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Historic Provo

Oral History of Afton Harding


HARDING: My name is Afton Harding. I came from Washington, Utah. I moved out to Duchesne to raise cattle. There was not enough water to do that, so I returned to Provo. I was born in Duchesne, February 12, 1914.

BLEDSOE: Your family moved back to Provo when?

HARDING: They moved to Provo in 1914. I was only a few months old, and I lived there all my life.

BLEDSOE: Where in Provo did they live?

HARDING: They settled in the Grandview area. And I do believe, at that short period of time they counted that as Orem. I went to Lincoln High in Orem. There might have been other reasons. That was in the good old days.

BLEDSOE: Tell me about your ward.

HARDING: We had a good sized ward. There are now twenty or thirty wards now, where we had one.

BLEDSOE: Did you live there all the way through high school?


BLEDSOE: What did your father do?

HARDING: My father was a farmer and had a little dairy. We raised string beans and vegetables like that and took them to the Provo Cannery. They used to have a cannery on 1500 West and Center Street. The way he made his living was off the seven acre farm.

It was much different than now. We had no television. I was ten years old before we had radio. We had a large family and had a lot of fun. I went to school at age five, because my older sister was a teacher there. I went to the Lincoln Grade School. That was on the top of the hill in Provo. It closed down in 1935. The building was torn down.

BLEDSOE: It was on 1700 North?

HARDING: It was on State Street. There is a little shopping center there. It was just up the hill from there, a block at most. We had four rooms and an empty room where we went in to exercise. That was our fun room. I think there were about fifteen in my grade. I started right into first grade. We went there eight years and had no middle school. Then we went into Lincoln High in the ninth grade in Orem.

BLEDSOE: Where in Orem?

HARDING: It was just south of the theater. It was there for a lot of years and used for other purposes. I don't believe the building is even there now.

We picked berries from the time we were old enough. That's the way we earned our spending money and bought our extra clothes.

We walked. We thought nothing at all of walking that two miles into town. We were young and had good feet and a lot of energy. I remember Penneys. It was on the north side of Center Street. They had Woolworths and even had a grocery store right on Center Street years ago. Kresses came later. Sutton's cafe had a sign in the window, "We do not cater to", I don't know if it said, "negroes or blacks." They did not cater to colored people. They had businesses the full length of town. My brother ran a little sandwich shop on Fourth West and Center. Woolworths at that time was on the north side. The town was pretty well occupied.

We used to come to Pioneer Park on the fourth of July. My mother would make a freezer of ice cream before we came and pack it good. You had to bring your own lunch. There weren't that many places to eat.

You won't believe this, but until I was sixteen I worked before and after school and you could get a hamburger a lot bigger than you do now, with potato chips for ten cents. They did sell cigarettes at places like that. When I worked there I knew what things cost. They could get a package of cigarettes for 20 cents.

I remember one time buying a new pair of shoes for my junior prom. They were high heeled black suede for one dollar. That was a couple of days wages.

After I outgrew strawberries I worked at this little sandwich shop for my brother for two years, then at a shoe store. Then I fell in love and I didn't work anymore, if you call raising four children not working.

We were married at our home. My older brother was a bishop in Grandview. We went to the temple later on. At that time a lot of people got married out of the temple.

We rented here for a few years. We rented here when we had only been married seven years. When they were getting ready to build Geneva Steel everything sky rocketed. Rent went to the sky when people were flocking in to get work there. The man that owned the home said he was going to sell it. He raised the rent from $35 a month up to $100. Then the government stepped in and put a price ceiling. So, he said, "I might as well sell it." There was nowhere to move, so we bought it to have a place to stay. This home is not big but it's a good house. We got all the property for $4,000. It has two bedrooms up and one in the basement, which we now just use for storage. It's a hundred and something deep and only sixty wide. There is a good big yard.

They used to have a dance hall, the Utahna, where the new post office is on First South. They had big bands in those days. That was the most wonderful place on earth. They would dim the lights for all the waltzes. Those lights would shine all around. The nicest thing I remember about my teenage years was going there to dance.

People nowadays would be so bored, they would die. I'm serious. They had very few activities. I went to one basketball game, because they didn't have them and brag them up like they do now. We had to ride the bus to school. It was over three miles from our home. We had one car in the family and that belonged to my dad. He would take us to things that were important, but ball games were not. We had a big Dodge Touring. They were so long and roomy that we could get nine people in them, with the little ones sitting on someone's lap.

We didn't take in a lot of those activities. I never did anything. I heard they had a football team, but they had no field. They just practiced. This was long before all these things. As I remember I never went to them.

We took English and type. Now they laugh at the word. I never did anything in math. I'm sure they had it but I didn't take it. They taught us how to make apple crisp and lemange, whatever that is. That's the only two I remember. I made one dress. We had to catch the bus around 8:00. We were there all day. My first couple of years I didn't work after school.

Our home burned down the year I was just about sixteen in Grandview while we were at Sunday School. It was about the end of September or early October. We had to start a fire to get hot water. That's how we heated it. They think that perhaps the leaves were dry enough to ignite. We were too far away and no one saw it until it was well advanced. They saved one chair by the front door and an old fashioned metal trunk survived. It scorched the fronts of the books and we saved the books. For a year and a half while they were rebuilding I lived in Provo with my brother. That's why I worked after school there.

Up on Grandview hill, no further north than the grade school, but further west, up where Columbia Lane goes up, there was a little old church. Then they built a new one. It's now sold to another religion, the Baptists. The old church that we went to at that time was a little further west up in that farming area.

BLEDSOE: Were there a lot of fires?

HARDING: No more than now. One other family's home burned down and three children died in that one.

We had lots of fun. We had dances at high school. We did have those things, like Junior Prom. We had assemblies every Friday as I recall. We called it gymnasium. We had programs. I had a very happy childhood. They even had cars.

BLEDSOE: Do you remember cold winters?

HARDING: Yes. We rode the bus. In the cold winters, my dad didn't let us walk to town like we did in the summer. That's all we knew about life. We were as well off as anyone. I read more books in one year than I'll bet a person does now in ten, because they have so much television.

BLEDSOE: Did you get them from the library?

HARDING: From the Provo City Library where the old one is now on First East.

We had leadership meetings up at BYU, which is now Education Week. We always went to that. All that I remember of Leadership Week was the old building, the one they're remodeling for the library now on University Avenue and 6th North. We went across the street to the gymnasium. There was the big white Maeser building. It's been there forever. I can remember it always. This other stuff came along when I was older.

I paid $35 a month. That's all we had to pay. You wouldn't work for what people worked for then either. We called them construction, now they're operating engineers. Wages went up and they added engineer. I can remember when he was getting 75 cents an hour. That was pretty good pay around here.

We had a little Second Ward Market two blocks away where I shopped most of the time, until Albertsons opened up.

I just knew everyone was poor. Where my father was a farmer, we never lacked for good food and a balanced diet. We had a chicken and cow. We just didn't have a lot of spending money, but neither did anyone else.

I remember World War II. My husband was called in for his physical. We had three children in the forties. The war was mostly over before they were operating full speed. My husband based 1A and was on call. He went in on the Fourth of July and then in August they dropped the bomb on Japan. He never had to go. By then he was too old and had a family. They never bothered him.

BLEDSOE: Did World War II affect you?

HARDING: It did. They rationed so many things. I know sugar was rationed and butter and you couldn't get tires. You couldn't buy a car. Gas was rationed, unless it was necessary. There were a lot of changes that way. We didn't really suffer because our family all lived close and we didn't have to travel. They would allow so much if you had a job relating to the war effort.

They always had the Fourth of July parade as long as I can remember. Then after the parade our family and hundreds of others would go to the park. It was just solid people. You'd bring your blankets and spread out and eat your lunch there. We always took our own ice cream and food. They would have stands where they sold cotton candy.

On the Fourth of July I went to one of the stands and I had a whole nickel. I couldn't decide which to buy of all the choices. They had oranges and that might sound like nothing now, but they didn't have oranges year round then. There were these oranges and I could get an orange for a nickel. And I thought, what a thrill. I bought an orange because we had our own ice cream. They had apples and peaches and berries. There was a lot of fruit then, but not oranges. We always got them on Christmas. We didn't have oranges year round like they do now. It was a lot better than candy or ice cream. I tell kids these things and they laugh, "Oh, Grandma."

I remember Wyman Berg had a mortuary. They had a Christmas party every year for the children of Provo. I think they must have held it up there. They would give a treat, a bag of candy and stuff to each child. We thought that was so great. As Provo grew, they cut it down to just one age group. I don't believe they even have it now. But, while we were little they did.

In the Fourth of July parade I remember when they still had the three men that marched, the drum and the fife. I remember seeing those there. They would have these old fiddles. It was so old fashioned to the way they do now.

BLEDSOE: Where did you watch the parade?

HARDING: They had all 48 states. They didn't have the 50 states then. They just picked 48 girls and we donned our bathing suits and wore the state. I was Alabama. The one that won was Miss Utah. She was a little bit fat and we thought they just did it because she was Utah. We marched clear from the east end of Center down to the Cannery on 1500 West. I wasn't used to being so exposed to the sun and I got so sunburned. I was so miserable for days. They sent the parade to the people.

We used to have the long strips of lawn down Fifth West. It wasn't spooky. They didn't have the haunted house. They widened the roads and built more stores. The Nu Skin building is an addition that we certainly didn't have. That was a beautiful place. They had the interurban station that you could ride into Salt Lake on. It was a little train. It was called the Orem. It went clear to Payson and into Salt Lake. It took longer than you can drive it. I didn't pay much attention to time. It would have taken an hour. It wasn't that fast, and it stopped.

I remember going up the year I was ten. We went up to the Salt Lake temple to do baptisms for the dead. We rode that. It was still running even after we were married for a short time.

We used to go up and have our ward outings in the canyon. You can't get a ward to do that now. A lot of them would stay in tents. We'd cook meals. It was fun.

Sometimes the river was high and ran over the banks, but I can't remember it ever being so bad that they took any great precautions. They may have further up, but not where we were.

I was around fifteen when the church the Baptists bought was built on Columbia Lane and about 1800 North. I remember President Heber J. Grant being there. I'm sure it had to be to dedicate it. There is no other reason he would have come. I thought he was the tallest man I had ever seen in my life. He was so tall. I remember that very well. I did get to shake hands with that prophet.

From my memory, I knew there was a Catholic Church on Second North and Fifth West, but I was never in it or saw anyone there. Other than that I didn't know there was another religion on the face of the earth. All I knew were Mormons. We always had a big chapel full of people. I think most of them around here were Mormons, or LDS.

Times were just as happy and carefree and a lot less worrisome than they are now. The thoughts of someone turning a gun on you was unheard of. People looked after one another if a family had trouble. It was part of a neighbor's calling to help out. There were lots of dear friends. I wouldn't trade it for what we had.

Interviewee: Afton Harding
Interviewer: Cathy Bledsoe
May 10, 1999

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