H: This is April 13, 1982, and this is being recorded in El Toro, California, and you are?
A: I'm Howard's grandmother, and I live in El Toro and I'm sitting here on my davenport looking out over the lake. However, my grandson Howard is here and we are going to make a recording, something about the early days.
H: O.K., let's start off with the birth. You were born?
A: I was born in Seaside, Oregon, and the doctor wasn't in town. He was out of town. So my uncle went tearing down to the depot to meet the train and bring him out to the house where my mother was, because there was some trouble with the birth and the doctor wasn't there. But he got there just in [time]. My mother always said that she thought that he was drunk at the time. However, I was born eventually, and my father had named me Esther. He had chosen that name because - I don't know why he had chosen that name, really, but my mother had said that he was to name me because I was the second daughter, and she had named my sister, the first daughter, Ina, after her sister, who was named Ina. Then, one day, not long after I was born, my father was coming home from work. He saw some wild asters growing along the fence, and he thought he would pick some and take them home to my mother. Which he did. She thought it was so unusual to see flowers blooming that time of the year, because this was in November. And she thought those flowers wouldn't be blooming wild in November. So she said could she change it a little bit and my father said why sure-he didn't care. So she said she wanted to name me Aster after those flowers. Which he agreed to and that's how I got the name of Aster. I always have to spell it though, it's always a nuisance. People always. .they think it's A-s-t-o-r and they think, if it's written right, that it's a man's name. But, I've suffered through it through the years and, in fact, I have just as many people tell me that they like it as I've had people tell me that they're surprised to find that it's a woman's name.
H: Did you grow up in Seaside?
A: I went, yes, all through High School I went to Seaside.
H: Where did you live in Seaside?
A: I lived north of town. Sort of... and it was quite a long (way). Children these days, they always have to be bussed to school. We didn't bus. I walked and it was a mile each way. And we walked.
H: You graduated from High School there?
A: I graduated from High School there in Seaside. And was very surprised to get a scholarship to Willemette University. Because I thought... well, in the first place, I wasn't particularly good at school. And the second place I had assumed that they would think that my sister Ina would go through. Well, then therefore I would probably go too. Therefore they wouldn't give me a scholarship, because I'd go anyway. But, they did.
I got the scholarship, much to my surprise.
H: What do you remember most about Seaside?... from when you went to school there?
A: My school days... we lived so near the school house that when to school bell started to ring I'd start running and I'd get to school in time, because I lived just that close.
H: You said earlier that you lived north of town and you had to walk far.
A: In High School days I lived north of town. They built and called it the Union High School. They built it while I was going to school there.
H: I see. So your grade school was close.
A: Yes. The grade school was real close.
H: The High School was farther away.
A: Uh-huh. In fact, I remember when I did so poorly in spelling and my father arranged for the school to let me come home and study my spelling at home. And he would help me with it. And I still can't spell very well.
H: You told me once about as a child you met the blind and deaf girl?
A: Oh! Oh, yes, as a child I did meet her. She and her teacher came to..
H: Anne Sullivan?
A: Uh-huh. ...Came to Portland, Oregon and I went back stage and
met her-talked to her. She could understand you if you put your/her finger on her nose and her thumb down underneath and her middle finger on her lips and she could read what you had to say.
She was a very brave person. And when I went to school that day, my mother took me out of school going down to meet the train they came in on. Of course, I was late for school and mother wrote a note for me. So then the teacher said, "Why were you late? Tell the other boys and girls why you were late." So I said that my mother and I had gone to the train to meet Helen Keller. And the teacher said "I like the way you said that. Most everybody says a big "I" and a little "you" and I like the way said a big "You" and a little "I". She wrote on the board a great big "I" and little "you". And I was so pleased, of course, naturally. I was in the third grade, I think, at the time, in Portland. We often went to Portland for the winters.
H: Why would you go to Portland in the winters.
A: I suppose it was a matter of employment for my father. He was a painter, not a picture painter, but a house painter.
H: How long to go to Willemette?
A: One year.
H: Why did you go there just one year?
A: Well, let's see. My folks had just moved to California. And I was not good in school, not really. In fact, many years later when I went back to school, my sister Ina had a bet with our cousin Gladys that I would never finish when I went back to school. But I did finish. And much to everybody's surprise I even graduated cum laude. I was just as surprised as everybody else was.
H: So, after the one year at Willemette, you went to California with your parents?
H: Where did they move to in California?
A: Long Beach. My mother had a sister, who lived in Long Beach, and she had contacts there. I remember one thing. We went to the young people's meeting, at the church. And we were planning on having some type of outdoor picnic affair. And I said to them, "Now, what are we going to do if it rains?" And they looked at me, if I was just a little bit crazy. And they said "Rains? It never rains in the summertime, here." I came from Seaside, where it did rain all the time. We always plan there, if we were having a Church affair. "Now what if it rains? If it rains, will we have it here at the Church? Will we not have it at all? Will we have it at somebody's house? Just, what are we going to do if it rains?" And so, of course, they said. "It never rains in California." And I said, "Well, it could. Couldn't it?" "Well, I guess it could, but it just didn't!"
H: What did you do when you were in Long Beach?
A: Well, then I went back to school. I took the red cars up to Los Angeles. See, I got a job...the first thing I did was get a job.
H: Remember what you did?
A: Worked in a department store...and then I got married.
H: Did you get married or go to school first. You said you went up to Los Angeles.
A: No, no I... went...I got married first. It wasn't until I was married and had two children that I went back to school.
H: Well, where did you meet...
A: Howard? Oh, that's a funny story, too! I met him in a dance hall down in Long Beach. I was visiting with some friends of mine in Long Beach about a couple of years ago and all the women that
were there at this particular gathering had all met there husbands at the same dance hall, down in Long Beach!
H: And when you got married, where did you live?
A: I lived... well...my husband was in the Navy. We lived in San Pedro in one of my aunt's apartments. Ha, that was funny, too. My aunt...I had taken my pillows out and put them on the fence in the sun to get sunshine on them and my aunt...pretty soon she came in and said, "I don't know who put those pillows out there. Somebody did and they're going to be surprised-I put new covers on them and they're all nice and new looking. They're going to be so surprised when they go out go get their pillows!" Heh, heh.
And I said, "Why, Aunt Ina, I put those pillows there!" Heh, heh!
H: How long did you live there with your aunt? Did she have a boarding house there?
A: No. She had an apartment house..in San Pedro. And I don't remember just how long I was there. I was there for a while and then Howard got a job with the shipyards. They were building the "San Leandro" and he was chosen to get the job riding in it up from where it was built in San Pedro to San Francisco where it was going to run. And then we all moved up there.
H: So, you went with him, when he went up there?
A: Yes. Well, I didn't go with him. He went on the boat and I went on the train.
H: Did you have any of your sons by then?
A: No, it was after we moved up there that I was pregnant for the first time.
H: Where did you live up there?
A: In Oakland. Then I moved several times up there, when the boys were little. The place I lived the longest was out in Berkeley, when Howard was pretty small.
H: Was that the house on Webster Street?
A: Yes, on Webster. I lived in that house quite a long time, a good many years. My second son was born while I was living there.
H: Did you ever have a job up there?
A: No. I never worked there. Then came along the Depression and nobody had any money. That was while I was living in Berkeley.
H: Did my grandfather lose his job during the Depression?
H: So there was a time when you didn't have any income?
A: He always seemed to have a job. He always seemed to have income. And it was from up there that he - you see, he came up to San Francisco on that boat, the "San Leandro", and they hired him as a maintenance operator. He did all the repair work that had to be done a boat. It was during that time that he got terminated. He had quite a bit of people would want to get business from him, so they would give him - like Christmas time I know they gave him - You know those five gallon cans of paint?
A: Well, they took one of them and cleaned it out and filled it all up with bottles of liquor. And gave it to him for Christmas.
H: I didn't ask the reason why you named your sons the names you gave them.
A: Oh, yea. Of course the first boy was named after his father, And the second boy was named after - at that time his father was very proud of the ferry boat, so he named him Robert Peralta. And I had a friend, who had a boy, a son, he thought it was - when I was carrying my second boy - he was around a lot - it was the first baby that he knew was going to be born and he thought it was very interesting and, anyway, we named him Robert, after this boy. We named him Robert, after this boy, because he was so interested. And so then we named him Robert after him and the name of the ship was the Peralta, and he was named Robert Peralta, Robert Peralta Hickman. And then after he got a little bit older, I don't know, his father didn't like the name Peralta, and I didn't care. So we had it legally changed to Robert (pause)
A: Robert Donald Hickman, yes.
H: That was what he was known to his family, Don, right? Or, what do you refer to him as?
A: "Bobby Don."
H: My father, didn't you use to call him , "Buster"
H: Where did he get the name "Buster"? Do you know?
A: Oh, well, that had been a nickname of mine. They had nicknamed me that, because I was one of the first ones to have bobbed hair, and they named me "Buster" to go with my bobbed hair. Yes, he was always called "Buster" and he still is quite a bit. I asked him if he rather that we call him "Howard", and he said he didn't care, he was just used to being called "Buster" in the family.
H: Then, I remember, you separated from your husband and came down to Los Angeles to live, right?
H: And where did your sons live?
A: Well, they stayed with me, to Los Angeles. They went to have Christmas vacation with their father.
H: When you came down to Los Angeles, did you go back to school or did you work?
A: Back to school. Long Beach City College.
H: What was your major?
H: You wanted to become a teacher?
H: Did you graduate from City College?
A: Yes. I graduated from City College and then I went to State College, there. And I graduated from State College. And then I got my Masters from State College.
A: I told you how I met Ted, at a dance-
H: No, I don't think that you ever told me.
A: I guess not. I guess I told you that I met your father at a Dance Hall. Well, I also met Ted at a Dance Hall.
H: Was it the same Dance Hall?
A: Oh, no, no. But we had - I was living with Ina, and her husband, and her adopted son, Walter. And we were all living in an apartment house, in Los Angeles. Then Ina wanted to - I don't know how Aunt Ina met these women, but these two women knew about us in Seaside. And they wanted to trade our house in Seaside for the rooming house that they had in Los Angeles. I didn't particular want to - to me it was trading a house and a lot for a just a bunch of used furniture. But she wrote and said, you know, if I didn't sign the papers, to trade in the house in Seaside, she would have to go on welfare. She didn't want that.
H: The house in Seaside was in your and your sister's name?
A: Yes. But you see, in my mother's name and my mother died.
And so I thought, well, I still didn't like the idea of trading a house and a lot for a bunch of used furniture. It was a large house, but I thought to myself, I did nothing to earn this and I had always felt that people should not quarrel all over what their family leaves to them. So, if that's what she wanted and if she felt very strongly about it - she obviously did - I signed the papers and we sold the house in Seaside. These couple of women, sisters, I don't much about them, because it was all done by paperwork, back and forth. But, anyway, we traded the house in Seaside for furniture. I don't know how did get onto this subject?
H: You were talking about the rooming house, I guess, where you were living when you met Ted.
A: Oh, yes. We had this rooming house, where we renting rooms out. And there was some girl. Her name was Earthy. And she and her mother rented - I don't know - I met she and her mother some way, maybe I met them at the Dance Hall - I don't know - but I know that they introduced me to somebody in the motion picture business, and they introduced me to Ted. That was how I met Ted.
H: Ted was in the motion picture business?
A: Well, Ted, yes, was a cameraman. That's how I met Ted and I started going with him. But I was going to school at the State College at that time. That's about it. I went with Ted for, I don't know, quite awhile. Then I bought the house up on Mannix.
H: That was a very nice house.
A: Well, it was more like a mountain cabin would be. It was nice and it had a lot of nice features about it. I sold that, though, after I moved to Downey. But it was while I had a house up there, that Ted and I got married and I had Karen while I was living up there. I went from Downey, I went overseas. I sold the house, but it was not a very good deal.
H: You said you went overseas? To teach?
H: Did Karen go with you?
A: No. ha ha.
H: Did Ted go with you?
A: No, Ted and I were divorced. You weren't supposed to have any children. You weren't supposed to have any dependents, if they sent you overseas, because, of course, you would be more likely to want to come back and so forth. So, on my application, I said that, no, I had no dependents. I said, well, I didn't have because, according to the divorce, why, Karen was her father's dependant, not mine. So, I said, I didn't have any defendants, which was a little bit of a fib. What they really meant was, Do you have any children, or a husband or anything like that? So I took it to mean that I didn't have any defendants. Because she was dependant upon her father according to the income tax. So, I got arrangements for her to stay at the home of some sergeant, because sergeants were allowed to have families over there. And they had a couple of small children ______ supposed to be taking care of the children. And, anyway, I got called into the Main Office, the Commander of the Base, and he said something about my _______having brought Karen over there. And I said, "Well, I didn't make any bones about it. I told everybody that she was coming." And he said, "Yea. I know that you told everybody. I heard it too, but I didn't believe it." I remember telling my friend_______afterwards, it was if though he looked out the window and somebody said, "The grass is green out there", and they told me but I didn't believe it. Heh heh.
H: So, did he let you keep Karen over there?
A: So, he said I could keep her. But I couldn't go on the jet to Japan with her; ___I would have to come back to the States after my tour was over. So, I came back to Japan and she came back to the States. And she came back and stayed with Aunt Ina for one year. In the meantime, she had gotten the Merit Scholarship Award, and she and one other girl in the High School - she graduated________________ in Okinanwa. She and this other girl had taken the Merit Examination and had passed. So, after I had been a year in Japan, then I came back. It was after that that I sold the house in Downey. Well, in fact, it was while I was gone, I sold the house in Downey. Bob was going to take care of it for me, and the tenants were not very good and caused a lot of trouble and so I signed the papers and told him to go ahead and sell it, which I did. Then I was in Japan for a year.
H: While you were in Japan and Okinawa, you were teaching
H: Was that the first teaching job you had, teaching military dependents?
A: No. I had..
H: So we missed some. You were teaching in Los Angeles?
A: No. After I moved out to Downey, I was teaching out there at Santa Fe Springs, at a School District out there. I taught there and then I went to..
H: What did you teach? Grade School?
A: Yea. Grade School. And from there, I applied for my job overseas. And I got that job in Okinawa. And Aunt Ina said, when I got the job in Okinawa, she said, "Well, I could imagine you wanting to teach in Europe, in a European School, because you could travel and see all these things." She said, "I could even imagine Japan, but Okinawa?!?" heh heh.
H: Do you remember why you wanted to leave teaching in Santa Fe and go overseas to Okinawa?
A: Oh, no. Just more adventuresome, I guess. But, oh, the application that I had to make out for Okinawa was so - I'll never forget Karen sitting at the typewriter and asking the questions and she said, "Now, mom, go ahead and answer them". heh, I had to go back to houses, places where we had lived in Los Angeles and some of them I just had to guess, because I couldn't really remember.
H: After you were in Japan, you came back?
A: Yes. After I taught in Japan for a year, I came back, and then I thought I don't care if I see never another oriental face again., heh heh.
H: You had sold your house in Downey?
H: So where did you live when you moved back?
A: Oh, well, I moved back in with Ina.
H: Was she was living on 56th Street?
A: Yes. She was living on 56th. And I moved in with her and Karen had gotten the Merit Scholarship Award and had gone to the University of Chicago. And it was there that she met Michael.
And then I got a job teaching school in Compton, after I came back from Japan.
H: Grade school again?
A: Yea. First Grade. In Japan, I taught part of the time fourth grade, part of the time I taught remedial reading. Then I came back and went to teach in Downey. When I went over to Downey I really used Ina to get me in that, because it was really late in the year...time for school to be starting. Ina knew the school superintendent in Compton. He was in her Sunday School class. When I went over to see him for the interview, I said I was Ina Potter's sister. Anyway, they told me that I was supposed to write a summary of what I had done. So on and so forth. But I hated to write. But I went back and they called up after a day or so and wanted to know why they hadn't gotten this thing I was supposed to write. Ina talked to them and said I hadn't gotten it written yet. They said "Oh well, tell her to come on back anyway." And I did write it.
H: So then you were teaching in Compton.
A: Then I taught in Compton until I...'til they threw me out.
H: They threw you out?! What do you mean they threw you out?
A: Heh, heh! Well, I was sixty-five! But you see, we had a thing that happened in Compton. In Compton, it used to be, that the schools...I don't know just how to put it, but... Different schools had different systems. In other words, the High School was in a certain area, then they would take in the High School but also take in the grammar school in that area. So they changed it this one year. Everything was changed. They said, when things were changed, if you taught in a school in a certain district and that district was the High School's district then you'd go too. Anyway, I thought I was going to teach there the next year. That was the year I went to Africa with Margie. I was over in Africa when I got a letter that Ina had forwarded to me. It said that I was not teach there the next year. So, I wrote to the school board over there and I said,"Was it right to wait until I got clear over into Africa and then say I wasn't going to teach there?" I always figured it was the president of the school board that got me back in the job. He had a daughter and a son. They both had trouble reading. The daughter turned out to be a good reader. She had me as a first grade teacher. The son had somebody else as a first grade teacher, because they had moved. I talked to him at a teachers' meeting we had. He said, "I always felt that if he had you for a first grade teacher, he could have learned to read." Of course, I didn't think it was true at all, but if he wanted to believe that... As president of the school board, if he wanted to believe that, that it was fine with me. Anyway, how much influence he had or that letter had at that time, I don't know. But, I got my job back and taught for another year.
H: Until you were what, sixty-six, then?
A: Yeah, I guess I was sixty-six. Then I became very interested in reading and people with reading problems...I know, I got a job in a private school. They formed the California Teachers' Association and it was for reading. I was elected Vice President of that. The president's parents had a private school. I taught with them for a while. You didn't get as much money as you'd get in a public school, but I got a fair amount of money. I taught for them for two years. Which helps me right now because I get social security from those two years that I taught. I guess that was the end of that.
(END Part 1)
H: This is being recorded in El Toro, California on Sunday, April 16, 1982. I'm talking to my grandmother, Aster Palmer.
Last week we recorded some thoughts on her life and she mentioned that her mother's life is just as interesting. So she wants to make some comments on what she remembers about her mother's life.
A: My mother had, to me, a very interesting life. When she was a young girl, she had cataracts. And in those days they didn't remove cataracts as easily as they do now. My mother and her parents lived in Nashua, just out of Boston. So, when my mother was six years old, my grandmother took her into Boston to an eye specialist to see about her eyes. The doctor examined her and
said that anything that he would do would disfigure the looks of eyes. As it was her eyes looked alright. So while she was in the doctor's office some young intern said, "Madam, may I look at the little girl's eyes. Of course, grandmother said, "Yes." He looked at her eyes and he said, "Oh, I'm sure this operation could be performed very easily." Of course grandmother had just had my mother in to see the specialist and she wasn't going to be
influenced by anything a young intern would say. However, the interesting thing, to me, is that she was only six years old at that time and she remembered that doctor's name. Later on, when she went to school...she went to school in the little country school-house and the children always wanted to read her history lessons and English lessons, because they can go out in the shed and read those to "Lily".
H: Your mother couldn't read at all?
A: My mother couldn't read at all, no. However, when she was older, ready for High School, they sent her into Perkins Institute for the Blind, which is located in Boston. It's still there. I visited it. She was sent to the school there. While she was there, she hunted up this doctor's name, who had been this young intern when she was only six. To me, the interesting part is, that she, as a six-year-old child, remembered this doctor's name. She went to see him and he wanted to operate on her eyes.
Well, Dr. Magnus (?), who was head of the school, he would not approve of her going and having it done without her parents' consent. She went anyway. She was kind of ornery that way and so am I. She went to see the doctor...looked the doctor up and he arranged for her to be hospitalized at the Catholic Hospital there in Boston. The first operation was not a success!
H: What do you mean, not a success?
A: Well, she couldn't see.
H: Could she see at all before?
A: She could see just as much as she could tell where windows and doors were if she was in a room. She could distinguish light and shadows and that was about it. The doctor operated on her and whatever it was they did at that time-it didn't work. The principal at the school told her that she couldn't come back to the school if she didn't follow her parents' wishes. However, he said, "You need us more than ever now!" So he let her come back to school. She was a student there along with Mrs. Macy, Helen Keller's teacher. She went back to the doctor for her second operation and this time it was successful. Then he operated on the other eye and it was successful. So when I knew her she had about 1/4 vision in one eye and 5/10th in the other eye. They wanted someone to teach a deaf and blind girl. Dr. Magnum, the head of the school, chose my mother and Mrs. Macy to be the two
people to go and teach these children. Mrs. Macy was sent to Helen Keller's home and they, of course, were wealthy people.
Dr. Keller was a physician and they were wealthy. Mother was given, to teach, Edith Thomas, who stayed at the school for the blind. She didn't have much money. There was the demand for these two teachers. And one had money, who was the doctor, and the other one did not have money-they were poor people, so she lived at the dormitory. There was where she was staying and she was the teacher for Edith Thomas. She taught Edith Thomas for about two years then she go in and learn from the other classes. She used to tell us many, many stories about Helen Keller and Edith Thomas, at the blind school. There were two little girls who were sisters and she heard one of them rattling the doorknob terrificly. She went down and saw that this one sister was in the bathroom holding the door shut. Every time the other girl would rattle on the door, she would laugh. She thought it was very funny because she couldn't get out. Mother told how she sneaked up behind her and just very carefully took hold of the doorknob and pulled it out. And how surprised this little girl was that the one that was shut in the bathroom was strong enough to pull the door open. There are other things that Mother used to tell us about. One time she was away on vacation and while she was gone a Negro child was taken to the school. She had never seen a Negro child before. When my mother arrived, she arrived after the children were in bed. Mother went in and laid her hand on Edith Thomas to show her that she was back. She jumped out of bed and she took my mother's hand, took her into the other room and she pulled the covers down. There was a little Negro girl there and she was bow-legged. Well, she thought this child being bow-legged and the child was blind was very - She laughed, she thought it was a big joke. Then, she went, of course, back to her room.
Another thing she used to like to do...she could remember when she used to go to church when she lived with her parents. She would get the chairs in the kindergarten room when it was not being used and arrange them all along in rows. Then get the other children and sit them down in these seats and then she would get up on the platform and she'd carry on just like she was the preacher. If one of the little youngsters would try to get up and tip-toe away, because they'd get tired, there wasn't anything for them to do, really, 'cause they couldn't see her-they were blind. She could find where they were-she could tell by the footsteps. She'd get them and put them back in the seat again. These are just some of the stories that Mother used to tell me when I was a child in Seaside, which I told about before.
H: Telling me about the other girl, Helen Keller, you talked about Mrs. Macy.
H: Wasn't her name Anne Sullivan?
A: Uh-huh, Anne Sullivan.
H: You said, "Mrs. Macy." Isn't that different?
A: Well, same woman. She was married to a Macy. It was her husband's name.
H: Oh, I see. I only knew her in history books as Anne Sullivan.
A: Uh-huh. Well, then after I was married many, many years later, I was fortunate enough to study to be a teacher and I took vacations. The advantage of being a teacher is that you have your vacations time. You can go and do something else.
H: That you have summers off?
A: Every year...Then I took up reading, to be a reading teacher. Reading teachers would have conferences and the conferences would be in the summertime. Well, when I could go to a reading conference, I could take the cost of it off of my income for income tax purposes. Which was quite to my advantage. Most of the time, it seemed that most every year, I would take a grandchild with me. I've taken all of my grandchildren on trips now. Except for Robin. Robin is eleven now and she is Karen's daughter. She's the only one that hasn't gone on a trip. I've tried to take them on a trip when they were about ten or eleven, I guess. Because that's the time when they wouldn't have to pay adult fare. You take them for half fare up to the right age. After that age well, then you'd have to pay full fare.
[The remainder of the interview is about her summer trips]