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
LIFE IN EXETER, CA DURING WWII
LIFE AS A YOUNG MARRIED WOMAN WHOSE HUSBAND
WAS IN THE SERVICE.
MD: Today is Monday January 26, 2004. I am Marvin Demmers and I will be interviewing Mrs. Phyllis Turner in her home in Exeter, California as part of the Oral History Program entitled Years of Valor, Years of Hope: Tulare County and the Years 1941 through 1946. Would you tell us what your maiden name was and when you were born?
PT: Phyllis Dawson and I was born January 21, 1924.
MD: Could you tell us who your parents were and a little bit about them?
PT: My parents were Carlyle and Bessie (McWherter) Dawson. They were both from Afton, Oklahoma. My father was descended from the Cherokee Nation. They gave him five acres of land when he was grown. He sold the acreage and then they came. They had been married and they came out here and my sister and I were born out here. He has very strong Indian blood.
MD: Could you tell us where you grew up? Did you grow up here in Exeter or where did you grow up?
PT: I was born right here in Exeter. It was a section called Cannery Town and I grew up in Exeter. I went to elementary school and then I went to high school here in Exeter. ED: Mrs. Turner explained that Cannery Town was a community of home-made "shacks" at the edge of Exeter.
MD: Phyllis, how old were you when World War II started?
PT: I was seventeen.
MD: Did you have any brothers and sisters here in town?
PT: Yes, my brother, Frances, was already married and gone. My sister, that’s just next to me, Wanda (Streeper), was at home. Rosemary (Pennebaker) was the second oldest. I was the youngest.
MD: Your brothers and sisters, do any of them live here in Exeter currently today?
PT: No. I’m the only one left.
MD: The only one left. What type of work did your father do, that you recall.
PT: He was a rancher; he worked the Rocky Hill Ranch. He was a foreman for them.
MD: Okay. How about your mother, did your mom work?
PT: She worked, she worked in the Exeter Laundry and she worked nights sometimes, in the packinghouses out around. It was the time of the Depression and there wasn’t a great deal of money when I was little. I didn’t know we didn’t have any money because everybody else was in the same situation. Mother worked and daddy worked.
MD: Ah, how would you describe your family life growing up in Exeter? Give us just a little idea of what it was like for you as a young lady growing up in this area.
PT: Ah, when I was little, I didn’t pay any attention to what was going on, or to what was happening. I didn’t know anybody particularly because we lived out of town and then we moved into town.
The school system was very good; we had good teachers. They were interested in us, all the children. Most of the children were of low-income families and we wore the same dresses all week and then they would be cleaned on the weekend and then we would wear them again.
Mother and daddy were very insistent that we get an education and then when I got to high school I was very involved in high school and the activities. I was a cheerleader for three years. It was just a wonderful experience and I actually cried the last week because I didn’t want to leave high school. I had a part-time job in the laundry where my mother worked and then, when I graduated, I went to work where she was.
MD: Ah, you had mentioned to me that you graduated from Exeter High. Is that correct? And when was that and what was it like going to Exeter High at that time?
PT: Well, it was 1941 when I graduated and Exeter had a two-story building, which is long gone. But it had a small enrollment and the four classes of freshman, sophomore, junior and senior totaled probably 300 students. We knew everybody. Everybody knew everybody else and our football games were on Saturday afternoon until I reached the higher grades and then we had a new football field. Big deal; we were all thrilled with that. And, then we got a swimming pool and that was exciting. And it was just -- the teachers were all maiden ladies and they were all totally committed to school in elementary and in high school. When you got to high school and you misbehaved in any manner, "Well I heard about you doing that when you were in elementary school," so it just kind of carried over. You just felt like it was another part of your family.
MD: What was a maiden lady, what would that be, is it just like a single woman?
PT: Single, never married.
MD: Okay, all right. Ah, you didn’t attend college or go to any other schools or anything?
PT: No, just Exeter. C.O.S. was in the Mt. Whitney or Redwood; it was part of their campus. Part of it was devoted to C.O.S. and then they had a separate building built on Mooney Boulevard. That is when it became a bigger school and a more involved school. There was no way for me to get to Visalia because my folks just had one car and daddy had to drive it to work. The bus went over there but not in the special time zone that I needed. So, there was nothing for me to do but to go to work. And I was happy to do that.
MD: Okay. Ah, when did you get married and was your husband, David, is that correct, was he a county resident as well? Did he live here as well?
PT: No, he lived in Louisiana. DeRidder, Louisiana is his hometown. As I said, before he was in the service -- he was drafted in the first draft that came out. And his year was just about up when December the 7th happened. So when that occurred, he then signed up with the Air Corps and was sent to Santa Ana, California. And then, from Santa Ana he was sent here to Visalia to Sequoia Field, which had just been established. There were classes before him and then a lot after him, because I got married in 1942. It was very interesting and exciting to have all of these new young people around from different areas. But being from Louisiana, he talked funny. I had a little trouble deciding what "ya’ll" meant and, "I’ll carry you to town when it’s time to go," so I had a teaching job, to teach him how to speak Californian. But we met accidentally and it was a good meeting.
MD: Where did you guys get married?
PT: We got married in Merced. You went to primary in Visalia and then secondary in Merced and then final phase was at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona. So we got married. Well, we had one date a week for twelve weeks and then got married.
PT: Sixty years ago.
MD: Well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you did meet; you said it was kind of unusual.
PT: Yeah, there was a dance hall in Visalia that was a nice dance hall. All the mothers let their girls go unescorted, with friends. No boys, just friends and we would go over there and they would have live music. We would pay our .75 cents to get in and then when Sequoia Field opened, the soldiers started coming. I was walking down the sidewalk in Visalia with a friend, Joy. And somebody whistled and we turned around and there was David and they wanted to know if there was a dancehall someplace around where they could go to a dance. And, yes there was, and where was it; we told them where it was and they said, "Well, maybe we’ll see you there later," and I said, "That would be nice." And then we went our separate ways, but we did meet later at the dance hall. It was called Sierra Dance Hall.
MD: Okay, well, let’s see, I’d like to ask you a few questions now on your personal reactions to World War II and how that affected you and your family.
What do you remember most about
the day that the
PT: I had gone to church and come home. My mother was at home and we had one radio and she had it on. They interrupted the broadcast to say that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I was not aware of where Pearl Harbor was. And then when they described it and told what had happened, everybody was in a state of shock. The phone would ring and mother would answer by saying yes, she had heard that and do you have anybody there and no, they didn’t, but we did have some local boys in Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, they were not injured during that episode, but it was kind of foreign; we didn’t know whether to feel sick, fear or to . . . it was hard to imagine, because it was so far away.
We had not declared war and so that Sunday was very strange in that . . . what will we do, what’s gonna happen? Then the next day the President spoke and that was telling us what was gonna happen. In Exeter we grow fruit; we don’t have any production for war materials or any type of thing that would be helpful, other than food.
We did have a lot of Japanese families living here. One of my closest friends was a little Japanese girl. And her mother, she would laugh about her mother sleeping on a wooden block so that she wouldn’t mess up her hairdo because it was quite involved. They wore these different kinds of shoes, but the children were all very modern and enjoyed school and were welcome, until December the 7th. They were still my friends. I had no trouble with them. In Exeter there was no trouble. But they soon disappeared and I didn’t find out what happened to them until after the war.
MD: Was that the general feeling of most of the kids in school about the Japanese children?
PT: Not really, not really, because they didn’t know what to fear. They knew that this terrible thing had happened but they didn’t know what was going to happen next. We did not know, as children. My mother knew, but, I, as a child, what’s war? What does that involve? My brother, Frances, was already married to Jean Carlton and he was not going to be involved in it; however he was, but we didn’t worry about it at that time. We just didn’t really understand, as a child or teenager. What, what’s war, what do we do? We grow fruit. What do they want from us? Do we have to be afraid? There’s no spies here. Would there be spies here? Would there be anything, bombings, or anything like that? And of course, then, when, this is a little further past December the 7th, but when the training field started opening and the planes would fly over, they were so beautiful. The planes and they were such little planes.
MD: Ah, did the fact that our country was at war have any real effect on your day-to-day activities at home or at school?
PT: Later, not right away, ‘cause I had graduated already and was working in the laundry. We would do the laundry for the field, Sequoia Field, and I was folding the uniforms and getting them ready to go back. I would write notes and put ‘em in the pockets and say I hope they weren’t too tired and I hope that they liked our area around here and I hoped that they were not too homesick. I just would stick it in the pockets; I never knew whatever happened to ‘em, but I got teased because I put notes in the soldiers’ pockets. (chuckle)
We were only aware of Sequoia Field and the draft and the boys were going one at a time and our boys were leaving. It was hard to accept, because that was our lives. These boys that we’ve cheered at football games. They were going to fight a war and we didn’t know where or in what capacity. It was a scary thing and the food, the rationing started soon after that and the gasoline was rationed, meat was rationed, ah, butter, sugar, they had different stamps for each item. The only time that I felt I really had a lot of stamps and I could do most anything, most anything I would buy, was when I got married to the soldier.
MD: Ah, you had mentioned that David served in the Army Air Corps and I’d like to see if you could tell us a little bit about what he did and some of his experiences and how long he served?
PT: Ah, he was drafted, as I have mentioned and went straight into the Army and then he transferred to the Army Air Force; that’s what it was back then. Now it’s the U.S. Air Force, but back then it was the Army Air Force. He went to training in Santa Ana and all they did there was to march and learn what they were suppose to do when they got to the next station. Then from there he came to Visalia and learned, was taught, how to fly these mono-wing planes, small planes.
MD: Stearmans probably.
PT: Ah, the instructors were all local men, whom, it was their hobby to fly on weekends and different things. They were just farmers and ranchers, people who worked just ordinary jobs but flew as a hobby. So they, then, were taken in as instructors. And a lot of our men, young men who had not been drafted, worked at Sequoia Field as mechanics and repairing the planes.
From Visalia, David then passed everything and then he was promoted and went on to Merced, which was called Merced Air Force Base. He was there, it was about a three months tour at each base and that’s when we were married and then I came back home and he went through that training and got good grades, good marks, everything was fine. He went on, then, to Luke Field, where there was advanced training and the planes are very different. And he was a small man; he weighed about 120 and they had insinuated that he would probably be a fighter pilot. Ah, that did not happen, because when he graduated from Luke Field in Arizona, in Phoenix, he was sent to a bomber crew because they had lost one of their members in an accident. So they were sent to fill in and from Visalia we went to Texas.
The little town in Texas was very, very old and very, very small, where I stayed. His base was out about 15 miles and he would have to come in to town and they would hitchhike to come in. And, he would come in to where I was and we would spend the weekend in the local hotel where I was living. There were other wives there that were waiting for their husbands and then we would switch rooms and take turns. It just happened gradually and we all adjusted as we went along and whenever we’d get someplace, rather than be bored, we would go work at the Red Cross. We called them shacks, they weren’t, but that’s what we called them. We would do whatever was necessary to help the war effort, that’s what it was called.
We just kept busy. And then from Texas he was sent up to Salina, Kansas, where they put the group together and then from Salina, Kansas they started overseas and they didn’t make it because there was, they thought, some sabotage in the engines. They lost two planes on their way to Mobile; they had to crash land. Then when they got to Mobile, Alabama they stopped the group and they replaced every engine in each plane; there were four engines, these were B17’s. And, ah, David was a co-pilot; there was a pilot, Jasper Moore, a wonderful man. He was from the South, so they talked together easily and they were from all over the country. It was interesting to see them together, because they bonded.
The group then, his airplane, when they were all finished, he came in every day, he would call and say, "Well, I will meet you for lunch at (so and so)," and I would go there and we would meet and then I had a room and we would walk around Mobile and go to the park and do different things. And then he would go back. Everyday he would call and say we’re not leaving today and one day he didn’t call and the planes flew over where I was staying and one of the planes revved the engine and it made it roar…roar…roar and that was David, saying goodbye. So I knew he wasn’t coming; we weren’t going to have lunch. So he left and I got on a train and went to visit his folks on the way home and then came home.
MD: You had mentioned also to me, on the telephone, that his plane had
been shot down and I believe over
PT: Yes, but over
MD: Okay, it was shot down over
PT: Ah, before he left he explained a lot of things to me. He said to me, "Now, don’t worry too much." And he said, "If the plane does not explode in mid-air, we have many ways to get home, I’m told. So," he said, "Don’t be too alarmed." He said, "Things may happen, but we have many ways to cope with it."
So when the word came to Exeter, I was the first one in Exeter to hear that my husband was missing. I had a lot of support. The girls that I went to school with, their mothers called. They wrote me notes. They were very supportive and they would come by. I was working then in the dime store downtown and they would come in, but the interesting thing about the telegram was, mother was working in a cleaning shop then and the man who delivered the telegram worked in the telegraph office. I knew him very well; he was a very sweet gentle little old man. He could not bring me the telegram, so he gave it to my mother. She closed down the shop and she brought it down to the store where I was and took me and we went home. I wasn’t terribly worried because David told me not to be.
The only thing that upset me was, after about three weeks I took the telegram and went to the Red Cross and I asked them could they find out anything for me. Was he alive, was he a prisoner, or was there any way they could find out? She was not at all helpful. She tossed the telegram back to me and said, "You don’t know that he’s missing, come back in about three months." And that devastated me, so I wrote to the chaplain and they would not deliver that, it was sent back, said undeliverable.
Then I wrote to the men that were his original crew to see if they were able to find out anything. They wrote back and gave me the information that the plane was seen going down, seemingly under control and that they saw no chutes coming out of it, parachutes, but it was under control. And they thought that was good news and so did I. So I felt a lot better and it was just like a load lifting, that the plane had not exploded, that somebody had some information. They had trouble getting it.
MD: Okay, ah, what one event of World War II stands out most in your memory and why would that one event be important to you? Why is it most important to you?
PT: Well the one event was the loss of President Roosevelt. Ah, we had many boys from Exeter in the service, but they all seemed to be doing all right and some of them didn’t go overseas. The thing that devastated me was the loss of our leader and my husband was home safe at that time and he didn’t have to go back overseas. Because of the information that he knew about the underground, they wouldn’t send him. He instructed and did things like that, so I felt life was secure. But then my president died and I thought what’s gonna happen, I don’t know how we can live, because all my adult life, we had President Roosevelt. He had four terms, as I recall, and I had made up my mind the next time he ran, I was gonna vote for him, ‘cause I was gonna be old enough. But of course, he didn’t, but that was the most devastating thing to me, other than David’s missing in action. I worried about our boys, I worried about our men, but when I heard our leader, whom I considered knew everything there was to know, who could do anything, he was gone, and that was sad.
MD: Um, hum, I’m sure that was a difficult time for a lot of people in our country.
Ah, let’s kind of change the topic a little bit. I want to ask you a few questions in regard to your family life here in the county. Did any of your immediate family live in Tulare County during the World War II years?
PT: My two sisters. My brother was drafted and then he opted to go into the Navy, but he was subject to migraines and he didn’t go. They released him. But my two sisters, one was married and she was away from home and I wasn’t too close to her, but my sister Wanda and I were home with mother and daddy. And Wanda was going with a soldier from Visalia who was in Idaho. Our life was full because there were things that we could do that we felt might help. We knitted scarves and we knitted gloves and we folded bandages and things like that, that we felt we were doing something. You felt helpless because that’s all you could do. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, it didn’t matter. And the food was available, it was not plentiful, but what we needed, it was available, butter, sugar. Then they invented margarine and we had substitute butter. But in this little town, everything was available. When the fruit was ripe, the oranges, persimmons, nectarines, everything was available and we made jelly and jam and put it away.
My husband was only gone for about a year, total. So then I started following him around and so I saw different areas of the country and their styles and their different living. It was almost like being in another really foreign country, because they ate different, they talked different. Their attitudes were all the same, we were all, all concerned about the war. That was a common subject no matter where you were. But, Exeter, they were busy in their own little way and doing as much as they could.
MD: What ways, if any, did the war affect your family’s economic circumstances, your incomes? Did people lose jobs? Tell us a little bit about how the matter affected your economic situation.
PT: It was a boom. It was a boom. Ah, jobs were available. People, the local people, some of the young men that were not taken in the service for whatever reason, went and worked in aircraft factories. But, around here there was work; there was food. The hourly income went up; financial situations improved 100%. Money was available. Jobs were available. And jobs were available around the clock. In the County, men were doing all sorts of things because we had several airfields in our area here in Tulare. There was one in between here and Bakersfield and right here in Visalia. But Exeter, itself, was just kind of off to one side and it was involved only in the fact that our young boys and the ladies, women and all who were waiting, could find a job 11 miles away and get there. It wasn’t all war work and we weren’t making parts just for anything, but we were providing food and seeing that the food was packed and shipped. The economy boomed. The people were in good shape.
MD: Good. You mentioned and had spoken a little bit about that fact that you had worked at Sequoia Field. In a laundry, is that correct?
PT: No, that was the laundry here in town that did the laundry for Sequoia Field. It was brought over here.
MD: Okay, I had that fact wrong. I was gonna ask you to describe a little bit about that. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about the work that you did in the laundry and whether you liked the work and how much you got paid, what the wages were like at that time?
PT: I was out of school, which was sad; I didn’t want to be out of school. School was fun. We made probably twenty-five cents an hour to begin with. That was before the war. Everybody knew everybody and I was the youngest one there. Most of them were mothers and wives and I was just a teenager. I was folding sheets that came off of the mangle. Now the mangle was a great big thing and you put the sheets in and they came out all pressed and then somebody had to fold them, two people.
So that’s what I did and the ladies just kind of took me under their wing and they’d explain this and they’d explain that. Other than that, still the economy was not very good. At twenty-five cents an hour you made what, a dollar and a half a day or something like that. But it was money and I worked for three months to buy a pair of saddle shoes (chuckle).
MD: Did you have other jobs besides that job in the laundry?
PT: No. I only did that for about eight or nine months until I met David and then we married so fast. Then his salary was seventy-five dollars a month at that time, which was a great increase to him because when he was drafted, it was twenty dollars a month. So while he was a student, it was seventy-five while I was following him around. When I followed him to Phoenix, I worked at Goldwater’s in the shoe department. I would wrap shoes when people purchased them. It was another type of a family store.
(During a break in the tape, Phyllis talked about her jobs in Exeter.)
My jobs were interesting, but I was always envious of the people who were able to go to C.O.S. and then go on to school, because I thought an education was such a great asset. Everybody that I met who had an education, I envied them, because I thought, gee, they must know everything.
But after awhile, after I got married to this college person and I was so impressed and wondered what he could see in somebody from a little town that had about six thousand people in it. What could interest him? What could I say that would interest somebody of that stature? I had just gotten out of school and worked in a laundry. But it was . . . opposites attract (chuckle). The laundry was interesting; the drivers would bring the clothing in and then they had these huge washing things that tumbled. I would watch those and then they would put ‘em in a big dryer and of course, we all ended up with those in our homes in a miniature fashion.
Back then, I began to recognize the numbers on the shirts, well, this belonged to Mr. So and So and this belonged to Mrs. So and So, because they would send their laundry every week. And the sheets came in and they had the same number on ‘em. Life to me has always been fun. I think life is funny. I enjoy it; whatever happens is always different or if it’s the same thing and I enjoyed it the first time, then I enjoyed it the second time. But the laundry was something unique and I don’t even know if they have laundries anymore, but it was unique.
MD: How did you get to work, did you just walk, or was the laundry close by to where you lived or how did you get there?
PT: It was two blocks away. So I just walked and then we’d go home for lunch and then come back. During the summer when it was so hot, we would start real early, because the instruments that were used to press and the mangles were hot. So the temperature in the building would get so hot. We would go to work at six o’clock in the morning and then you were through by two or three o’clock in the afternoon. I didn’t like getting up but I liked three o’clock afternoons.
MD: That’s always fun to get off early, yes. Ah, did your family, you or your family purchase war bonds or participate in any type of recycling programs at home to support the war and what did people, just generally, in this area do in that respect?
PT: They did and we did recycle. We would save the cans and there would be a central unit where you could take them in town. Exeter was very small. Our streets were almost still dirt streets and they would be oiled every summer and when we were little, we would go down; in elementary school we would go down and watch them oil the streets. So it was a very small town and it was a close town, everybody knew everybody else. I forgot the question.
MD: The question was if your family had purchased war bonds or those kinds of things.
PT: No, well, yes, we did. The war bonds were like twelve dollars and fifty cents and there were twenty-five dollar war bonds, of course, 10 years later. And we did that and we got stamps; you’d buy the stamps if you couldn’t afford to buy the bonds, then you’d buy the war stamps and you’d get so many stamps and you could turn it in and get a bond. And yes, everybody did participate as much as they could.
MD: How about a victory garden; did you have a victory garden? Did most people have victory gardens?
PT: Yes, we did. Daddy grew corn and tomatoes and cucumbers and bell peppers, everybody did, and everybody had something in their yard, backyard. Almost everybody had a backyard. That isn’t so today, but back then it was and it was very good and there was a lot of canning that went on. Mother would make jam and jelly and canned pears and peaches. Every mother did. That was life; we maintained.
MD: Do you feel that most of the things that people did, by the way of conservation, recycling programs and things, growing victory gardens, did most people feel, including yourself, that this really made a contribution to the war, that it really did make a difference?
PT: We wondered, because we weren’t in contact with anybody, we didn’t know anybody in Fresno. We just heard things on the radio and that was the Los Angeles, New York places. We didn’t know if the little things we were doing was really helping but we just kept on doing it. Then when I was following my husband around the country, when he was an instructor in the B17’s and then he was, ah, he flew congressmen around for awhile, he took Clara Booth Luce, only older people will recognize these names (chuckle). He flew her to Florida and then waited and brought her back. Then he flew a general’s wife someplace and brought her back.
Then, later, he flew Bob Hope and
his group around, and I have a picture of David, Bob Hope and his group by
David’s bomber. David was in the area
where they were gonna have the show, waiting for Bob Hope and one of the crew
members had talked Bob Hope into coming over to the plane and having his
picture made with the crew and he did that with the few that were there. It was Bob Hope and a singer, Frances
Langford and Tony Romano, who was a guitar player. David flew him several times and he was very
nice. The whole crew was very nice. They slept most of the time when they were on
the plane. It wasn’t his big things that
he was doing, that he did later, but he was doing around inside the
MD: What types of things did people do? What types of recreation was popular in Exeter and what did people do for fun at that time?
PT: Went swimming. We used to call them plunges, the local plunge. We would go swimming and go to the movies and that was the extent. We read magazines. They had, oh, National Geographic. They had, later on, there was Look and Life and those, but when I was young we went to the library constantly. We got books and we would bring ‘em home and read ‘em. I remember reading about Brer’ Rabbit and all of those things that were fun to read. We went to the movies; we had a theatre here and had movies. They were ten cents. If you didn’t have any money, you could return a milk bottle and get ten cents and then you could go to the movies. They had Saturday afternoon matinees and we would go and there was no popcorn, there was no cokes, there was nothing. We just went to the movies. Usually it was kids on Saturday afternoon and then they had night movies. We could walk, I remember walking by myself, three blocks in the dark, coming home from the movie and it was safe. I was not afraid.
MD: Times have sure changed, haven’t they?
PT: Very much so.
MD: Did your family, I know back in those times the radio was a big form of entertainment. Did your family listen to radio in the evening and what types of programs did you like?
PT: Well, I didn’t have much choice. Mother and dad liked Lum and Abner. I don’t think you know who that was. Lum and Abner, they were a negro man, two men, and they discussed many situations and solved many problems. Then there was, oh, there was several programs that were popular. When I was in high school, Bob Hope had a radio program and so did Bing Crosby. Bing Crosby would come on occasionally. Then there was Fibber Magee and Molly and they were the first funny team that we had. So we listened to the radio a lot. Just sitting in the room and mother knitted and crocheted and I learned to knit and we would just sit there and knit and listen to the radio.
MD: Did you, ah, did the radio broadcast news of the war in Europe and in
PT: When all of that was going on, I wasn’t in Exeter, but when I was
here they had the five o’clock news and it would come on and tell us things,
but where we learned was going to the theatres and seeing the newsreels. They would have pictures of whatever was
going on. Even after I left Exeter to follow David, it was still
newsreels. The radios were rather
controlled as to what they could put out. We didn’t know we lost people and at what rate we were losing them. Most of the time we were victorious and we
were so happy about that. Our boys were
doing such a good job. We would get
letters home and we would share our letters amongst different families because
sometimes somebody would be in the same area doing the same thing. I had a cousin, Frankie Dawson, who was in
MD: Tulare County and the communities have changed significantly since World War II and for instance, you mentioned, at least to the lady that had set up the . . . I can’t remember her name right now. Anyway, you mentioned that you recall when Mooney Boulevard was a two-lane road and that a city park existed where the Tulare County library now stands. Can you share your thoughts and remembrances of how things were in Exeter and other communities in Tulare County during those war years?
PT: Ah, during the war, the houses were new. Of course, that’s been 60 years ago. I mean the houses were the new look and the rich folks lived on one side of town and the poor people lived on the other side. I remember that our rent was twenty-five dollars a month. It was a nice house but we didn’t own it. It was interesting in that, ah, it was a small town and everybody knew everybody and if something happened, we knew about it, even without a phone or anything else, you were aware of what was going on. It was just a small town and Visalia was small.
There was no four-lane highways going through it, it was just a little town. I walked to Visalia one time. One day, 11 miles, it took me all morning, (chuckle) but I got there. That’s what we did, and, ah, Mooney Boulevard was nothing. And the first thing that went up out there was the drive-in. It’s still there and it was called Tads back then. And then there was a drive-in right on Main Street, Visalia where we would go during the intermission at the dance. We would go over to this drive-in and get a coke or a hamburger or something. Visalia was almost the hub of almost all the activities. It was bigger than Tulare, it was bigger than Lindsay and it was bigger than anything. That’s where we would go was to Visalia.
Then we would go on out to Mooney Grove and there were rowboats out there and we would go on those. Then there was some kind of circus things out there, a carnival, there was a merry-go-round and there was a little train that was out there. All of it was free and we’d go in and we’d spend the day there, or the afternoon.
And, then there was, as I mentioned before, there was a plunge, they called it a plunge, between here and Lindsay also. That was about two miles or two and a half miles and we would ride our bicycles to the plunge. Then you would go swimming and it was so nice, but by the time we got home, we were all hot and tired and dirty again, but it was something to do here in Exeter.
MD: Well, it sounds like the area was certainly different during those times. It would have been interesting to see how it really was.
Okay, we’re basically at the end of the interview now and I have two other questions I’d like to ask. These questions may take a little bit more thought or consideration than some of the others. The first one is how do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you personally?
PT: Well, I never forget them. Things come up today that remind me of ‘em and what we did about it back then and how that sure wouldn’t work today. Ah, we raised our family and things were, we thought, expensive, but they weren’t. They are now, but they weren’t then. The times in Exeter didn’t prepare you for anything later on in life; you just had to go and experience it yourself and do the things that were necessary. You just had to have courage and I had a certain curiosity that, "Oh my goodness look at this," and the children, my kids would say something when they were in high school, they’d say something about, oh that, and then I’d say, "Now don’t say that, because it has a history of this . . .," and, "Oh I didn’t know that," ‘cause I’d make them sit there and listen to me. I would tell them what the high school looked like when I went to school and what they had that was so much better. And the football games were Friday night instead of Saturday afternoon. They had a lot more; they could go further out of town because they had cars and things.
But raising a family in Exeter was not hard. We could get anything we wanted and everything was available. Visalia was close and Fresno was the next stop. But it was an interesting life and I think we learned because we managed to exist during the rationing. And then after the war everything was still . . .the boys were going to college and of course, my husband had already done that so we didn’t have to go through that, but the boys were coming back and going to college on the GI Bill and Exeter just kind of kept expanding and expanding. It was getting bigger and now we have probably 15,000 people.
In 1980 through 1985, I was the Mayor, here in this little town. It had grown so much by then, that we had a city hall. We had a place to have the meetings. We discussed the waste water system, which I didn’t know they called it a waste water system. To me, it was just a sewer plant. It was just to me, interesting, and the things that changed over the years from when I was little. We made ice cream with a crank machine. Now, ice cream is available any place and it’s good ice cream. It’s just impossible to say how life has changed over the last 60 years, since I married and since the war. The war affected many aspects of our lives, even after the war. There are spaces in our hearts for people, for the men and women who did not come back. I remember them daily and I wonder how they would be today.
MD: As we all should. Yes.
PT: It just never leaves me. It’s not depressing; it’s just that I carry them around.
MD: Okay, I have one last question, Phyllis. That would be, how do you think that the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is today?
PT: Well, I think Tulare County is nationally known today. Because during the war, we probably produced as much agricultural products as was possible to do any place. I think Tulare County was known for the fruit and the vegetables and things that were produced here. I think they were depended upon for that. I remember being with David, in a state, I can’t remember the state exactly, it was either Texas or Arizona. There was a box of Sunkist Oranges in the store that came from Exeter, California. And Exeter contributed a lot to a lot of people and of course, they never knew what Sunkist meant or where it was grown.
Tulare County became more productive in so many, many ways. Things are made here now that we didn’t even know how to make back then. Cars are sold here. We have garages and before there was one car dealer. It’s just that in Tulare County you can find anything you need, in Tulare County, without going to San Francisco or anywhere. We have theatre; we have all sorts of things.
MD: Well, Phyllis, I’d like to thank you. That concludes our interview and I’d like to thank you on behalf of the citizens of Tulare County and myself. I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I’m sure that, as time goes on, people will look back on your thoughts and remember tonight and be able to enjoy them. So thank you again for your time.
PT: Thank you.
M.Demmers/pd 2-21-2004/Ed. JW 7/13/2004
Words in italics were changed or added during phone interviews with Phyllis Turner on July 13, 2004 and May 24, 2006.