Rosie the Riveters

Cabanis, Helen

Helen Cabanis

Born:  Sapulpa, Oklahoma, July 4, 1912
Date Interviewed:  March 16, 2003
Interviewer:  Sheree-Ann Joseph
Topic:  Work experience during World War II

Q:        Where did you attend school and for how long?  

A:        We moved to Oklahoma City the year I was 5, and I started to Riverside School when I was 6 years old that year. Riverside School was on S. W. 10th in the 400 block. I went there from first grade through 7B, and I had skipped half of fifth grade, so that made me a mid-termer, and I took my second half of 7A in Capitol Hill High School. It was a junior-senior high school when I started over there. My sister was already over there. She was three years older than I was. It was a good thing – it was so big and I was so lost! I was scared to death. Before I finished my high school, they built a new high school over at Capitol Hill, but it was just terrible getting out there. But I finished my last semester of high school out there in the new building. I was married in May of 1929. We had our first baby in May 1930.            

Q:        What were your interests and hobbies as a young woman?

A:        As a young woman I taught Sunday school and worked with the kids in whatever they needed. Next door to our school was what they called the community house. They had lots of things going on there. I taught Sunday school there and worked with the kids. I enjoyed it. I did a lot of embroidery and sewed.

Q:        Was there anything else that you found interesting?

A:        Yes, I cooked, of course. We did everything. I didn’t have a lot of time for hobbies, as you’d call them, because the year I was about 12 my father took real ill. He was not able to support us, so my mother started a little home laundry. At that time we had gas lights, and so we ironed with flat irons – those old ones. A year or two after that, we finally got electricity in the house. It came down through the ceiling on one bulb on a long cord. We got an electric iron. It was really wonderful! We did not have time to have a lot of hobbies. But all the kids in our neighborhood that we ran around with came to our house because they knew we had to work, and they would help us get our work done so that we could go – well, we went to Springlake [Amusement Park], and Belle Isle at that time was a beautiful amusement park. It had a great huge lake and you could go out on the lake in a boat. It had all the carnival things that amusement parks would have. During my growing up years, they started Springlake. I think the zoo covers that area now. So the children would all come over to our house and help us get our work done so that we could all go out and have a good time at those parks. But we didn’t have a lot of time for hobbies. I did play volleyball, you know, because the school was right behind my house and the volleyball net was up and we’d go over there and play volleyball, but I didn’t play on a team or anything like that. But I did take violin lessons, and because I did, I played in the orchestra at school, and I got to be in the girl’s violin quartet. And we really got to do nice things. We played for the Lion’s Club and the Kiwanis Club and things of that sort. My memory isn’t all it might be. I remember my first radio, too. It was just a little old box. A neighbor had it. It was about 6 inches high and about 15 inches long with little wires and things stuck on it. You put earphones up to your ears and you could hear people talking on the thing! It was really wonderful! I remember my first automobile I saw and I remember the first telephone that we had. It was one of these on a stand and it hung up on a hook and you talked into it like this and held this up your ear. 

Q:        When did you begin to get a sense that the US was headed toward war?

A:        The first war I remember was the First World War. It was before we moved to Oklahoma City, so I wasn’t 6 years old yet, but my brother was 18, and I remember him coming home in that beautiful, beautiful uniform and telling us all good-by. Bobby was in France – he and my brother-in-law – I turned 6, and we went to church on Christmas Eve, and when we came home, Santa Claus had – they had talked to Santa Claus in France and they had Santa Claus bring us a doll and a cradle for our doll. It was just really great. They talked about the “big pond,” but the biggest thing I had ever seen was the Canadian River, so a big pond was just a big pond to me. When they came home from that war, it was really wonderful, but my brother-in-law was shell-shocked and he never got over it. 

Q:        When you heard about the coming of World War II, were you scared about it?

A:        When I was a child?

Q:        Yes. Were you scared about it?

A:        I don’t remember being so disturbed about it when I was a little child, but after we moved to Oklahoma City, and my father bought a house right behind the school house, and it was just up the street from where we lived – they were building a new section of new houses and he bought us a brand new house and we moved into it – but before we moved into it, I went to school at Riverside School for I guess a whole year. I don’t remember when we moved into that house, but it must have been spring because I remember we would go up to the school house and slide on the ice from the pump out on the school grounds. The kids would pump that water and it would freeze and run down there and we’d slide on that ice. Because I was the youngest one of the bunch, I got to always do the pumping, then they’d all run off before I got my drink. I was reaching down to get me a drink and I slid on the ice, and my lip was all swollen and my nose was hurting.  

Q:        How did your friends and neighbors respond to the war?

A:        Well, that year was the year that the flu hit . . .  

Q:        Was that 1914?  

A:        No, it was later than that because I was born in 1912. So that would have been 1918, because I turned 6 that year. And the flu was so bad that people just died off.  

Q:        What do you mean by the flu? What was the name of it?  

A:        It was just called the flu. It was the first time they’d ever an epidemic of the flu. Stores had to close – it was terrible. My daddy would stand on the front porch and he would say the hearse is leaving certain houses, but it never came to our house. We were blessed that it never came to our house. That was about the worst thing that had happened to us up to that time. Then when I was about 12- it must have been 1924 – the dam Overholtzer Dam broke during the flood season, and we lived just a little way from Wheeler Park and the water got up around all those houses, so everybody moved there except us. We had to stay that we were paying for the house. My brother was working on the railroad and he helped make the payments on the house so we didn’t lose it.  

Q:        How old were you when you got married?  

A:        I got married in May of 1929, so I was not quite 17. Then I was not quite 18 when my first baby was born.  

Q:        Did your husband have to fight in the war?  

A:        No, he was almost 7 years older than I am, and when the war broke out [in Europe] in 1937-38-39, it disturbed me terribly. I just really couldn’t stand to think of my husband going off because I just knew he wouldn’t be true to me and that just broke my heart. I just wanted to be sure that he would be true to me. The Depression came between the time we got married and the time of the war. We went through that Depression. My husband never went to war because he was older and we had two children.

Q:        What did he do then? Was he employed or had his own business?

A:        When we got married he was making good money. When Jimmy was born in 1930, we had money in the bank to pay for the baby – the hospital bill, the doctor bill, and everything was paid for. We bought a two-year-old Chevrolet sedan. We had had an old Four touring car with icing glass window to keep the cold out, but it didn’t keep out much cold. So it was really great to have a car that had roll-up windows and keep the wind out. But there was no rugs on the floor and the wind came up through the floor. There were no heaters in the cars, either. But it was a far fetch from the other one! We thought we were sailing good! Before George was born in 1931, the Depression hit. The banks closed. What little dab of money we had in the bank was gone. My husband’s job was gone. He was a paper hanger. Nobody would have any work done because nobody had any money. He walked the streets and knocked on doors and asked for work for a dollar a day, and he lots of days he’d come home and not have any work. But PWA, Public Works Administration, started up and he got on that, and I think we had...  

Q:        So this is all during the war, right, World War II?  

A:        This is before the war.  

Q:        During the war, what did he do?  

A:        We had moved to Arkansas, between Springville and Fayetteville, and about to starve to death. I worked at a dollar a day at the store and they took 2 cents a day out for my unemployment insurance. He worked for a dollar and a half a day at the lumber yard. So we didn’t make very much money. And there was my husband, my three sons, and my mother. We were all living on that two dollars and a half a day. I paid her three dollars a week to take care of my little boy, and I made six dollars a week working. When the opportunity came up for me to go to the canning factory for forty cents and hour, I mean I went. Somebody came by the store and said “Helen, they’re opening the canning factory and they’re paying forty cents an hour for workers.” She said I could get on if I went over. And I turned around to my boss, and I said “I’m sorry, Mr. Frankie, but I can’t keep on working for a dollar a day if I can make forty cents an hour.” He said “you’ll be sorry because it’s only seasonal, then you’ll be wanting your job back.” And I said I would just have to take the risk. But when I got on, I hit it off well with the bosses and I got to stay clear until after Christmas, and this was at the beginning of spring when the beans first started being picked. I worked through the grape season and through the peach season and through the apple season, and then when everything was canned, I got to work as a labeler. We labeled the cans, and I was still working after Christmas.  

Q:        So when was that?  

A:        That was in 1941. I worked there until everything was done at the canning factory, and then I got my unemployment. Well, I drew three dollars a week unemployment insurance, so I was making as much not working as I was working. But I took jobs as they gave them to me, and one of the jobs they gave me was cracking eggs in an egg-drying plant.  

Q:        Did a lot of ladies go into that industry that you were working in? 

A:        He was working the lumber yard.  

Q:        Did a lot of ladies besides yourself work in that kind of factory?  

A:        At the canning factory? Yes. When we moved down my mother’s house was in bad repair, and he fixed it up, and he fixed up the chicken houses and we raised chickens for a while, which was a very rewarding job. But the man that owned the factory that sold the chickens to be raised, hired him. He had a big family and the kids were marrying off and he had a lot of property in Springdale and he hired my husband for sixty-five cents an hour – gee, that was big money! He hired him to work for him and re-do these houses. So during 1943 . . .  

Q:        Yes, this was during the war?  

A:        Oh, it wasn’t going on when I first moved down to Arkansas. But the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed, the only thing that we could afford to do was ride around in the car and look at the scenery, so we were out riding. We were over in Fayetteville. The boys just started coming out of the woodwork carrying their duffle-bags. We drove into a service station and asked what had happened and where these boys were going. The man said “haven’t you been listening to the radio?” We didn’t have a radio in our car, so we hadn’t been listening, and we didn’t know Pearl Harbor had been bombed. He said “we are at war! All these boys have been called in and they are going to war.” It was terrifying. Really terrifying. All the young people had to go. But because we lived on this little acreage and my husband was working in the lumber yard and I was working in town, he didn’t have to go to war. He was born in 1904, and he was just old enough that he didn’t have to go.   

So in 1943, my children’s school teacher that we had had in Oklahoma City before we moved to Arkansas to help my mother, when she and her husband got married and he was deployed to war, and when he got his R&R they came down. They thought it would be so thrilling to do their honeymoon over again, but they were board stiff. They found our address and came to see us. She said “Helen, why don’t you go to the city with us and you can get on at Tinker for 65 cents and hour, and so can Harley, then you can come back. I really wanted to leave Arkansas – I never did like it – so she said we could come back to the city and get established while your working. So I went back with them. I got a job at Douglas, instead of Tinker. I was a riveter. I riveted until the war was over.   

Q:        What year was that?  

A:        We went to work at Douglas in ’43. Either late ’42 or early ’43.  

Q:        Was it an industry or what?  

A:        I was a riveter on an airplane and he was a painter. I worked on center wing and that was at the beginning of the big, long airplane.  

Q:        Was it difficult?  

A:        Yes. As different parts of the plane were worked, the plane was moved right on the jig it was on, right on down, and he worked putting the insignias on the planes just before they were flown out. So I worked at the north end and he worked at the south end. And we worked there the whole time of the war. We were working there the night that President Roosevelt died.   

Q:        How many hours per day did you have to work?  

A:        We worked the graveyard. We went to work at 12:00, and got off at 7:00. The others had to work eight hours. We worked seven hours because of the shift. We worked two hours and had a 15 minute break, then we worked until lunch, and then we had a 30 minute lunch period. Then we would work two hours and have another 15 minute break and then we’d be off at 7:00.  

Q:        How many days per week?  

A:        Seven days a week. We worked seven days – including Sundays! They started this thing of changing shifts. You’d work so many weeks on swing shift, so many weeks on graveyard, so many weeks on days. When it came our time to go to swing shift, I said I wouldn’t go to swing shift because I wouldn’t see my children if I did. Because I would go to work at 3:00 in the afternoon, when they got out of school. I would get home at midnight and they would be in bed. I would be asleep at 7:00 in the morning when they got up to go to school, and I wouldn’t see them all week long. I said “I will not work and not see my children.” They wouldn’t let me work days. They wouldn’t give us the privilege of working days. It had to be both of us – we only had one car and it had to be filled with people for us to get gas and tires. So I said I would quit. They said I couldn’t quit, and I said “you just try me.” And they knew that I meant it. So they let us work graveyard the whole time.  

Q:        Payment was still sixty-five cents an hour. Did they ever raise your pay?  

A:        I don’t remember whether they increased our pay or not. But we felt so rich – we had money to buy gasoline, we had tires to ride on, and we had a car that we could go places and do things. We’d get off work at 7:00 in the morning and on Sunday morning we’d just stay up and go to Sunday school and church with the children, and have lunch. Then we’d go to bed and sleep until just before time to go to work.  

Q:        How long did that job last?  

A:        I think I came up here in July or August of ’43, and went to work and it lasted until the end of the war. We finished the shift that we were on, and we were laid off, and then we drew unemployment insurance.   

Q:        Did you have a lot of other women working with you?  

A:        They were nearly all women because the only men there were either people who were handicapped in some way or too old to go to war.  

Q:        Did they enjoy their jobs?  

A:        Oh yes, I enjoyed being useful, and I felt like I was helping with the war effort.  

Q:        Did you make friends of the women you worked with?  

A:        I made one real good friend, that was my bucker. The girl who bucked my rivets was my real good friend. She and I were friends until she died of cancer in the 1980s. She was the only really good friend that I made out there. But I got along well with everybody, especially my supervisors, because I was a good worker. One night, we’d had company all day and I was so tired when I went to work. We always got there a little bit early, and I went into the restroom. They had great long tables in the restroom, where you could go in there and eat your lunch if you wanted to, and the restrooms were clean and had great big wash basins. So everything was clean as it could be and you take your meal in there and eat it, and a lot of us did. I got there early, and I was so tired, I went in there and lay down on that table and went sound asleep. But I had signed in when I came in. My lead man – that’s what they called our supervisors – saw my name on the roster and he knew I was in the building and he kept waiting for me to show up and waiting for me to show up, and I didn’t show up. And when the first rest period, two after work time started, the [bell or gong] would tell us it was time to take our rest period. I heard that thing go off and I jumped up! I thought it was the one telling us to go to work. I said “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got to get out on the jig quick because I’m signed in. The girls were just coming in and I said, “What time is it?” They said “Two o’clock in the morning!” Of course, the lead man couldn’t go in there a look for me, so when I showed up, he said “where have you been?” And I told him I had been in the rest room asleep. But because I was a good worker I got by with it.  

Q:        So while you were working, your husband was also working in the plant?  

A:        Yes, and he worked until the last plane went out. He put the insignias on the last plane, so he worked a month or two after I did. 

Q:        Did the women enjoy the work, or did the work prove difficult for some of the women?  

A:        Some did and some didn’t. Some of them were just there because. . . but some of them came to far to go to work. They came from El Reno and Shawnee and Chandler, and all around. Just long distances. Some of them were so tired, I don’t know how they had energy to work.  

Q:        Were the women from different backgrounds - economic, racial, and social background?  

A:        Most of them were. . . you know, I don’t remember any racial difference. I’m sure that there were black people working with us. . . but we were never prejudiced people, so it didn’t bother us. Clean people were clean people, and dirty people were dirty people, that was all there was too it. One time my bucker’s husband came home from the war and she got pregnant. And she was thrilled to death over it, and I was just crushed because I had to get another bucker. And they gave me a guy that I don’t think he ever took a bath. He stunk so bad! We were so good that they put us on pick up – that was repairing all the damage that had been done to the plane before it got to us, and I would have to stand over him, riveting, so I told my lead man, “you either get me a new bucker, or tell him to take a bath.” He said, “I can’t tell him to take a bath!” I said, “well, you’d better tell him something or move him because I’m not going to work with him. I cannot stand to work over somebody that stinks.” And they moved him. But that’s the only time that I had any trouble with anybody, and I didn’t have any trouble with him. I just didn’t have anything to do with him because he smelled.  

 Q:       If so, could you please elaborate whether or not all women were treated equal or if some women, because of their background, had a more difficult time than others. Please feel free to expand on anything to do with this?  

A:        I think they were. Everybody was treated real well.  

Q:        What was the reaction of the fellow male workers in terms of your performance on your job?  

A:        They would flirt with you, but you just took it with a grain of salt. But they were not obnoxious. They didn’t press you or anything like that – just flirt. Now, I was not at Tinker Air Force Base. I was at Douglas, but I imagine the atmosphere was about the same.  

Q:        How were you treated by the bosses who were in charge? Did they treat you well?  

A:        Oh yes, they treated me very well. They all were very nice to all of us. In fact, my husband got a little award for making a suggestion – a $25 reward – goodness!  

Q:        What was the suggestion?  

A:        They moved parts on a big scaffolding thing on wheels and he suggested to them that they put [a different kind of wheel on the carts] and it made such a big difference, that they accepted his suggestion and gave him $25 for the suggestion. Wow! It was really great!  

Q:        What kinds of memorable occurrences did you witness or experience?  

A:        I think the most memorable thing was the night that President Roosevelt died. If anything happened, this big [sound or siren] would go off and everything would stop. That was a warning signal. And that night we had a terrible, terrible tornado in Midwest City. It just wiped out rows of houses, and the next morning when we got off of work, where the houses had been the trees were stripped bear and they were filled with clothes and articles that had been strewn through there with the tornado. It was the same night that President Roosevelt died. That was the most memorable night that I remember the whole time I worked there. I just sat down on the wooden jigs and I cried. I said “I think I know who the people of Israel felt when Moses died (voice cracking),” because he had done so much for us. He had really done so much for us. I really was stirred by it.  

Q:        When the war was over, did you quit working?  

A:        No, I got part-time jobs clerking. The old man who taught me to clerk over in that store in Arkansas, taught me everything there was to do in a store. I could dress windows, I could invoice, I could order, I could do displays. So I could get a job any place I wanted any time I wanted it. I just picked where I wanted to work and I chose Sears. I worked at Sears part-time. I didn’t go steady for a long time. I finally did go steady for a while, but most of the time I was just part-time because I wanted to be home with my kids as much as I could. And I loved working with kids. Our church didn’t have anybody to take the little Girl Scout group, so I took it. That was more fun! We got to do things, and I did a lot of things with Red Cross. I would go out to the airport and pick up people who were coming in to veterans hospital to speak to the veterans out there. I’d pick them up and bring them back and forth. And I remember definitely one man. They told me that he didn’t have any legs. And when I went out there I was looking for someone with no legs. And I kept looking around, looking around, and finally this man walked up to me, and said “are you looking for” so-and-so, and I said yes. He said “I’m he.” That guy had two legs! And he was walking on them as good as I was walking on mine! I know my mouth must have [fallen open] and he laughed. He said “I’m here to talk to the veterans and tell them if they lose limbs, it’s not the end of the world.” I got to see him do some of his. . . he’d go in with one leg off and his pants leg fastened up, and then he’d go out and do something and come back with the other leg fastened up. He just really was an inspiration. I don’t have any idea what his name was and wouldn’t know him if I saw him on the street. But he was really an inspiration. I enjoyed working with the Red Cross and with the little girl scouts. I also always had a cut scout troop. My littlest boy was in cub scouts. My older boys were 7 or 8 years older than my youngest. They were 14 or 15 years old when one day they had been at MYF – we were Methodists at that time – and my oldest boy came home and he said “Mother, you and daddy are our new youth directors!” I said “we’re what?” He said “they needed some new youth directors over at the church and I told them that you and daddy would do it.” So from then on, we were youth directors. This was after the war.  

Q:        How do you think the war years impacted the lives of women in this country?  

A:        I know it did. Their place was always in the home, and they got a taste of being out doing what they pleased. So many of them almost forgot what motherhood meant. They’d just farm their kids out to anybody that would take care of them as long as they could go do the things they wanted to do. That would have been a no-no before the war. It made all the difference in the world in the way women took care of their children. When I got married, a girl expected to stay at home and raise her children. Period. Unless there was some reason why she couldn’t stay at home – like when my father got ill and my mother had to work. She said when she started her own laundry, she said “I’m not going to do something where I’ll be away from my little girls and have them go wild.” She said “I’m going to be at home with them.” That’s the reason she did the home laundry. And do you know that home laundry carried us through the Depression, because people still had to have clothes done.  

Q:        Whose idea was that? Your mother?  

A:        My mother’s idea. And, bless her heart, she was such a hard worker. She had TB when I was 10 years old because of over-work. My father was 22 years old than my mother, and momma’s first husband  had died and she had five small children. But he left her a $5,000 insurance policy and she bought a house, and put a sign out “Room and Board.” My father was married and had children, but they were all practically grown. The two youngest ones, I think, were 13 and 15, and he was working on the railroad as a foreman of something, and he came to my mother’s house and asked if he could have room and board for his crew. My mother had taken that thousand dollars and bought a two-story house in Chandler close to the railroad because she knew it would be better there because people started from the railroad out. So she told him yes. She gave them the upstairs and she took the downstairs for her and the children. And my mother’s youngest child by her first husband was a little dwarf that had no hip sockets. When papa came and his crew and started living with my mother, he just fell in love with that baby. He just loved her to death! In loving her, then he loved my mother and they got married. Then they had my sister, who is three years older than I, and then they had me. I was their youngest child. Momma would just not leave us two kids, but that little girl died eight months before I was born. They thought she had diphtheria. She and my sister had something wrong with their throats, but they never could get diphtheria culture to show up. I have always thought it must have been strep throat and at that early date no body knew what it was, because it chocked her to death. My mother had to lay her out because they were under quarantine. She had to take that baby and dress her and put her in her coffin. She was a brave lady. She was a wonderful women (voice cracking).  

            As far as the war affecting women’s attitude toward home, it definitely did. They will never go back. I don’t think all women in America will ever go back to just being housewives again. Very few.  

Q:        During the war when you were working and your husband also, who took care of the kids?  

A:        My mother. She lived with us. When we moved to Oklahoma City you couldn’t find a place to live if you had kids. You could have an elephant or a giraffe or a donkey or anything else, but if you had a child you couldn’t rent a house or any place to live. We had to go to the War Housing Administration to get a place to live. When we came to Oklahoma City, she sold her place down in Arkansas and she came to the city, too. She was just renting a room here or there or staying with some of the folks, other kids living here. So my youngest one got sick and I had to have somebody other than my 13 year old boy to take care of him. Up until that time we were in an upstairs apartment. There were 2 apartments downstairs and 2 apartments upstairs, and there was always some adult. So I could leave my children with the 13 year old taking care of the other two because he was a very dependable young man. But when it came to giving the baby medicine in the night, I didn’t feel like I could leave him with that. So I asked momma if she would come a stay with us. And she stayed with us the rest of the time during the war. It was so great. We bought a house over on N.E. 18th Street and she just lived there with us. It was only a two bedroom house, but the boys had bunk beds in their bedroom, but that didn’t give grandma any place to sleep. We had a closed in back porch at that time, so my oldest son told grandma to take his bed and he would sleep on the back porch. That made him feel like he was real big! That worked alright for a while. My husband could do anything with his hands and he built 28’ x 12’ onto the back of the house and made an another bedroom and shower and extended the kitchen out and that made a bedroom for grandma and a bedroom for kids and bedroom for mother and daddy. We had our own private bath and it was really nice. We showed that house one time and sold it. The man is still living in it – his wife died.   

Q:        Did the skills you learned during the war serve you in any kind of way in the subsequent years after the war?  

A:        As far as riveting is concerned, no. I never used that skill again.  

Q:        What things stand out most in regard to your experience as a Rosie the Riveter or any of the other kinds of work you did during World War II?  

A:        I don’t know. I think that the men that were left here put women at a lower esteem than they had been before.  

Q:        Because they were working?  

A:        Because of the behavior of so many of them. A lot of the women that worked were just, sort of hussies. You might as well face it. I’m not saying that was most of them, but there was a lot of them out there. There were a lot of them that were just flirts. There were some women that would flirt with anybody, no matter what their age or description. I think that men lowered their esteem of women during that time.  

            When people talk about woman’s equality, she really drove herself down when she demanded that. Because men had held us in high regard.  

Q:        So you are not in agreement with women’s equality?  

A:        I think that women lost a lot of privileges in getting the privilege of being an equal.  

Q:        In what way?  

A:        Just being considered ladies so much of the time. Men would take their hat off, they would let you on the elevator first, they treated you like a lady. And now you’re just another person! Of course, you girls don’t even miss it because you never had it, see? But when I was growing up, a man and a lady walk in a room I always stood up.  

Q:        Do you think that because of that women received better education in different institutions and college?  

A:        I think they gained a lot of privileges there.  

Q:        So do you think that stemmed from the equality that they insisted upon, or you don’t think so?  

A:        I don’t know. There are an awful lot of might good women in the world, and I think that they have upheld the quality of womanhood to what the Lord intended it to be – enough that it has helped them to get a lot of privileges that they would not have had otherwise. But I also think that they have gained a lot of privileges by doing a lot of things like they can do garbage work or anything else if they want to – they can work at anything they want to now. Bell Telephone that has girls that shimmy up the polls just like the men do.  

            I’ve seen so much. From being a little girl who had never seen an automobile to remembering my grocery man bringing our groceries in a truck – it had an engine out front and then the truck was back here. He would stop out in front of our house and leave our groceries for us. That was great because we didn’t have a horse, so we had to walk and carry – my brothers and my father – had to walk and carry all of our groceries that we had.  

Q:        So when you bought your first car, who drove? Just your husband, or both of you?  

A:         My husband drove it and every time I would want to drive it he would say that something needed to be fixed on it. Finally, I wanted to go to a woman’s society meeting one Tuesday and one of the ladies at the church said, “Harley, you come get me before you go to work, and I’ll take you to work, then bring the car over to my house and keep it until time for the meeting, and then I’ll go pick Helen and the children up and bring them to the meeting. Then I’ll take them back home when the meeting is over. When it’s time for you to get off work, I’ll go pick you up, and then you can bring me back home, then you can go home.” The more I thought about that, the madder I got! If she could drive that car, I could, too! So when he got home, I was mad. I let him have it. He said “Get in that car.” I got in the car and he made me drive from Blackwelder in Packing Town [the stockyard area] – we lived in that area – he made me drive over that bridge down through Oklahoma City over to my mother’s house behind Riverside School. By the time we got there I was a nervous wreck! I got out of the car shaking like a leaf, and my mother thought I was sick because I was white as a sheet. I told her Harley made me drive over here. She loved my husband like he was her own son and they never didn’t get along, but she turned on him and she said “What are you trying to do, kill her?” And he said “No, I’m tired of listening to her wanting to drive. She’s going to learn to drive this thing and she’s going to drive it every place she goes. She’s going to drive it from now on.” And I did.  

I drove from then on, but I took every lesson I could get to be a good driver. They gave it at the fire station, so went up there and took my driver’s training. I was a good driver, but I’ve had lots of accidents. I had one that just tore a brand new car all to pieces. But it was my two sons were in the hospital and one was having his hand grafted to his stomach – he’d blown his hand off. And the other boy was there to have his knee operated on and I was really upset. This car was brand new and I was going out to Baptist Hospital. The emergency was just off of the highway and you drove right in. I parked there on that emergency parking area and it was on a slope. Just before I parked, I had stopped over at the service station across the street and filled up with gas. It was hot summertime. The heat got to the gas and it started expanding and leaking out, and the PBX operator looked out and saw the gas running out of my car and she said over the intercom “There’s a new Chevrolet sitting out in the parking lot leaking gas on the driveway. Please move it.” As I came down, she said “does that car belong to you?” I said yes, and she said “don’t start the motor until you get it out of that driveway.” She was afraid it would set it on fire. So I didn’t. But when I got it down where I could start it, I started it and there was an access road that went up beside Baptist Hospital, and I forgot it was an access road and I looked, but didn’t see anyone coming, and I drove out in front of a car. She hit me broadside right in front of the steering wheel. It ruined a good car, but nobody was seriously hurt, just bruised up some.  

My two sons are both dead now. The oldest one died in 1981 helping a neighbor fight a grassfire and was electrocuted. The youngest one died last June from pulmonary fibrosis. I have one left now, and he’s the best thing to me that ever way.  

Q:        Is he here in Oklahoma?  

A:        Oh yes, he’s in Oklahoma City. Comes to see me twice a week. Just does whatever. And anytime I need to go to the doctor.  

Q:        What kind of lessons did you learn from all your experiences during the war and everything else?  

A:        One thing I learned was a lot of self-confidence. I used to be very, very timid. Very timid. You wouldn’t believe it now, but I used to be. I learned to be self-confident. Then when my oldest son received his bachelor’s degree from UCO, he came home, and I was working at Sears at the time, and he said “Mother, I want you to go over to the college and get you a degree and do what you want to do. There’s no sense in you working as a clerk in a store.” I had a real ugly supervisor who was really giving me a hard time. I’d come home lots of nights and I was crying. He said “There’s no sense in you having to work like that. Just go over and get a degree and do what you want to do.” My husband’s work was just mushrooming, and my second boy and his daddy had such a good thing going I really didn’t have to work. So they talked me into going to college. Well, two men in my church had divorced their wives and married their secretaries. I said “That will not happen in our family. I’ll take a business course and I’ll be our secretary.” Well, I took bookkeeping and typing and all that good stuff and I hated every minute of it. I’d sit up all night trying to find out one penny on that darn bookkeeping stuff. So at the end of that semester, I decided that was not for me. I couldn’t take any more of it. They looked at my application to go to college – whatever they called it – and they said “Mrs. Cabanis, everything on your chart here shows that you love work with children. Why don’t you take up education?” Well, it hadn’t even occurred to me, but I said OK, I’d do that. By that time taking all that business, I had used every one of my choices, so I had to take straight education courses all the way through. But I finished in three years and stayed on the Dean’s Honor Roll the whole time. I worked as a youth director over in the Springlake area, over by Northeast High School, at 36th and Everest, for about six months while my husband was recovering from surgery. My grades started going down and I knew I wouldn’t stay on the Dean’s Honor Roll if that kept up, so I said “You’ll just have to get somebody to take my place.” She hired my son to take my place!  

Q:        How old were you when you went to college?  

A:        I was in my 40s, and I taught school 22 years after that. I taught in Oklahoma City for 19-1/2 years, and then I taught in a private school for four years.  

Q:        So it was in your mid-40s when you started college?  

A:        Either around 39 or 40. I stayed on the Dean’s Honor Roll and I got a job right after I got out. They got me a job teaching at Shiedler School down in the river bottom, and those kids couldn’t read and I couldn’t teach them. I couldn’t teach them to read. And I mean I got back up to that college and I enrolled in special ed and all my graduate work was done in special ed. I stayed on the Dean’s Honor Roll all through it. I made Who’s Who in universities and colleges in 1956, I think it was. I enjoyed college. I really enjoyed college.  

Q:        Was your husband very supportive of you being in college?  

A:        Oh yes. The whole family was. They were all so proud of me and my mother was so proud of me. I was the first one in our whole family that had a college education. They were really proud of me.  

Q:        What year did your husband die?  

A:        He died in 1990, first of July. We had lots and lots of things happened to us in those years.