California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004

Interviewee: Mary Line

 

Date: 10-21-03

 

Tape # 17

 

Interviewer: Judy Mayfield

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

 

Place of Interview:Home of Mary Line

 

PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946

Visalia, California

OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:

Tremendous sense of family

Inviting servicemen in the community into the household


My name is Judy Mayfield and today I will be speaking with Mary Line. Mary has agreed to share her memories of the years 1941,1946 for the Tulare County Library Oral History Project, Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941,1946.

Today is October 21, 2003 and we are at the home of Mary Line.

JM: Mary, would you start by telling us when and where you were born and how long you lived in Visalia and Tulare County?

ML: I was born on December 27, 1931 in Anaheim, California. I’m the youngest of five children born to Vernon and Catherine (Voorhees) Cruzen (Mae (Hover Buckwalter), Janet (Skadan Kennemer Williams), William (Bill) Cruzen, Catherine (Katie) (Franklin). My eldest sister, well actually all of us still live in Visalia. I did lose a sister last year. My sister Catherine, who is just older than me and my mother also passed away this past year at the age of 97. We moved to Visalia from Anaheim in 1933. It was in the summer time and my dad, Vern, was transferred here as the manager of the Western Auto Supply Company. He had his choice to go to Hawaii (Honolulu), or come to Visalia. Of course he didn’t want to take his family, all seven of us, my grandfather, Ralph Voorhees, lived with us too, so it was eight of us, across the water, so he came to Visalia. As I understand it, the first day they came to Visalia it was 117 degrees. I was only 18 months and we all had the mumps except my grandfather and my father. That was our introduction to Visalia.

JM: You would have been about how old when the Second World War began?

ML: On December 7, 1941, when the war started, I was just shy of my tenth birthday by about three weeks.

JM: So you were in school at the time?

ML: Yes, I was probably about fourth grade.

JM: Do any events stand out in your mind before the start of the war, the feelings in town . . .

ML: We were a very small community at that time. I think when my parents first moved here it was probably about 7,000 people. When the war started, it was probably closer to 10,000-11,000, probably about 10,000. That may be a little more than what we were, but I would say around 10,000. And my grandfather lived with us, and my grandparents, my father’s parents Thomas (Frank) Cruzen and Linnie Lulu Horton Cruzen, lived in Southern California. It was my mother’s father that lived with us and he did a lot of vegetable gardening. He didn’t work. He stayed home with us kids. My mother started working when I was about 5 or 6. She worked for the county, Tulare. One of the outstanding things to me as a child it was the first encounter of losing someone. My grandfather died in 1940, so that was kind of a traumatic experience. He died at home. We didn’t even know he was sick. As a child that was what stood out in my mind.

JM: Where were you and what were you doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

ML: It was Sunday and we always had a big dinner on Sunday. My mother always made a roast, chicken, whatever. We had a big sit-down dinner on Sunday afternoon. My parents had the radio on and I remember hearing that infamous speech of President Roosevelt, the Day of Infamy, even though I was not quite 10, I still remember that very clearly.

JM: Do you remember how you felt when the announcement came.

ML: Being so young, I didn’t realize all the effects that it would have even in our lives over the next few years and the changes that would come about. But, I knew, of course, that it was not a good thing. And I also knew that probably many of my sisters’ friends and family friends would be affected by it, by military service. I got that much of it.

JM: Can you remember people that you knew that had to go into the service? Those close to you?

ML: There were several. Actually, during that time of those four years, we had Sequoia Field in Visalia and many young men were stationed out there. My father played in a dance band and they played for the USO in Tulare. And my sisters were in high school. He would take several of the girls in high school, the older girls, and he would take them over there to dance with the young men. They’d bring the young men home, oftentimes to spend the weekend or for Sunday dinner. There was one young man from Tulare. His name was Bob Phillips and he was a friend of my sister’s. The last time I saw him was in June 1944 and he was to be shipped to the European Theater and he didn’t come home. And that was pretty traumatic for me. I was probably about 13 at the time. Then there was another young man, Bob Metzger, who spent a lot of time in our home on weekends. He was stationed out at Sequoia Field. He actually was killed in the United States in an airplane accident. Then we had my mother’s cousin’s (Urban Arbour), son (Urb Arbour Jr.) from Oregon, stationed up in Merced and he would come on weekends, so we saw him a lot. Over the years we have been very close to him. Then we had another young man whose name is Chuck Leonard from Colorado now. He really became part of the family. He was from Tennessee. We called him "The Tennessee Kid." I got to know many men like that. Like I said, I was just a young girl, but I remember very clearly.

JM: So, your family, your immediate family, did they have to change their housing during the wartime? Did other people come to live with you?

ML: No, my parents bought their first house and it was the house they lived in all during those years. It’s right down on Goshen and Willis, right next door to where there’s a flower shop on the corner now. Many of the neighbors, you would recognize their names now. Montgomery Auditorium which is now the L.J. Williams Theater. DeWitt Montgomery was the superintendent of schools and he lived right on the corner across from us. The Links, Tom and Bob, were tiny boys, and the Links lived right around the corner. There were just a lot of people who are still in the community who lived near by.

JM: How did the war affect your family’s economic circumstances? Was there difficulties getting food or clothing or anything that you needed?

ML: I look back now and wonder how my mother managed, especially when we had so many people visiting, the servicemen and extra mouths to feed, but she always managed. She was very frugal. And being an only child and ending up with five children was quite a switch for her. But she managed very well. She had barbeques,hamburgers, homemade ice cream and that kind of stuff. Of course we had the rationing,I remember it was on shortening, lard, fuel, meat, butter and all those things. Sugar. I don’t know how she really managed to cook. We didn’t have a lot of meat, as far as; it had to be hamburger, something she could stretch. But I often wonder: in those days, we just had a wringer washer, no dryers. The girls had to take turns helping with the meals. We had to learn to cook that way, because Mother worked. She also paid us to wash our fathers starched shirts and we had a "mangle" (a machine that presses laundry by running it between heated rollers), and we had to iron all the sheets and tablecloths. ‘Course we didn’t have anything plastic then; it was cotton tablecloths and pillowslips and all those kinds of things,handkerchiefs. I often wondered how she managed. She also did all of her own dry cleaning. She had a solvent that she used and she would go out into the garage away from anyplace that could cause a problem. In fact I can still smell that solvent.

JM: It’s amazing how much people used to do, isn’t it?

ML: The other thing too, was we couldn’t afford to go on a lot of vacations with such a big family. Of course in those days with gas rationing, you didn’t, but we managed to take the servicemen and the whole family . . . and I don’t know how we crammed into the car, but we did. We had a little ’39 Chrysler. Really, it was pretty good size and we managed to take the servicemen up to the mountains and took them around. We took them to the coast if we had enough gasoline. We’ve managed to do those things. Mooney Grove Park, Cutler Park, hayrides, the old Hyde Ranch Dairy was over where K Mart is now. And Otto and Mary Jones lived there. Old time Visalians. I remember the big milk bottle that they had up there and we would go out there for barbeques quite a bit and hayrides. That was in the country.

JM: Oh, yes, I can remember that. That was country then. You mentioned you had gardens: war gardens, victory gardens?

ML: Victory gardens, you bet. We had a vacant lot right next door and I remember I can’t eat Swiss chard to this day. My mother and dad raised Swiss chard and I guess it was green and leafy and hardy. We had a lot of that. That lot isn’t vacant any more, but at that time it was and they had some loquat trees, and we made loquat jelly and such. Yes, we had a victory garden. Onions, radishes and all those things.

JM: Can you remember other than taking in some servicemen, can you think of any other volunteer activities your parents did?

ML: My mother was very involved in Girl Scouting and in fact, she may be been one of the beginning ones. When I was real little, this was before the war, but when I was real little, there was a Brownie troop that met at the Presbyterian Church and I wasn’t old enough to be a Brownie, but they let me come. It’s kind of funny, the little things you remember about that. I remember a little tiny bear with a little gold bell and that just really impressed me. But my dad was what they called the Community Chest. He was very involved in that, and involved in the Lions Club, Visalia Host Lions Club. It was the only Lions club at that time. And they had their Turkey Shoot every year, which was out on the corner of Ben Maddox and Main, across from where the Toyota dealership is now. He was active in all kinds of community things.

He also was an air warden. They had air wardens, they had districts, and he would have what they called a blackout, he would go around the neighborhood and make sure no one had any lights showing through their windows. We had blackout curtains that you were supposed to pull. And so he did that, and also over at the Recreation Park over behind the ball field now, there was a tower. That was a watchtower. Kind of humorous as you look back now, because there was a kind of scare that over on the coast they had spotted a two-man Japanese submarine. So, all of a sudden, they decided they had to have lookouts and so my dad took his turn. They would use binoculars, scanning the sky for planes. That was right near the old scout shack, which my dad helped build. It is no longer there. My memories of that house, it was a Boy Scout house, was the first time I ever saw pull-down stairs that came out of the ceiling and it was all in knotty pine inside. The Lions Club built that, and my dad helped build that. That was just right about the wartime.

JM: Now when you had these blackouts and your dad went off to volunteer as a warden, do you remember being frightened or anything?

ML: No, I think it was just part of what they were to do. I don’t remember being frightened. I think I always felt safe. Oh, I was going to tell you about one of the things that was really traumatic for me, right at the beginning of the war. I was in the 4th grade and one of my very good friends was a Japanese girlfriend and her name was Yoko Kawasaki. Her father was the Buddhist priest. Yoko and her two little sisters and her parents were sent off to the relocation camp and they came to say goodbye to our class. I can picture them today with their little white dresses and little bobbed black hair as they came to tell us goodbye. That was traumatic for us as 4th graders.

JM: You were at the Webster School. How did you feel about this?

ML: I didn’t understand it. As you get older, you look back and see how unfair that was. I still see Yoko today. She lives in Watsonville and when my husband, Robert (Bob) Line, was superintendent of the school district, they would have superintendents’ meetings over in Monterey and we would always get together with Yoko and her husband, Ben Umeda.

JM: You said your mother was working during the time. She didn’t start working during the war?

ML: No, she was working before.

JM: So it wasn’t like the war caused her to go to work.

ML: No. I think the extra income helped us to do other things. Things were tight. She sewed for all the girls. Those days, the County, the offices were open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 in the evening, Monday through Friday and on Saturday mornings they worked from 9:00 to 12:00 and she also took care of the family.

JM: What was her job?

ML: She worked for the County Auditor’s office. She ended up being the Deputy County Auditor when she retired.

JM: Can you think of any ways the community was affected, how industry was affected? Were there any war plants or employment that had to do with the war itself?

ML: The only thing I can think of is if some civilian folks working out at Sequoia Field or Rankin Field in Tulare. But, no, we weren’t much of an industry place at that time. I can’t remember.

JM: How about agriculture? Do you remember any way the war affected that?

ML: Yes, I can. It sounds kind of funny now, with child labor laws, but they had trouble getting the crops in and they didn’t have enough workers. I was probably 12 or 13, and in the summer time and into the fall, they recruited junior high and high school kids. We would pick up the bus at the old Sierra Vista school where I went to Junior High School. We’d get on the bus, take our lunch and I went out and cut grapes and I picked cotton. And I’m telling you, I didn’t make very much money and I don’t think they did too well with me, but I can remember using that grape knife and how my hands were all cut up. I wasn’t very good and I probably lasted only one season. And then the other part of that was, a lady, Zola Kloth, that worked with my mother had almonds and plums. Their place, it’s in the city now, just south of Whitendale and Court. We rode our bicycles out there and we would hull almonds (all this is done mechanically now). We would hull the almonds and separate them out and also separate out the plums.

JM: Now was this because there was a shortage of workers due to the war?

ML: Primarily. Well, the second one probably when we worked for the Kloths that is was more to give us a summer job. But the other was, because they just didn’t have enough people to bring the crops in. The men were all off to war.

JM: Now you told us about your friend, the little Japanese girl that you knew that was sent off to the camps. Do you remember anything about other ethnic groups in the community? Do you remember problems, race relation problems?

ML: No, I don’t. Although I’ve heard the stories my husband has to tell from his Japanese friends, but it was primarily the Japanese. I don’t know that we had much of a German community here in Visalia and the Hispanic community was smaller too at that time. I don’t remember any other ethnic groups.

JM: Just, all in all, how do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

ML: I think because my parents were so strong, we were a close family. We were able to not be as affected as others who might be frightened. I do know that there were several servicemen from Visalia who never came home and that was always hard. I can’t think of anything else.

One of the things, the Fox Theater, they had radio station KTKC, had a kids club and you could go down and perform if you wanted to. My sister, just older than me, the two of us, we liked to sing. On the Saturday mornings, they would have this kids club and we would go down there and do our little song. One time in particular I remember; the song we sang was "Kiss the Boys Goodbye" and it had to deal with military, because they were going off to war. And of course I was just young enough, 12, and we had little pen-striped red and white princess style dresses with a sailor collar. Isn’t it funny how you remember those crazy little things? And we walked in and the concession stand was just inside the door and there were a couple of gals and they asked if we were performing today and we said yes, and that we were singing a piece "Kiss the Boys Goodbye". And she said I wish I could have a piece of "Kiss the Boys Goodbye". I have never forgotten that, the funny little things.

The other thing is that at the conclusion of the war, of course we had a flood during that time too, 1945, we had a flood and things were a little tough for my parents, and one of the things we had to do was help buy our own bicycle, even though we got it for Christmas, we helped pay for them. We had to earn the money. We rode all over town in the floodwaters. It was kind of fun. It was a new experience and something you don’t forget, like the Turkey Shoot and some of the community things that went on. Acequia Street, where the parking garage is now, near the Convention Center, and the hotel, the old Civic Auditorium was there, and we had a lot of activities there. The big Girl Scout banquet; they always had the Halloween parades all during the war. Those kinds of community things were kept up and they were very important, because I think it kept the community’s spirit up. The Fire Station was right where the Convention Center is. There was just a lot of activity in that part of town. Everything was right centralized and downtown. You think of the grocery stores that were right in town there, restaurants, and so on.

JM: That’s kind of where it was during those years, wasn’t it?

ML: Rodeo grounds, right on Court Street, near where the old Visalia hospital was, South Court Street. And we worked out there beyond that for the Kloths with the almonds and plums. That was in the country. The perimeter of the town really wasn’t very big. Ed. See comment at end of this interview for a history of the Visalia Rodeo.

JM: Now-a-days we see everything on TV as soon as it is happening or while it’s happening. You probably got your news from what . . . the radio?

ML: The radio, but mainly I remember the Movie Tone News at the movie theater. Of course, everything was old. We get instant messages now, but then things were one, two, three months old. They would show clips of the war and what was going on. It didn’t make it so much in your home as it is now. Yes, we listened to the radio, but I probably didn’t listen as seriously as my parents did because I was too young. The Movie Tone News I remember very distinctly.

JM: I remember that too. Can you think of other things? I have asked kind of general questions, but do you have some things you could share that you remember that you want to tell us?

ML: One of the things that I remember was you always knew when someone was in the service by the little banner that hung in the window and if they lost a son, it was mostly men then, just the WAACs (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) and WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service: U.S. Navy) we called the women, but mostly sons they lost, they had a gold star on their little banner. Otherwise, if you had someone in the service, you hung the little banner in the window, I think they were blue, I can’t remember now. But that’s how you knew that household was serving the military.

Let’s see . . . some of the other things. I was talking about the perimeter of town. Out north of town we used to go with this friend from elementary school. She lived in the country and I didn’t live on a ranch, so I was always fascinated by what went on. I saw my first little piglets born out there. I had to come home and tell my mother about it. And then another friend had a little horse and she lived out in the Visalia area and of course, that was country. That was big thrill. And I still see her. She’s a teacher in Porterville. It’s kind of interesting how your connections still stay there. Visalia was a very patriotic town. What I didn’t tell you about was at the end of the war, I was just going into my freshman year of high school and . . . I’m trying to remember, it was the victory in Europe, VE Day, and we used to drag Main. That was the main thing to do,take your cars up and down Main Street. VE Day was exciting, but VJ Day was really exciting. We honked the horns and had the big parade and it was a very exciting time,1945. The men were coming home.

JM: Do you remember about dropping the atomic bomb and fears about that?

ML: I do. I have mixed feelings about that because I certainly don’t think what happened to families and the people in Japan was a good thing. But on the other hand, many more lives would have been lost had we not ended the war that way. It’s emotional for me. At the time, I probably didn’t quite look at it that way. You know, as a young teenager, but today, it’s just a lot of injustices, I guess. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do and I’m sure it was a weighed decision by our leaders.

JM: Right after the war, do you remember any shortages? What happened? Did things start to change?

ML: One of the things, amazingly enough, was a housing shortage, because we moved away for a short period of time and came back in 1947. We moved down to Anaheim when my father went into the restaurant business, hated it and came back six months later. And they had a terrible time finding a house. That was in early 1947. So I think that was one of the things,we finally found a house, which my parents lived in for many, many years. And now it’s not part of a neighborhood anymore. It’s now a medical office. That was one of the shortages. I think it took a while probably. I don’t recall, but I suppose it took a while to get everything back into production. Cars for one thing: There weren’t any cars for two, three, four years there. Everything was going to the war effort, so cars were one thing.

JM: What would you say . . . do you think . . . how do you think World War II affected Tulare County and the way it is now?

ML: Of course, we’re not as rural. Oh, we’re rural, but not as rural as we used to be. We’re growing. I can’t really put my finger on anything.

JM: Did it start to grow right after the war?

ML: It grew some. I graduated from high school in 1949 and we were about 13,000 people and I think in 1980 we were at 38,000 and now we are at 100,000, so it really has grown. Agriculturally it has been affected by the growth, obviously. I don’t know that we had a tremendous amount of growth right after the war. I don’t think we did. I don’t think the town grew much, maybe a couple of thousand. Maybe that is significant, I don’t know. It could be significant growth for that period of time. We were always . . . Visalia was a very patriotic town. It was a very patriotic time. Up until the Gulf War, I kind of noticed it was the theme of patriotism and then again after 9-11. There was a lot of patriotism for our country back then. Of course, there was involvement in buying war bonds and saving in our little thing that we took to school and put our quarter in every week for war bonds.

JM: Much more so than for the Vietnam War time.

ML: And the Korean. I sort of saw a little return to patriotism during the Gulf War and after 9-11. I kind of wonder now if we haven’t forgotten a little bit about 9-11-2001.

JM: Time. Time goes on and people kind of forget. OK, is there anything else you can think of that you might want to add?

ML: I’m looking over my notes. I think that about covers everything. I think I talked about the different activities that were going on, but the community, I think the community is still family oriented in lots of ways. It was just on a smaller scale. Everyone went to the rodeo, everyone went to the rodeo parade, everyone went to these things.

JM: Major events in the community that everybody went to.

ML: Everybody participated. It was just a very family oriented family community.

JM: I’d like to thank you for participating in this Oral History Project for the Tulare County Library. We appreciate your time and I’m sure researchers in the future will be happy to use your story.

ML: I’ll remember things after you’re gone. (Laughter)

JM: Thank you.

Judy Mayfield/Transcr: Pat Dilley/ Ed: Judith Wood

Editor’s note: words in italics are names and clarifications added during a phone interview with Mary Line on January 11, 2006.

Also, the Visalia Rodeo started in 1927 as a one day show at what is now Recreation Park. By 1930 there was a rodeo parade. An estimated 11,000 people saw the rodeo and it had become one of the largest shows in California. In 1932 the rodeo was held for the first time on grounds near what is now the Kaweah Delta Recovery Center on South Court Street, and was a three day event. In 1941 the backing of the rodeo was assumed by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce. They sold the South Court property and moved the events back to Recreation Park that year. Because of the war, no National Rodeo Association shows were held from 1942 to 1948, although the Visalia Elks Lodge sponsored one day shows in 1944, 1945 and 1946. In 1949 the events moved to Plaza Park in the area which now has a small race car circle and grandstands. The Parade was held for the last time in 1982 and the last rodeo in Visalia was held in 1986. Visalia had changed and become more urban. The rodeo couldn’t draw enough people to cover its costs. Source: Annie Mitchell.