Thanks to Elise Cooper for providing this interview. You can find more from Elise here.
For those who do not know CeeCee Purnell she is a reflection of her times, growing up during the 1950s and 1960s in the South. Her life is a plateau, with many ups and downs. Growing up and living in Georgetown, South Carolina, she raises her late friend’s daughter, Ivy, and her daughter, Larkin. CeeCee is grateful that Larkin has returned home after nine self-exiled years to help locate her missing mother, Ivy. Larkin finds out that in 1951 three best friends, Ceecee, Margaret and Bitty have just graduated from high school with all their dreams ahead of them. But they are shattered when Margaret finds she is an unwed mother who lost her fiancé while fighting in the Korean War. Years later her daughter Ivy has a similar experience when she loses her recently married husband who fought in Vietnam. CeeCee has agreed to open up about her experiences and what happened during those turbulent years.
It must be bittersweet for you to have your granddaughter returning home, while your daughter, her mom, is trying to survive a horrific accident. It must have brought back memories from 1951 when your life changed forever. Thank you for consenting to this interview because you can be an inspiration as someone who had hard knocks but survived.
NPT: Do you see yourself as a product of the 1950s?
CeeCee:Definitely. Especially Southern small-town 1950s. Being the only daughter of a pastor, I was definitely sheltered from the realities of the world outside of Georgetown, South Carolina.
NPT: Do you regret going on the road trip after graduating high school?
CeeCee: No. I wish I could go back and change a few things, but if I hadn’t gone, I never would have met the love of my life, Boyd.
NPT: Do you think writing on ribbons and sticking them in a tree is rather nerdy?
CeeCee: I’m not sure what you mean about the word ‘nerdy’?
NPT: A geek?
CeeCee:If you mean fanciful or even a little far-fetched, then yes. It’s like blowing on a dandelion and making wishes on the seeds—we know it’s not real, but we can’t help but believing there’s a small part of truth in the legend.
NPT: Were you, Bitty, and Margaret considered The Three Musketeers?
CeeCee:We were never called that, but I felt that way many times throughout our childhoods together. We were rarely apart, and believed we really were “all for one, and one for all.”
NPT: How would you define friendship?
CeeCee:A good friendship can be defined as loving someone unconditionally—even when things in your own life are sliding into the ocean and all has been stripped away, you can still be loving, giving and kind to your friends.
NPT: How did it feel to be a surrogate mother to Margaret’s daughter Ivy and a surrogate grandmother to her daughter Larkin?
CeeCee:I don’t feel as if you need to be related by blood to feel a kinship with someone. I was raised with two younger brothers, but always felt as if Margaret and Bitty were my blood sisters. My mother was a wonderful example of how to mother, and I suppose that’s why when I saw two children who needed mothering, it was easy for me to step in.
NPT: Do you agree with your granddaughter’s friend, Bennett’s attitude about Carrowmore and developers?
CeeCee:Absolutely. Few people seem to realize anymore that our history lives on in old buildings, and that once they are gone, along with the stories and memories that are contained within their walls, they are gone forever.
NPT: Do you wish Bennett and Larkin hooked up?
CeeCee:When, while back in high school?
CeeCee: No. They were friends first. It’s only when they became adults and Larkin could see Bennett with adult eyes did it make sense for their relationship to move into something deeper. And neither Larkin nor Bennett are the ‘hooking up’ kind of people—their relationships are meaningful.
NPT: Do you think it is good or bad to keep a secret?
CeeCee: It depends on the motive. If it’s to protect a loved one, then it can be excused and/or forgiven. If it’s used for subterfuge, or to keep hiding something that might help another person, then no.
NPT: Does Bitty still play an important role in your life?
CeeCee:I think it’s natural for people who’ve known each other for so long to get on each other’s nerves sometimes, just as it’s natural for your love to grow to something deeper. There is something special about someone who’s known you your whole life, knows all your secrets and flaws, yet loves you anyway.
NPT: After the accident and Ivy unconscious, was it hard to see her physically there, but unable to communicate with her?
CeeCee:Of course—she’s always been like a daughter to me. The one thing that got me through those early days was believing she would wake up and be able to answer all the questions we had for her.
NPT: Do you think dreams really do come true?
CeeCee:Only when hard work and determination are added to the dreaming!
NPT: Who taught Larkin how to shag dance?
CeeCee:I’m thinking probably her mother, or Bennett. They used to have impromptu dance/ barbecue parties when they lived near each other.
NPT: What do you do for fun?
CeeCee:I love to work in my garden and of course I love to bake. I always make sure I have something in the freezer waiting to be defrosted in case of unexpected company.
NPT: What are your interests besides baking and gardening?
CeeCee:I love keeping in touch with my friends and being an active member of my church and community.
NPT: Are you content with your life?
CeeCee:Absolutely. I’m surrounded by family and loved ones. I’ve had losses, but I’ve also had a great deal of love and blessings in my long life.
NPT: If you could put another ribbon in the tree what would it say?
CeeCee:I wish Larkin would stay in Georgetown forever!
NPT: Is there anything you want to add, if so please do?
CeeCee:Be kind to one another. And honest. Those two things alone will guide you through life.
NPT:Thank you for your time and insight!
Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty previous books, including The Night the Lights Went Out, Flight Patterns, The Sound of Glass, A Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, and a coauthor, with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig, of The Forgotten Room.