Isabel Brassey and Helen Gebhardt
Isabel Brassey and Helen Gebhardt are sisters. They grew up in Boise and attended Boise High School.
Jim: Did you grow up here or where'd you grow up?
Helen: Moved here in 1928, three years, I was three years old and Isabel too, our dad was um a banker and he came to work for the state and then he went to work for Idaho First National so we were fairly permanent after we moved to Boise.
Jim: What was it like back then, when you moved here?
Helen: To us having come from Malad it was a big city, though I think we were keyed into the neighborhood you know, but our parents had found an apartment first in the on North 6th Street and I think of it now and drive over there once in a while its near a little park, but we stayed in that part of town then for quite a few years.
Jim: And what was the town like, what do you remember about those years?
Helen: Well then I remember we moved to North 10th Street, where we rented a house and it was just across the alley from Longfellow School and I can remember the only time I was ever late to school in my life was when I went from home to Longfellow right across the alley.
Isabel: That house was torn down and now the activities center for Longfellow stands where our house did.
Jim: Things must've changed a lot I mean, when you walk around Boise now. Does it look familiar to those days, would people from there recognize it today? What do you think?
Helen: I remember the things in Hyde Park uh our folks bought a home on North 12th Street, fairly close to Camelsback Park and we used to spend a lot of time at Camelsback Park, but we walked to and from school, but I remember where the, the shoe shop used to be up where there was I can't remember now what's in there, an estate shop or something like that, but Dave Reibe and his father operated the shoe shop and now the grandson operates it, but I remember the Hyde Park Market and I remember the drug store, remember when we used to?
Isabel: It was important; every spring we went over for a short hair cut to the barber shop.
Helen: Yeah, but I think the thing now that you notice when you drive through those old neighborhoods is what wonderful things they're doing with some of those old houses, the people who can take an old house and know just, have the vision to see what it could look like uh is just fascinating and wonderful what has happened to the north end.
Isabel: Well and it seems like part of it I think, I, I not here, but I used to, in another town I had a house that was built back in the, in the late 20s and sort of became the life of the neighborhoods in the 30s and the 40s and I know one of things I liked about working on it was that you felt like you sort of connected to that time period you know living there you almost feel the echoes of those friendly ghosts if you will.
Jim: Why do you think people want to connect to that time period? What was so special about living back then?
Helen: You know we didn't use cars like they do now, we walked when we went places and we developed friends in the neighborhood and we played kick the can and you know all of those wonderful games, hop scotch, I don't think kids do that anymore and after school from in high school days we'd walk downtown maybe just to shop or for some reason one reason or another, but we would know almost everyone on the street, we knew the older generation too uh because Boise was small enough I guess and friendly easy.
Jim: And I heard if there was somebody who stopped in from out of town everybody knew right away.
Helen: Uh huh and you know we all had lots of entertaining in our homes, I can remember mother always had teas or luncheons for us when there was something special going on.
Isabel: I always felt she was the first room mother because when we went to Longfellow School uh she always took cookies for the different holidays and they didn't do that in those days with room mothers like they do now, but she became a very good friend of our second grade teacher Katherine Caesar who remained a lifelong friend of all of us and uh that camaraderie was nice.
Helen: In fact I still visit Katherine's grave and I'm sure you do on Memorial Day?
Helen: She was such a dear friend. So you know you, teachers were not impersonal.
Isabel: Speaking of houses you know moving when we moved to the 12th Street house all our friends came over to see where we lived and we were so thrilled because it had a laundry chute that went from the upstairs to the basement that was the thing we took them to see first you know you opened a little door and put your dirty laundry down there and it landed right near the washing machine.
Jim: Did you put your siblings down there.
Helen: No didn't try that.
Isabel: But I can remember the war years and we had a telephone that was in the hallway that could be totally contained, we'd close all the doors and we could talk on the telephone when we were supposed to be having a blackout.
Jim: Well now that you mention blackouts that's the thing, people are going to hear that today and they're going to go what's, what's a blackout?
Isabel: Its funny I'm not remembering the blackouts as much as Helen, I didn't think of that right off the bat when I started thinking about war years, but we did have them for sure.
Helen: Yeah we did.
Jim: For people that didn't, that don't know what those are, what, what was it like out, why do you need 'em, what, what would you do?
Isabel: We had to leave the house completely dark in case there were enemy planes flying over, it was just a practice thing I guess.
Isabel: But we did have them and I can also remember you know we didn't have television and at night after we got our studies finished we could listen to the radio on Fibber McGee and Molly were on and you know.
Helen: Little Orphan Annie.
Isabel: Yeah we had our favorite radio shows.
Jim: And I've always seen those sort of you know Norman Rockwell kind of images of families around the radio, was it like that or not like that?
Isabel: We knew that the minute dad, he walked back and forth to work and he was like a clock you know he'd come in at 10 minutes to 6:00 and he'd turn on the news immediately no matter what you were watching, we all listened to the news then.
Jim: And the radio was a big part, kind of like television today maybe?
Isabel: Uh huh.
Jim: But its like when I, you know when I listen to radio, good radio not like just music and stuff like that, but when you hear good news or stories there's something about listening to the radio that makes it awfully vivid doesn't it?
Helen: And you know one of, one of the things that has been a lifelong passion of mind is listening to opera because I had a 7th grade music teacher who used to give us extra credits if we listened to the opera on Saturday and so you know we became familiar with the opera music which was great Ms. Henshaw.
Isabel: Yes she was a good teacher too. I've always liked the radio and actually preferred it to television to this day I think you get your own mental images, but for some reason its easier I guess than just sitting down in front of a set.
Jim: Okay well since we're doing a TV show I guess we can let you guys go. Thanks a lot cut that part out all right?
Isabel: We have grandchildren who are always at the TV.
Jim: You talk about walking downtown and walking the streets, what was down there what stores, restaurants . . . what all was around?
Helen: Well there was a store called the Mechanafe that everyone liked so I'll mention it first, but I think normally when we'd walk from high school we'd stop at C.C. Anderson store, the department store and look at everything you know, but the Mechanafe had food coming by on a moving chain or what do you call it a moving tray and you could reach in and get what you wanted, you paid a small amount for your dinner and, and then when the desserts came you know you could have as many as puddings or ice cream as you could handle.
Jim: That sounds like the Jetsons or something. In Boise back in those days to have something like that, but almost like the Automat.
Isabel: Well you know walking was something you did, there were, there were buses, but I can remember walking to and from school and we'd go home for lunch everyday.
Helen: We'd go home for lunch and have five or 10 minutes is all to eat quickly and we'd worry about our hair.
Isabel: And go back.
Jim: Why would you worry about your hair?
Helen: Well walking home and back you'd want to look descent when you got back to school so you'd have to decide whether you wanted to spend the time eating or combing your air.
Jim: I have a feeling you two got into trouble as sisters, I don't know, just looking at you guys.
Helen: Nope it was our little sister, our younger sister.
Isabel: Helen was the, the older sister so she always had the private room and the other two of us shared a room so we, we became a little closer growing up because Helen was a little more efficient too she wanted to get through the dishes in a hurry and, and we were fooling around singing songs, dancing.
Jim: What would've been a big Friday or Saturday night around here back then, like what would you guys do what was, if you were going to go out and have a great time what, what sort of thing?
Isabel: Well we always went to Murray's Drive-In at some point. We had a lot of school dances, a lot of Job's Daughter dances.
Helen: We had a group that we did things with if we didn't have a date, I'm thinking now more into high school, but the group of girls that we started with in grade school and then picked up some more from a neighboring neighborhood in Junior High School and there were 15 of us in high school and we have never stopped meeting through all these years even when some of us were away at school there was a core of them still in Boise and now at this stage of life we've picked up one or two friends from the same class maybe who have joined us to meet monthly for lunch.
Isabel: Well I'll tell you what Helen did for parties, I mean Helen was more into social life than I was, but uh she, we had a neighbor who told fortunes, Bee Reichert a nurse.
Helen: Who read our palms.
Isabel: And Helen would invite her friends over and have Bee over to tell fortunes.
Helen: Well and, and I remember too on Christmas morning, Isabel had a little core of friends and Mr. Vandenberg would bring Margaret over and they'd go from house to house looking at what everyone got for Christmas.
Isabel: But that really started at Easter and Mr. Vandenberg was a great guy and they didn't have the rules we have now because we'd have 14 people hanging on his car to go up to Sunrise Service at Table Rock and then he'd take us breakfast at the Methodist Church. I'm sure they were glad to have us all show up.
Jim: You know its interesting when I've talked to people about those years and I ask what was it like, everybody, before they answer, everybody gets a little smile across their face. Why is that? What was special about that?
Helen: You know we, we had a lot of camaraderie and everyone supported each other and one of the things I remember I was on my way to early church on December 7th and I heard the news boys yelling Extra Extra Read All About It that is indelible in my mind, and the war years I remember I was a senior in high school in '43 and I remember so many of the boys who were old enough enlisting and leaving before they got their diploma, those were, and you know we all supported the war effort we, I remember knitting sweaters for the red cross and doing all kinds of things, but, but everyone was committed to seeing it through.
Isabel: But maybe they were all over once the war started, I mean who knows, but a small town I suppose has more chance of togetherness as they work on things like that.
Jim: You talked about when you heard about Pearl Harbor about how that happened?
Helen: Uh huh.
Jim: Were things just the same after that, did everything change?
Helen: No everything changed. There was rationing you only had so many gallons of gas, you couldn't, you had coupons for different kinds of food and I remember this is something that I think people today miss out on, we had a neighborhood grocer and when he got cocoa and sugar and butter and everything he would save a small amount for the people who regularly traded with him and I can, and I can remember sometimes dad would let us use the car for dates because he had enough gas, he always walked to and from work. We, we grew up walking wherever we went.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: World War II