Cloris Knox grew up in Boise and attended Boise High during the war years.
Jim: You moved to Boise from South Dakota, right?
Cloris: And I remember traveling in a Model T Ford and I remember coming across the mountains and I thought, "Oh we're never going to get there." It was this long, long trip and I finally . . . I knew in my brain that it wasn't true . . . but I'd look at those mountains behind us and think, "Well home is just on the other side of those mountains." I really knew it wasn't true, but it kind of consoled me to realize that I wasn't that far from home.
Jim: What was this area like in those days?
Cloris: It seems like too big of city sometimes. When we came it was not too different from Rapid City. They still used the drive-in to the curb parking and if you see pictures from those days there were a lot of old, old cars, Model T's and so forth that didn't even have windows, I mean didn't have roll up windows. But in those days the stores downtown, the main part of downtown was just from 8th street to 10th and there were other buildings, but I mean that's where this main shopping part was and mostly on Idaho Street a few, on Main and every store had nice big display windows and used to be fun to drive through at night, just to see what the displays were. They were always pretty and always lighted. And so its kind of not much fun to drive through downtown Boise anymore.
Jim: What were the big stores back then?
Cloris: No Macy's. Where we have a Macy's today was CC Anderson and CC Anderson was a person that lived on Warm Springs Avenue and everybody knew which house was his, so it was much different. Woolworth was here and Woolworth's had a little soda fountain at the front of their store, Cresse's didn't have that, but they had clerks behind every counter. There was no self-service kind of thing, even grocery stores didn't have self-service, well maybe, by '41. Albertsons opened their first door in '39 and Safeway's was here and those grocery stores were like today where you had a basket and you picked up your own things. We lived out east of Garfield School and that was just farmland and country and now I go out there it gives me claustrophobia, just so crowded. We did a lot of shopping at the what would be called a shopping center now. On the corner of Broadway and Boise Avenue there was a little business district and you shopped with the same people you knew. You'd go into the store, you knew everybody and they knew you. In that little grocery store you told ‘em what you wanted and they went and took it off the shelf for you. In fact, and if you didn't have the money that day, they'd put it on a tab.
Jim: Did they have restaurants downtown?
Cloris: Not very many. There were restaurants in the hotels and we had the Idanha and the Owyhee of course was there and the Hotel Boise had been built in in the early 30s. In fact it was built after we moved here. So I watched that go up and that was pretty exciting. And of course all those hotels had restaurants and then there was a place called the Mechanafe, if anybody hasn't mentioned that before. You sat in a booth and then beside you there was a window with little glass doors and this mechanical belt just kept moving past with food on it and there was an upper level that you took your food out and a lower level that you put your dirty dishes in and that went back to the kitchen. That was here for two to three years, but that was a fun place to go and it was fairly cheap.
Jim: And where was that?
Cloris: It was downtown, right downtown Boise yeah, it was called the Mechanafe .
Jim: Somebody mentioned that there used to be a big city hall.
Cloris: Yes, the old city hall was something that I think was a real shame that was torn down and I think that's what got the citizens of Boise interested in preserving what we had because everything was being destroyed. I think they called that a Romanesque structure, it was almost like a fortress and kind of a round front but it sat back from the sidewalk enough that there was a great big water fountain in the corner of it. It was on 8th and and Idaho.
Jim: And I heard it's been replaced by a lovely parking garage?
Cloris: Well for a long time it was nothing, I think there was a drug store in there for a while and it was years before they even got around to putting the parking garage in there.
Jim: A great trade, wasn't it?
Cloris: Well it took up a lot of space and it was probably in pretty bad condition, but at the same time it was something that was historic and interesting architecture and something different.
Jim: What was a big Friday or Saturday night in Boise like back then, what would you do?
Cloris: I don't remember for sure, but I remember I was always busy lots of times if there wasn't something that we wanted to do, there were dance halls around. My father wasn't crazy about the idea of me going to that. I wanted to be usherette in this movie theater and he wouldn't let me do that. We had the Drive-In places, but I wanted to be a Car Hop and he wouldn't let me do that. But we were allowed to roll up the rug in our living room and have parties and danced on hardwood floors. So it made a pretty good dance floor. We'd go ice skating at the east end of the pond at Julia Davis Park. It was not all developed and landscaped like it is today. And it would freeze over and there was nobody there. I think maybe they did put up signs if the ice wasn't safe, but I think when we first started using it we had to test the ice ourselves. I lived out far enough that several neighbors had ponds for their animals and they would freeze and we'd skate there or hay rides and snow, take the horses, because practically everybody had horses out in that area. And we didn't have television to watch, but I do remember we had radio. I used to listen to Orphan Annie when I was, this was when I was still a kid before I went to high school. I'd come home from school and I'd sit on the floor right in front of the radio and see what Orphan Annie was doing that day. When I was in the second and third grade we lived on Woodlawn and of course most people had ice boxes. And the iceman came, and they had little signs that you'd put in the door if you wanted ice and how big, sometimes 100 lbs, 50 lbs, but when he was taking the ice into the house we would usually be out, in the summertime of course, out in the yard playing and we'd hear the truck coming and so we'd run over and while he was in the house we'd get a handful of these ice chips off the back of the truck. And if there weren't any handy he'd chip some off for us. It was very convenient.
Jim: Describing those days, it sounds like it was a pretty nice time to be a kid.
Cloris: I think as far as I'm concerned it was the best. I feel like we've got a lot of memories of doing things. We played together and we played tag and we played hide and go seek and we played Annie I Over . . . we'd toss a ball over a shed, a lot of people had sheds that or barns or something that were low enough and the toss the ball over and hop scotch and jacks and so forth and we were more active, much more active than we are today and the children are today.
Jim: Where were you when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed?
Cloris: Well I had graduated from Boise High in June of '41 and that summer I worked out at Gowen Field. I quit when it was time for school and went over to Eugene and went to Northwest Christian College. I enrolled there and I took some classes at the University of Oregon. The Sunday Pearl Harbor was bombed I had walked to church with some friends. And we were on our way home and it happened to be a really nice Sunday. Hardly seemed like December. And we got close to the dorm and we heard all this yelling and we looked up and girls were hanging out the window yelling, "We're at war, we're at war, war has started." And of course we had been on edge about war for a long time because we were aware of what was going on in Europe and in the uh Asian countries too. Because Japan had been invading other countries, but the idea that Japan would ever get across the Pacific was the farthest thing from our minds. Of course everybody was in shock even though we just kind of were half anticipating it was going to happen. So then of course the young men all started enlisting.
Jim: What was that like? After the bombing happened was everything the same or did everything change do you think?
Cloris: Oh everything changed. The whole atmosphere, the attitude of everybody, was so different after that. There were times when you'd be having fun and forget about it, but it was never far from your mind. And there were so many, so many people . . . I've seen pictures where house after house would have a star in the window and I knew, I knew people whose sons or husbands were gone and overseas.
Jim: And it seems like, unlike now, it seems like everybody was part of the war effort, I mean everybody?
Cloris: Everybody was involved. You couldn't escape it, you know, because the blackouts and the rationing. You couldn't buy things and even, even if things weren't rationed they were hard to find usually because everything had been converted to the war effort.
Jim: You talk about how everybody was involved. Every single person we talked to talked about friends, loved ones, guys they dated that went over and didn't come back, everybody we've talked to has that experience.
Cloris: Well there were nine boys from our class that never came back and several people I knew other than the ones in our class that didn't come back. Our family was very lucky. My brother went and I had an uncle who had been in the National Guard and he went as an officer. My brother was private first class and then he got promoted to be a corporal, but he couldn't keep his mouth shut. He was always in trouble . . . and then he'd be a private first class again. But he came home and he was not wounded and my uncle was not wounded
Jim: What was scarce, what did you really want that was hard to get?
Cloris: Nylons. Nylon had been invented and it was used primarily for parachutes. And then they discovered how to make a grade that you could use for hose. Up to that time our stockings, our hose, were made out of either silk or cotton, different degrees of thickness and they weren't really pretty and, they were silk and silk was very fragile. The least little thing would snag it and then it would run. Our class happened to be the first class that went all through four years of high school where we never wore long stockings. We were allowed to wear, we called them anklets at the time, bobby socks today, so we were the first bobbysoxers.
Cloris: I mean Idaho is a fairly cold climate in the wintertime and so our mothers always . . . and I think in those days people thought that if you got cold you would catch a cold . . . and so we'd hide . . . I mean as soon as we'd get out of site we'd roll our stockings down and then before we got where our mothers could see us again we'd roll ‘em back up before we got home. We were wanting to wear bobby socks, and we didn't like the long stockings even the finer grade cotton I think they called it lisle, and even silk, we saved those for Sundays because they were so fragile. But when they invented nylon hose they were so much stronger and so much more durable and prettier because of the strength of the nylon's thread they were able to have a more sheer hose that would hold up than any of the other things. But nylons, they were hard to find and expensive even before the war. So they were a really welcome Christmas gift. I think I had three pair at the time of Pearl Harbor and one pair was still in good shape. But the others had gradually seen their better days. We were in an automobile accident on a Sunday, and no shatter proof windshields in those days, and besides most of the guys had old cars, and the windshield broke and I was surrounded by glass. The driver got out, my husband got out and here I was. I was afraid to move because I didn't know what would happen with all that glass and my husband looked at me and he said, "Are you okay?" And I said, "I don't know," but I could see my nylons had been ruined. There's a big chunk out of my leg and t turned out to be a fairly minor wound, and I was bleeding from a head wound . . . a piece of glass had hit me on the scalp . . . but all I could think about was that my nylons were ruined and that was my last good pair.
Jim: You talk about the flip side of things. You have a cash register slip for 32 items for?
Cloris: $6.00 for 32 items, that was my first grocery bill after I was married in '43 and the most expensive thing was 31¢, 25¢, 27¢ but there were items down 5, 6, 7, 9 cents and 32 and I don't I should have made a copy of that and marked down what they were, but I know some of that had to be meat.
Jim: It's just amazing that you could get anything, we can't buy anything for a nickel anymore.
Cloris: Well of course wages were commensurate with that too; they were pretty low in those days.
Jim: Was it really a wonderful time?
Cloris: We thought so, yeah. We had a good time. There was always something fun. We were aware that there was trouble in the world, the depression was no fun, but it was a whole lot less of a problem here in Boise. We always had a garden and even in town people could dig up part of their backyard or something and raised vegetables. I would have hated to be in a big city like New York or Chicago or even smaller places than that where you were crammed in with lots of people in tenement buildings and so forth. I can't imagine how awful it must've been for those people.
Jim: It's so memorable to people why do you think?
Cloris: Well because it was all consuming.
Jim: Was there a lot of, of worry?
Cloris: Oh yeah. They say some people beat their head against the wall because it feels so good when it stops. Well it's kind of like that. We were beating our heads against the wall there wasn't a whole lot we could do, but what we could do we did. We couldn't avoid it, there was no way to avoid it. I mean I guess if you were a hermit and went up in the mountains someplace and had no telephone, no radio, lived with the animals . . . and a few people did that or went to Canada . . . but if you were in civilization you were aware there was a war going on. Now today I think . . . of course this war we're in now is . . . it's a different kind of war. But I think that everybody needs to be aware that it is a war.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: World War II