Harold and Millie Bowman
Personal narrative of Harold and Millie Bowman
From: Harold and Millie Bowman (hb and mb, respectively)
Medium: Audio tape
Date: Wednesday, May 5, 1999
Place: Residence of Harold and Millie Bowman, 4556 Bellamy Blvd., Marion, IN 46953
Collected by: Tyler Fernandes (tf)
00:00 Tf: This is Tyler Fernandes. This is May 5, 1999. This is being recorded at 4556 Bellamy Blvd., Marion, IN. I am speaking with Harold Bowman and Millie Bowman. Please state your name.
00:20 Hb: Harold Bowman.
Tf: Do I have permission to interview you?
Hb: You do.
00:30 Tf: Do I have permission to submit this interview to Marion High School?
Hb: Mmmm, be okay.
00:40 Tf: Do I have permission to submit this interview to Marion Public Library?
Hb: That'd be all right.
Oral History of Harold and Millie Bowman
00:45 Tf: Thank you. Now, can you tell me what your life was like in high school, any special memories or anything like that?
00:55 Hb: Well I went to Fairmount High School; it's south of Marion. Graduated there in 1933, right at the beginning of the, uh, right in the middle of the Depression, and, uh, things were pretty tough. It may surprise you (laugh), I had one pair of trousers; and, if they got soiled during the day, I'd go home and wash them and dry them behind the stove so I could wear them the next day. And, uh, I had one pair of shoes and about two pairs of socks and I had to wear them to church and I also had to wear them to school at the same time so I took pretty good care of them. And, uh, the,uh, school, Fairmount, was about three-fourths country kids, that they came in on the school bus from Liberty Township and in around Fowlerton. And back then, those that lived on the farm were, well, they weren't wealthy by any means, but they had a little more income than those that lived in town and whose parents were out of work. So really clothes were hard to come by. Nobody really, really dressed up to go to school because they just couldn't afford to. Now, you got any other question on that?
02:15 Tf: Um, did, did you play any sports or any music or any other . . .
02:25 Hb: Yeah, I played, uh, I played sports. I ran track, and I played baseball, lettered in baseball. And I was on the varsity in basketball. And, uh, played some tennis, although we didn't have a team that played other schools. We had a what are called intermural team, where the freshmans would play the juniors and the sophomores would play the seniors. And, uh, we had our own little league, like that. So, uh, I played in that and also very active in chorus work and in the band in the music department and in the orchestra. That's where I got all my high grades but, uh, in geometry and English I got passing grades but I didn't make the honor roll on those subjects but I did on music and sports. All right?
03:40 Tf: OK, um, well, how was your job during the '40s, during the war?
03:50 Hb: Well I got married in '39. Started working at the Atlas Foundry in October of the same year. And then, of course, the U.S. got into the war in 1941. Pearl Harbor was December the seventh.
Well, uh, as the war escalated and more boys were called up through the draft, why, I stayed on where I was, of course. And about every six months I would get a notice through the mail saying that Uncle Sam wants to, you to report to the induction center, so down I'd go, down like everybody else, down at the armory then. And they'd give me a blood test, and then, uh, they would give you a little more physical, and in about three or four weeks, you either got a notice to appear to go at the camp, or else, uh, you got a deferment. And if you weren't healthy, you got a four-F. That means you had a physical impairment, like heart trouble or, or limbs didn't work right or something of that nature. And then also some who were working on the farm and also in factories that produced strategic war material, they would get what's called deferment which would last six months.
Then they'd review your employment: where you worked, what you were doing. End of six months, they'd call you up, more blood tests. I, uh, jokingly tell people that I took so many blood tests, that if they hadn't have healed up, my arm would've been like a sieve. Uh, every six months for about four years, took a blood test, about eight of them. And, uh, but I didn't have to go, I stayed.
But uh, working in the factories that produced material for the war was, uh, long hours, hard work, six and seven days a week, month after month after month. And uh, although I was still home with the family, it was really tough. Even a young guy like I was then, I'd get tired of an evening. And I rode a bicycle to work, about three miles, and I was too tired some evenings to ride the bicycle home. I'd have to sit and rest for a while. Then I'd get on it and ride it home. Sometimes it'd be ten, eleven o'clock at night before I got off work, then the same thing the next day. So, even though I wasn’t in the service, I was very busy, and I feel like I made a contribution to the effort.
06:35 Tf: Um, how was, how was the, how was living with the rations during the war?
06:45 Hb: Well, one sure thing, you wanted to take care of your tires because you probably wouldn’t get any more for a while, and you never want to go any further out of town than you have enough gas to get back in. And, uh, if you run out of soap, there might be a friendly grocerman down on the corner that would save soap for you, like I mentioned the other night. And when you’ve got a young family, which I had then, why soap was quite necessary. And uh, then other thing I could never quite understand, they quit slicing bread and sold you bread that wasn’t sliced. So you had to sharpen up your butcher knife and slice your own bread, and why they did that I don’t know because they didn’t change the mechanism in the bakeries. They could’ve sliced it, but I think they wanted to impress upon everybody that bought bread: We’re in a war, and you got to sacrifice; things aren’t as, like they were.
And so, and then, uh, prices didn’t go high because they put a, put a lid on it. They put a price control on it so things didn’t get out of sight like they did in World War I, but it was still difficult. Uh, you couldn’t buy automobiles. If you had a junker you tried to nurse it along until such a time you could get another automobile. If you were fortunate enough to have a car that was pretty good, you really wanted, wanted to take care of it, service it, do all you could to keep it going because you wouldn’t know when you’re going to get another one. Same way with clothes. Clothes were shoddy. Another thing, interesting, strollers for babies were made with wooden wheels instead of metal wheels with rubber on them. And, uh, davenports didn’t have springs on them. They were so because they needed the steel for the war effort, so the, uh, the comfort of the furniture was way down and the price was still up. And they weren’t comfortable to sit in, but after the war, well then they started putting springs in them, better, better furniture.
09:05 Tf: Um, at the end of the war, can you describe the, the displays and celebration.
09:10 Hb: Two or three days before the end of the war, uh, there were probably some news leaks, and it began to come out over the radio that there was a potential surrender in the offering. Uh, you weren’t sure about that until they actually came out, and there was a peace treaty that, uh, that was signed and the entire capitulation by the enemy forces. And so after it was real, there was a lot of rejoicing. I mentioned the big crowd and the band and the parade that they had downtown and literally there were thousands of people there, just swarming and milling around the public square there and on the sidestreets, cars blowing their horns. And it was a, really a time of jubilee because they knew that the war was over, but they didn’t know what was going to happen after the war - when they would get production back, civilian goods, and, uh, eventually, they did. But just to know that the war was over and that, uh, the, uh, brothers and fathers and were going to come home just made everyone real happy. And everybody loved each other that night whether they knew each other or not. There was hugging and kissing and embracing, and it was just a joyful time - almost like an old fashioned camp meeting.
10:10 Tf: About Marion in specific, do you have any special memories of Marion like past businesses or buildings or especially, uh, about the trolleys that are now or about the towncars that are now gone?
Hb: About the what center?
10:25 Tf: About, uh, well any old businesses that are now gone or, um, the communications back then?
10:35 Hb: There’s a lot of businesses that are gone now, that used to be a space down there on the square. There was a, uh, the Schiff’s clothing store, and, uh, A & P had a grocery store on the north side of the square. Blumenthal had a department store on the west side of the square; the name is still up on the building there. And Brunt’s uh, had, uh, a couple clothing stores in town; I think they still have one. Uh, there’s another A & P down on about 10th and Washington Street.
And uh, then, uh, the Spencer Hotel was where the, uh, uh, Courthouse annex is now, was a thriving place. It was one of the hubs of this section of the state. And, uh, you could go down there and serve a banquet of two to three hundred; they could take care of you. And there’s the old Star barber shop that was in the basement of the old Spencer Hotel, and it was really a luxury hotel for it’s time, there.
And, uh, back years ago on Washington Street I believe the Chronicle was there and then the Tribune was, had another location, and then they joined together and made the Chronicle-Tribune such as we have it today.
Well, another store that’s not in operation now that was one of the hubs in downtown Marion was the, uh, what’s the music store? Butler, Butler Music store, Butler Music store. And then uh, on, uh, between 5th and 6th Street, there was a Guarantee Tire that sold automobile supplies. They later moved out to the mall when, when they built the mall out there. And there was the Meyer’s ice cream place there. And uh, oh, uh, Beuler’s meat market. Barney had a cafeteria on the corner of Boots and 3rd Street. And uh, the present post office was the one that replaced an old post office that was there. And, uh, Munson sold Pontiacs down on the corner, uh, about 2nd and Washington Street for years and years. Kelly Furniture, down on the corner of 3rd and Washington, they were there for years and years. And uh, of course, they’re out of business now. All right, anything else?
13:35 Tf: Um, I know about the streetcars in Marion. Do you have any special memories of those, or did you ride them very often?
13:45 Hb: Uh, the mode of public transportation was, uh, the Marion Railways, the streetcars. Of course, they had a track to run on and overhead trolleys. And, uh, you could ride, uh, all the way from the college out to Matter Park for a nickel. You’d have to get a transfer when you go downtown. And then you took the park trolley and it looked more like a Tooterville trolley and it would go out North Washington Street and cross the Highland bridge, go along River Road there to the park. Take you up, and go swimming, and then you could pick it up, come back, and I lived in Fairmount at the time. So if we had an extra dime, we’d ride the streetcar out there, and then we’d have a nickel left to ride the streetcar back to town, get a transfer, out to the college, and then hitchhike back to Fairmount.
I think you could go swimming for a dime, and the streetcar fare was ten cents, so for a quarter you could buy a sack of candy, go swimming, and ride the streetcar, just for, for two bits, which is, uh, something that would, uh, be unheard of, if I didn’t tell you these things, because people just wouldn’t believe you. And the old Matter Park pool was there, and it was a good place, good place to swim. It’s been, of course, taken away, and I think there’s, uh, kind of a garden in there now, a sunken garden or something like that. But it was a good pool to swim in. They had a high dive about twelve feet. And some of the better swimmers could make swan dives and jackknifes and all those things off the board, and it was just interesting to watch them.
16:30 Tf: Ok, you could tell us about your wife’s hardware store if you wanted to.
16:35 Hb: Ok, uh, South Marion, there’s been quite a change in the businesses that are there now, uh. One business that’s not in operation now, although the building still stands, is the South Marion Hardware on the corner of about 32nd and Washington Street, across from the bank there. And, uh, you could just buy anything there. You could buy a keg of nails, or you could just buy one nail. You could buy a box of screws, or you could just buy one screw. They, they sold what suited the customer there, and they were open about six days a week.
Uh, John Nelson was one of the owners, and who was the other fellow? Greg Benjamin was in there, and then, uh, later on, a young fellow from the country by the name of Estel Lakins, uh, started working for them, And, uh, then one of the, uh, uh, owners sold out to Estel so he became an, uh, a part owner of the hardware. Well later on, the older gentleman, John Nelson, got too sick to work so he sold his interest to, uh, Estel and they run the hardware until he got sick and wasn’t able to carry on anymore. But it was a good thriving hardware. You could get about anything you wanted there. And, uh, they did a lot of business, treated their customers fair, and, uh, everybody that lived within a radius of two or three miles would go to South Marion Hardware to get what they needed. Nuts, bolts, uh, pipe joint, nails, uh, you name it, and they’d have it.
18:40 Tf: Now for Millie. For you, can you just, um, could you describe in general just how life, um, on the female part, was during the war and during the '40s?
19:20 Mb: We, uh, we were on the farm at that time, and, uh, my husband thought he was going to have to go to the service. But the, the, uh, they counted points. And your so many cows would make so many points; so many acres that you, uh, farmed would make so many points; how many children you had were worth points. And, uh, we had just barely enough to keep him out of the, out of the service. And, uh, oh, it was, it was pretty rough on the farm because you couldn’t get tractor tires, and you couldn’t get, um, fuel for your tractor and car. And, uh, it was, it was uh like he said, everything was rationed, and, uh, we had, uh, to just watch our, you know everything we, we bought and used. We had to be very conservative with it.
And, uh, I can remember when the war ended. I was, we lived, uh, (inaudible) on the farm at that time,and, uh, I never will forget what I was doing. (Laugh) I was scrubbing cucumbers to can, you know, and I canned everything. We had a large garden and a large truck patch, they always called it a truck patch, and uh, I just canned and did everything I could to conserve and to save. And, and I worked in the, I worked out, out in the field, with the tractor, just like, um, a man, drove the tractor, took care of the stock, and raised chickens and hogs. And, and, uh, uh, we had sheep; we had, oh, I don’t know how many cows we had, but, uh, that was really mostly, I don’t, I don’t know, uh, what else I could say about that.
21:40 Tf: So I know, uh, you moved from your farm to Marion in '46. Could you, could you, uh, tell what that was like? Could you tell me what that was like, the move to Marion, how life was after that?
21:55 Mb: Well we had to move from the farm because of the illness; I was very ill. And, uh, I moved to Marion, and then I, uh, started getting better. And, and then, uh, my husband got sick, and I had, uh, I went and got a job at, uh, RCA. And, and then, uh, it was shortly after that, that we bought the hardware, South Marion Hardware, where he worked after we left the farm. And, and, uh, we did . . .
22:45 Hb: Uhh.
Mb: I don’t know what to say. We did real well in the hardware until he got sick and then . . .
22:55 Hb: Now, here’s a tax statement. That’s about that time. Twenty dollars and twenty-one cents in installment. That’s twice a year. That’s forty dollars and what forty-two cents. And where we live now our taxes are around thirteen hundred dollars (laugh).
Mb: How much was it then, Harold?
Hb: Uh, twenty dollars in installment plus . . . Ok, here’s something that find in the Smithsonian. Glance through those; it’s a War Ration Book One.
23:55 Tf: Ok, well with that I . . .
24:00 Hb: Uh, here’s something interesting. My income tax, February the twenty-forth, 1945, was fifteen dollars and forty-six cents. And when I was working, my income tax was around three thousand dollars. So just to show you how much taxes have gone up. Uh, if you didn’t have these ration books, a lot of times you couldn’t get food if you didn’t have these ration books. So, that’s it, but it’s interesting to know that taxes was fifteen dollars and forty-six cents for the year income tax, and uh, compared to what they are now. Let’s see. I’ve checked all this stuff.
25:00 Mb: Old pictures here.
Hb: Let me go see if I can find some old picture. You got a minute?
25:15 Hb: Or you got to go?
Tf: Well, if, if the pictures are all else, I don’t have any more questions to ask you, so with that, um, I . . .
25:30 Hb: There’s one thing I can tell you, there’s a lot of hardships that people went through that stayed home to help win the war so that young fellows like you, and other people like you, can have a country that’s free to grow up in and to live in. In other words, they, they kept this the, the land of the free and the home of the brave so that the next two, three, four generations could have a wonderful place to live like America is. They’re not bragging about it; that’s just the way it turned out. They did a good job. They did a good job. Let me go see if I can find some pictures. I mowed all day. I’m kind of stiff.
26:30 Mb: He mows out here. It’s quite a bit to mow. It takes two of them about a day and a half.
26:45 Tf: (Laugh) Ok, so that is all of my questions. So with that, I’ll formally end the interview, and I thank both of you for giving me this opportunity.
26:55 Hb: Ok, and thank you, thank you for coming.
27:00 Mb: And you’re welcome.