Opinion: Mimicking Minnie might have been best

Published 1:35 am Saturday, June 2, 2018

Who was Sarah Ophelia Colley? If you don’t know, try Mrs. Henry Cannon. Still haven’t come up with the answer? What about Minnie Pearl, that funny lady who wore tacky clothes and a hat with a $1.98 price tag hanging from it?

Back when she was an emerging star on the Grand Ole Opry, I was moving through junior high school. At that time in my life, I was quite sensitive about certain things, as adolescents often are.  Because of this popular entertainer who portrayed a silly country woman, I suffered a lot of teasing from my classmates. The similarity of my name, Nina Pearl, with Minnie Pearl, got their attention

I was named for an aunt I dearly loved. Until Minnie Pearl appeared on national television and captured many viewers’ attention, I never had any objections to using my middle name. All of a sudden I was tagged “Minnie Pearl.” I hated that. When I entered a city high school after spending elementary and junior high school in a rural area, I tried to drop my middle name. That did not work since a few of my former classmates attended the same school. They did not hesitate to let the cat out of the bag. It was all several of those students needed to set the ball rolling.

A new classmate latched onto it right away. He delighted in shouting “Hi, Minnie Pearl” at me in a crowded hallway or a classroom. Then he always added, “That’s old Minnie Pearl!” I tucked my head and rushed as far away from him as I could get. If I ever saw him before he spotted me, I tried to hide. His last name was Tuck, so finally one day he irritated me so much that I shouted back, “Be quiet, Turkey!” I continued with that response every time he heckled me, although it didn’t stop him.

Despite those misery days, as the years passed, I gained respect for Minnie Pearl. She was a fine lady. I even found her corny tales about Grinder’s Switch funny. Laughter is important and I know she brought smiles and laughter to millions of her fans. I even became one of them. In fact, I felt a kinship, too. We shared a middle name and both of us were United Methodists.

It was suiting that Minnie Pearl chose her stage name to fit her character, while numerous entertainers changed their names because they were not appealing.  For instance, MASH star Allen Alda’s real name is Alphoso D’Abruzzo; Bea Arthur of the Golden Girls was Eunice Quedens; Cheryl Ladd, of Charlie’s Angels, was Cheryl  Stoppelmore; Mickey Rooney was Joel Yule Jr.; Phil Silvers’ last name was changed from Silversmith.

As I reflect on those long ago school days, I wonder if it had been better if I had responded with Minnie Pearl’s famous greeting, “Howdy, I’m just so glad to be here.” Then maybe Turkey the heckler would have kept his mouth closed.


Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.