Without a solid foundation, the future would be bleak for almost any undertaking, including a town. This series highlights Blanco citizens who have made our town into what it is now and those who will take our community into its future. As we celebrate Blanco’s Sesquicentennial and look back through our town’s first 150 years, we are honored to have among us people who generously share their memories of what Blanco used to be like in by-gone eras.
Very few of us everyday Blanco folks can point to a house with a National Historic Medallion marker on it and say “That’s the house I was born in.” Even fewer of us will hear someone else continue that statement with the comment, “and the marker is there because she was born there”, even in jest.
But that’s exactly what Pearl Greebon and her friends can say about “The Beckmann House” when speaking to a Blanco newcomer. Pearl, known as Pearlie to friends and family, is a vibrant, intelligent and beautiful 94 year old Blanco native with wonderful stories to share about the history of our town. A conversation with Pearl gives you the flavor of what it must have been like to grow up and live in Blanco since 1913.
The fact that Pearl is a source for the history of our town is quite ironic, as she “absolutely hated history with a passion” while growing up. “I even hated the poor history teacher, Pat Fulcher,” Pearl laughingly admits “strictly because, and only because, he taught history; poor man.”
Today, Pearl is certainly one of Blanco’s most solid foundations, a historical treasure, if you will, although she would never think of herself that way. In her opinion, there is nothing special, never has been about Pearlie Greebon.
“I was too little to play sports as a child, couldn’t dance well, didn’t ride horses, hated history, wasn’t known for anything at all special in school, and I also never learned to skate,” Pearl claims, even though she met her first husband, J.C. Wood, at the Blanco skating rink, located back then between what is now the Uptown Café (then called ‘The Comparet Store’) and the Blanco Theatre. “I just never learned to skate,” Pearl says and laughs quietly.
One thing Pearl, in fact her entire family, was always good at was math. Her dad, Bernhardt Olfers, helped Pearl work through all her algebra problems, even though he only went through the third grade in school. “And he always got the right answer,” Pearl remembers.
But that shouldn’t be a surprise to hear, because as Pearl maintains, her dad “could do anything; absolutely anything.”
In the era that Pearl was growing up, families in Blanco were allowed to keep horses, cows, calves, poultry, and pigs; this was actually allowed within the Blanco city limits. Pearl’s dad was the local butcher, among several other things, and was known for curing ham, bacon, and a special sausage that “lasted several months”.
“He rubbed a hand prepared seasoning mix that he’d concocted into the meats twice a day for many days,” Pearl explained. “He couldn’t miss a rubbing or the meat would be spoiled.” The seasoning mix, back then a guarded secret according to Pearl, was brown sugar/black pepper/red pepper/salt/and salt petre.
After the rubbing process was finished, her dad would then finish the entire process off by smoking it. “He was well known in the area for his meat processing skills.”
Pearl’s dad also ran the Blanco Power Plant, circa 1925, and earlier, in 1911 or 1912, he and his brother had purchased the Blanco Roller Mills and Gin. The Olfers family, of which Pearl was one of eight children, lived beside the mill in the “Beckmann House”.
When speaking about “The Beckmann House”, a house originally built in 1873 by a German immigrant named Henry Beckmann, Pearl recalls that she felt her family was quite upscale while living there, although the house today is quite different from the home she knew as a child.
“It’s still a rock house, just like before,” Pearl says, “but we had a windmill, a well, and a front porch. There was an outside stairwell which was how we got to the room upstairs. We lived there four or five years, but the house today is much larger; much more space than we had!”
While recalling memories of the mill and gin, Pearl believes that the local farmers must have raised a “good deal of cotton, corn, wheat, and small grains” because she remembers seeing so many wagon loads coming to the gin and mill to be processed or ground up for corn meal, flour, and stock feed.
Pearl’s mama, Emma Olfers, made, by hand, the sacks used to hold flour after the grains were ground. “One time,” Pearl reminisces with a smile, “Mama made the flour sacks too big and daddy made us cut them all down to a smaller size.” Pearl points out that the sacks were made of bleached and unbleached fabric. That same fabric was often used for many articles of clothing during Pearl’s childhood; in fact, Pearl says, it was common to have “at least your bloomers” (underwear) “made from a flour sack.” “We made most of our own clothes, but we used fabrics other than just sack cloth,” Pearl comments.
Today, it is common to see the sturdy flour and feed sack fabric sewn into many things such as quilts that people are still using. Flour sack cloth is available for purchase from antique and specialty stores, even in these times. Sixty or so years ago, Pearl says, empty colored feed sacks were sold for 10 cents apiece among local townspeople.
Pearl began making her mama’s dresses when she was just twelve years old. She sewed the clothing on a “New York Special”, a treadle sewing machine she still owns. Pearl comments that she knows of only two other sewing machines just like it; her sister-in-law owns the other one. “I have sewn lots of things on that machine and it still will work, if I just wanted to work it!” Pearl teasingly says. One of Pearl’s favorite things to do when she grew up was to make specialty quilts like a “Wedding Ring Quilt”. “I have made several quilts,” Pearl acknowledges.
When she was growing up, women used to commonly cook on wood stoves, Pearl says, and Pearl’s mama did all the family cooking on a wood stove. That same wood cook stove was the one source of heat in the kitchen. A small wood stove was located in one of the other rooms. The air conditioning unit for the family home was quite simple Pearl shares, “every crack around the doors and windows.”
Just as Pearl’s dad was known around Blanco for his excellent smoked meats, Pearl’s mom was known for her excellent cooking; homemade bread, cakes, and cookies being just some of her many specialties.
“And Mama was very particular about our Christmas tree,” recalls Pearl. “When I was little, we weren’t allowed to see the Christmas tree till Christmas Eve. Our Christmas tree was a brilliant thing! No one but Santa or Mama could decorate the tree. We couldn’t even touch it. The tree was always a cedar tree cut from the local pasture and decorated with treats that Mama had made on her wood stove and had made accessible to Santa. Mama and Daddy locked the door where they’d set up the tree and then allowed Santa to decorate it grandly.”
Pearl’s dad would have purchased one box of apples, one-half box of oranges, long sticks of candy, and lots of candles with special candle holders; all of these things also made available to Santa for Christmas tree decorations.
“We certainly appreciated having the fruit we’d received at Christmas and saved it to take to school. It was a special treat to have fruit,” Pearl remembers.
“We always had a few Christmas gifts, but nothing was wrapped….ever. Santa had brought them with him in his sack. We would get a doll, a pair of socks, maybe some bloomers, a game, our fruit, and candies. That’s about it, but we thought it was wonderful.”
Although Christmas time brought many special joys to Pearl as a child, in her family laughter and good times lasted all the year long. Pearl says that “if we were sitting down, we were playing dominoes or cards.” Pearl loved to jump rope, play jacks, and play a game called ‘mumble peg’, involving flipping a knife.
Even though there was certainly no television when Pearl was growing up, she recalls going to San Antonio to the “picture show” (another term for a movie). “We went to see “Waterloo” at the picture show and ate in an actual café. Well, actually, we didn’t eat. We went to eat, had our meal served and then didn’t eat. I’d never eaten in a café in my life. I was so dumb, dumb. I ordered chicken and didn’t eat it ‘cause I didn’t know how to hold it and eat it! I was thinking, ‘Do I pick this up or what?’ You know if you’ve never eaten fried chicken in public, how would you know? My date, Ralph Phillips, didn’t eat either because I didn’t eat. So much for my first café experience.”
Certainly while amusing, the café experience is most memorable to Pearl because “when we came back from San Antonio, there was this horrible fire in Blanco.” It was 1929 and Pearl was 15 or 16 years old.
Pearl also remembers the Armistice being signed, November 11, 1918, just after she had begun school at five years old. “Actually, I was so young that Daddy had to pay the school to take me.” There were only eleven grades in school when Pearl attended. When the Armistice was signed, Pearl says that “all the school children marched around the Blanco Square. They let all eleven grades out of school. Some of us kids were so little, we had to be carried around the Square.”
Also in 1918, Blanco’s first telephone office, called the “Willow City Telephone Company”, became closely connected to Pearl’s family. “My mama was the first telephone operator in Blanco. We lived in the back room of the office, and in 1919, my brother Leroy was actually born there,” Pearl shares. “We had a crank telephone.” Her mama hired two ladies, Emma Koch and Thelma West, to help run the telephone business. Pearl’s aunt, Clara Olfers, took over the operation from her parents, and soon after that the Byars family continued Blanco’s first telephone business.
Pearl’s parents first home was at Stonewall, “this side of Fredericksburg.” Her mom and dad owned a little farm, right next door to the Johnson family. Pearl recalls that her parents loved to tell an amusing story about LBJ as a young child. “One evening, Mrs. Johnson came over to my parents’ home all upset apparently. Mrs. Johnson said that she couldn’t find Lyndon anywhere. She was getting frantic. They had already been hunting for him for hours, and then my parents joined into the search for yet hours longer. Turns out that Lyndon was all the time hidden in a tree above the family home watching and laughing.” Lyndon was only about six years old at that time.
“Mama also often told a story that happened when she was going to see her daddy in Stonewall. Of course she was driving a horse and buggy, and her horse died right there in the middle of the road. I must’ve been with her,” Pearl says “as I was the baby of the family right then.” (One sister and one brother were born after Pearl. Her sister died in infancy.)
When Pearl was six or seven years old, her parents “got an old car.” But her family only went to church once a month as they had to drive so far into church. “My family was Lutheran, you see, and there was only a Methodist, a Baptist, and a Church of Christ church in Blanco back then. No Lutheran church. My mother wanted to change denominations to be a Methodist so we wouldn’t have to drive to Little Blanco (now the Twin Sisters area) to the only Lutheran church in the area.”
“I still have a card that my Baptist Sunday School teacher in Blanco gave me when I was two,” says Pearl. “Dad would put me up over the fence and off I’d go by myself to Sunday School. I was only two!” Pearl shares that she became a Methodist when she was twelve.
Another event that Pearl recalls from the era when she was twelve is visiting the Blanco family doctor, Dr. Fulcher, in his “office on the corner”. “It was a little Ford coupe,” Pearl remembers. “Now, if you were real sick, the doctor did have an office in the back of the drug store, but he did the bulk of his doctoring out of that car.”
Medicines and “remedies” that Pearl remembers include castor oil mixed into orange juice. “That about ruined orange juice for me,” she says with a grimace. “I remember taking that nasty tasting castor oil with the orange juice. When I had the flu once, Dr. Fulcher filled a big goblet with orange juice, put castor oil in it, and forced me to drink it all down. I couldn’t drink orange juice for years after that!”
Another commonly used remedy in those times as an “asafetida pouch”, a concoction of herbs. “Kids at school wore this around their necks but I never did. I don’t know if it really cured our colds and flu, but I tell you what, it smelled so bad that no one would get near enough to someone wearing it to pass along an illness!”
Pearl’s grandparents both immigrated to the USA from Germany during the 1850’s. Her grandfather, John Olfers, landed in New York at Ellis Island when he was 17 years old. Her grandmother, Anna Friedrichs, landed in Indianola, a sea port about half-way between Galveston and Corpus Christi; since that time, washed away by hurricanes and remembered by a marker where once a thriving town stood.
“One wagon was missing a wheel when they landed,” Pearl tells us. “They might as well have been missing the entire wagon, because you couldn’t just go out and buy a wheel back then. So it was a big deal to have lost the wheel.”
After their marriage, Anna and John had 14 children. Because they were both of German heritage, they spoke German at home with their children. “But they didn’t speak German out in public when I was a baby.” It was 1914, during WWI and public sentiment against the German people was very strong. “I can still understand German, but can’t speak it fluently.” Pearl pulled her grandmother’s death certificate from a keepsake box to show how it is hand written in German calligraphy. It includes a braid of her grandmother’s hair.
A lot has changed in Blanco since the days of Pearl’s grandparents, parents, and even of her own childhood. One thing remains the same however, today we continue to be a group of people seeking after “fine pearls”, just as her ancestors were. With Pearl Greebon living among us, Blanco has one of the finest pearls imaginable.