Pearl Gregory, in the slang of her generation, is a real corker. At 64, she likes to talk, and always in quick, animated bursts. She's short like her mother and father, and her once black hair has turned gray. But 30 years ago she was lean, tanned and confident. The confidence she has never lost. Mrs. G, as she's called, is always cheerful. "I mean, who wants to be a grump?" she asks in her cracking, high-pitched voice.
Seventy-five years ago, Mrs. G's father opened the first of his four bicycle dealerships in Washington. Today she owns the family's last store, Cycles & Sports, at 4930 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
CHARLIE DIED seven years ago last month, and it's like the cigarette ad, I've come a long way, baby. Not all the way, but a long way. I'll always miss him. He was an exceptional man, so kind. He was my life. I just didn't think I could make it without him. He died January 21, 1979. A month later I broke my back. I came out and couldn't tell it was icy. I thought, "Gee, I've got to go to work." I stepped down on the steps and off I went. Broke my arm, my wrist and my back. I just couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I've worked in the bicycle shop all my life. Dad and Charlie did the books and the ordering. I worked the floor. So when Charlie died I had to learn it all, with a broken back. And I have to tell you, there were problems. People who'd dealt with Dad and Charlie suddenly sent me requests for financial statements. I picked up the phone and I said, "Let me tell you something: This is the same business. You've known me since I was a kid. You still want a statement?" They'd say, "Oh, of course not." I thought I'd never make it.
Then my son came over one morning, took me out on the front porch and said, "Look at the flowers, look at the blue sky. You can see all this!" So I gathered myself together. And I began to come out of it. I started walking, driving, climbing ladders, which I shouldn't do but I do anyway. I'm 64. Isn't that awful? That's not so young. But I have my son and I'm not going to be a burden. This year I went out and bought a Subaru, a four-wheel-drive turbo with an airplane dash. I said to my son, "Steve, this is ridiculous." At my age! But I love it. You gotta change or be left behind.
My father started working in a bicycle shop as a kid, and he picked up the name Gus because there was a Joe already working there. And it stuck all his life. At any rate, he decided to open his own shop. He worked hard, seven days a week, from 5 in the morning till 11 at night. My dad was a little man, probably 5-4. My mother was tiny too, 4-11. She wore a 5 1/2 shoe and musta weighed 80 pounds soakin' wet. I don't know if I have a picture. Here, that's my dad, 1943. I can't describe him. He was a doting father.
Oh, he was strict. I was in college and wanted to go with a young man to Colgate University for the spring weekend. My father stood up at the table and said, "Over my dead body!" And I said, "What's the matter, don't you trust me?" He said, "Yes, I trust you, but those fellas at the fraternity houses, they get to drinkin' and they go up the fire escapes." And I said, "Well, that doesn't mean that I'll do it." And he said, "No, I realize that. But you're not going." So I heard from a friend that Dad was right. They all threw each other into the lake, half of 'em half-dressed. My father just grinned.
I was a tomboy till about 14. The lady across the street had four boys, the lady two doors up had two boys. I either stood by and watched or I played baseball and football. So my mother went out and bought me a pair of jeans -- and this was before jeans were popular with girls. I was about 10. I blacked a boy's eye once. I had coal-black hair, pageboy style. I gave up being a tomboy when I realized boys weren't just for baseball.
Charlie worked at Dad's store in high school, stacking boxes, in the rental concession, wherever he was needed. Some boy had brought me back from trying to teach me to drive and they said, "Gus, you can't pay me enough to teach her to drive!" So Charlie said, "I'll teach her." He had a Plymouth, a couple years old, gray, light gray. So he taught me to drive.
When we went on a vacation to Florida, my dad asked Charlie to go along to help with the driving. I didn't have my license yet. I guess I was 16. And my mother never drove. We had a ball! We went swimming. And to the shows. Charlie was on the heavy side. Not fat, but heavy, big-boned. He was nice looking, not handsome. But he had beautiful dark hair. He didn't use hair tonic, just water, and he never went bald or gray, oh, a little over the ears. I started going gray at 40, and people'd say, "Oh, you're streaking your hair." And Charlie'd say, "No, she's doin' it the hard way."
At any rate, we got back from Florida and he kept working for my dad. We were great friends. In college -- we went to Maryland -- he used to come over and study with me in the evenings. He dated other girls and I dated other fellas. If I had an exam in the morning, in the late hours, 1 o'clock, I'd get sleepy. So we'd get in the car and go over to the Marriott's Hot Shoppe on Georgia Avenue. We'd get a hot fudge sundae cake and go study some more. If I got tired, he'd read to me. He'd come by the next morning and we'd drive to college.
I went to one prom with another young man and Charlie still brought me an orchid to wear. Whenever I had a date, I'd look up and there was Charlie. I went to lots of dances with other fellas. Charlie knew I liked to dance and he didn't dance. Then one day he came over to the house and said, "May I have this dance?" I said, "You're kidding!" He'd gone to Arthur Murray! He pulled out a record, "A String of Pearls" by Tommy Dorsey. We played it and from then on we went dancing. Moonlight boat rides on the Potomac. I discovered other girls were interested in Charlie, and, well, he became important.
We were coming home one night, I had a Dodge, and Harry James was playing "You Made Me Love You" on the radio. I said, "Stop the car," and he did. I said, "Do you hear what they're playing? That's my song." He said, "When are we gonna get married?" I said, "I don't know, but the answer's yes."
We went home and I said to Mother and Dad, who were sitting in the living room, "What would you say if I told you I'm in love with Charlie and we want to get married?" My mother said, "It's about time!" And my father said, "Good gravy, it took ya long enough!" Charlie gave me a lot of rope. Well, he couldn't afford a wife and go to college too, so we waited. Then the war came. You gotta know I'm a Redskins fan clear down to the dirt under my toenails, and we were at the game when they announced Pearl Harbor. Charlie said, "This looks like it." We stayed for the game, but I don't remember who won. I only remember Sammy Baugh, spelled B-A-U-G-H. He was quarterback, punter, everything! He played the full 60 minutes and he was my idol. Faaaantastic! I went to Canton, Ohio, last spring just to see his shoes in the Hall of Fame.
At any rate, we went on with our lives until Charlie got a call. I was 22, he was 24. He said: "Well, you have a choice. A long engagement or a short wedding. I have six days." We went down to get the license, and it was funny. It cost $2.50 and Charlie had $2. So I said, "Wait a minute!" I came up with 50 cents and I said, "This is so you can't say it was all yours."
A friend, Marie, and her boyfriend and Charlie and I went to New York to buy the wedding clothes. She and I stayed in one room of the Pennsylvania Hotel and, of course, the boys stayed in another. We went to the Astor, the roof top, and Harry James was playing. Charlie called him over and told him his song had been such a big part of our life. He played "You Made Me Love You" and sat down with us for 45 minutes. I'm still in the Big Band era. Oh, I like Linda Ronstadt, but Frank Sinatra was my blue-eyed boy. Charlie and I stood in line in New York at the Paramount Theater for hours just to see Frank. It was cold!
At any rate, we got back in time for the wedding rehearsal on Tuesday. We got married on Wednesday and he went into the Navy on Thursday. We didn't have a honeymoon. Married at 4, reception at the Hamilton Hotel that night. By the time we left it was 2 in the morning. And we went to a friend, a doctor, where Charlie made a recording. He just talked to me on the record. He sang to me. He sang, "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody." This doctor friend made the recording out of wax. So then we went home, changed our clothes and went to see his mother and dad. We teased about it. I said, "One thing's for sure, nobody'll count on their fingers the nine months."
I didn't see him again for two years, till 1945. He called from Hawaii just before and we talked for 45 minutes! I still have that phone bill, $186. We were only supposed to talk five minutes but they didn't cut us off. They let him out at Bainbridge in Maryland and I was standing outside the gate. I drove the guard crazy! Then I look up and see Charlie coming down the hill. And the rain, ohhhh, it was pouring! Before the little guard could stop me, I was through the gate and up the hill. He said to Charlie, "Gregory, I've had lotsa women wait for their men, but never one like yours."
So we finally had a honeymoon. Two weeks at the Pennsylvania Hotel and two weeks in Daytona Beach, the same place we'd gone when we were 16. Just fond memories. When we came home Charlie said, "We aren't getting any younger." He went to work for my dad and I had Steve. Charlie wanted to finish college, but he got sick in '48. They didn't know what it was. They only knew he had six hours to live. It was gall bladder. He was in a coma six days.
My mother and dad took care of me and I took care of Charlie. He was on his back, flat on his back, for a year. They wanted him in the hospital, but Charlie said, "If I'm gonna die, I wanta die at home." So my father bought him a 10-inch GE television, which I still have. And it still plays. It was a very bad time, but I knew he was going to make it. I knew. In later years, he was diabetic. But he'd give himself a shot and go on. He never favored himself.
This is his picture. That's me, my husband and my son on the stairs in Ocean City, 1952. My mother and dad had a summer home there, and I used to go down and spend four months, and my dad and Charlie used to come down on weekends. Charlie always wore suspenders, and he always wore white socks. I don't remember who took the picture. It was a long time ago.
Charlie ran my father's business. And in '59, Dad wanted to retire. We'd saved all the money Charlie sent home from the Navy. And since he'd worked, everything went in the bank. So we bought the business. Charlie didn't want to inherit it, no sir. We bought it. Charlie made a lot of changes, flowed with the times. He closed down two stores and he closed on Sundays and Mondays. Of course, if somebody called Charlie on Sunday and said, "Charlie, I forgot it's my little girl's birthday," he'd go over and set up a bike. It was a family business.
Let me tell you, I had quite a reputation! Kids would wait in the car. I'd say, "Where is he?" And his mother'd say, "He's sittin' in the car. He doesn't wanta catch the dickens from ya." So I'd run and get the kid and say, "Stand up and take it like a man." I'd tell 'em that bike was theirs and the next time they jumped a curb, they'd pay for it themselves! I have adults who still do the same thing. They come and say, "I don't wanta see Mrs. Gregory. She's gonna give me the dickens." I say, "You're worse than the kids!"
Charlie had his bad attack in 1970. His heart was getting weaker and weaker. So he closed the downtown store and just kept the shop on Wisconsin, enough to worry about. You know, I've never been unhappy in my life, except when my parents and Charlie died. But we had nine good years after his attack. We went to the Redskins games until the very end. Charlie'd gone down when the stadium was in blueprints and picked out his seats. He said, "These are the seats I want." So we had four seats on the upper front row, Box 470, seats 7, 8, 9 and 10. At any rate, I've kept those seats all these years. I never ask my customers for favors, but when Charlie was in the hospital and wanted to go to the game, I called a customer, Mrs. Edward Bennett Williams, and I said, "Mrs. Williams, I need a favor. Charlie can't walk up the ramp." Well, from then on we went in the clubhouse and up the elevator. And I still do.
Charlie looked in fine shape right to the end. You looked at him and he was healthy. But he knew he was dying. The Monday before he died, he paid all the bills. And he left little notes in the top of his drawer, saying not to grieve. And he had everything in envelopes, marked. He had a premonition.
It musta been 20 minutes to 2 in the morning when I finally reached up to turn out the light. He kissed me and he said, "Just remember, I love you very much." And I said, "I love you too." I turned off the light and I heard him take a deep breath. I turned the light back on and I shook him. And that was it. I'll never get over it, but I've learned to live with it. He was good to me. He ruined me for everybody else. I have many wonderful memories.