Memories of Pearl O'Hair
Shared by Cathy (O’Hair) Clodfelter
In 1967, when I was in the seventh grade, my mother received a phone call from Pearl O’Hair. She had seen an article in the Banner about a recent accomplishment of mine. She told my mother, “I want to meet and get to know the new generation of O’Hair women. I would like to employ Cathy to help me at my gift shop.” As a seventh grader, I was always looking for spending money for those essentials of Yardley make-up and 45 records, so I quickly agreed! Little did I know the influence Pearl would have on the rest of my life.
When I reported for my first day of work, after school one day a week and every Saturday morning, I was surprised to find an older, disabled woman with slurred speech. She sat by her front door in a wooden plank rocker with a wood tray in her lap holding money–her gift shop “cash register.” I soon learned the appearance of weakness was oh so very, very wrong! Pearl had been born with cerebral palsy at a time when most who were in her condition were institutionalized. Instead, her parents and her brothers saw to it that she received a proper education and learned to rise above her disability. She related a story of her brothers taking turns pulling her block by block on a tricycle to the local school. In her later years her parents sent her to a camp in Michigan where she learned to paint, by holding a paint brush in her teeth, I believe.
At the time I worked for Pearl, she lived in the little white house on Spring Street that was attached to the back of the O’Hair house. She had lilies across the front of the house and a full bed of pansies along the sidewalk. My primary job was to water the flowers and dust the gift shop for fifty cents an hour. Pearl loved her pansies! Each time I worked, she would painstakingly walk out to the sidewalk and supervise the tending of the pansies. She often would have me pick a bouquet of them and then instruct me in their proper arrangement, all the while wiping drool from her chin with a pansy-decorated lady’s handkerchief. Later in life when she was a resident in the lower-floor infirmary at Asbury Towers, she asked them to plant pansies outside her window and she enjoyed them until the day she died.
Pearl O'Hair's home in the spring and winter. The main red brick home still stands at 209 East Seminary Street.
Pearl was quite the taskmistress. She gave strict instructions and expected them to be followed. She also had a keen sense of humor and her snickering laugh was quite infectious. On Saturdays, I ran errands for her, always to the bank to deposit the weeks intake from the gift shop and then to Stop-N-Shop for groceries. She would send me with the items she wanted circled in the Banner’s weekly ads and would dictate a list to me as she could not write well due to the shaking of her hands. She would also have me fill out gift shop order forms using circled items in her catalogues. She specialized in high-end gift items of porcelain, crystal, linens, brass, etc. Her home was small and the three front rooms were filled with her gift shop items displayed beautifully on glass shelving. She had a small galley kitchen and a tiny bedroom/bathroom in the back. Off the kitchen was an outside patio adorned with black wrought iron furniture.
On occasion, Pearl entertained her lady friends for Saturday luncheon on the patio. She would have me arrive early on these days to prepare and serve the lunch. The menu was always the same: Beef Tongue on toast, green beans, Constant Comment iced tea with lemon and a dessert made by breaking angel food cake into bite-size pieces, pouring lemon pudding over it and topping with sliced strawberries. To this day I am known for making delicious green beans thanks to Pearl standing at my elbow giving me strict instructions concerning the steps to make fresh green beans the right way.
I remember Pearl often spoke of the strength of women. She said she did not understand the women’s lib movement. She was a strong independent maiden lady who was an astute business woman, despite her devastating disability, at a time when that was not the norm. She taught me that women, and especially O’Hair women, are strong. She always asked about my grades and my work with Girls Scouts and FHA, Future Homemakers of America. She encouraged me to ignore barriers and find strength from within. She taught me compassion and tenacity. I only knew her for two years, as she died in 1969. I loved and respected her. She was my hero!