting by the corner window of her home on Mayfield Road.
“I am a real morning person. I have probably written more about the morning than anything else — with Lake Auburn a close second, but what I see right through this window is my motivation. It is a front row to all of the sunsets and all the weather fronts. I don’t have to go very far for inspiration … plus all those wonderful people in my life.”
“My poems are all personal experiences. It’s as near to an autobiography as I’m going to get,” Sawyer said.
One of those experiences revolves around the bandstand in Durham.
Sawyer was a teenager and her girlfriend’s father owned the grocery store across from the bandstand. Soon after World War II ended, there were many unemployed young men who found work with the Civilian Conservation Corps. “A truckload of them came barreling through in the late afternoon and went right past the bandstand,” chuckled Sawyer. “We always managed to be there. We would rush out to the bandstand and sit and look pretty.”
“The Bandstand” is published in Sawyer’s fifth book “Through the Window.”
Sawyer’s latest collection of poetry is called “Bread and Other Poems.” On the inside is a dedication to the five teachers who fueled Sawyer’s passion to write.
When asked if she favors any particular poem, Sawyer said, “I am kind of partial to Louisa Tupper, who was my grade-school teacher that I just thought was a fairy princess. She danced into my life… she was just wonderful. Through the years I just loved her. I wanted to be just like her.”
Sawyer turned 88 in 2009, perhaps her most productive year as a poet. “I very foolishly made a New Year’s resolution, which I seldom do,” Sawyer said.
She decided that she would write a poem every day of January. “Of course, I had a lot to work with, the inauguration, my birthday is in January, my father’s birthday is in January and my daughter’s birthday is in January. So there was quite a lot to write about,” she said. “I persevered. I won’t do it again.”
But Feb. 1 came and Sawyer picked up her pen and continued writing. “It’s my best way of expressing myself,” Sawyer said. “I guess I have this need to express myself and share the beauty I see in the world around me.”