These cute boys were school mates of my Mom’s in DeKalb, Illinois. Maybe late 1920s.
This is my Mom’s 4th grade class in DeKalb, Illinois about 1923. She is on the far left.
Left row: Harriet Duncan, Ruth Gustafson, Elvin Carlson, ___, Ethel Shattuck (teacher). 2nd row from left: Roland Ritzman, Hypatia Mordoff, Alice __, Harold Anderson, Charles Wedburg.
3rd row from left: ____, Helen Krintz, Frank Gould, Edward Bloomquist,
4th row from left: ____, Louise Johnson, ___, ___, ___.|
5th row from left: Etola ___, Harry Johnson, Miriam Blomquist, Edith White.
Student teachers at the back.
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.
It covers 1927, 1928, and 1929 – the early years from her time at the Normal School and then from DeKalb High School.
There are autographs from friends and from teachers. The teachers at the Normal School were trainees and quite young.
Here are some autographs from teachers and from her younger sister, Barbara.
And then there are the fun verses of the time and mysterious references.
And then the photos. Mom is ‘me’ bottom center and her sister Helen next to her.
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.
Although my almost infallible Mother wrote in my baby book that I was born in 1915, the truth is it was December second, 1914 that she gave birth to me at DeKalb Township Hospital where my paternal Grandmother [Nettie Patchen Duncan] was Superintendent.
My next stay at that address was several years later to have my tonsils out. Grandma was tall and stately in her starched white long dress uniform with a black ribbon round her neck — I think scissors hung from it but I don’t know why.
Dad, Mother, Helen and I, and later Barbara, lived at Fifth and Franklin [DeKalb, Illinois] in a yellow house with a railed front porch. In the back yard we later had a huge wood box (we called it a piano box). Our neighbor kids joined us to play in it. I especially remember Frances Duffey who would later become my lifetime best-buddy, her sister Bertha who was Helen’s age, and Willis Pooler who to our disgust peed out of a knothole in our playhouse.
There were three schools: Ellwood, Glidden, and Haish. We walked to Haish near Seventh Street. I adored Kindergarten and was reluctant to leave when were to move to 619 De Kalb Avenue. We were making family books in school and I had to rush to finish mine. We chose magazine pictures of our family and all their elegant dream possessions. My lovely teacher helped me so I could take it with me.
I started First Grade under Miss Neptune. Clara Gunn next door was just starting kindergarten. Sometime I walked with Annetta Schreck or Edith Olson. Later we rollerskated to school. My first invitation from a boy was when I was in the fourth grade; Roland Ritzman asked me to go rollerskating with him. We crossed arms and joined hands like iceskaters do and skated down College Avenue. We were in Normal School then, the teacher training school for Northern Illinois State Teachers College. Mrs. Nelson taught second grade and was nice, but we dreaded being promoted to third where “Miss Ross is cross” was the chant. My favorite teacher was in fourth grade, Miss Ethel Shattuck. She lived with her sister in Sycamore later and the sister was Frank’s step-grandmother, Grandma Ve.
Our family had lots of fun times. Many, many picnics because in the summer American Steel where Dad worked went on daylight savings time and he worked 7 to 4. We’d get ready to go at 4:05. Sometimes we’d go nutting and fill bags with walnuts, hickory nuts, and my favorite, butternuts. We usually went with Marshalls from Sycamore for nuts; they had two girls older than Helen and me: Lois and Middy. Their mother, Grace, died before our mother. There were plenty of kids to play with — The Gunns, the Olsons, the Taylors, Ruth, Wesley and Winfield. In winter we played king of the mountain at Olsons, Fox and Geese in our back yard. Clara and made sloppy doll clothes, neither one of us was talented. My favorite thing was dressing paperdolls with Annetta Schreck who was not only beautiful but very artistic and she helped me make exotic clothes for my family of dolls. We kept them in magazine — one family to a book. Summer evenings we gathered on the curb of the street and played some kind of forfeit game and Run Sheep Run and Red Light, Green Light. We popped corn and made taffy and spent hours making May baskets and gathering wildflowers in the woods to put in the baskets. We went to Sunday School and Church. Mother sang in the choir. One night Dad had the Men’s Club from the church come to our house. They brought folding chairs and they all sang while Mother played. I’ve always loved men’s voices and I remember the sound of their deep voices “There’s a church in the valley in the wildwood” actually it’s The Little Brown Church in the Vale. Church suppers were held often and we made ourselves quite at home in the church, roaming and playing in all the rooms. It was “our church” something I have never felt since then.
When I was nine or ten the Gunn’s next door spent the summer in Boise, Idaho as usual but this time they rented their house to the Andreas family with two year old Perry. I learned later that Mr. Andreas was part of a ring of Chicago car thieves and was sent to prison. One night my parents went to an Eastern Star meeting in St. Charles with Eunice and Wes Snyder. Mother warned us to stay at home – not to leave the house. Well, I was next door at Andreas’ when someone came and got me. We came in the back door and up the steps to the kitchen. There Mother sat on a kitchen chair and Doctor Rankin was sewing up cuts in her arm. They had had a car accident. Wes was driving and it was rainy. They came over a hill and in front of them was an old touring car inching along and another car coming in the other direction. The touring car was loaded with kids and rather than hit them, Wes steered into the ditch. The car turned over and Mother was on the bottom with Dad on top and her arm through the window. She had internal injuries and was never really well after that although she lived until I was 12 1/2. My guilt was heavy — if I had been good and stayed home this would never have happened. Dr. Rankin kept treating her and masseuse name Fannie Norris came regularly to try and massage away the pain. Dad took her to Wesleyan Hospital in Chicago for several days and later to Mayo Brothers. For my grade school graduation my Mother made me a dress by hand while she was in bed. It was orchid and had a gold ribbon sash and ecru lace around the collar and cuffs and it hung soft and pretty.
While Mother was in bed we had some good talks. She told me about menstruation and I was appalled to consider that atrocious scabs would follow — I always had scabs on my knees from skating or roughhousing. Mother assured me there wouldn’t be any problem with that, but I wondered how else it would heal.
I do not remember my Grandpa Duncan; he may have died before I was born. [James Cation Duncan died in 1901.] I loved my Grandpa Oakland. He and Grandma lived on Somonauk Street in Sycamore. He died at a church supper; they said a blood vessel burst in his head. Grandma had to sell their home. She rented an apartment on Linden Avenue in DeKalb later. While Mother was sick she lived with us. Then she moved out and went to Uncle Milo’s. Grandma Duncan came to care for us. She stayed until Dad and Florence Huckins were married.
In eighth grade eight of us girls formed a Bunco club — two table to play the dice game. We always had fun, fancy-wrapped prizes. In high school we changed it to auction bridge and enlarged it to 12 girls. These girls plus four new friends remained close all through school. My closest new friend was Frances Duffey and several years later Fran said her Mother claimed we were best friends when we both lived on Franklin Avenue. Brought back some faded memories.
We were unusually close in high school and later — even dressed alike and were dubbed twins by some. We were together most of the time — she vacationed with my family and I with hers. They always went to Crystal Lake and camped in tents. We swam and rowed and fished. When we were juniors and seniors we rented cottages at Lake Geneva with about ten other girls. We were cheerleaders together and were on most of the girls’ athletic teams.
Mother’s early death was hardest on Barbara who was always Mama’s girl and quite shy. [Albie Oakland Duncan died 20 June 1927, age 38.] Helen and I wonder why we were not more helpful to her but we were wrapped up in our own selfish lives I guess. After high school Helen went to Chicago for nurses training. The next year I had to decide. Fran knew what she wanted — to go to beauty school in Chicago. I didn’t want to be a beautician. Finally I took the course of least resistance and went to teachers college. I was not equipped to be a teacher and luckily I got my diploma but no job. A blessing to the children I might have blundered along with. I applied at an insurance company and at Central Illinois Light and Power Company. I got a job at the latter for something like
$61.00 a month. Two weeks later they hired a new meter reader, Frank Claycomb. Destiny on course. I didn’t like him because all the other workers told me he wanted a date and was afraid to ask. Meanwhile they were telling him I liked him and wished he would ask me out. They were match-making because were the only young employees, but it backfired until he took me home from the company Christmas party.
I was going steady at the time with Cliff (Red) Cooper but began splitting my time. Frank lived in Sycamore and had to hitchhike home after dates. Sometimes he’d get a ride with a fellow who worked at the Power Company. Then he had an opportunity to be a trainee at Anaconda Wire andCable in Hasting-on-Hudson, NY, so he moved East.
My room at home was cluttered with things dear to me. Banners, posters, snapshot and ribbons on the wall. Kewpie dolls and ceramic animals on my dresser. I had a big drawer in the hall with all my 9×12 glossies of movie stars with their signatures — I was movie struck and we seldom missed a new show. Magazines had coupons to send for free samples and I had a great collection of cosmetics which I treasured but seldom bothered using. My mother was fairly full-bosomed and I didn’t wan them so tried to sleep with books on my nubile nubbins — pitifully naive and fruitless. When I was 13 I had a boybob which as a new fashion. Short skirts were in and flapper styles. I had a cloche hat of white felt. About third year high school, butterfly skirts were the big thing. Fran and I had red and blue plaid matching ones. Butterfly skirts were small at the belt but pleated to full circle at the bottom. Eleanor and Helen Kientz had twin ones with red flannel blouses to go with them. Darling!
Twice I lied to my father. The first time was an evening when our family went to a concert at the college, a symphony orchestra. The lady ahead of me had shiny fingernails. It was the first time I had ever seen nail polish and I didn’t know what it was. So I found that by licking each fast and repeating I could keep mine fairly shiny. So much for the concert. At home Mother asked how I like the music. Dad who had sat next to me said, “All she did was lick her fingernails.” “I did not!” I stupidly replied and he gave me a swat on the behind as I went up the steps to bed. Only time I remember being punished.
The other time I lied was when I was breaking up with a boyfriend at school. We stayed after school and talked by the window on the landing between first and second floor. We talked and argued and cried and I was late from school. At dinner Dad said “I thought you were going to get a haircut after school.” Trying to think fast I said, “I waited and waited by there was a line of people before me.” He reminded me that this was Tuesday and barbershops were all closed on Tuesdays. That was the end of that but I never forgot.
Part 2 is here.
April 11th is my parents’ anniversary. They married in 1936, so this would be their 78th.
Wedding Guests. I love seeing signatures of family and friends.Mrs. N. M. Duncan is Nettie MaryJane Patchen Duncan, Harriet’s paternal grandmother. Mrs. T. L. Oakland is MaryAnn Sanderson Oakland, Harriet’s maternal grandmother.
On their 60th anniversary in 1996, their first great-grandchild was born. So here’s a very happy 18th birthday to Jack!
Mary Ann Sanderson Oakland died 17 December 1939.
More detailed stories of the life of Mary Ann Oakland are posted here.