Today's column marks the beginning of the fifth year of my writings about the history of our little city for the Tulare Voice. At age 85 I've lived through a lot of history, five decades of it right here in Tulare. In this essay I invite you to reminisce with me about those days long gone. My wife, Wanda, claims that I live in the past, and she's probably right - after all, at my age I have a lot more past than future.
My first years were spent on an Iowa farm during the "Great Depression". When I was 12 our family left the farm and moved to nearby Fayette, a small college town in northeast Iowa. Quite an adjustment for a farm boy to go from a one-room one-teacher school to a town school with 30 eighth-grade classmates. On the farm I had my own pony and plenty of chores to keep me out of trouble. Even in town there were few city-sponsored recreational facilities (no 1.5million dollar Skateboard Park for instance) to entertain us. The three churches did provide Sunday night youth programs, and the town had a very active Boy Scout Troop. Without organized activities we had homework and enough imagination and resourcefulness to create our own entertainment.
I grew up before jet planes, television, interstate highways, computers, permapress, polio vaccine, open heart surgery, the pill, and the ubiquitous cell phone.
When I think back to my childhood, I feel compassion for today's generation forced to grow up in drug and crime infested cities. During those depression years no one had much money, but we never thought of ourselves as poor or deprived. We simply made the best of what we did have. After all, everyone we knew was in the same boat.
Starting in 1939 the events in Europe dominated the news. How well I remember listening to H. V. Kaltenborn's radio commentary on the latest war developments. And if we were patient, we could see moving pictures of the battles a few weeks later during the newsreel at the Fayette Theater. How different when television brought the Vietnam war into our living rooms every night.
Of course it cost real money to get into the theater - a dime for children, a quarter for adults. And yet, on many Sunday nights, a long line would begin to form at least half an hour before the end of the first showing. After all, what other entertainment was there in little Fayette?
We did have 15 minutes of "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy" on the radio five afternoons each week. Personally, my favorite spot in Fayette was the library, located on the third floor (not handicap accessible) above Davis' Drug Store. I usually checked out as many books as the librarian would let me have at one time. I know I read every book written by the adventurer, Richard Haliburton, while traveling with him vicariously on his thrilling exploits.
Upon reflection, however, maybe my favorite spot in town was actually in the drug store itself - at the soda fountain where for ten cents I could have one of Lois Davis' own creations, a "Mud" - two scoops of vanilla ice cream served in a Coke glass, covered with chocolate syrup, and sprinkled with malt powder. Or a double dip ice cream cone for only a nickel. When I was courting Wanda, I sometimes took her to the drugstore for a "mud", and two spoons - after all, by that time the cost had risen to 15 cents. I always was a big spender.
What an idyllic life. Although I'm sure that some Fayette families suffered overwhelming problems during those difficult years, I was unaware of them. I knew of no child mistreatment or spousal abuse; drugs and drive-by shootings were unheard of; gay was synonymous with happy; men did not wear earrings, the only gang I knew of had members named Spanky and Alfalfa; and most children had two parents living in the home because divorce was something that happened in Nevada to Hollywood stars. Too bad today's children cannot have the wholesome kind of childhood I enjoyed.
Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, author of "A Town Called Tulare" and co-author with his wife, Wanda, of "Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z". Both books were written as fund raisers for the Tulare Historical Museum and can be purchased in the Museum's gift shop.
1. An Iowa farm.
2. The farm in winter.