California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004

Interviewee: Margaret E. Allen

Date: January 19, 2004

Interviewer: Tania Martell

Place: Tulare County,CA

Place of Interview:Visalia, CA

Subjects covered in the interview:

TM: This is Tania Martell. I am here to interview Margaret Allen, in her house in Visalia, California. This interview is part of the oral history project titled Years of Valor, Years of Hope: Tulare County and the years 1941 to 1946.

I think I’ll just start, Mrs. Allen, with all the proper things. What is your name and your date of birth?

MA: My name is Margaret Allen and I was born on October 5, 1930.

TM: What’s your maiden name?

MA: My maiden name is Souza. It’s a very typical Portuguese name. There are many Portuguese people in Tulare County.

TM: And who were your parents and where were they from? Were they from Portugal directly, or the Azores, or something?

MA: My father, Frank Rocha Souza was born in the village of Santa Barbara on the island of Terceira in the Azores and he came over here in 1920.

My mother’s family was from the Azores. My grandmother, Maria Nunes, came here at age 15. She was born on the island of St. Jorge. She married Alex Avila who was also from St.Jorge, and they were married in Tulare.  My mother, Mary Elizabeth Avela Souza was born here, right in Tulare County and has lived here all her life.

TM: Did you grow up then in Visalia, or some other part of Tulare County?

MA: I was born in Visalia and grew up here. I went to first grade through high school here. The first eight grades at George McCann, which is a Catholic School. Then high school, the public High School, and graduated in 1948.

(Ed: In a phone interview, Margaret explained that she was the second oldest of 5 siblings. The oldest child was Frank Jr., then after Margaret came Carmina and Evelyn. The youngest child, born in 1946, was Robert.)

TM: So then, when World War II started, you must have been about 11 years old?

MA: I was 11 when the war started and I remember very well. We had gone to Mass in the morning as it was a Sunday morning. As we were getting into the car, somebody mentioned to my dad, "You better hear something about the horrible things that are going on." Of course, as soon as we got home, dad turned on the radio and we all gathered around and Pearl Harbor had been bombed and we were at war. This was very frightening and we all gathered around and listened.

My mother had called dad’s brother, Uncle John Souza, who came to Tulare County in 1924. His family came over because they didn’t have a radio and we all sat around and listened. I was just sure that with the war, my dad and my uncle and everybody I knew were gonna be taken off and going to fight the war. Of course, my dad was already too old for the war and he was a farmer and he had a family. My uncle was in about the same sort of situation, so they did not go to war. But the war drastically affected all of us.

TM: So you understood what it meant and what Pearl Harbor meant, you, yourself, as a child?

MA: Yeah, I think we understood. Yeah, as a child, I think I understood. Pretty well, maybe not very much about it, but I knew that it was a terrible worry.

TM: Enough that you were frightened. So, could you describe how your life was a little before the war, and then how it changed during the war and all the things that were new and different? An example would be your economic circumstances, consumer goods and things.

MA: Yes. Well, living on a farm, we had always learned to work and we always had a big garden and dad had a dairy at that time. So I had learned how to milk a few cows. And we each had our few little cows that we milked, because the dairy was small, probably about 38 or 40 cows, something like that. Dad raised crops, so we knew how to work and we did. The big change was that the neighbor came (ed: across the field to talk to my dad) the next spring. At the start of summer, our neighbors, all around us that were not dairymen, had fruit, so there were prunes to be picked, cotton to be picked and walnuts and other crops. There was no one left to pick them because all of the young men had either gone off, joined the service, or they were gone. So the neighbor, (Mr. Dulla, whose two sons had gone to war) came to ask my dad if he could spare us to help pick their prunes. This was, I guess, probably in July or August. So they needed help, so we went over as a family and picked prunes and for a few days we were the only ones. He managed to get some other people. Some Mexican people came and they also started picking prunes. So we went from his place to several others to help.

TM: Did you get paid, or was this volunteer labor on your part?

MA: That’s a good question. No, we got paid. I have no idea how much it was, but we were saving the people’s livelihood. They had worked and put out money and if there’s no one to pick the crops, you can’t do anything. So, that was one big change. Before that, we had worked around the home and done a lot of things in the house and I sort of liked to cook. My mother took care of an elderly lady, a neighbor that was quite ill and couldn’t do anything for herself, so mom went over there. It was in the summer time. That I remember. And so I would be the one that would fix dinner for everybody and dinner was the main meal of the day. And dad often had one or two other men to help him with the hay and so I would fix the meal. Mom would tell me what to do and then she would call from the neighbor’s and say, "It’s time to pick the string beans so you can fix them and get ‘em on to cook." That sort of thing.

TM: Did you continue this helping with the fruit picking all through the war years or just the first year or two?

MA: Ah, let’s see, I think we did it for two years. Then the school district started to send buses of students out to pick prunes, the raisins, the grapes and walnuts, I think.

TM: This is during school time or in the summers?

MA: I remember mainly, I think it was like in September. I was not a part of that, but I knew that that was going on. Let’s see . . . .

TM: Another thing that I would like to know is do you remember anything about rationing of, you know, clothing, food, gasoline and so on?

MA: Oh, yes, yes, rationing. We all knew that we would have to do without, because right away we heard that you’re not going to be able to buy a lot of things. And many of the women had gone to work in factories and they were not around the house. So, things that we were aware of right away were probably less of a problem for us, because we lived on a farm. We had a huge vegetable garden. We had chickens, so we could have chicken. There was always a pig. There were eggs. We had a cow so there was milk; you could butcher a cow if you needed. Anyway, the meats and food were provided. The things that we didn’t have were sugar and flour, coffee and tea, and a few things of that sort. So we used the ration coupons for that. Gas shortage was not so bad because if you were a farmer, you were entitled to a little more.

TM: To use on farm machinery?

MA: Did I use any farm machinery?

TM: No, no. The gas was to use on the farm machinery?

MA: Yes, to use on the farm machinery, right.

TM: What about consumer goods like clothes?

MA: Well, we had always made our own clothes, because my mother was a very good seamstress. Getting fabric material to make the clothes out of was almost impossible. I know one day I stood in line with mom to buy material and we bought this beautiful material, very colorful, and it was probably rayon because I don’t think nylon fabrics had come into being yet. Those were some of the things that were the results of World War II research. Up until then, silk stockings were what you had and you couldn’t get those. The nylon stockings, I think, were just coming in or not available, anyway. So that would cause some people to paint their legs and draw a line up the back.

TM: Yeah, I heard about that.

MA: Oh yeah. Anyway, on the fabric: we got this piece of material and mom made me a dress; I helped, because I was learning to sew. I wore it in the spring. From the high school, all the P.E. classes were taken over to the municipal pool to have swimming. I was the one that went through the dressing rooms afterwards and made sure that nothing was left behind. I was in a big hurry because the bus was about to leave and I could hear the motor already running. So I hurried out of there and I forgot that there was a chlorine pool that you had to cross, so everyone had to walk through it. Well, instead of going over it or around it or use the other exit, I took the shortest distance and, of course, I stumbled into the pool and the colors on this dress just ran. It was awful. There was no way to get any material for another one for a very long time.

TM: What about school? Was anything different in school?

MA: Well, we were in the Catholic school and we always prayed for peace; that I remember. And when we heard that somebody’s relatives had died, we prayed for that person and also for his family. I remember that. There were times when we, as a school, would go to Mass during the day, especially if there had been someone killed.

TM: Was anybody in your family . . . did they have to go away because of the war, either into the service or someplace to work?

MA: Ah, well, I knew some people that had gone to Vallejo and Mare Island to work. But not in my family; however, we had a very close cousin, whose husband was in the Army, was drafted and was sent to New Guinea and he was there for most of the war. I wanted to hear his tales when he came back, but he never would want to talk about it. He said, "It was so awful; I can’t talk about it." So I knew it must have been very bad. But every time I’d see him after he came home, I would hound him.

TM: Did your family put forth any special efforts to support the war, like war bonds or volunteer activities on anybody’s part, like your mom’s? I’ve heard about the observation towers.

MA: We had an observation tower that was partly at the back of one of our fields and into the neighbor’s field. That was a clear area, so there was a good spot for it. It was just a little tower and all the neighbor women took turns and we manned that thing, day and night, I think.

TM: Oh, did you, yourself, do some too? When you say, we?

MA: Oh, no, I went up there to look around, but that was all. But my mother would just become absolute panicked when it was her turn to go, because . . . and she’d always end up with a migraine headache. She worried so, that some plane would fly over and she would miss it somehow and she wanted to be just right.

TM: I can imagine. And how long did she do that? Was that through the whole war?

MA: Well, we ended up selling that little dairy; mother and dad did and we moved to a ranch over on Lovers Lane. The other was northeast of town, and Lovers Lane was south and east. So after that, there wasn’t any observation post that we were aware of here.

TM: Did your family buy bonds?

MA: Oh, yes. And money was rather scarce, but they did the best they could to buy bonds.

TM: Oh, I didn’t mean that they had to, I only wanted to know how it was done.

MA: Well, you would just go in to the bank, I think it was, and give them the money for that and the dimes that we took to school, we would gradually fill up a card and then that would be worth a $25.00 bond.

TM: Oh, did the school keep the bonds, like every teacher in the classrooms kept each student’s card?

MA: I think that it was mainly that, but there were four of us in school and so I think that it was sort of like a family card, because sometimes we’d each have a dime, sometimes we didn’t. But anyway, I remember that part and, let’s see, what other things?

TM: Do you remember blackouts?

MA: Oh, yes. I remember blackouts, not that we had them, but we were to be prepared and we had to have absolutely no light visible. We always had shades on the windows, but we had to get dark shades, real darkening ones. And couldn’t have any light showing and that was because if a plane flew over, an enemy plane, it would drop bombs and would destroy everything. So that was a rather frightening thought.

TM: Well, I can imagine. But you said, "We were prepared, but we never had them." Were they going to announce to you when you were supposed to, or did you not every night turn . . . what? How did you do it?

MA: There wasn’t any siren or anything to tell you, you just had to keep no light visible from the outside at night.

TM: And your family did.

MA: Oh, yes, very, very faithfully. You didn’t dare not.

TM: Did they have anybody going around patrolling or checking or anything? Do you know?

MA: There may have been, I don’t remember it, but then I might not have been aware.

TM: Then you were 11 when it started, but our involvement in it was five years, so that by the time that it was finished, you were a teenager. And how did the teenagers react, or, you know, what was different, or what was harder for you as you were older and in high school, and more aware?

MA: Well, probably the only thing that I remember is that I would hear people talking about they were going to join the service, gonna join the Navy or the Army. Or join the Air Corps or the Navy, so they wouldn’t have to be in the Army. Because the Army they felt was the most dangerous. Of course, all of it was dangerous. But other than that, I didn’t see how it affected us, except for the fact that you couldn’t get some things that you wanted to have, certain foods especially.

TM: Well, I was thinking about dating. You know, I don’t really know whether, in those days, boys and girls ran around in cars as much as they did, you know, in my time. And if there was rationing on gas and stuff, I just wondered if it affected that sort of thing, you know - the going out?

MA: Yes. Well, it may have affected some, but my parents did not believe in this dating thing.

TM: Oh, that’s right. You’re Portuguese, and they were recent immigrants, actually your parents, huh?

MA: Yes. And so this dating thing had nothing to do with us, so it didn’t affect me at all. And we did, at the Portuguese Hall, there were weddings and wedding dances and fiestas and all the activities there, but that didn’t change because of the war.

TM: As you became older, did you become aware of things that you were not aware of as a younger child, like the internment of the Japanese or the Holocaust or treatment of any other groups or anything like that?

MA: Well, we were very aware of the internment camps, because when the war first broke out, we had these neighbors that were just a little to the east and north of us and they were Japanese. They were very nice people and they had truck farms and we heard that they were gonna be taken away and didn’t really believe it. And the next thing we knew, they were already gone. It happened very quickly and we just felt so bad for those people.

TM: Did they come back after the war, do you know?

MA: I think that they came back, but by then our family had moved from Tenth Avenue over to Lovers Lane and so we weren’t aware of them.

(Ed: Lovers Lane is a major north-south avenue in Visalia today.)

TM: By the end of the war, you know, you were what - 15 or 16 years old or more 16 or 17? Did you know about the atomic bomb and the dropping of that?

MA: Oh, yes we knew about it. The focus by many people on that was that it saved a lot of lives because the war would have gone much longer and many more Americans or allied troops would have been killed. However, nothing was said about all the thousands of Japanese that were killed in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and those that were radiated and ended up dying slow, miserable deaths.

TM: Did you know that at the time?

MA: At the time, maybe I didn’t know that part of it, I just knew that it was a terrible situation.

TM: What took place, locally, when the war ended?

MA: Well, I know there were parades downtown. I remember that and, ah, bands playing: very exciting. And, ah, of course we would hear some of it on the radio. We didn’t go to the movies much. I know that the newsreels had excellent coverage of that. But in small towns, my mother used to say that she remembered the end of World War I. She lived out on a farm in the country. Neighbors had come over to tell them that the war was over and it was very exciting and that they had just come from town and people were marching down the street beating on pots and pans to celebrate. And my mother went with some of the family in the wagon to town and they saw all that and she was very excited.

TM: This is the end of World War I?

MA: Yes, end of World War I, but when World War II ended, we went to some of the parades. I know there was a big parade. It was very exciting. But except for that, I don’t remember.

TM: Were there speeches by the president or anything on the radio?

MA: Oh, yes. Well, my parents always listened to Roosevelt’s fireside chats. But yes, there were lots of speeches and recognitions for the servicemen who had served. And also, one of the things I knew about that we would see - when people had a son in the service, there was a star on their window at the front of the house. When one of them died, then the star was covered with a gold star. And I remember when we’d go into town, there were a couple of streets where you’d pass and you’d see the gold stars on people’s doors. One family had two of them.

TM: Oh, that’s just awful.

MA: I know, and that was right across the street from the school playground, but that was a recognition. It made you practically cry.

TM: Well, I’m practically crying now, Mrs. Allen.

MA: Yes, but that’s the way it was.

TM: Ah, when they had the news and the speeches and everything, was there any mention or did anybody know or say anything about the Holocaust and what the Germans had done in Europe?

MA: Ah, I know we heard about it, but I think it was quite a bit after the war. We knew about the war over in Europe and how awful it was, but I don’t remember hearing anything about the Holocaust at that time. Certainly we heard lots after that and since. But I didn’t hear about it then. If it was going on, somehow as a teenager, I was probably more concerned about myself than what was going on.

TM: Well, I think I’ve covered all the questions that I had prepared and I think I’ve covered most everything. Is there anything that you would like to talk about that I haven’t touched upon and the questions that I had? Because I was trying to just think of home front and your lives.

MA: Well, I don’t see anything else of my notes that we’d skipped over. No, I think you’ve been very thorough.

TM: You think so, (chuckle) it’s been really very interesting. Some little things that you never think about.

MA: Oh, yes, it’s the little things.

TM: Yes, I think that’s why we do the oral history because that’s the only way for them to get the little things. I think the historians know the battles and all that, but it’s the little things that they learn from.

MA: Yes, well, I know that the newspaper, the daily newspaper was terrible important to my mother and dad. Dad had learned to read and write in English, but it was a little hard, so my mother would sometimes share the news items from the newspaper and then dad would look at it more when he had a little more time.

TM: Was your mom from here and knew English more?

MA: Yes, mom was born here, in Tulare.

TM: Was she Portuguese too, or they had just come here earlier than your dad?

MA: Yes, her parents were Portuguese. They came earlier; they came from a different island. Of the nine islands in the Azores, they were from St. Jorge and dad’s family was from Terceira and Terceira was the island that had a big air base.

TM: An American base?

MA: Yes, an American base was there and it was a stop-off place en route to the European theatre.

TM: Did your mother get news then from the Azores, from any family there, or did your father, as a matter of fact, get any kind of communications from the Azores?

MA: Well, there were letters. People didn’t call in those days, but dad had a sister and a brother that lived in the Azores still. They had not come to America . His sister would write. Oh, maybe every two or three months we’d get a letter.

TM: Yes, I was going to say, with what frequency did the letters come?

MA: Yes, not too often. And my mother would always bundle up clothes that we had outgrown and were still usable and we’d send them to help them out, because we didn’t have much, but they had much less.

TM: Okay, so how do you think then that the World War II years in Tulare County affected you overall? I know we’ve talked about little things and actually, we’ve answered them. But, you know, how did it make you different, maybe?

MA: Well, I think one of the big changes was that, for the first time, the woman was no longer in the home all the time with the children. Most, or almost all the women, many of them, went to work in factories or wherever.

TM: Oh that’s right; you mentioned that you were doing the family cooking.

MA: Yes, but that was not that mom had gone to work in a factory. She was taking care of a neighbor, who was very ill.

But, anyway, that made a lot of change, and that was probably the thing that was most noticeable. For the first time women were seen as able to do other things besides being a homemaker and housewife and taking care of children. And ah, that changed a lot and another thing that I noticed was men coming home from the war and amputees. That was so sad and we would see them, where before I had not seen people that were in wheelchairs or just on crutches or had lost arms or both legs or even one, and it was very traumatic.

TM: Yes, it would make you realize it was very traumatic, very obviously the horrors of war.

MA: Yes, the destruction of war.

TM: And, how do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

MA: Well, I think one of the big things is that people from other cultures began to become assimilated and we had a lot of people who came here from other places.

TM: I’m one of those myself.

MA: Yeah, and we learned to work together and appreciate the strengths that each one brought. And we did. America is the melting pot and I think a lot of it happened there. Men who had been in the service had been mixed with people from all over the country and many of them from very different cultures. They, then, were more ready to accept and be aware of all these other cultures. I think, in that way, it changed the focus.

Another thing that changed is that so many products became available after the war. I know that our family had an old car and there were six, my parents and four children, and the car was really in need of replacement, but there were no cars available that were new. And dad was finally able to buy a used Packard. It was a very nice car, much more elegant than the old Willis Knight that we had for years. But that was one example of change. Plus, as the war had ended, many of the materials became available that we had done without. Also new products had come on the market. I know that new kinds of fabrics and materials were available for people who made their own clothes. That was rather exciting, I thought. And then you could buy nylon hose and anyway, those kinds of things were a change that resulted from the war, so there were a few positive things.

I’m not sure, as far as from on the world scene, what were the positive things. There were many of them. I think it made everyone much more aware of the price of freedom. And you know, when we are so fortunate to live in this country, you began to appreciate it. At least as a youngster, you know, you were born here, raised here, you didn’t think twice about it. But when you see other people coming from other places that did not have the same freedoms and you see what the cost of freedom was, the people that went over to serve and never came back or came back with lots of injuries, disabilities and such.

TM: I should have asked something earlier, when I asked you, how do you think that the war years affected you? You said, you know, that the older women seemed to have changed. Did that have any affect in your life that, maybe like, did you become a professional or something that you wouldn’t have before if there had been no war? I should have asked that at that time.

MA: Maybe you should have. I don’t know. Well, I always intended, as a youngster, to be a teacher. The war brought women into many different roles in addition to the typical roles for women, teachers and nurses and secretaries. I never was interested in being a secretary, and as far as being a nurse, I didn’t care to see blood that much. So I didn’t want to be a nurse. But I always wanted to be a teacher and I was aware that many women then went on into the legal profession, the medical field and many other areas. But it didn’t affect me personally, except it made me aware that a lot of women’s roles had changed.

TM: So you knew that you could have, had you wanted to?

MA: I could have, yes, but I went into the field of education and was there for 47 years.

TM: You actually worked for 47 years?

MA: Yes, I retired after 37, but I had not been able to get Social Security because we didn’t have Social Security for teachers.

TM: Teachers can’t get it today either, hey, I’m a teacher who retired.

MA: But I then went to work for the County Office of Education, coordinating a state program with 14 school districts. That and also I worked at Chapman University on the teaching staff, working to train students who wanted to go into teaching. So I did those two things for 10 years and got my Social Security, minimum, but at least I got that.

TM: Well, Mrs. Allen, this has been so interesting. It really, really has. Thank you so much.

MA: Well, thank you.

TM: I hope that we covered everything that we both wanted to.

MA: I think so and I thank you very much; you’re very well prepared and made it interesting.

TM: Oh, I think you were fascinating, fascinating and just really great. Thank you again.

MA: You’re most welcome.

T.Martell/pd 2-7-2004/ Ed. JW 7/20/04

Ed: The italicized parts of this transcript were added during a phone conversation with Mrs. Allen on 7/20/04.