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Historic Provo

Oral History of Clarissa Zobel


WINN: Today is July 30, 1999. This is Jennifer Winn and I’m here with Clarissa Zobel.  Clarissa, what are your earliest memories of Provo?

ZOBEL: I have written my own history, so I can go back to when I was born. The house I was born in is on Third South. It’s still there. My grandparents' house is still there, although it’s an apartment now. I was raised during the Depression. I was born during the Depression. My father worked for his father-in-law in the sheep business. He didn’t care for that life. We went back as a family to Pennsylvania where he is from and he was able to get a job back there.

WINN: Did you have any problems getting gas?

ZOBEL: We went by train. His parents lived in Pennsylvania. We would stay with them while Dad would hunt for work. He worked in Pennsylvania. I was still a little one when all this was going on. I don’t remember much. I do have pictures of the area.

When we came back to Provo I started first grade at the Central School. That used to be where the city building is now. It used to be part of Provo High School. There was a building behind the Provo High School. That was Central.

In the second grade I went to the Parker School. That was on First East and Third North. It’s gone. For the third and fourth grades, we moved to Salt Lake. From fifth grade I lived in Garfield for a year then back to Provo. I went to BYU Training School. That’s where the student teachers taught as training to be teachers.

In junior high I went to BY Junior High. I went to Provo High School. That isn’t there anymore. It’s down where the city police department is and the city buildings are. That’s where the old Provo High School used to be. I graduated in 1947. I got married in 1948. The rest is history.

WINN: Tell me about your time in elementary when you were in Provo. What were some of the activities you would do as a child?

ZOBEL: I don’t remember too much about elementary. Before I was twelve, we used to have Saturday morning matinees at the Paramount Theater. We’d go and see the serials every week. We got in for a nickel or a bottle cap. That’s when milk used to come in a bottle. They had little round caps. We got in for either a bottle cap or a dime. We’d go to the serials and the Green Hornet.

Provo has changed so much. We used to have three theaters in Provo. There was the Paramount, Uintah and Strand. Then the Academy came on University Avenue. First the Strand left, then the Uintah left. Paramount left and now the Academy Theater is gone. There are no theaters down in Provo anymore.

I went to the library. Mother had me reading quite a bit. I enjoyed reading. The old library was on Center Street and First East. They got a newer library. Now the other library is down on West Center. Eventually the next library will be ready. That part has changed.

Provo Center has changed. It used to just have parking on both sides of the street and nothing in the middle of the street. We used to have what was called the old Orem. It was a railroad line that ran from here to Salt Lake. The depot was on First West and Center. It would go west on Center and go into Salt Lake. We always said it had square wheels. It was the most uncomfortable thing, but the only way we could get to Salt Lake was on the old Orem.

WINN: Was it bumpy?

ZOBEL: Oh, it was bumpy! That’s why we said we thought it had square wheels. It would sway from side to side. That was quite a ride. There were no busses. If you had a car, you could drive to Salt Lake. We didn’t have one at the time, so we would ride the Orem. During the war gas was rationed, so we took the Orem.

In junior high it was during World War II. We used to roll bandages for the Red Cross. We collected tin cans and newspapers and anything for the war.

WINN: Did they have a central distribution place, somewhere where you’d bring it and drop it all off?

ZOBEL: I can’t remember. It seems like it was just at the junior high. I don’t know what they did with it. I know we collected it.

WINN: Cars have gotten a lot louder. Now you don’t just hear them you feel them.

ZOBEL: I remember during the war everything was rationed. You got a pair of shoes once a year. There were no nylon stockings. Silk stockings. Butter was rationed. That’s when margarine first came out. It was white, and it had a little plastic container with yellow coloring. You’d break that and then knead it back and forth to get the margarine yellow, then put it in the fridge so it would get hard. That was the first margarine. Crisco would be in the same category as meat. You’d get so many stamps and use them for meat or cheese or shortening, or whatever you wanted.

WINN: You were between 10 and 13 during the war.

ZOBEL: In 1941 the war was declared. I was in junior high school and on to senior. That was fun. That was interesting.

University Avenue used to be just two lanes. It was our main street. It was tree lined on both sides. It was a beautiful street. There are still a few of the old trees left, but not many. When they widened the road, they took the trees out. The same with Third South. It was two lanes. It had quite a few trees. When they widened the road they took the trees.

There weren’t as many grocery stores then, but we didn’t need them. There weren’t this many people. It makes a difference. We had two little neighborhood grocery stores. There was Thomas’ and Rand’s Market. They were tiny hole-in-the-wall grocery stores. But it was handy. It was within walking distance of home.

We went to church in the First Ward. It was just around the corner from where I lived. Now I’m in the Rivergrove First Ward over here around the corner. I stayed in the First Ward through all the years.

WINN: What was your interaction with Brigham Young University? Were a lot of the students attending your home ward as a child or young adult?

ZOBEL: No, when I went to BY Junior High, my cousin lived about half a block from me. The other kids that lived in the neighborhood went to Farrer Junior High. We tended to be outsiders, so to speak, because they went to a public school and we went to BY Junior High. It was $37.50 a year for junior high. It was $75 to go to high school. When it was time to go to high school, I chose to go to Provo High with the rest of the kids. That was more fun. You would go to church. There weren’t very many girls. In Beehives there were only two of us, like it is now in some areas. She went to Farrer and I went to BY High. We really didn’t have anything in common until we went to high school. Then we had something in common.

WINN: Did the high school have a lot of sports activities or dances?

ZOBEL: I went to a lot of the dances at junior high. At Provo High they had Boys day, and Girls day, and Sadie Hawkins Day dances. The gym was always decorated with crepe paper. There were really some decorated gyms at Provo High at the dances. There wasn’t any place else to go. You went to the dance at Provo High. Now there are so many kids in school that the gyms aren’t big enough. They don’t want crepe paper in the gym. All that has changed.

We used to go roller skating. There used to be a roller skating rink in downtown Provo. It was on First North and First West. We’d go skating there.

The city offices and the police department used to be on Center Street and University Avenue right on the corner where the fountain is now. The police station was moved down to the city building. The Post Office was up on First North between University Avenue. They opened up a new post office down on First South and First West. Now there’s one down in East Bay.

Provo has grown. It isn’t the little quiet college town it was years ago when I was growing up. I had two girlfriends that lived on south University Avenue over the tracks. That was before the overpass. I would go down and come home at night by myself and think nothing of it. There was no problem. You wouldn’t dare even be out alone at night anymore. We didn’t think anything about it. I was never bothered coming home from down there. I walked. I lived on Third South between First and Second East. It would be about a mile.

WINN: Having BYU College so close to where you grew up, did that impact you in any way?

ZOBEL: Not really. I worked up there when I was a senior in high school. I worked in the Treasury Department for a year doing their typing.

WINN: Were the students part of your ward or do you recall ever interacting with them?

ZOBEL: No. They weren’t. To my knowledge I don’t remember ever having it like it is now. They just didn’t. Whoever lived in the neighborhood went to church, regardless of where. I don’t remember any BYU students in church. Now that you’ve brought it up I don’t remember any. Now this ward over here is mainly young married students with young families. That’s the way it was when we moved in. We were the young. That has all changed.

WINN: Where did you meet your husband?

ZOBEL: I met him in a theater. We ended up in a theater. My girlfriend and I had driven over to Lakeshore to see some friends. Coming back we passed someone on the old Springville road. We waved and they waved back. We figured that was the end of that. We decided to go to a show. I went down and picked her up and we came back and we were going down Center Street to the Strand Theater. We pulled up and there they were. We pulled up right alongside them. “Where are you going?” “We’re going to a show.” They followed us to the show.

After that when I took her home, they followed us home. She was the one that lived down on West University Avenue. When she got out of the car, the four of us started talking. That was the end of it. The beginning of the end. We’ve been married 51 years.

WINN: During that time that you were courting, what were some of the activities that you did?

ZOBEL: Drive-in movies mainly. That’s when they first started. We’d go have a hamburger, and afterwards the drive-in. You’d go in and sit and the car hop would come out to the car and wait on you. I haven’t thought about that for a long time. Basically, that’s what we did, went to shows, went for drives, went up the canyon, went up to the hot pots in Midway.

WINN: Some things haven’t changed.

ZOBEL: Provo has changed, but then all cities changed. Even sidewalks some places.

WINN: Did you decide to raise your family here in Provo?

ZOBEL: Yes. We have two boys and a daughter. There’s a picture of the family right there. We have eight grandchildren. We have four boys and four girls. There are six in one family and two in another. They all went to school here. The two boys graduated from BYU, both went on their missions. The second boy graduated from BYU Law School. They’re all very successful. That’s great.

WINN: When they were in their teenage years, what did they do? Did they do the same activities that you were involved in?

ZOBEL: We were a scouting family through and through, in both boy and girl scouting, from all aspects, cub scouting. I was a den mother. At the same time I was in the Girl Scout program. I was in that for 12 years and in the Boy Scout program for 12 years, not at the same time. For about six years I was in both. It kept me hopping and kept me busy. And it was fun. It was really an enjoyable time.

My one boy was an Eagle. The other boy at the time couldn’t pass the life saving and swimming. The daughter is equivalent to an Eagle Scout in girl scouting. They were active in journalism. That’s Charles’ field. Our second son was active in the yearbook. He was the editor of the yearbook. Charles went on and worked in politics and things of that sort. They’ve all been busy.

WINN: Did you ever go to the lake for recreational activities?

ZOBEL: In high school we’d go down in the winter time and skate on the lake in the harbor. We’d always go down for ice skating parties in high school.

WINN: I don’t think it freezes like that anymore.

ZOBEL: It still does. It didn’t this year. But it has frozen. It’s fun to watch in the spring when the ice breaks up. It comes up on the banks. It’s really nice.

That’s about all as far as the lake is concerned. We didn’t have a boat. We didn’t go boating on the lake. A lot of people did and a lot of people still do, but we never did.

WINN: Going back a little bit to the Korean conflict, were you affected at all by that?

ZOBEL: None whatsoever.

WINN: What about Vietnam?

ZOBEL: No. Charles, our oldest, was just off his mission when the Vietnam War broke out. He immediately was involved in college so he wasn’t drafted. My husband served in World War II but I didn’t know him then.

WINN: Did your husband grow up in Provo as well?

ZOBEL: Most of the time he has been in Provo. He was born in Castle Gate. But he has lived most of his life in Provo.

WINN: Your paths crossed on a road in Springville.

ZOBEL: It was meant to be I suppose.

WINN: How about holidays and national celebrations like the Fourth of July?

ZOBEL: There has always been a parade in Provo ever since I can remember. We always went to the parade. I even have a picture of one of the early ones when I was a younger child. We always took the kids to the parade. Now they’re all on their own. We don’t go to the parade, we watch it on television. We’ve been there and done that.

As far as holidays, when the children were growing up, there was grandma and grandpa. We always went down to their place Christmas Eve. We fixed a dinner in the later years. We had a family tradition and we would have this thing that was round like a hard waffle. You can make them oblong. They’re a Belgian tradition. We would have those and some punch and fruitcake. Sometimes we’d exchange gifts at night or open one or two. That was always our tradition at Christmas.

We most generally were down there for Thanksgiving dinner until her family got so large she couldn’t have us all over. She gave that up. We carried on the tradition while the kids were here. Now they have families of their own. Our daughter comes down from Salt Lake on Christmas Eve and sometimes the day before Christmas. Sometimes the weather is bad and she comes down Christmas Day. We have the gift opening and the dinner. We kind of carry on the tradition with the Christmas trees.

The tinsel used to be aluminum. We’d put icicles on one at a time. It took us a week to ten days to decorate our Christmas tree. They were beautiful trees. You’d put them on one at a time and start at the back of the branch and work out. We don’t do that anymore. We have an artificial tree with no icicles.

I was talking to my young granddaughter today and she said “Grandma, I’m bored.” Kids have so much today and yet they’re bored. When I was growing up, all we had was the radio. We’d listen to all those fun shows on the radio. We’d play games. A group of girls that I went with in high school would get together and play games, make candy, make popcorn and we made our own amusement. Kids today don’t do that. They’re either on a computer, in front of the television set or they’re bored.

There aren’t any kids in our neighborhood right now, but do you ever see young children out at night playing games? They’re scared to be out at night. They don’t play tag. They don’t play hide and seek. We used to play in the alley when I lived in Garfield. We didn’t have city blocks. It was a lot of fun. Kids today don’t know how to play games. They only time they play is on playgrounds at school. We used to play in the road. There was our main street. That’s where I lived. On our side street, we’d go out and play ball in the road. You can’t do that anymore.

WINN: That’s too bad. One of my fondest memories of being a child is playing games.

ZOBEL: We’d swing in the backyard from a big tree. Now you buy the swing sets. We used to play Jacks by the hours. I don’t know whether the kids play Jacks anymore. I used to play Mumble Peg when I was a kid. I’d be afraid to let some kids have knives nowadays. You don’t know whether they would know how to play Mumble Peg or not. We played Hop Scotch and Jump the Rope.

Progress is good in lots of ways. But there are some things that we really went back instead of forward. I told this granddaughter to read a book. “I don’t want to read a book.” I said, “If you’re bored I’m sorry. I’m bored too.” “You can’t be bored Grandma.” That kind of threw her for a minute. I said, “Find something to do.”

We used to have penny candy all the time.

WINN: Where would you go to get penny candy?

ZOBEL: You could buy penny candy at any of the small grocery stores. If you had a penny, you’d go buy penny candy. You could get Jawbreakers.

When we would travel cross country, later on when I was older, we would go every summer with my father and mother. Sometimes he’d come back and get us and then we’d drive to wherever he was located. There were signs along the road and they were fun. There were 3-D movies and brownie cameras.

We listened to Amos and Andy, Trevor McGee and Molly, and there was The Great Gildersleeve. We would have taffy pulls. We used to ride bicycles that had a bell on the handle to ring. There was a basket on the bicycle. I used to sleep in the Murphy bed. You walk in the living room and open up the French doors and there was a bed. You just pulled it down. In the morning you’d make up your bed, raise it up into the walls and close the doors. That was the Murphy bed. It was nice. Except you needed space to pull the bed down.

We had ice boxes, bread boxes, flour bins. We used to keep our flour in bins. We had tin cans on shoes. We used to walk on tin cans. You’d take a tin can, step on it, and then walk on it. It was like a stilt and you’d do it with your foot on the can. That was fun. We had carpet sweepers, flat irons, butter churns, and hay rides. We used to go on hay rides when I was in high school. They had drug store scales with fortune cards. They had one in Provo at the drug store. You put a penny in and you got your fortune plus your weight.

WINN: Did you ever go down to the river and fish or swim?

ZOBEL: No, I never did. We were quite a ways from the river. Here we’re not. It’s right over there, about a block and a half. There wasn’t any place in town to swim when I was growing up. We had to go to Arrowhead, which is over by Lakeshore.

WINN: What was your father’s occupation?

ZOBEL: He worked with a national water maintaining company out of New York. He would go into these different cities and work with a crew. If they were having trouble getting the water through the pipes, he would put a machine in and the machine would go through and eat out all the lime deposits in the water mains. That’s what he did for a living. He died in 1957. I would say about the last twelve years of his life he did that.

I would stay here and go to school. I was the only child. Then we would travel with Dad in the summertime. We’d either go there by train to meet him, or we’d go by bus. We traveled many times on Trailway buses. Therefore I’ve seen so much of the country, because I was able to travel in the summertime while all the kids my age were going to camp. I missed out on all that. That’s all right. I was wherever Dad happened to be, enjoying the countryside and learning all these new things.

I can remember when we used to wash on the washboards. Everyone asks what a washboard is now. You washed your clothes on a washboard. When I was growing up we didn’t have a washing machine until I was in high school. Dad bought Mom a washing machine. It was a wringer washer and you had to put the clothes through the wringer. You had to hold them just right or you would pop buttons off. They’d pop off unless you folded the button over. Then you could put it through. You had to watch you didn’t get your hand in the wringer.

I remember one time you’d have your rinse water and you’d put a little Mrs. Stewarts bluing in. I think they still have it. You put a drop of that in your rinse water. You’d wash your clothes, wring them, and then they’d go into the rinse water. You’d rinse your clothes and then wring them out. Sometimes if you wanted to get them a little whiter, you’d put them in. One time I got a little too much blue in there and our sheets were blue for quite a while. There were no dryers so you hung everything up.

WINN: You’ve seen a lot of the country and you’ve had a lot of opportunities to visit. What do you think kept you here in Provo? Why did you choose Provo of all places to live?

ZOBEL: That’s where Mom’s parents were and Mom was their only daughter. She had four brothers and they lived here also. This was home to her. She was born in Gunnison, but her parents moved here when she was eleven. Mom just lived here. She liked Provo and stayed here. That basically is why I stayed after Mom died in 1947 with my grandma, until I got married in 1948. Dad’s parents lived in Pennsylvania.   There was no reason for me to go back and live with them. I just stayed here.

WINN: Then once you got married?

ZOBEL: We just stayed here. It’s convenient. Claude is from here. We lived in his folks’ basement when we first got married. We fixed it up and then moved to Orem. We lived out there two years. Our first son was born there and we bought this home in 1951 and we’ve been here ever since.

We’ve seen different things happen. Downtown has changed. The big NuSkin building down there ruined downtown Provo, because it doesn’t belong in with all those buildings that have been there since the 1890s. Here is this big modern building. We’ve all been unhappy with that. You can’t change it so you let them have their new building down on Center Street.

The milkman used to come to the door to deliver milk. The milk came in bottles. In the winter time the cream would freeze and come up to the top of the bottle about four inches. You’d cut it off with a warm knife and have real cream. Or you’d shake the bottles and have the cream mixed in with the milk.

At one time we had an icebox. We’d put a sign in the window once a week with how many pounds of ice we wanted. He would deliver the ice. You had to make sure you kept the pans dumped or you’d have water all over the floor. Hooray for modern refrigerators.

Mother and Grandmother would put up everything imaginable in the summertime. They did that in those days. That was even before pressure cookers. We didn’t do so many vegetables other than tomatoes. There were bushels of peaches and pears and raspberries. They would put up everything. Not many people do that, not even me. I quit.

Our family left and my husband and I don’t eat that much. We don’t need all those things. If we want a can of beans, we go buy a can of beans.

I remember in the kitchen in Grandmother’s house there was a tin dipper. It would hang on the wall above the sink. If you wanted a drink, we’d go in and get this tin dipper and get yourself a drink of water and hang the dipper back up. Everyone was drinking out of the same dipper.

Some people used to use brass scrubbing boards. They were oblong kettles and they would boil their white clothes to get them white. They didn’t have the good soaps that we have now to keep the clothes white.

WINN: Did it shrink them?

ZOBEL: You only did that with the sheets and dish towels and pillow cases and those things. They didn’t have a lot of nice clothes that we have today. Everything was cotton. You put them through the wringer, then hang them on the line to dry. Then you had to iron them. We didn’t have steam irons then, so you had to sprinkle by hand. Then they finally came out with a bottle with a little spray on the top. You’d shake this around on your clothes, roll the clothes up and put them in a pan and cover them. Then you’d have to stand and iron all the wrinkles out that you put in. Hooray for nice materials.

There were Saturday movies. When I was going to high school I did get a phonograph machine and albums. My grandparents had the old wind up Victrola that played the great big records. We’d wind it so it would play the record. Hopefully it would go all the way through before you had to wind it again. We had the portable record players that played the old 78 records. Then it went to 45s and now we have CDs. It’s just gone on. Some things are really nice.

We had saddle oxfords when I went to school. They were two tone, black and white or white and red or white and brown. You had to make sure you didn’t get the white on the brown. It was interesting. It was bobby socks. We had penny loafers. When I went to high school we wore skirts and sweaters and blouses and dresses. Levis hadn’t been invented. Pants hadn’t been invented for girls. You wore skirts and blouses.

When I was a little girl if you had a chest cold, Mom would always put a mustard plaster on. That was with mustard and soda. The soda kept it from burning with a little oil in it. Back then it was grease of some kind. We’d make a paste out of it, put it on an old piece of sheeting and put the mustard mix on and then another sheet over it and put it on your chest. That was supposed to help you get over your cold. I’m glad those days are gone. Now we have antibiotics.

We used to be able to send a letter for three cents and a penny post card. Those days are gone.

Interviewee: Clarissa Zobel
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
July 30, 1999

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