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
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
Grade school and high school years
Life in town
Life on the farm
AM: Today we are taping an oral history by Mrs. Betty Simon of Visalia. Today is April 20, 2004. My name is Anne Marks. For the sake of accuracy, could you say your name and spell your last name.
BS: Betty Simon. S-I-M-O-N.
AM: And Betty is spelled . . .
AM: With a Y. Where were you born?
AM: And your parent’s names?
BS: Rupert and Lena (Crawford) Stevenson, with a V.
AM: And where was your father born?
BS: Father and mother were both born here,Visalia.
AM: Is that right?
BS: My father’s father was born here.
AM: And what were your grandparents’ names?
BS: James and Emma (Bergen) Stevenson, that’s my dad’s. Then his father (Robert) settled here in 1852. My mother’s maiden name was Crawford. I think it was . . . I don’t remember all about it (My maternal grandparents were) James and Cora Rebecca Crawford.
AM: How about siblings, brothers or sisters?
BS: I had five sisters and two brothers.
AM: And where were you in the birth order?
BS: I’m number six.
AM: So you had older and younger.
BS: We sort of had two families. Four older girls (Edna StClair who was 15 and a half years older than me, Alma Westphal, Gertrude Archer Woods, Roberta Woodruff Bernhard) and then my older brother (William), myself and my younger brother (Robert) and my younger sister (Joyce Wells). About 20 years difference from the top to the bottom. My oldest sister just passed away at 91½.
AM: Any other relatives living in the area when you were growing up, aunts, uncles, extended family?
BS: Yeah, my mother’s brother’s family lived here. His name was J. Milton Crawford and then her sister (Cora) was married to George Burlage. They lived out by Ivanhoe. My dad had two sisters (Linnie and Ina) that married brothers. Their last name was Logan. Ben Logan and T.J. Logan. There were quite a few of them. And I had an aunt; one of my mother’s sisters (Esther) was a maiden. She wasn’t married until she got to be about 50 years old. She worked here in town at the G&I Market and Copley’s Bakery too. Her name was Esther Crawford (McGinty).
AM: How about your dad’s occupation?
BS: He was a farmer. We had a place out toward Ivanhoe on 144. When I was little, he was working at Hetch Hetchy Dam. He started there. I don’t know how long he worked there but he had an accident and lost his right arm in a rock crusher. So after that he wasn’t able to work, so he had a small settlement and he bought about twenty-five acres out there, and that’s where we lived.
AM: What sort of crops did he have?
BS: First, we had cows. We had a small dairy, and then later on he planted cotton and that’s what he did. He did plowing and did farm work with other farmers that would go help each other.
AM: Did you have hired help?
BS: No. It was just a small place. My mother always milked cows. She had to do the milking and my older sisters didn’t live there. They were already married by the time we got to that place. They lived over toward Ivanhoe and a couple of other places. My father worked on a farm for someone else until he bought the place there. But the other girls were gone.
AM: Where were you born then, actually?
BS: We were living out toward Ivanhoe. I was born in town here at the old Kaweah Hospital. Just a small one.
AM: What year was that?
AM: So you moved to Ivanhoe when you were very young then?
BS: Yes, I was four years old when we moved to the place on 144, and that’s where we were until the folks passed away.
AM: You had a family home though here that they lived in for some time in Visalia?
BS: Not my family, but my dad’s family, the Stevenson’s. They had several homes here in Visalia at the time, because his grandfather was given a 168-acre grant in about 1854 or something like that and it encompassed over around maybe where Redwood High School is and then Goshen Avenue. In 1854, ’55. Something like that. And there were several houses, but as far as I know the Stevenson homes are gone. They used to demolish a lot of things around here.
AM: How about your mother. Did she work outside of the home?
BS: Yes, she worked in the cannery sometimes. A lot of the women did. My husband’s mother worked in the cannery, all these kids and everything, but they worked in the cannery. She worked at home and did all the milking and the chores outside.
AM: The cannery would have been . . .
BS: In Visalia, but it went under some time ago. But a lot of the ladies worked in the cannery.
AM: You said your father and mother’s birthplace was here in Visalia?
BS: Yes, here in Visalia.
AM: Your earliest memories were in Ivanhoe. Can you describe your surrounding neighborhood?
BS: Yes, well, we weren’t right in Ivanhoe. We had a place outside. It was all farming land. Ivanhoe was very small. Actually, there’s so many of the original buildings in Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe was where they had a lot of packing of oranges and lemons, things like that. I had an uncle (Ben Logan) that always worked at the packinghouse. For years. When he and his wife (Ina), my dad’s sister, got married, they moved to Ivanhoe and they lived in that house until they both passed away. We didn’t move much.
AM: Exactly. Were there neighborhood children that would have been down the road?
BS: Yes, we always had neighborhood kids to play with. When we lived over on 144, I was about four when we moved there, and we went to Elbow Creek School, which was a little brick, two-room school built just like the Elbow School is on the Ivanhoe Highway. Now it’s much bigger, but that’s where we went to school. It was about a couple of miles from where we lived. But we had neighborhood kids.
BS: Yes, in fact one of our neighbors just down the street is my brother-in-law and has been for a long time. His name is Earl Parsons. He married Jack’s sister (Frieda), so I’ve known Earl since I was four years old.
AM: And Jack being?
BS: Jack’s my husband.
AM: Jack Simon.
AM: How about businesses as you were growing up in Ivanhoe? Where would you have done your shopping? Or did you raise your own vegetables?
BS: We had all of our own vegetables. We had a fruit orchard; we had all of our own fruit. My dad always would plant corn and we raised that. And during the summer, he would pick the corn and then cut off both ends and take it in and sell it to the G&I Market in Visalia. Probably, I remember more than G&I; it could have been other stores too. Can’t do that now.
AM: How about your meats? Did you butcher?
BS: We butchered. We had beef and we’d do pork every once in a while. Our neighbors would come down and help. I can still see the big black pot with the fire under it to heat the water and then they’d put the pig on a chain and it would go down good. It looked like a lot of work, but they always had help to do that. Then we’d take it to town and put it in the icehouse.
AM: Cold Storage.
BS: Yeah, the old Ice House Theater.
AM: You would rent a locker?
BS: We’d rent a locker. So that was pretty early to have frozen meat. You didn’t think about it at the time, until I started thinking about it later on. I thought gee, we were kind of up to date. We had our own chickens and our own cows, so we had almost everything we needed.
AM: So you just would have purchased flour and perhaps other staples?
BS: Other things like that.
AM: Mostly purchased in Ivanhoe?
BS: No, no, we went to Visalia. I think there might have been two little stores in Ivanhoe, but mother would always go to town maybe once a week. I know we used to occasionally go to town on Saturday night and see all the relatives downtown.
AM: You mentioned G&I. That would be the predominant store that you . . .
BS: At that time. Yes, it was Goldstein-Iseman and it was on Main Street. They had a bakery in there that was Copley’s Bakery and it was a very popular store. There were a few other stores downtown. Justine’s was downtown. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but I think it was over by the Post Office and a few others. We didn’t have that many stores.
AM: How about schooling? Where did you attend school?
BS: We went to Elbow Creek.
AM: Right, and then from there?
BS: Then from there we went to high school, because it was eight grades.
AM: And that would have been here at Visalia Union?
BS: At Visalia Union, um-hmm.
AM: How about a place of worship that your family might have attended services?
BS: I remember going to the Christian Church on Court Street. We didn’t go all the time. As a teenager, I started going to the Baptist Church with my friends.
AM: How about family entertainment? What would you do for socializing or just for fun?
BS: Oh well, we didn’t do a lot. The family would come over and I remember my mom and dad and the relatives that would all come over and sit around a big table and they’d play 500, which I never learned. But I used to . . . I used to be able to sit on my dad’s lap . . . and play his cards.
AM: Very neat memory.
BS: Because he could do anything even though he only had one arm. He was not handicapped.
AM: When he got his injury then, you were, say, four or three?
BS: I was about four.
AM: You just knew dad as having one arm growing up.
BS: Yes, it’s kind of like . . . when I talk to my older sisters, it was like they had a dad with two arms. We had a dad with one.
BS: It was different.
AM: Then you had a radio in the home?
BS: We had a radio about so high and we’d all sit around and listen to The Shadow and all those stories that you listen to. We did.
AM: So a console about three and a half feet high?
BS: Yeah, it was pretty good size.
AM: And how about growing up towards the war years, 12 or 13, what sort of activities might you have engaged in?
BS: Actually, I went to Elbow Creek so we didn’t graduate until 8th grade, I think there were probably 14 or 15 in the graduating class. We didn’t do a lot when you come to think of it. We used to play with each other and then the kids down the street.
AM: Entertained yourselves.
BS: We entertained ourselves. We really did. When I got up to be in about in high school, mother would take us and we’d go skating at their skating rink in Visalia. A lot of kids did that.
BS: Yes. My husband and his whole family, a lot of them went roller staking.
AM: That would have been over near Mineral King then?
BS: Well the first one was downtown not far from the Fox Theater, when I first started going. There was a filling station and then there was the restaurant, the skating rink, and it was there a long time. But a lot of people don’t remember it. And then it was over by the convention center. In fact, it was on that place at the convention center. At one time, we owned that. Jack, his brother Conrad and his brother-in-law, Lee Cree, owned the skating rink during the early ‘50’s. They used to work at their regular jobs and then take turns working at the rink at night.
AM: Do you recall your parents leaning one way or another to a political party that they were strong supporters of?
BS: Well, mother was Republican. My dad was a Democrat, but he never did vote for a Democratic President. He just used to yell about it.
AM: So do you recall any strong political discussions among the adults?
BS: Not a whole lot. Just my dad yelling about the President all the time.
AM: So he would not have listened to FDR’s fireside chats?
BS: I doubt it.
AM: Very good. As the country entered into war it caused a lot of upheaval, "growing pains," we shall say. In ’41, you would have been about 12 or 13 . . .
BS: I was in the 8th grade. Because I started high school in ’42.
AM: So, 12 to 13 year old girl, that’s a lot of upheaval and major adjustments on your own and that’s starting to come into greater consciousness about the world outside of yourself. I was just wondering if you might recapture or put into words kind of the general feeling you might have had at the outset of the war about that occurrence?
BS: I remember when Pearl Harbor happened. And at Elbow Creek, we, of course, were such a small school, but a lot of the teachers went off to war and so we had this little retired teacher that came back to work at Elbow Creek. She was getting pretty old by that time. But every once in a while we’d all get under our desks and things like that. And my mother would take turns going out at a certain place on the Dinuba Highway and we’d listen for planes, airplanes. We used to do that about once a week; I don’t know how long.
AM: Aircraft observation.
BS: That aircraft observation, we did that. We used to go with her.
AM: Can you think of a feeling you might have had? Was this an exciting time or a fearful time or nothing in general, specifically?
BS: Oh, I don’t know . . . It was something to do. I don’t think we were scared. We weren’t all excited about it because we had a lot of, I had quite a few brothers-in-law in the service. One of my sisters got married after the war started. She was away from home and she married a man from the service. They settled in Los Angeles. Well, they were in Tulare for a while. He worked for the Edison Company and then they moved down south and he drove trucks and did other things. But my other sisters, most of them were here. One sister lived in Corcoran. The rest of us lived here. I had about three brothers-in-law that were in the service.
AM: During the war, you would have grown from a 13 year old to say 17, maybe 18 year old. That’s a big . . .
BS: I graduated in ’46.
AM: Do you recall having any different opinion of the war by the time you were a young adult, a 17 year old?
BS: I don’t know. You didn’t hear what you do hear nowadays. It’s not in your living room every moment, 24 hours a day, which actually I think is a little better. You just didn’t hear all that stuff. My brother is just older than me. He died in the Navy in ’45.
AM: Did he? In active service?
BS: (nods head)
AM: My condolences. That’s still hard.
BS: He was only 20.
AM: Where was he serving?
BS: He was serving in the Pacific on the Hornet.
AM: How did you receive the news of that?
BS: Well, it was something that I knew happened. I was at school. It was in March, I was at school, it was late in the day and a teacher came and got me and they took me home and a taxi delivered the notice out to our house. He was the only one of our family that was killed in the war. I had a cousin that was in Corregidor and he was captured and held for three years. He has some stories to tell and his name is George Burlage (Jr.). They lived out in Ivanhoe. But when he came back from the war, he came back and he’s still alive. They were so deprived of everything, nothing to eat. They put them on a ship and sent them out to sea once and let some of them die and then brought them back home. He has a story that he wrote that we have a copy of and it’s just unbelievable. And he’s still a pretty healthy guy. I think he lives in Texas now.
AM: The human spirit in resilient, is it not?
BS: It really is. Other than that, everybody came home. These were our brothers-in-law. Jack’s brother (Conrad) served in the late ’45. He served in London. He was a military police. Then the other boys were old enough by the time the Korean War came.
AM: How did you receive communication from the men in your family who were serving?
BS: Just letters.
AM: Pretty regularly or was there a big delay?
BS: They didn’t come all that often. We’d get these V letters, just a little piece
of paper, you know. You write it and
then you fold it up and send it. We’d
get those. We didn’t get a whole lot
even from my brother off of the ship there, but I do have some. My sisters would get letters from their
husbands, (Harlan Woodruff was in the air force in the European Theater); two of them went overseas. One of them was over there for almost four
years, in the islands in the
AM: What was your brother-in-law’s name?
BS: Leslie Westphal.
AM: Was he serving on the ship as a ship’s mate or . . .?
BS: No, he was in the Army and he was in the
AM: Your brother that was killed in action?
BS: This is my brother-in-law. My brother was on the Hornet.
AM: And what was his name?
BS: Bill, William.
AM: Was he a pilot?
BS: No, he was just in the Navy. He served on the ship. Actually, he was only in the service about a year and a half, because he didn’t get drafted until he was out of school. He was about three years older than me. But his career didn’t last long. My younger brother Robert never went. He had asthma and since we had lost a boy and he was the only boy left, he wasn’t going to get drafted, which he was happy about, but he was younger than me.
AM: Let me take you back to pre-war, with just a few questions about the Depression era. You were born into a period of nationwide economic depression. Does that bring anything to your mind of any particular occurrence or activity so that when someone says "The Depression Era," that it brings to mind to you not having enough or saving . . . ?
BS: Of course, we lived on the farm. We always had our food and everything. We just didn’t talk about it really and we didn’t get all this television every day and pushing it at you. We didn’t know we were poor, nobody told us. That’s a lot of people that we know, our relatives, friends I went to school with, we used to say, "Hey, we didn’t even know we were poor until somebody told us."
AM: And you were so self-sufficient too. That would have made a big difference.
AM: December 7, 1941, you mentioned Pearl Harbor. Do you recall how you came to hear that?
BS: Yes, we heard it over the radio, and you know, you just can’t believe that. It was such a shock! But being the age we were, I guess we didn’t think too much about it until the next day . . .
AM: Do you recall the adults, your parents’ reactions?
BS: Well, they were just really surprised and shocked.
AM: And you said there wasn’t really a fear that came down to you from the adults around you. Was there any defensive action taken where your dad might have bought ammunition or . . .?
BS: Nah, nothing like that. Actually, we went on just like life was the way it always was.
AM: Some people had relatives in large cities that moved down to Tulare County to move more inland.
BS: No, we didn’t have that. Because of most of us lived here. I mean, part of us lived here until . . . when they came back from the service, then they would . . ., a lot of them moved from here to a bigger town. There’s not that many of us left anymore here. But we were all here when we first started.
AM: Maybe other ways that it affected you? Do you recall the ration coupons?
BS: Oh, I sure do.
AM: Having the farm, I’d imagine you had more gas.
BS: Having the farm, we had more gas. And then of course we had all of our other things. Sugar, we had to have that. I remember when I graduated from 8th grade we had shoe coupons. So all the girls in the class, we just looked and looked at the shoes before we ever spent our coupons. It was kind of strange. We hated to spend that coupon on a pair of shoes that we might not wear all the time. But I remember I think three of us in the class ended up with the same kind of shoes. There wasn’t that much available at that time. I remember the rationing and our stamps. We never seemed to run out of anything.
AM: That ‘s good. Prior to the
BS: You know, we probably didn’t. Out at Elbow Creek you didn’t hear anything. We heard very little.
AM: Was there discussion at home, you recall, about Hitler?
BS: Yeah, I remember they used to talk about Hitler.
AM: The war "over there."
BS: "Over there," mm-hm. But, it was over there. But they used to talk about that some. Because we always took the paper and read the paper every day. That’s how we found out what was going on, but like I say, communications weren’t with us 24 hours a day then. Maybe that’s why I get tired of it.
AM: There you go. Now, there were, at least over in the Dinuba-Orosi area, there was a large group of. . . a fair percentage of German folks and Japanese folks who were in this area. Did you have any classmates that were Japanese American?
BS: Yes, and I know my husband had one that was. Actually, we didn’t have too many Japanese. There were a lot of Germans from around here. My husband’s German. And we used to say, "Those little blond headed Germans," you know. It wasn’t a lot of anything. I remember when the Japanese went off and a big part of them came back and people had taken care of their land or whatever they had. Because there are some here; they used to have a drug store and they went off. When they were young, they went to the camp. And they came back. In the later years they said, "We don’t hold any blame for anything. We’re not mad at anybody because they sent us off." That’s the ones that were outspoken and they didn’t do anything to them.
AM: Must have been an influence from their parents.
BS: Sure, because you kind of hear it at home, that’s what you think.
AM: Speaking of hearing things at home, after Pearl Harbor certainly, when you were in high school, do you recall your friends or people in the area having any prejudice that you witnessed or heard against the Japanese?
BS: Oh, not a whole lot. Of course, we all called them Japs, because that’s what we heard. But I don’t think that the war really got into our daily lives like it does now. Maybe we were luckier that way, I don’t know.
AM: You said you talked them about going to the camps, do you recall when they were assembled down at the Santa Fe station.
BS: We didn’t go to town much so we didn’t witness that. We kind of stayed out in the country. Till I got into high school.
AM: Now, the 1940 census lists Visalia population as 8,904.
BS: Sounds about right.
AM: And that’s slightly smaller than the present day population of Exeter, so very similar to the size of Exeter?
BS: I think so.
AM: What we call a "business district" now would have been called the "center of town." Main Street, of course.
BS: Main Street and Court Street, that’s the crossing.
AM: You mentioned some businesses you recalled. You said G&I Store was there . . .
BS: And there was a Woolworth’s and a Newberry’s, and a Montgomery Ward. When I knew them, they were all in a different place than later on. Seemed like they moved. There was Togni-Branch and there were a couple of hardware stores, locally owned. Four or five drug stores too, right on Main Street, the Fox Theater, used to love to go there . . .
AM: You mentioned drug stores.
BS: Yeah, we had Switzer’s drug store, in fact, Carl Switzer, one of the historians around here, that was one of his relatives. I don’t know if that was his dad or his uncle or whatever, but that was one of them. (Ed: see oral interview for Carl Switzer.)
AM: Now, department stores here? There was . . .
AM: Sears I guess was down there. Wards you mentioned. Model Department Store.
BS: Oh, yes, the Model Department Store. Shelling’s was around and several locally owned dress stores, like Lila’s and . . .
AM: I think I saw listed "Trend of Fashion".
BS: Trend O’ Fashion.
AM: Ruby’s and Mode O’ Day.
BS: Mode O’ Day was there. It was on Court Street, I think.
AM: Now, did you make your own clothing?
BS: Oh yeah, mother made our clothes. Um-hmm.
AM: Did you sew as a teenager in high school or did you start as most of us teenage girls start shopping elsewhere when we reach that age.
BS: Not really. Mother made our clothes until we got into high school. Then she made some of them. But not a lot after that. We could kind of get some from the stores. And then, of course, I had older sisters. My second sister Alma was a beauty operator. And so she always worked downtown. And her husband (Leslie Westfall) was drafted about six months after they got married. I think she was twenty-seven and he was thirty something. He was almost old enough not to go into the draft. But they drafted him. He was gone for over three years. So she just was a hairdresser. While he was gone she worked and every once in a while she would bring my younger sister Joyce and me some new clothes. And then we’d go clean her house. And things like that.
AM: Where was she a beauty operator?
BS: She was a beauty operator at Tom Sharp’s barbershop. The beauty shop was in the back. And I think it was Ethel (Stein) that owned the beauty shop and then Ethel went out on her own and got herself a beauty shop. My sister worked as a beauty operator for a long time. She worked about 50 years; she hated to give it up. She worked as long as she could. And she had two boys (Dennis and Dewayne). By the time her husband came home from the service she had bought a small home. There weren’t many houses to buy . . . on the corner of Conyer and Myrtle Street. It was a one-bedroom house, just a little one with a garage and a small yard. It was real close to Mt. Whitney, but there was no Mt. Whitney at the time. So when he got home she had this house. It was about all you could find. It was hard to find a place. There weren’t any extra houses in town for sale.
AM: People coming, returning from the war, servicemen coming back home.
BS: That’s when they really came up short. You know, there was no housing here. And then finally, they got the housing market started. But people had a really bad time trying to get an apartment.
AM: Did you have any in-laws living with you in the interim when they returned home?
BS: No, no. Didn’t do that. Made their own. My sister bought the house for them and then my one brother-in-law, Harlan, they lived in Tulare at the time, when he came home. And they were beginning to build some in Tulare.
AM: Now when you were in high school during the war, talking about different businesses and shops, would you have left campus for lunches?
BS: Yes. In fact when I got into high school that was the great thing. We rode the bus. A lot of us would go downtown to have a hamburger or whatever. And sometimes we took our lunch and then we walked downtown. We didn’t always eat downtown. We couldn’t afford it.
AM: Did you have a favorite place, a spot that you would go to?
BS: Oh, we’d just usually walk downtown, look in the windows and whatever and talk and we’d walk back. For us that weren’t raised in town, it was something to do. We didn’t get to do that before.
AM: Some of the ones I saw listed were Peden’s Fountain Lunch.
BS: Actually, Peden’s was our, . . . probably the nicest restaurant in town, and then at the Hotel Johnson, they had a really nice fancy restaurant. That was a nice hotel.
AM: There was a Kirby’s Shoe Store. There was Sam’s, I believe where the walk-up is at Church and Main.
BS: Yeah, they had good hamburgers.
AM: Oh, you recall that! Divine’s Drive-in on South West Street and then the sit down places, Motley’s, Adair’s, and the Wunder Café was on Main. . .
BS: The Wunder and the Stag, those were two
bars. They were bars with "eats." They were right next door to each other. In
fact, my brother-in-law, Leslie, that
went to the
AM: Another was the Sequoia Coffee Cup, which you might recall. The Chinese Pagoda . . .
BS: Oh yeah, the Pagoda. There were about three Chinese places, because my mom and dad liked to go to the Pagoda. We’d go have Chinese. They’d have Chinese and we kids would just have a bowl of noodles because we didn’t want to eat that.
AM: That was an occasional thing, going into town for dinner.
AM: Or was it a regular . . .?
BS: There was nothing regular about it. Lots of times, when we were in high school, my dad would love to go and get Chinese, because he didn’t go much. After he lost his arm, he would be just sort of working, working, and working. He loved to go get Chinese and go to the theater. We went to the Roxie a lot and they had these series, you know. Where on Friday night you’d end and the next Friday night you’d go pick it up from there.
AM: Oh, I hadn’t heard of that.
BS: One was Don Redberry and The Lone Ranger and things like that. You didn’t always get to see all of it.
AM: Very good. OK, the theaters, you said The Roxie . . .
BS: The Roxie, the Hyde, and the Fox. If I’m not mistaken, there was another one but I just can’t seem to think of the name of it.
AM: Did you go with friends regularly?
BS: Not really. Because even in high school we really didn’t go a lot. We were still home. We had to have a way to get there. My older brother finally got a pick up, but the "darn thing" would never run. We used to tell him we didn’t want to go with him because we would have to push it halfway to town.
AM: Did you have favorite stars during this time that you would have wanted to see movies if they were playing?
BS: Yeah we did. We got to see some of the movies, but we didn’t attend on a regular basis. Then when we got to high school we would go to the games and do the high school stuff. After my husband and I got married, we went to the show every time the picture changed.
AM: As far as the films that were shown during the war, do you recall them reflecting more of a patriotic theme?
BS: Some I do remember. And there were a lot of . . . by the time I was getting, you know, late into high school, they had a lot of war pictures. I don’t know, we used to see a lot of war pictures. As many war pictures as we did anything else. Maybe some westerns, but we did see a lot of war pictures.
AM: I had read something that worded it, that films portrayed home life, that films were attempting to influence, perhaps, the expected aspects of American life. How the home life/family would be expected to be supportive of the war. Would you say that would be true, that films were geared that way?
BS: I think so. I think so. You didn’t hear all the criticism against the government and everything . . .during the war there. Now it’s just terrible.
AM: How about music as a teenager during the war? Did you have a fondness for it?
BS: Oh yeah. I took some violin lessons when I was young and in grammar school. Then when I started to high school I thought, "Gee, I’d like to play in the band." I didn’t have an instrument, but when I signed up for school, I signed up for band. So they told me they had instruments, which they did at that time. So I signed up and I went to my class and I played the clarinet. They gave me a steel clarinet that was all in one thing and I played that for the four years that I went. The teacher taught us. I didn’t have any other lessons for that, but I could already read music anyway. I played in the band for four years and I really enjoyed it.
AM: To go from strings to a wind instrument, that’s interesting. You just adjusted . . .
BS: I guess I did. I didn’t think about it. I said, "Well, I guess I’ll play the clarinet." They had one so I started taking lessons. The teacher would teach us during the beginning band and when you were good enough you got to go to the senior band. Because the senior band wasn’t very big either, but it was fun. We didn’t get to go like they do now. The band got to go to some of the football games out of town, but not very many because of the gas and all that.
AM: Would you have the recollection that prior to the war or post war there would have been more traveling for the band and that you were in a specific instance where . . . .
BS: You know, I don’t know because when we were out at Elbow Creek we didn’t know much about high school. Because I didn’t even have a sister that was close in age to me that went to high school. Because the others were all older.
AM: How about records?
BS: Oh yeah, when I worked at Woolworth’s (part time at age 16) I bought a lot of records. At that time we could also buy the song sheets. They came out about every month with all the songs in them, so we knew all the words to all the songs and to this day I recall them when they play them and I think I can sing most of them. I remember them.
AM: Very good. Any particular favorite recording artist that you’d . . .
BS: Oh, we always liked Bing Crosby and Perry Como and some of those.
AM: In high school, how did the war affect, I know we talked about the traveling of the band, but would you say the war affected activities in general at the high school? Was there anything you remember, either an activity or an occurrence or lack of activities that were cut because of . . .?
BS: I don’t think there was too much. I really don’t think so. In those days, we didn’t have all the teams and everything that we have now ‘cause the only team for the girls was the tennis team.
AM: Somebody I had talked to in Porterville said that they were let out during seasonal times to help pick fruit.
BS: Oh yes, usually in the fall.
AM: And you had that experience?
BS: That occurred all the time. School didn’t shut down. The kids were just given permission to go. ‘Cause when I went to Elbow Creek we’d have the seasonal workers that would come in the summer time and a lot of them lived in tents on the properties and a lot went to our school. A lot of them were kids of seasonal workers that went to school there and they just had to go out and pick with their parents. So, I remember I was in 4th grade. I was the only fourth grader for about a month because the kids were all out working. And then they all started coming back to school. Those of us who lived on farms and didn’t have to do seasonal work were the ones that were always there, but there was a lot of seasonal work at that time.
AM: In high school, there wasn’t a period of time when there was actually a call put out, you know, "We need to get fruit off the trees?"
BS: No, not that I remember.
AM: Just back to music, another thing that had been interesting to me, they said that pre-war the theme of romance music was good things to come, looking forward to things. And during the war it shifted and they said more of the romance songs were about loss, loneliness and not being together.
BS: Yeah, loneliness, that was the biggest part of it. Waiting for the boyfriend or the husband or the father to come home. Waiting for them to come home. That’s about what they were.
AM: Were there dances held at school?
BS: We had dances some Friday nights, but you didn’t have a dance every Friday night anyway. We had proms, you know, the yearly prom.
AM: Did you have any male classmates that would have enlisted early, that you knew of, the parents’ signed?
BS: You know, we did. They were maybe two or three years older than me. And this happened quite a bit. The boys would go sign up and go. And then when they came back they would graduate with the graduating class of that year. We had probably three or four in our class of ’46 that had joined early. Probably before they were 18. They were a couple or three years behind us, but they graduated in our class. When I went to COS (College of the Sequoias), then that’s when they really started coming home and going to school.
AM: What year did you graduate from high school?
BS: I graduated from high school in 1946, and I went ’47 and ’48 to COS, and lots and lots of veterans were there.
AM: Visalia Junior College at the time.
BS: Yes, Visalia Junior College. In fact the last year, I graduated in ’48 and the following fall it started with the name "College of the Sequoias."
AM: I see. Just after that.
BS: Just after that, ‘cause we helped name it in our class that year.
AM: Is that right?
BS: Yes. I had several cousins that came back and were going to Visalia College. Some went on to other colleges and some got married and went right to work.
AM: How about on weekends? You probably helped out on the farm a lot.
BS: That’s what we did. We had our jobs to do, especially in the summer. We had the fruit and we had to help in the field.
AM: Which siblings would have been on the farm with you?
BS: My older brother, Bill, and my younger brother, Bob, and my younger sister, Joyce. She was probably over three years younger than me. And my other brother, Bob, was just one grade behind me because of our birthdays.
AM: Speaking of young people and relationships, do you think that the war affected how you or your peers would have looked at relationships? Because of the war was there an uncertainty and so relationships were formed quicker? I just wondered if you have any experience in how it might have been different because of that pressure, of the uncertainty?
BS: I think I was pretty naïve when I went to high school. Because my dad always said, "You aren’t going to date until you are 18," or something like that. He has all these six girls, you know. But he really didn’t want us to date until we were 16. So I didn’t date a lot in high school. I had a lot of fun, ran around with a group, but there really just wasn’t a lot of dating.
AM: Had friends, male and female?
BS: Yes. And to this day, some of the people, we’re still friends. Our graduating class has a reunion group, and we have a reunion every five years. We get together and just some of us gals, the 12 or 13 of us, every other month we go out to lunch and then we call each other when we see things in the paper and we keep up with stuff like that. In fact, there are a lot of classes that’ll do that. There’s one class that’s ahead of me, two or three years, and they have a really big bunch that gets together all the time. They go on trips and they have picnics and they just do a lot of things. It’s a pretty good size group. I’d say 25-30 people. And they just are best friends.
AM: Would you have an opinion if that close bonding was because of rural life or because of the war years or just because it was the signature of the times?
BS: It could be but actually, I think a lot of it was the times. Because most of us didn’t go very much. You know, we didn’t travel. We didn’t go much. The things we did were with other people. And there’s a lot of people in town that went to high school here.
AM: The war years changed the roles of women. In the workforce, certainly. In the family. Even in sports. You may recall the All American Girls Professional Baseball League and it ran from ’43 to ‘55. I don’t know if you had any particular interest in following the exploits of those girls. Do you recall any baseball games?
BS: The only baseball I remember was there was a girl’s baseball league here in town.
AM: Is that right?
BS: And in the surrounding areas, there were girls softball teams. My older sisters, some of them played softball. Jack’s older sisters played softball. They played for years and they’d go from town to town and have their games and that was their entertainment. I was just a little kid and I really don’t remember, but my sisters were playing baseball and then they’d go to the dances. But it was a little different when they grew up.
AM: They were teens, then?
BS: They were teens and on through the high school years. Some of his sisters played and they were about the same age and they all played softball. Some of them had a group and they remained friends to this day except a lot of them have passed away, but there’s maybe three or four left. But they’re best friends!
AM: Now the change in the workforce, of course, the men were away and the women had to perform those jobs. Did you have personal acquaintance with any women that either would have taken work outside the home for the very first time or perhaps taken on a different kind of job that would have been normally considered "man’s work?"
BS: Well, you know, at that age, I really didn’t notice. I didn’t know anyone other than a relative and I don’t remember some of my relatives taking over. Since then I’ve heard people talk about when they worked in the shipyards and things like that. But I didn’t know anybody at that time that did that. We were still small town here.
AM: Well, if we’d had a trolley system we might have seen women operating the trolleys or something.
BS: That’s true. But we didn’t have a lot of things that women would do.
AM: And sales ladies had always been. Very good. Now your father was old enough, he was not considered for the draft.
BS: Oh no. He was too old.
AM: Very good.
BS: He was 40 years old when I was born.
AM: I had asked you a little bit about your school activities, if they had been curtailed or altered in any way. Just activities, I was curious about blood drives . . . ?
BS: I don’t remember any blood drives. They could have had them in town, but I don’t know. We were more or less on the farm and that’s what we did! Our kids would be bored to death.
AM: Probably. Just some memorable events that are historic. April 12, 1945, you would have been 17, and President Roosevelt died.
BS: I remembered that. We heard it at school.
AM: Do you know . . . in your memory, was there any particular response, reaction of adults, or was there concern that his leadership then would be faltering, passing it off into the hands of the Vice President?
BS: I think they wondered about Truman. We didn’t hear all the stuff about the Presidents that a lot of people in politics would know. It was mentioned several times.
AM: It might not have been the confidence . . .
BS: A little bit, but I didn’t hear a lot.
AM: September 2, ‘45,VJ Day, unconditional surrender.
BS: I remember hearing that.
AM: The news went out, "The war is over." Do you recall celebrations or horn honking or . . . ?
BS: You know I don’t even recall anything like that. They probably had some, but I don’t remember.
AM: As you say, lifestyle, you were focused . . .
BS: We were focused on day-to-day. That’s true. We didn’t seem to have any really outstanding ambitions. You go to school, try to prepare for a job and get married and have a family.
AM: As an adult during the war years you would have a contrast. You would have life before as an adult and life during the war as an adult. But being a youngster there probably wasn’t that contrast that you could have so it was just what you knew.
BS: That’s right and the only difference . . . I knew my sisters’ husbands were gone, but one of them, (Roberta) went to work for the telephone company and of course Alma did her beauty salon business and my oldest sister (Edna), her husband didn’t go, because he was pretty old. So that didn’t affect them. It didn’t affect the family an awful lot until my brother William went into the service.
AM: Would you have one particular vivid memory of the war years? If I would to say one thing that really stands out during that era, 1941-1946.
BS: The only thing I really think of is so many of the men were gone. So many of the boys were gone. I imagine there were a lot of things we didn’t do that we might have done. But we didn’t know it!
AM: Good point.
BS: Life was different then.
AM: Was there anything you recall most looking forward to having or doing at war’s end? If I were to put it into these words, "I can’t wait for this war to be over so I can - - - ." Would you have had any . . .
BS: I don’t think so.
AM: Again, because that contrast . . .
BS: Right. The contrast for us just wasn’t there.
AM: Very good.
BS: Might have been if we had been in a bigger city. Because, I don’t know, we just went on with our day-to-day life.
AM: Again, I think it would reflect how the adults around you responded to the whole situation.
BS: Well, like having older parents. It was, "make your living." They’re out making a living and that takes most of their time. Like I say, they always read the paper and kept up with things, but we didn’t talk about it a lot. We didn’t ignore it, but we didn’t talk about it a lot. It was life. I think we more or less just handled life as it came.
AM: When the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6th, do you recall that?
BS: Oh, yes. I recall that.
AM: What would have been the reaction, do you think? Can you remember?
BS: You know, I don’t know. I remember seeing of course, the most news that we ever saw was when we went to the movies and saw the Movie Tone News. That’s about it. We didn’t see things like that. I remember seeing the Movie Tone News and you keep up with what was going on, but a lot of it was kind of old by that time. It wasn’t the news of the same day.
AM: Now that ended the war. That brought about VJ Day. Do you recall the town celebrating the end of the war? Any sort of parade or celebrations?
BS: You know, I don’t know, because I didn’t live in town.
BS: Now Jack probably remembers more of that because he always lived in town. Those guys knew everything that was going on.
AM: Now the title of this project, "Years of Valor, Years of Hope", do you have a comment on how appropriate those terms are? Valor and Hope for the time period.
BS: Well, I think that’s pretty good. But, looking back on it, that is. Because I think all those men went off and were gone so long, some were gone quite a long time and then at the end of the war, you have hope that you’re going to have a better life. They’re going to come back and everything’s going to be better. That’s about how I see it.
AM: The last two questions I have for you. How were you personally affected by the years of war as you experienced them in Tulare County? Either at the time or long term?
BS: Well, I don’t know. We probably lived the sort of life that we would have lived, other than losing my brother because everybody came back and picked up life and away we went. I don’t think any of us really dwelt on it. Not having this or couldn’t do that. We were used to doing what we did.
AM: That was an early age to lose someone so close and that undoubtedly would have affected how you looked at life, I would imagine.
BS: But you know, you just pick up and go on. We don’t have any hard feelings about that. So many years probably it wasn’t even hardly mentioned because it’s been a long time ago. But I look at all the relatives and all the people even from Visalia here; my brother was the only one of our relations, that I know of, that was killed in the war.
BS: Actually, most of them came home all in one piece. I have a cousin that was the prisoner in Corregidor and he finally came back. I think he was probably there about three years but his mother didn’t know from year to year. Every once in a while they’d get a little update, but not very often. And I know that took a toll on her, but she did live to see him come home, shortly after that. I know it was hard on her.
AM: I imagine. And relative to that question, how would you think the five years of war, 1941-1946, either affected or influenced the Tulare County of the present, 2004? Did the past carry forward to the future in any way?
BS: I think so. In fact, I still think that Visalia, at least the people I know, it’s still a small town to us. And we still remember and kind of live like we did then. Most of us do. We all have friends that were born and raised here. People will say, "You were born in California? I’m surprised?" And I’d say, "Well, my grandfather was born in California too." It’s nothing new to us. I think my mother’s mother was from Missouri, but mother was born here. We’ve been here a long time. In fact, most of us have never lived anywhere else. A couple of my sisters have lived other places and my brother too, but they all came back. Our schoolmates, a lot of our schoolmates went off to college and didn’t come back because they got married and lived their lives there. You’d be surprised how many, when they retired, came back. It’s surprising.
AM: Do you have anything to add that you can think of that I didn’t ask that comes to mind?
BS: Not really. I think living out in the country probably was a different kind of life than living in town. I talk to Jack and he was so involved in town. He worked in town and everything like that. So we were just sort of out on the fringes. But we enjoy it. I’ve never really wanted to live anywhere else. Once in a while I think, "Oh, gee, we’re such a dull bunch. We’ve never been . . . ." You know, Jack and I have traveled, but we’ve never lived anywhere else. So . . . . But we’re content.
AM: Tulare County is the place to be.
BS: It’s home.
AM: Very good. I want to thank you for your time.
BS: You’re welcome.
Anne Marks/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 5/12/04/ Editor: JW 10/7/04
Editor’s note: Words in italics are based on a phone interview with Betty Simon on October 7th. Her husband, Jack, was also interviewed for this project.