Cultured and luminous, Pearl DeHaas, 101, of Lotus seems as precious as her name.
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Cultured and luminous, Pearl DeHaas, 101, of Lotus seems as precious as her name.
She sits quietly, seemingly engulfed in a recliner in the den of a beautiful home that overlooks her beloved Lotus Valley.
De Haas appears small and frail. But when she speaks, wit and vitality light up her sweet face, filling the comfortable room with love and radiance.
“I have so many aches and pains — it comes with the territory,” DeHaas said valiantly, “but I still get around.”
It turns out that she is a Renaissance woman with vast intelligence and myriad interests, including literature, art and travel.
She has won prizes for her paintings, but remains modest and matter-of-fact. Her original paintings and drawings that adorn the walls of this comfortable room are fabulous, and she also has crafted beautiful ceramics.
DeHaas is amazingly durable, yet seemingly unblemished by adversity. DeHaas has had some true health scares, but she has managed them with good-humored grace.
Pearl and her late husband Manfred (Manny) DeHaas traveled over 100,000 miles in RVs, including a 1972 Pace Arrow. Even when Pearl got older, she never shied away from travels.
“I always wanted to see what’s around the corner and beyond the hill,” DeHaas mused.
That wish materialized with a trip to Europe in 1963, and travels to Mexico and Canada, among many other trips. On one journey, DeHaas had her birth certificate and driver’s license, but she needed a current passport. Her passport had expired.
“This passport is older than I am,” the border agent remarked.
As one reaches the century mark, that sort of thing becomes more common. The other thing is losing one’s mate, family members and friends. Loss, too, is part of the elderly territory that DeHaas traverses.
But a good attitude, wonderful memories, family closeness and a special little dog help to keep Pearl’s spirits up. Rosie and Gracie, the Dachshunds, grace her life with their love and vigilance.
“Rosie is my guardian,” Pearl said fondly, as Rosie checked out visitors, making sure they’re harmless. Rosie is Pearl’s shadow and constant, loving companion.
For 14 years, Pearl lived at the Gold Country Retirement Village. Besides the expense, she felt isolated, longing for her late husband and still lonely in the midst of her peers.
Pearl and her three sons, Mervin, Steven and Alvin DeHaas were happy when she was able to move in with Steve in Lotus. It has been an auspicious arrangement, and Pearl is again surrounded by family.
She adores all of her daughters-in-law, including Martha, a Veerkamp who married Mervin DeHaas. She seems to bask in the love and in loving her 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
Coming back to live with her son also meant coming full circle. She first came to the Lotus Valley long before most El Dorado County denizens were born.
A young driver
Even today, it is rare for a 17-year-old to drive to El Dorado County from the Bay Area unaccompanied by an adult.
But DeHaas did just that in 1927.
“We had visited the area and I was anxious to visit again. I already had a driver’s license, so my dad just said ‘she can do it’ and he let me drive up here. Of course, my little brother came with me … he was 12.” DeHaas recalled.
In those days, she had to take a ferry to get over to Vallejo; it was before the Rodeo-Vallejo bypass was built.
DeHaas came back to visit so often, their friends sort of adopted her and gave her a special room to stay in. Though she didn’t officially move to El Dorado County until later, DeHaas’ roots in the county go back a long time.
Her friends, the Hansens, were friends of the Monroe family, the African-American family who lived in Coloma since Gold Rush times.
“I first saw Pearly (Grant Monroe’s younger brother) sitting on the veranda when I was a teenager. To me, he was just another person,” said DeHaas.
The Monroes, she said, were hard-working people who minded their own business. Grant Monroe and Manny DeHaas were friends, and Grant gave the DeHaas’ a very special gift, a relaxed vacation in Onion Valley way up in the mountains where their cows grazed during the summer. “It was near Camp 10,” DeHaas reminisced. “Grant took care of the livestock and cooked all our meals.”
It was a thoughtful act, one that she and Manny would never forget. For once, the hard-working DeHaas couple had a restful, idyllic time, all due to Grant’s generosity of spirit and conscientious, considerate ways. Plus, he was an excellent cook, DeHaas recalled.
She and her family officially moved to El Dorado County in 1922, where she attended Union Town School. They returned to the Bay Area, where Pearl attended Fremont High School, but she finished high school in El Dorado County. She graduated from Union Town/El Dorado High School with flying colors in 1929, when it was “still on Clay Street” in Placerville.
Pearl started high school as a freshman at age 16, so was a bit older than her classmates, which didn’t hinder her a bit. Her then-future mother-in-law was her alegebra teacher, and some of her classmates and underclassmen have renowned names in county history, including Byron Bacchi and Clara Schreiber.
Pearl’s family re-settled in El Dorado County in 1937, and she has fond memories of her family’s involvement in the 1948 Centennial celebrations, where she remembers riding on a donkey.
Pearl and her family were also instrumental in the Coloma-Lotus Booster Club, which spearheaded Coloma Discovery Days.
Manny and Pearl DeHaas settled in the Lotus Valley together in 1947.
“There were eight families in the Valley back then,” said Pearl’s son Merv DeHaas. “There were no telephones or anything back then.”
Back on the Ranch
Back in the day, Pearl was a single mom during the week. Manny was in the city, building his business, the East Bay Blueprint Company. He came home to Lotus Valley each weekend.
Pearl was undaunted, managing her household and her three sons with aplomb. They had pigs, cows and a great vegetable garden, so they had “a lot of food.” Times were sometimes lean, but fresh produce and milk were plentiful, and the DeHaas family was able to sell what they didn’t use.
“It was enough,” Pearl said simply.
Merv recalls fetching his own willow switch when he was young, and also meeting his wife Martha, wearing pigtails, for the first time in the fourth grade. She attended Gold Hill School and he went to school in Coloma, but they played team games together and were in the same 4H Club. Merv and Martha will celebrate their 54th anniversary in January.
Pearl was a substitute teacher for a time in the Garden Valley schoolhouse and became very active in the community, especially the 4H Club.
After high school, Pearl had returned to the Bay Area, where she became a professional dressmaker. In those days, trains ran across the Bay Bridge, and she took a train daily to San Francisco, where she attended the Fashion Art Academy.
“I always sewed my own clothes, even my wedding dress,” Pearl said.
The Fashion Art Academy was a highly competitive and desirable institute, and Pearl enjoyed and excelled in the curriculum.
“At the Fashion Art Academy, I learned to design, cut patterns, pick colors … that’s why my 4H girls always won the sewing contests.” Pearl enthused.
From Taos to Denver
As recently as 2007, Pearl was gung-ho for traveling. That year on a trip to Taos, she fell and broke her leg, a painful experience. She was life-flighted to Denver. Besides the pain, what DeHaas regrets is missing the time with her granddaughter and not being able to see all the sights.
Pearl also suffers from back pain which “runs in the family.” She has experienced two heart attacks, and she has also survived non-Hodgekins Lymphoma. The cancer was a big surprise. During a routine dental visit, the dentist noticed something amiss. Subsequent medical care uncovered the lymphoma; she and her family are grateful for that dentist’s keen observation.
At the 1939 World’s Fair in Seattle, Pearl got her first glimpse of an airplane.
“Nowadays we hardly notice airplanes and jets … but back in the day, it was a real novelty,” she observed.
Besides the evolution of aircraft, Pearl has seen a lot, coming a long way from the log cabin in rural White Salmon, a hamlet in northeastern Washington, where she was born Sept. 26, 1910.
Trains ran between Spokane and White Salmon, and there was a doctor on call from Spokane. But the homestead was too isolated, and Pearl’s mother was aided in childbirth by an aunt.
On the same day, miles away, another aunt had a baby, Pearl’s “twin cousin,” (now deceased) with whom she always kept in touch. Pearl also had a younger brother, a half-sister and half-brother.
In White Salmon until age 9, the DeHaas matriarch remembers dangling her feet in the water on a wooden bridge over the millpond, where she brandished a fishing pole.
She remembers wearing the same dress all week long out of necessity, and changing her clothes immediately when she got home from the long trip from school.
She didn’t get chicken pox or measles until she was an adult. But she remembers the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, and distinctly recalls wearing a mask; she never came down with the then-deadly ailment.
Coming to California
Because of the water rights, Pearl’s father was able to sell the sawmill for a good price. He settled the family in the Bay Area, but the family moved a lot due to his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I made my way as a newcomer,” Pearl remembered. “I don’t remember being upset.”
Pearl always had her own ideas, and her father encouraged her, and “pushed me to the limits.”
Without arrogance, Pearl noted: “I was smart. I had a high IQ and went through school with top grades.”
Well-educated herself, Pearl said she encouraged her sons to succeed. They followed in her footsteps. Steven has a PhD. Merv, who retired from the El Dorado Irrigation District, however, was a little more recalcitrant. Pearl said that she had to push Merv to take college prep classes, and he ended up being glad he did.
A royal snowbird
Despite pain and failing health, Pearl carries on, still ready to laugh and have fun wherever she goes. In fact, Pearl is a snowbird, going south each October to spend time in a very congenial community on the east side of the Salton Sea.
There, Pearl still enjoys dancing, potlucks, cribbage and camaraderie. Many Canadians are her winter neighbors, but each year, there’s always someone who can’t make it.
Her intimate circle of friends there is diminishing due to death and disability, but she makes new friends readily. Pearl remains a beacon in that close-knit winter community, a pillar of the old ways and warm, friendly hospitality.
“They treat Mom like royalty there,” Merv reported.
Pearl and Manny bought the Salton Sea property back in 1974, and experienced many joyful days among their neighbors in the winter sunshine. It’s a tradition and a trip she still plans to take each fall as long as she is able. She is usually accompanied there by Alvin. They have a great time, and each year, everyone is happy to see Pearl, the oldest surviving person not only in her own family, but in the community she adopted.
Pearl remembers vividly spending her 91st birthday in the hospital, just another blip on life’s journey. Then, true to her nature, Pearl enjoyed her time at Gold Country but was very happy to come back to live in Lotus.
Her spirit remains strong, and seems to be nourished by three loving sons and daughters-in-law, with whom she seems to form a mutual admiration society.
Pearl’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and now great-great-grandchildren bring joy and meaning to life. They seem to carry on the legacy of a matriarch who is strong, interesting and full of zest.
One granddaughter owns the River Shack in Lotus, famed for its relaxed atmosphere, succulent hamburgers and other treats, including fabulous Taco Tuesdays. On this day, Pearl is tired and has decided to forego Taco Tuesday. The tacos, though, are great, she said, and she always enjoys the company, especially her family and the young, enthusiastic river rafters.
The River Shack thrives in the area renowned for its white water and its gold, but this Pearl shines in the midst of all that glitter and splash. For as delicate as pearls appear, Pearl continues to be as solid as a rock, filled with impeccable inner gold.
E-mail the author at [email protected]