(Continued, from Part 1.)
The Principal of Dinuba High School, Walter Hellbaum, came up recruiting at UC Berkeley, because Howard Page, his Agriculture and ROTC teacher–who was another Army reserve officer–had been recalled to active duty. Daddy was a good fit for a position at Dinuba High School because he was qualified to teach both Agriculture and ROTC classes. But then a more experienced Agriculture teacher came along. So my father ended up teaching Math, Science, Spanish, and he led the Junior ROTC program. Daddy moved our family to Dinuba in 1940. We first lived in a modest two-bedroom rental house on Park Way, very close to Dinuba High School. The rent for that house was $27.50 month.
Dinuba is in a portion of the Central Valley hat has very rich soil and a long, mild growing season. You can grow just about anything there. Both then, and now, there is a mix of row crops, vineyards (table grapes and wine grapes), nut orchards, and fruit orchards — including citrus. Other than some dangerously foggy driving conditions in the winter, the climate is just about ideal. It rarely got below freezing.
In addition to his other teaching duties, my father directed high school plays. And he was in the Toastmasters Club, which had meetings in the nearby town of Reedley. He was a jokester and always the clown, at any gathering. Daddy was a man of many interests. For example, he liked to make furniture.
In the 1930s and 1940s, public school teachers were quite poorly paid. So, to support our family, he kept very busy, working on weekends and in the summer months when school was not in session. He worked as a salesman at a shoe store, as a checker at a local grocery store, and as a Spanish tutor. Each summer, he was also hired by the government to work at a migrant labor camp, to be a Spanish Interpreter for the Bracero Program.
Meanwhile, my father DeWitt was still an Army Reserve officer. He kept current by attending Officer Reserve Corps (ORC) camps for two weeks, each summer, in southern California. Those camps, including travel and meals, were all at his own expense. Army promotions were very slow, in the 1930s. But they accelerated rapidly, when the war began. By 1941, he had been promoted to Captain, but soon after, he became a Major.
All through the late 1930s, our family had been closely watching world events. The Civil War in Spain, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and the outbreak of World War II in Europe were riveting everyone’s attention. Many were tense and worried about their relatives in the military. As I watched my father parading the JROTC cadets on the high school grounds, I could only wonder if they would be safe in the future. Because my father was over 35, he was not subject to be recalled to active duty.
Hearing the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor was such a heavy blow to the populace–especially to those who had sons in the military. I can remember our family being called to gather by our radio at the kitchen table, to listen to the news of the attack. As I recall the newscaster said, with an edge of hysteria to his voice: “Attention, attention, everyone. We have some important news.” Then he began reading the headlines and reports from the wire service. Daddy said: “Be quiet.” Intermittently, they would return to repeating the headlines, in case someone had just tuned in. Hearing the news broadcast, we were just stunned, frozen. I asked: “What shall we do?”
We stepped outside and we could hear and see neighbors out in the middle of the street, talking with each other. They were all there as if they were waiting for someone to come and tell them what would be happening. I remember hearing one little girl ask: “What is a pearl harbor?”–as if this was some thing rather than a place. When Daddy said, “It is a military base, in the Hawaiian Islands”, I felt as if something had just grabbed me. We knew so many families that had sons on active duty.
It is now predominantly Hispanic, but when we arrived in 1940, Dinuba was a roughly 90% white town, with just a few Hispanics, Japanese, and Filipinos. There were some fairly recent white immigrants–notably, quite a few Armenian Americans, who were involved in both farming and ranching. They were doing well at integrating themselves into American society, and they didn’t talk much about what their families had endured in the Armenian genocide.
The relocation of the Japanese families to the internment camps a few months later was tragic and heartbreaking. One family was a Japanese family that we knew. This was a Japanese priest. When they were ordered to leave, my parents heard that they were selling some things before departing, and so they bought their refrigerator. There were more than a dozen families from in and around Dinuba that were interned. Some of these Japanese men had been very crucial farm managers. There were several Japanese-American children in my grade at school. For us, it was mind-boggling to think that they’d be forced from their homes, and sent to live in barracks in the Nevada desert.
There was a great labor shortage in farm towns like Dinuba, during the war. So many young men enlisted or later were drafted. And some went off to work in war plants. Moving the big lug boxes of fruit was heavy work. Women filled in and did “men’s work” jobs that were previously unheard of.
As the war progressed, there many shortages, and rationing. Coffee, chocolate, sweets, and store-bought meat were in particularly short supply. We were also under gasoline rationing. That made our car trips infrequent. There was even a shortage of cars, since there were no new cars being produced. Two of our family friends owned car dealerships. So those became used car dealerships. They had a really dry period! All of the fruit still needed to be packed. So there were lots of women working in the fruit packing houses. Women also filled in as bank and store clerk jobs in large numbers, while men were away at war.
With his military experience, my father became a civil defense block warden. Even living in Dinuba, which is near the eastern edge of the Central Valley, for several years we were expected to have blackout curtains or shades. The saying was: “When the sun goes down, the shades go down.” My father would take regular inspections on our block, and warned people if they had any big light leaks. The California blackouts ended only after it was clear that the U.S. mainland was no longer at risk of a Japanese aerial attack or naval bombardment.
My younger brother, DeWitt Creveling, Junior was born in 1943. Soon after his birth, since they needed a bigger house, my parents moved from their rental house near the high school. They bought a small house at 346 North L Street. The house cost just $2,000. My father built some of the furniture for the house. That is the same house where my mother lived until just before she died. She used the same gas kitchen range for all of those years.
A Victory Garden and Rabbits
All through the war years my parents and most of our neighbors grew Victory Gardens. Our gardens were small converted flower beds, since we were on a small lot, but some our neighbors’ vegetable gardens were quite large. People grew all sorts of vegetables: bell peppers, tomatoes, corn, all sorts of squash, and even potatoes. Lettuce didn’t do too well, since wild rabbits came in — to feast. But the corn they couldn’t do much about. Our little garden provided enough for salads and some vegetables for our table. In addition to converting the flower beds, we also planted vegetables alongside our hedges.
The neighbors often shared garden produce. Our neighbors, the Gapen family, had an enormous fig tree in their back yard, and each year they had lots of figs to share. Everyone seemed to have their favorite things to plant, and the ones that were generous would share. Victory Gardening was the thing to do. Even in a farming town, the grocery supplies had to be supplemented. Daddy worked part-time at the grocery store, so he would talk about it. He knew how scanty the shipments were, coming into the store. And we had to put up with the “new” [ersatz] butter. This was an early form of white margarine that was like eating plastic, with a little bit of ghastly yellow-orange food coloring that had to be mixed in, at home. That was one of the jobs that Anita and I shared.
My mother already knew how to do home canning. After they bought a permanent home in Dinuba, she acquired both a water bath steam canner and a pressure canner. She home-canned many dozens of jars — mostly fruit — each summer. Mother always started her summer canning in the cool of the morning, since it was such hot work. And this was long before the days of air conditioning. Canning was just one of the many ways that my mother pinched pennies during the Great Depression and the war. Our often-repeated motto was:
“Use it up, wear it out;
Make do, or do without.”
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)