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The Purple Lady comes home

For years, she was a presence along what was then rural Route 17.

Even if they didn’t see her, drivers passing by the area that is now the main entrance to Harbour View could hardly miss the evidence of her life there: an old farmhouse, some telephone poles and various other items kept outside — all painted the same shade of purple.

An actual sighting of the Purple Lady was something to be shared with family and friends, an event that was sure to start minds working and tongues wagging.

And then one day she was gone.

For a time, she lived with her daughter in Pughsville, and then she left town for Toledo, Ohio, where her trail eventually ran cold.

Back in Suffolk, some folks wondered what had happened to her. Others thought she had died in Toledo. And a whole generation of residents grew up never having seen her walking alongside Route 17, dressed head to toe in her trademark color.

Her name was Rachel Presha, though most folks never knew it. And she’s back in Suffolk.

“I am not the same person they have thought of,” she said recently while sitting in the living room of her daughter’s new home in Pughsville.

Indeed, the home she shares with her daughter seems almost a purple-free zone. But fans will be glad to know that the Purple Lady still wears her trademark color.

She fell in love with purple after reading about it in books and learning about its meaning, she said. Folks had other — sometimes more disturbing — ideas about her fixation, but Presha said it was just a result of her desire to be her own person.

“I always chose purple or something that satisfied me,” she said.

Today, Presha, who will turn 85 on Thursday, struggles with a mild dementia, daughter Delzorra says. The Purple Lady no longer walks unaided along Route 17 or any road, and she and her daughter — who were separated for much of their lives — are re-establishing their relationship.

“She’s a very sweet person,” Delzorra Presha said. “It’s all new. I’m getting to know her even better than I did before.”

Delzorra left Suffolk to live with other relatives at the age of 10, but she can remember spending time with her mother while the Purple Lady lived in the old farmhouse.

Walking down the road with her mother, she said, she noticed all the attention the woman got. “You’re like Michael Jackson,” she told her.

Although Rachel Presha was born and raised in the old farmhouse, her connection was less with the land or the building that sat there than with people.

She moved to Toledo when someone told her about it and asked her to come visit, she said, settling down there at the Lorraine Hotel for years. She also lived for a while with a daughter in New York. As her mother’s health has begun to fade, Delzorra brought the Purple Lady back home.

The elder Presha spends much of her time now sitting on a couch and looking out a window, through which she can see a large green tree in a neighbor’s yard. The color catches her eye, and the tree is a frequent point of her conversation.

“I’m glad to see somebody love it,” she says of the tree and the neighbors who have grown it from a sapling.

Both mother and daughter are surprised to learn that there is still a purple telephone pole to be found by those who know where to look along Bridge Road.

But they will be near the old farm again on July 11, when Delzorra holds a birthday party for her mother at the Comfort Suites hotel across the road from where the home once stood.

The public is invited to attend the party, Delzorra said, and to say hello to the woman that many can remember walking along Route 17 when there was hardly anything else to catch the eye.

For more information, call 483-9801, email Purple.Lady85@yahoo.com or search for Rachel Presha on Facebook.