- Special Sections
- Public Notices
As her daughter Elissa lay dying, Louise Perry read.
Not the fairy tales and animal fables Louise pored over as a child growing up in Fox Creek in the early ‘40s, but Bible stories.
Anything Elissa wanted to read, mother and daughter read together until Elissa’s death from a brain tumor in 1975.
As the 74-year-old Louise recalls now, sitting on a couch in her Lawrenceburg apartment on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, the loss of her daughter is just one part of her education.
A lifelong education of a 16-year-old newlywed with only a few months of freshman year completed.
The education of Louise Perry is a story that takes hours, if not days of retelling.
But like many stories, Louise’s begins with a coloring book.
Born Brenda Louise McCarty in 1939, the Lawrenceburg native’s earliest memory was living in a Fox Creek bungalow with her maternal grandparents Jim and Calpernia “Pernie” Curtsinger.
Her father had been drafted in the Army during World War II. Her mother was working in a factory in Louisville.
Her happiest childhood memory, Louise said, was her third birthday. She remembers looking at a coloring book, shaped like a cocker spaniel’s head.
All she wanted for her birthday was a book, even though she wouldn’t learn to read until she was 4 or 5. Her teenage cousin, Betty Baxter, taught her how.
“And [reading was] probably the best thing for me in my life,” Louise said.
Louise is someone who can say, yes, she’s walked up the hill to her one-room schoolhouse in Fox Creek both ways in the snow. One time her grandfather, fondly called “Big Daddy” by Louise, carried her home because a deep snow drifted over the tops of her shoes.
As happy as the memories with her grandparents were, Louise said her childhood was difficult.
Teachers held Louise back in the first grade after missing too much school because of pneumonia.
After her father was killed in action during World War II, her mother remarried her stepfather when Louise was in the second grade.
Louise said she spent years moving with her half sister and parents and transferring from school to school to school.
The student kept making good grades, but not so many friends.
Instead of going outside for recess, Louise often chose to stay inside and talk with the teachers.
“I was never at school long enough to develop friendships,” she said.
Louise wasn’t at school long enough to finish the eighth grade, she said, because her mother came down with tuberculosis, one of many of her mother’s future bouts with the disease.
Louise was allowed to take tests to get her certification to enroll in the strict, all-girls Pinkerton High School, now known as Midway College.
But Louise’s time at Pinkerton stopped when her mother’s tuberculosis flared up again, and Louise moved back home to Lawrenceburg to live with her grandfather.
That summer before her freshman year, Louise sat outside, painted her fingernails on the front porch. Bobby Perry walked by and waved.
“I guess you could say he was typical of what a lot of boys are now,” Louise said, describing Bobby as adventurous. “He skipped school for the thrill of it.”
Her mother had forbidden Louise from dating Bobby, but her grandfather didn’t mind if she went out with the 19-year-old.
Louise dated Bobby for a few months until December 1955, when they decided to get married in Jeffersonville, Ind.
Louise was 16.
Looking back at her 16-year-old self, Louise said she understands why she got married young. Marrying Bobby (which many of her teachers and mentors then told her not to do, Louise said) was attractive to a bored teenager in need of emotional support, she said.
But Louise married because it was her choice, she said.
“I take all the blame and the credit for all the things I’ve done in my life,” she said during an interview.
Credit for getting Louise to go back to school and into college should maybe be given to a Veterans Affairs counselor that Louise met in the fall of 1958.
Louise met with the man to discuss her father’s army pension, and conversation led to what Louise had wanted to do, before she became a mother to her 1-year-old son, Rick.
“As a child, I had always wanted to be a teacher,” Louise said.
Supported by a war orphans scholarship, positive college entrance exams and glowing recommendations from Lawrenceburg teachers, the young mother enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University, later retroactively receiving her high school diploma from Anderson High School.
Louise said she loved everything about college.
“Everything, except I think the walking back and forth to class and staying up with babies.”
But she was forced to withdraw from classes in 1960 while pregnant with her second son, Tim.
Her third pregnancy with daughter Elissa did not stop her from attending class.
“I had given birth on Wednesday and went back to school on Monday,” Louise recalled.
Alma Shouse, a former Lawrenceburg teacher and classmate of Louise’s at college, said she remembered the young mom.
“I knew she had two little boys at the time, and pregnant with a daughter,” Shouse said. “My circle of friends were all single, she was unique to us because of her being married and living off campus. I knew she was a hard-working student and did not have an easy life.”
After college, Louise said she taught fifth and sixth grade at Western school in Anderson County.
With 44 students in both classes, Louise said she thought she was a “bad” teacher, entirely too strict.
“You know what teachers would say if they had to teach 44 students in one classroom?” Louise asked with a laugh. “I had been told you had to be that way. I had all kind of threats from parents.”
According to former Western fifth grader and current school board member Donna Drury, “Paddle-whipping Perry” gained her respect because of her toughness.
“She was my fifth grade teacher, and what I remembered so much about her is her dedication to her students and that they learned as much as they could,” Drury said.
“Oh yes, she was very strict, as a matter of fact I never said a word in her class.”
The teacher eventually became the student when Louise began her career as a social worker. Especially when she spent some time in eastern Kentucky working with young girls’ cases.
“Getting an education … that educated me more than anything,” Louise said.
While her daughter Elissa’s brain tumor grew worse, Louise kept working on child abuse cases, which was difficult as her daughter became blind and disabled.
But as Louise said, her thumb marking the small school picture of Elissa taken right before she got sick, every hill in life is preparation for the mountain.
So that when you get to the mountain, Louise said, you can climb it.
“I thought I had several mountains,” she said.
Louise never really discussed those hills with her children when they were younger.
Angela Fields, Louise’s youngest daughter from her marriage to Marvin Ervin, said she’s heard more of the stories now that she’s an adult.
Her mother has always stressed education, but more importantly, Angela said, education was about finding independence, finding a sense of responsibility in the world.
Angela said it’s difficult for her mother, and it’s difficult for Angela talk about even over the phone, to see that independence taken away.
Louise said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 25 years ago.
She has her good days. Louise said she’s able to leave her apartment about once a week on a good day.
“I think when you’ve had that independence your whole life, and have to give it up,” Angela said. “It’s hard for me to see her.”
But Louise kept giving thanks when remembering her mistakes, turning around what she thought were the worst experiences of her life.
“I tell you, I have made so many errors of judgment in my lifetime,” Louise said, “and to know that I still have the friends I’ve had all my life and be able to receive and give the joy he gives me… he’s the reason I’m still here.”
And Louise still has her books.
Her latest read? “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn.
Louise, bringing out the book’s hardcover jacket among her yellowing newspaper clippings, family photos, school pictures and the high school and college diplomas, gave a brief book review.
She liked it, she said, but it was a little bit tawdry for her taste.