Oral History of Alma King and Evelyn Pilliod

Interviewed by Charlotte Wangrin

CW: I'm interviewing Alma King and Evelyn Pilliod who will hopefully tell us about what it was like to live in the country or the country area, a small town in the early 1900's.

EP: Early. 1913. Well, houses were much the same as they are today, and many of them were built then and-a Toledo on this mud street.

CW: A mud street!

EP: Yes. My mother lived in Toledo and my Dad and he came down to the County Fair with a friend of his from Defiance. He came for the sole purpose of introducing her to this man and it worked. (laughs) It was George Fierd from Defiance and he married her best friend. They remained friends all their lives. She had come from Canada, I think, too.

CW: Had you mother come from Canada?

EP: Yes, she was born in Canada. They used to skate on skate boards.

CW: Did they skate on the Maumee River?

EP: I don't remember but she mentioned the skate boards.

CW: Did you do that when you were a girl?

EP: No. I don't--I think it was before and-a she

CW: While you're doing some thinking I'll ask Alma some questions. This is Alma King who presently lives in Angola, Indiana. Alma, you lived in the country as a child, did you?

AK: I lived about 12 miles out of Napoleon and I was the baby of the family which meant that everybody was my boss. I did whatever anybody told me to. Good timing. And we had a hard-coal burner which was a beautiful thing with a lot of chrome on it and it really heated. And my sister and I would get dressed around it. Everybody else would be out of the house by that time. And one time she gave me a push and on the chrome of the stove it said, "Favorite" and part of that for years was on my bottom! (laughs) I think it's disappeared. And she really caught it too. But we did not have electricity but had kerosene lamps all over that had to be cleaned every Saturday and when I was little they didn't have indoor plumbing either and last thing at night one of my brothers would have to take me out to the Outhouse, and they hated to do that. (laughs)

CW: What sort of toys did you have?

AK: I had a doll that I dearly loved and we used to play cards quite a lot, some game, I don't know what the game could have been but my Grandfather lived with us part of the time and he taught us. And the whole family would gather around the table to clean for instance hickory nuts, do family projects like that together.

CW: Did you have popcorn by the dishpanful?

AK: Oh yes. We grew our own of course. Used to make ice cream. I remember mixing it up and setting it out in the cold in winter weather, mostly whipped cream, I'm sure. That is, we children did that. And we had a car. We were among the first to have a car in that area and but the roads would go bad in the winter so when fall came they would take the tires off the car, hang them on the wall of the garage, block up the car till spring, and switch to a surrey. Like to go to church we had a surrey and

CW: Did the surrey have runners on it or wheels?

AK: Wheels.

CW: How did you get to church when there was snow on the roads?

AK: I don't think that stopped the horses. I think the surrey would go right through. That particular road, it had gravel on it between our houses and the church, so that would be possible but we couldn't go to town . But in the summertime on Saturdays everybody would go into Napoleon and find a good parking place where you'd expect to see everybody you knew walking by and visit with them and the children would run all over town which is the unsafest thing I could think of in this day and age, but then nothing happened. But my Dad had taught me that if anything ever happened I was just supposed to say, "John Hahn." (laughs)

CW: That was his name?

AK: Yes. And then when I was 13 and time to go to high school my parents moved into Napoleon and my brother took over the farm and I got lost the first day in high school. You can't imagine what a tremendous switch that is from a one-room country school to a huge high school. At that time I got lost and I remember Oldfather was so nice to me, told me where I should go and of course I also was talking German in those days and one day walking up to the school building I thought, "My goodness, I'm thinking in English!" (laughs) It was really a completely different life. Talked German at home and English everywhere else.

But I lived through some very interesting times in our history, that's for sure. And when the Depression came and ruined everything and the year I graduated from high school I was all set to go to college on a scholarship and my Mother said they couldn't even give me spending money and that was true. They didn't have any cash. And so I went to work at seventeen as a bookkeeper for the Coal and Ice. My boss was about four feet tall but he was a brilliant accountant really and my Mother one day decided she'd better walk down there and see who I was working for and she decided she didn't have to worry. (laughs)

CW: I remember your saying you lived in a very big house.

EP: My grandfather built it, and he also put up the building that the clothing store was in. That was in the late 1800's.

CW: Your grandfather built the building. Then did your father run the clothing store?

EP: Yes. After he quit.

CW: After your grandfather quit.

EP: Yes. And

CW: What was the town like at that time?

EP: On Saturday, just as Alma said, everybody came into town; the kids went to the movies.

CW: How much did they pay for a movie?

EP: I don't remember.

CW: I think I remember someone saying it was 10 cents.

EP: I don't think it was any more than that. And they I don't know.

CW: What did you play with your sisters?

EP: Oh we played with dolls. We used to play cards. With Grandmother we played Casino. We played , I think we played Hearts. I'm not sure.

CW: I remember playing Kick the Can outside. Did you play that? You'd set a can up.

EP: We played Fantan cards. Outdoors we played under the lights at night and the whole neighborhood was involved.

CW: Playing in a card game, do you mean?

EP: No, no. In the games under the lights.

CW: Were they electric?

EP: I don't really remember flames.

CW: I think the electricity must have come to the small towns before it did to the country.

EP: Maybe.

CW: Because when I was married in 1941 I remember they still had just not very long before that gotten electricity in the country.

AK: My brother had gotten electricity about '39 where I lived. I thought it was something that I probably ought to something unusual. When I was a baby my brother, who later turned into a minister, was supposed to take care of me and the hired hand was plowing a field, which meant you had horses before the plow and hired hand behind that. And all at once the horses just refused to go another step. They absolutely would not go. And the hired man went up there to see what was the matter and there was Alma propped up in the previous furrow. My brother had thought that was a nice place to park me. And the horses wouldn't go any farther.

CW: That was right where they were headed with the plow!

AK: I think that is really interesting. He also sat me on the edge of the stock watering trough one time and of course I fell in. But he fished me out. (laughs) He was not the world's best baby sitter. That's all that occurs to me right now.

CW: What about when you first went to school, Evelyn?

EP: Well, we had Mass first upstairs over the school. There was a chapel over the school and

CW: Did they have hired teachers or?

EP: We had Nuns

CW: Were they good teachers?

EP: Well, we didn't know any better, of course.

CW: Strict?

EP: Yes. Strict. They came from Toledo.

CW: How did you get to school? Did you walk?

EP: Oh yeah. All the time. We walked to and from. Of course Margaret Sloan, they had chauffer who brought her and a carriage in the event it was raining. We plowed through the water.

CW: Did they tease her about that?

EP: No, I don't recall that they did. They just knew the Sloans. The Sloans owned a gas company at that time.

CW: Taking to the woodshed. What did that mean? That he would get a spanking?

EP: Yeah.

CW: Did they send them to the woodshed from school if they misbehaved?

EP: Oh yeah. From school.

Connie Wulff: Did you ever have to sit in the Dumb Seat? In the corner with the Dumb hat on?

EP: No. I was good.

CW: Tell about the Bridge Club you started.

AK: Nobody knew anything about it. We started in this 500 Club and gradually moved into Bridge and enjoyed it immensely, a very nice crowd of girls.

CW: How many? One table?

AK: Two tables. And our mothers would fix wonderful lunches. I remember Evelyn's mother made this delicious date pudding with whipped cream on it. I can still remember.

EP: And eighth grade had their club too.

AK: But we were all equally stupid so if you made a mistake it didn't matter, but we learned, and enjoyed it very much. And played golf a lot too during those years.

CW: What was the golf course like?

AK: It was in the same place as it is now but the clubhouse was on Bales Road.

CW: Did you carry a bagful of clubs?

AK: Oh yes, and then after a while we had a --what would you call this thing on wheels that you pulled that held the clubs? I don't remember the name of it.

CW: A cart.

AK: A cart, yes, and Norm taught me how to play golf. He taught me a lot of things! (laughs) He let me use his clubs too.

CW: Did you ever play at that little town of Texas nearby?

AK: Maybe just once. We would play at Valleywood. And at Wayne Park there were dances every Sunday night, Saturday night? I don't know which.

CW: What were they like?

AK: Which were very well attended. That's where I met Norm.

CW: That was when?

AK: 1930 and I was a senior in high school.

CW: Did they have big bands then?

AK: Yes. The people came from miles around to those dances. They were very popular.

CW: Did you go to the dances too?

EP: Yeah.

CW: And I'll bet they had some famous bands.

EP: Yes. They had the Cotton Pickers. Oh, we practically lived out there sometimes. (laughs)

CW: Did you go across to Gerty's Island ever?

EP: Yes. Not often though. We went to a number of places on the river. Indianola was one. That was an island. And we went to--what were some of the others?

CW: What did they do on those islands?

EP: Danced.

CW: Oh they had a dance floor there?

EP: Yeah. Some had a marble floor.Seems to me that one was--

CW: How could they have boats big enough to carry a lot of people on this small river? What sort of boats were they?

EP: Oh they had cargo boats going down here. It was quite a waterway at one time. My Dad used to tell about the times that they arrived in Napoleon and the captains would get together for a big party and--anyway it was quite a celebration.

CW: Canal boats?

EP: Yeah. They had carpet bushes What they took we don't know. They thought a real passage

CW: Passage on through to what?

EP: To board--

CW: Oh, I see. Probably to carry the cargo down to the Mississippi or something?

EP: Yeah.

CW: They were just getting started on that when the railroads came through and killed all the canal business, didn't it.

EP: the swamp made bricks for us.

CW: Brakes for the canal boats?

EP: No. For the ships.

CW: Oh, on the ocean? Did they make those big brakes and then send them on the canal boats down to the ocean maybe?

CW: What sort of mischief did you girls get into when you were in high school?

AK: Yeah, but we don't talk about that. Probably we're not too innocent.

C,. I'd like to hear about Halloween. Can you tell us about Halloween?

AK: A little. But one thing I remember I think is so nasty. We left tires out of a car back of Snyder's house.

CW: Let the air out of the tires you mean?

AK: What a thing to do to someone, and we thought it was funny! I'm ashamed of it. (laughs) I suppose we did the soaping of windows too. But we also had parties where you got all dressed up. I remember that.

EP: I remember Aunt Em, the 's wife, always dressed up as a little Dutch boy. She had won a prize on the boat for her costume and she always dressed in that outfit. She was quite

CW: I remember making--we'd take empty spools that thread had been on. We'd notch the edges because those were always wood. Then we'd wrap a string around them, put a pencil through them and then we'd sneak up to somebody's window, put the spool against the window and pull the string and it would make this loud clatter on the window. Then we'd run. We thought we were really bad! (laughs) But we didn't have any Trick or Treat in those days.

AK: You did the trick.

CW: Yeah. We did the trick.

EP: We used to collect food.

CW: On Halloween?

EP: Uh huh.

CW: And what would you do with the food?

EP: Eat it. Candy and stuff. I don't remember popcorn but we had popcorn balls.

CW: Oh yeah. They would make popcorn balls. My mother would do that.

EP: We always pulled taffy at Christmas and my aunt said it was supposed to get white.

CW: Did it?

EP: Uh huh. Then it was ready to cut off into pieces.

CW: I remember going to a taffy pull. It was kind of a party. And they woule cook this taffy till it was just about right and then we were supposed to pull it, but it was so hot I could hardly touch it. I didn't like it very well.

EP: We always made--my aunt made taffy and she made peanut brittle too. That was just a custom at Christmas time.

CW: Did you ever have maple syrup that you cooked down to make maple sugar? One thing I remember was going to a party at the Legion it was, something like that, and there was a dish like a cereal bowl full of snow at each plate. And they cooked the maple syrup and then they poured it on the snow of each dish. It would harden right away, then they'd pull it out and eat it. Other times we'd have an empty cereal bowl and they'd pour a little and we'd stir and stir and stir until it would become hardened and then we had maple candy.

AK: That we never did.

CW: Must not have had many maple trees, I'll bet.

AK: Yes, we had maple trees. Not that I remember.

EP: That trance

AK: This is Alma again. Back in 1916 a man came around and sold my Dad a Mitchell car which was a beautiful thing, a seven-passenger car and there were drop seats behind the front, back of the front seat to make the seventh seat. And it had side curtains in case a rain came up everybody had a job to do to put the side curtains up.

CW: You had to snap them on, didn't you?

AK: Yeah. Snapped on, but on clear days my Dad, if we didn't have side curtains up, my Dad chewed tobacco and whoever sat behind him in the back seat was going to get it! (laughs) We resented that. But if you went on a trip you expected to have a couple flat tires or something go wrong. You were prepared for that. You could repair innertubes, I think, vulcanized or something, and you allowed extra time and we did make some trips. The man who sold my Dad that car ended up to be the father of my future husband. He had a garage here in town: King's Garage and they and my parents used to kid each other that he came out here just in time for dinner. (laughs)

EP: Well, my father had a seven-passenger car too. It had been ordered by some of the Pilliods in Swanton and he decided that he had to have that car, so they sold him the car instead. The Pilliods had to get another one someplace. (laughs)

CW: Do you remember what kind of a car?

EP: It was a Cadillac. And oh gee we had more fun with it before we got rid of it. Remember we used to pound the carburator? It would stall and I would get out and pound what I thought was the carburator and we'd start off again. We took it to Miami once when Gerry Boyer was down there and stayed for the weekend and there anyway and back again. We had a great time with it.

CW: Do you remember having flat tires?

EP: Uh, no I don't.

CW: The roads in Pennsylvania anyway were deep ruts from the buggy wheels. When we'd go in our car we'd goup over a hump and down into another rut. It was hard driving, I think.