Our neighborhood in Lakeside on the lower part of Vista Camino was brand new in 1960. Since everyone had moved there about the same time, the neighbors were close. And Mom was a central figure. She loved all the kids on these two blocks. Within the first year of being there, they sent her a get-well card. It’s a great record of those children.Heidi
One of Mom’s phrases was ‘organ recital’ and it has nothing to do with music. It refers to a group of usually older people who talk about their health issues – ‘my liver this and my gall bladder that.” I see it often now that I’m older, that health is a major topic when my friends gather.
Forgive me, I do not choose to join the organ recital.
Mom (Harriet Duncan Claycomb) tried to write to her sister, Barb, every day when Barb was not feeling well. From two of those letters I found this description of their childhood home, 619 DeKalb Ave, DeKalb, Illinois.
“…Let’s go back to 619 DeKalb Avenue for a drop in. The entrance to the open porch used to be on the front but when they glassed it in, they moved the steps to the driveway side. Inside the front door was a cold register where we put wet boots and galoshes. Was that register to just let in fresh air? Next to it was the Victrola. My favorite records were Stars and Stripes Forever, Beautiful Ohio, and Saxaphobia. Next was the stairway with a bannister I loved to slide down. Below that was the chest seat where we sat to put on boots—open the lid and there were rubbers, galoshes, and roller skates. Next was that gloomy dark closet under the stairs. Inside were card tables, carom board, golf clubs and tennis racquets. Across from the closet door were originally coat hooks like the ones in cloak rooms at school. They were removed when the phone was moved from the wall facing the kitchen to the hall wall opposite the closet.
I loved the sliding doors into the living room. Sometimes the music case stood just inside on the left—it held all the Sherwood Music course they bought for Helen to become a concert pianist I think. She did pretty well at that.
Around the wall were built-in benches on two sides. They were oak and pretty and next to the bookcase. Kind of handy to take out a book and sit right there to see if it was readable. Then the big window facing Judd’s and then the piano. Mother had all the new songs and kept most of them in the bench along with a hymnal and 101 Best Songs. I remember Yes Sir That’s My Baby, The Song is Ended but the Melody Lingers On, Barney Google with his Goo Goo Googley Eyes, Dream Kisses, My Buddy, Just a Memory, Among My Souvenirs, and on and on. When we had company, sometimes Mother would play and Helen would sing Alice Blue Gown and she was darling. The sofa was opposite the piano and had a hot register between it and the dining room where we stood to dress many a chilly morning.
Inside the dining room on the left was the Morris chair, the radio with headphones and a window facing the street. There was a buffet under the high window, the sewing machine next and then the china closet. Why did we say ‘closet’? Or was it cupboard? Then the door to the pantry. When we had adult company, we three would make blanket beds on the floor by the door going to the kitchen—it was a lark. Our old dining room table was round like everybody’s but Florence got a bigger maple oblong one when she came.
Nothing unusual in the kitchen—stove, kitchen cabinet, wooden table and the sink. Outside on the landing to the basement was the icebox with the dishpan underneath. Then about four steps down to the back door.
How about going upstairs? We’ll take the back stairway and stop at the landing to look out the window. Who lives in Gunn’s house now? Is there still a big garden in back with asparagus and much more? On up to the hall and the linen closets facing us. Big drawers. I used to send for samples of anything there were coupons for in the magazines—had miniatures of everything from tea to mascara. Then I started sending for movie stars’ pictures. They always sent 9×12 glossies autographed. So I took up one of those big drawers in the hall. Don’t know what was in the other drawers but in the cupboards above were towels and sheets. Turning left was the big bedroom with the knotty pine furniture and the little alcove bedroom beside, and a tiny closet. It seems to me we changed room arrangements often so the only room with a name on it for me was across the hall “Grandma’s room.” I know I had a turn in each of the others. The closets in the two rooms on the attic door side had slant roofs and you couldn’t stand up where the slope went down.
Well, that was all very boring—let’s try the attic. Narrow stairs with the light switch on the left. Hot in summer, but nice in winter. On nasty days we often played up there. Boxes of books always fascinated me—I remember poring through “Everything a Man of 40 Should Know.” I doubt if I was much better informed after reading that. The front windows had flies in them. Boxes of treasure like a photo album with dozens of beautiful lacy valentines glued in. There was a black knit dress form, rather shapely. Over center towards Judd’s side were the chests of clothes. Fantastic old fashioned dress and hats and even a corset. We dressed up many a day in those clothes. Some days we planned plays that we would put on and charge 3 pins to get in. Guess there weren’t any stage stars among us because we fell flat. In the next corner towards the garage were “Grandma Oakland’s things”—hands off. The last corner had junk like an old fan, pans, and a chipped enamel table.
Well, my dears, that was a fizzle, so I’ll go outside. Across the front of the house was Bridal Wreath with Lilies of the Valley below. Remember the skinny strips of cement back to the garage for the wheels to try to stay on? There were lush peony bushes under the
window where the sewing machine was inside. The peonies were beautiful but usually were crawling with little black ants. From the front porch to the sidewalk was a hedge that had tiny tart leaves—I always put a leaf on my town and nibbled it.
Behind the garage were currant bushes against the fence, then two cherry trees, then garden bordered by rhubarb. We had a martin birdhouse in the center of the yard on a pole but I don’t remember any tenants for it. Sometimes we played croquet in the back yard.
I could identify a lot of different trees as a child because we had so many varieties of fruit trees. Easy to know their names. But there was one tree that bore no edible fruit – and it was still my favorite. The California Pepper Tree (Schinus molle).
We had two huge old pepper trees in the large chicken pens. Their branches hung to the ground providing a fine play area and hiding place in the shade. The big kids built tree houses in them which we younger folks eventually inherited – as soon as we could finally climb the thick branches.
We were mean to those trees – pounding nails into them to secure the boards or hang some trinket. And the tree bled – a thick, sticky white sap. The smell of the sap and the leaves today takes me back 60 years to those tree forts. Regrettably there are no photos of the structures but I can picture every detail in my mind.
In town, in Lindo Park there were big pepper trees in the 1950s – old then and some are still there. Many times we played in those trees while the big boys played Little League.
Pepper trees are old, welcoming friends.
When we moved to a new neighborhood in 1960, Mom got acquainted with all the neighbors, especially the children. I was in high school, about to join my older siblings in leaving town, so Mom expanded her attentions to the young children still there. When she was ill once, the kids signed a card which she kept forever.
The names are familiar to me, but I don’t know where most of them are. Andy Enzmann died as a young boy – a huge tragedy on our street. John LaBelle now owns the home that he grew up in – probably a grandfather by now.
If Mom were still alive, she would probably still be in touch with them. She had a big heart.
I had a most wonderful, unexpected encounter this last weekend. I had gone to my hometown of Lakeside, California to celebrate Edna Kouns’ 100th birthday. Hundreds of people there – lots of folks from my childhood. Great party, but the special part was seeing my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Hanson. She’s 94 now, healthy and sharp. I know a few of my high school teachers are still alive, but it never occurred to me that some of the elementary teachers could also be.
She’s the only one of my early teachers that I’ve had a chance to thank.
This is our class photo – Lindo Park School, 1954. I’ve put first names where I could, but I’m missing a few. If you are in this photo or know someone who is, please contact me.
My first real job was at Sears Roebuck. I’m not counting those earlier babysitting jobs. Although they paid well – 25¢ an hour. First of all, the only requirements to be a babysitter were to be a girl and older than the ‘babies.’ So I was hired. I was the youngest child in my family – I had absolutely no experience with babies or young children. What were they thinking?!
I babysat for the Prices, our next door neighbors, and for the Humphreys’ – can’t remember any others. It was after a tragedy at Humphreys’ that I retired from babysitting. Several days after I had stayed with their newborn, the baby died. SIDS. But this was the 1950s and not much was known about these deaths. But even at my young age I knew it could have happened on my shift. And I would have carried that responsibility forever. I never babysat again.
So to that real job at Sears. I was hired as a Personnel Clerk just before the Christmas season. I took applications and sent off requests to the references. The application asked for all jobs held in the last five years – dates, contacts, full addresses, job description, and reason for leaving. And if for any reason someone was unemployed for more than a month or two: dates, reasons why and references who could vouch for the gap. I sent out requests to every employer and personal reference (three, please).
Well, some folks couldn’t remember the exact date they were hired at or left a job. Some couldn’t even remember the year. I was amazed. I could remember the day I applied, the day I interviewed, the date hired. After all, this was my first job!
Now I’m not sure what year that was. And I certainly don’t know how long I worked there. I could no more account for every job and non-job period in my life than fly. But I do remember that indignation I felt as a teenager with my first job.
Mom wrote this story of her childhood. You can see Part 1 here.
[This would have been in the late 1920s or early 1930s.] One day my Dad took me to the Boston Dry Goods Store and bought me “an ensemble.” I had never heard of such a thing but I always referred to that two piece knit dress and coat to match as MY ENSEMBLE. He even bought me some beige shoes with a one-inch heel to go with it — and silk stockings with seams up the back. When those stockings got a big run I asked him if I could have more. He said to charge them at Malone’s, so I did. That was a snap so anytime I wanted something I slid into the habit of charging it to my Dad at Malone’s. A few months later Grandma Duncan took me to task. “You can’t go on doing that — these are hard times!” It sank in and I never charged again — until after I was married.
Fran and I had many casual boyfriends and a few serious ones. From time to time we went with the same boys, often in groups, and usually doubledating. We’d walk to the movies, or go to the Cottage Cupboard for cherry cokes or chocolate cokes or a cheese or chocolate “toastie.” Those were grilled sandwiches. Later when the boys had cars we would just ride around and sing and joke. Later years we would pack a picnic and to go Starved Rock or a lake or Potawatomie Park in St. Charles. We swam a lot and Fran and I played golf at Sycamore — never got past the dubbing stage. Some days Fran and I would spend sewing (she was better than I). We made dresses and teddies to match. The dresses were always the same pattern — simple waist and full skirt. We made them in polka dots with teddies to match and another set in red and white checks.
Our closest group included Eleanor Case, Helen Kientz, Margaret Donnelly and Helen McNamara. We had parties with just the six of us sometimes. When we could we would go to out-of-town football games together. One time on our way home from a Rochelle game we thought it would be fun to get the football players bus to stop — we were sure they would help us if we were parked beside the road with car trouble. We parked, put up the hood and the trunk and waited and waited in Helen Mac’s car. When we saw the bus coming we all stood out beside the care looking helpless. The guys all waved and went on by. What a blow! We got back in the car and it wouldn’t go — had a broken axle. It was hours before we got home.
I was active in YWCA in high school and Fran more active in Dramatic Club; we both loved G.A.A. (Girls’ Athletic Association). There were many dances at school. After school were “Sunset Dances” where half of us stood around and talked waiting to be asked to dance. But other dances were at night and we always had dates for those and little dance programs with tiny pencils attached. Your date would line up dances and fill in the programs. But at the G.A.A. dance the girls asked the boys and we filled out the programs. There were Junior-Senior proms and Senior-Junior proms. In other words each year the Seniors would give a prom for the juniors and then the juniors would give a prom for the Seniors before they were graduated. There was also an annual Christmas Dance. My favorite prom dress was long and yellow, cut low in the back with a big lavender bow at the waist in back.
Fran was in several plays. We were both in the Senior Play [they graduated in 1931] — I had a really good part but they told me they couldn’t hear me half way back in the auditorium. The auditorium was where we had assembly meetings — it had sloped seating as in a theater but the stage was our basketball court so it was huge, but of course draped for plays. Under that on the basement level was the girls gym with adjoining locker rooms and a big swimming pool. Fran and I would usually take two P.E. classes each semester, swimming and basketball were our favorites. Our basketball team played other school. Fran was better than I at most everything. Many of our classes were together but when she took soccer, I chose tennis. When she took sewing, I took economics. The dumb reason for that was I knew I wasn’t good at sewing and I didn’t want to show how little I knew. We both went to Glee Club tryouts and made it — not much competition. Helen had the voice in our family, a lovely alto.
Our town had money-making plays put on by out of town specialists but using local talent. We often got in the chorus and it was fun learning songs and dances. I think the community had great fun watching and laughing at the amateur shows.
One family we saw for picnics and get-togethers were the Herricks. They owned Hey Brothers Ice Cream factory in DeKalb. for several years when we were young they lived upstairs over the factory. I loved to go into the factory. It was dank and fragrant, always wet underfoot. The huge vats of ice cream had spigots where the soft ice cream would gush and slide out into what bowl “Uncle” Glen held under it. The smells were of vanilla and fruit and dampness. It was a magic place.
The original Hey Brothers Ice Cream was at Dixon. Their name was Hey and I guess Pauline Herrick was a Hey. Several families of us went to Heys and with them to Sinnissippi Park for a grand picnic. I guess I was about severn. When everyone was stuffed and the last watermelon gone, the group split and went in different cars back to Heys. They had a well at the Park where people kept the watermelons and lemonade cold and they had a drinking fountain of ice cold water from the well. On the way to the car I told Mama I was going to go back for one more drink. Well, they all went without me — families split up in different cars. I was dumbfounded when I came back to the parking lot and they had all left, but I knew they would come back from Dixon to get me. Well, nobody came so I walked up the winding entrance to the highway and from there to the nearest farm. I told the couple my plight and they said they had a telephone and I could use it. The phone had a crank on it to ring “Central” and I didn’t know how to use it. Finally the woman cranked it for me and I told Central who I wanted to talk to. The Heys and all my family were astounded that I wasn’t outside playing with the other kids. Mother and Dad came for me and felt as sorry for me as I did.
One time at a church Christmas pageant a young girl dressed as Mary kneeled by the cradle and sang Ave Maria. I was swept away; it was so beautiful. On the way home I asked Mother what that song was. She told me but they were hesitant to accept this beautiful song because it was in Latin. I gathered that wasn’t suitable for a Methodist church.
Uncle Oscar Oakland, Aunt Hannah and adopted daughter, Edna, live on a farm near Creston. Several summers I spend a week with them. They had a player piano and lots of rolls. I would pump away and sing half the day. Sometimes I rode on the wagon with Uncle Oscar, a big, kindly man. One day when he was driving a manure spreader with a team of horses he had to stop at the field to open and close the gate. He let me drive the horse through while he took care of the gate. A special treat.
Edna came to live at our house while she went to high school and two years of college. I never thought of it at the time, but no doubt the room and board money came in handy. We had so many good times as a family. The craftiest thing we did was make jewelry with candle wax. Mother bought it in many colors. She put down papers on the dining room table and lit kerosene lamps for us to heat the wax over. First we made beads, put a darning needle through them to string them, then we decorated each bead with pretty colored flowers. Mother was artistic and could crochet, knit and tat was well as do beautiful embroidery. We made sealing wax pins and “lavaliers” to hang around our necks. One night as we worked a lamp tipped over and Edna’s arm got terrible burned. She held it under the kitchen faucet, crying, until Dr. Rankin got there.
After that we had other roomers who came from farms for high school or college — always one at a time. Orvilla Spencer, Ethel Oakland, Ellis Espe and Ray Wickness. They didn’t eat with us, just roomed.
Uncle Ed Duncan, Aunt Florence and cousins Mary and Jeanne lived on Normal Road where it is campus now. The first time I ever tasted leg of lamb was at their house and I thought it was terrific. Uncle Ed used to referee at our high school and college games. Then he retired and sold athletic equipment.
Uncle Milo Oakland, Aunt Hazel, Milo Jr. and Donn Eber lived on Augusta Avenue. He was Head of the Industrial Arts Department at the college. I babysat for the boys now and then.
Every year there were Oakland family reunions and sometimes Sanderson reunions. I got to know some of the Oakland cousins fairly well, but there were aunts and uncles I couldn’t remember year to year.