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Picture Perfect: Interview with Clara Gilbertson Perry

posted on February 27, 2009 at 4:06 PM


Clara Gilbertson Perry was interviewed on November 5, 2008.

Clara Gilbertson Perry: interviewed November 5, 2008

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: Tell me - what Ridgeway was like when you were growing up?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh, I think it was just a wonderful warm community. We had many activities that all the kids seem to participate in. And the families just kind of took care of each other.  You know, my friends, if I was at their house, their parents would consider me almost one of their family. So I really enjoyed it growing up in Ridgeway.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: Why was that area unique?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I think it’s the area that I was probably the most acquainted with would be the Scandinavian part of it, but it didn't mean that we didn't have other ethnic groups but it was quite a Norwegian community.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: What were some of the day to day things back in the late 30’s?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I think one of the things that I remember about it is that in our family my mother would seem to have like Mondays is wash day and then I can remember always coming home at noon because the kids after you know going to school they would go home for lunch but the farm kids would bring their own lunches. 

But I'd come home and she always had a big kettle of soup because and I could tell that was wash day.  So that's one of the things and then after school there usually was some activity.  Sometimes we would have softball and then in the winter time there would be basketball practice and then choral groups.

And then I think when we were younger--not in high school, but younger--we'd have confirmation that we'd have to go to. And, let's see what else can I think of? And the winter activities. We would have some ice skating.

In winter time, when there was a lot of snow, I can remember my brother-in-law bringing in his sled that had runners on, and we would run to catch the sleigh, and then stand on the runners and get a ride around town. And we could always tell when he came into town because he had these horses and he had beautiful bells that were attached to it.  So that was fun.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Describe Ridgeway the town.  What was it like back then compared to today?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I think that many of the buildings are very similar to what they were at that time.  There maybe one or two that have been taken down but as I've gone through Ridgeway, when I've gone down there, I think it looks very similar to what it was. 

They used to tie horses up to the sidewalks there.  There were rings there and those rings of course aren't there anymore but it looks very similar.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Kids at an assembly.  Tell me what that was about?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh yes we'd all gather there and it was not just one class but there maybe three classes that would be there. And we'd gather in the morning and we'd say the Pledge of Allegiance and then have a song, maybe "America the Beautiful."

And there'd be announcements and the bell would ring, and we'd go to the different rooms for classes. And then if there was, say, some program that the younger kids were going to perform, they would come and perform in front of the assembly.

And then, of course, the picture in the book there must have been something that one of the fellows had a good joke or something because it looked we were all laughing at it.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: What was it like at that time electricity?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh yes.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: Telephones- how are things different then as maybe they are today?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Well we had wall phone and you could tell when it was your ring whether it was two short and a long. And if you wanted to reach somebody say in the country or on a different line you'd have to call operator or long distance, you know.

And then, let's see what else, and then I can remember in school nobody had anything like ball point pens. And they had just these little pens that -- well I've got a sample of one there, I'll show you, and penmanship was very important in the early grades. And you'd have these stick pens and then the, the ink pens is what we had. So that's different.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Did you have a lot of chores?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh yes absolutely yes.  Summertime it was always weeding gardens and then Betty ____ a very close friend of mine.  Betty and I worked in a popcorn factory that her brother owned. And we would pop the corn, package it, and get ready. And then I was a cashier in the theater. And then I helped my dad who had a garage and was in the office there. And let's see, I think that's all I remember about working.  Well, just the usual chores around the house.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Social things?  What did you do with your friends for fun?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Well, some of the young people did go to dances.  I guess there was one on Thursday night or something like that.  I didn't participate in that.  Um, um I'm not so sure I was that active you know in a lot of the social activities that way.

We had our Choral groups that -- I'm not so sure.  I can't remember. Maybe somebody else has thought about that but wintertime it was outdoor activity and then-

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: Fondest memories in Ridgeway?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Well, I think the friends.  I think family and friends and the church and school.  You know and I think it's family, church, and school were the main things.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: Explain that-

Clara Gilbertson Perry: As far as the family I felt very comfortable and I think they, that community was very open to all the people.  They accepted them just the way they were. And whether I went up to Betty's, to my good friend Betty's, or if I was out at Norma's everything was fine.  You know very comfortable and that's wonderful. 

The security there and they looked out for each other and then as far as the church we started in with the church activities when we were very, very young and that was such a big and important center for us.

And then the school I think the teachers were just wonderful. They had wonderful guidance and I felt that we were interested in learning and many of the farm kids who came in -- I know that they had to do chores you know before they came -- and yet you never heard them really griping about anything. 

It just was a happy situation all the way around. Didn't seem to be feuding or I didn't think there were jealousies. And we never worried about designer clothes. We just went to school and we studied.  We had a good life, really good life.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Times were simpler then?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh yes, absolutely, and I don't think we had as many things advertising and things thrown at us where we had wants, you know?  I think that we just looked for the goodness in people really and enjoyed each other. 

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: What about Everett taking your picture, and what do you remember about him?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I don't remember him. And I was kind of surprised when he did call up one time and said he had taken these pictures because there were so few people I don't even remember who had cameras. And I think he was just fortunate that he, he did have it and had an interest in it. But none of us had and our parents didn't have any cameras.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:  Is it important that he took pictures at that time?  What do you think he documented?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh I think it-- for one thing memories and what we can show our grandchildren. You know we probably tell them about it, but photos do reveal more than our words. And I think it's wonderful that he has done that and that the family has continued to put it in a book. And that they contacted all of these people where he had taken pictures of.

Some of those farm scenes like threshing crew, I appreciated that because I could show the grandchildren what it was like. They probably having been raised in the city have never thought about it or have seen it. So I think it's not only of interest to us but it's sort of an education to for our younger people.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Do you think it was typical of the times the photos are typical of that time?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Well I think so.  Absolutely because when we used to travel say with the basketball team to the different communities I felt that they were very similar.  So I, I think um yes I think you can still find some of those other buildings and things in those small communities.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Talk about the basketball photos.  What would you do on game days?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Of course it was an exciting time.  You'd probably wear your good luck ribbon in your hair or whatever it was. But it isn't any different than it is today, because there's certain excitement you're thinking about it, and you have a little pep rally before you go, and that would be in the assembly hall. And then you'd get on the bus or you'd have to car pool to these different places. And then we played the six -- you know the half court. and then the girls would play first and then at half time, the second half then the boys would be using the same dressing room and when we'd come we'd find our some of our clothes tied in knots but somehow or another then when we got dressed we kind got even with the boys and tied their clothes. So it was a fun time and we had a good, good team and we all got along.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   The trio friendship.  Tell me about your friendship and the music.

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Yes well I've met Betty ____ and her name is Betty ____ Nelson now and she lives in Texas.  I think I was about three and when our mothers met at the ladies aid in the Lutheran Church that's when we got acquainted and she lived very close.  I could cut across the yard and I’d be up there and Betty came from a family where there were nine kids.  So her mother would always welcome me in and if I'd -- she'd always have an extra plate at supper time in case I wanted to eat with them and she was a wonderful cook and she would cook volumes just for the kids you know and her brothers were like brothers to me because they would tease.  Just like brothers do and then Norma moved there and her dad was the pastor in the Lutheran Church and her mother was the one who really got the trio started and so he would bring us to the nursing homes and we'd would sing there for the patients and, and then many times for the church services and so forth.  So we had been in music for years and then Betty became a choir director and Norma was in music and then I'm still in a choir at our church. So music has been an important part of our lives.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   What are you doing in some of the photos? 

Clara Gilbertson Perry: That was in town and I think the, the where I was sitting I think at one time there had been a building there but I don't know if it was just taken down or if a fire took it down.  I don't know about that.  But I can remember that at that time he was taking pictures around town and he said would you want to have your picture taken.  I said oh sure that's fine.  You know but it surprised me that he hadn't developed them sooner and then all of the sudden now he'd call up and say I have some pictures of you and I was really surprised when I saw that.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Where you're a drum major?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Yes, yes.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   What was band like?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Well, they felt even for a small school there maybe some that would go on and be in a marching band and they should know a little bit about it and so there was a small band and marching band and so then the um, um they said who wants to be drum major and I thought well that's find I'll be glad to do it or I'll try and of course I don’t know if it was the baton or the whistle that was the most interesting but that's how we got started with the marching band and then we'd just go up town and march around and, and then come back and then there was an orchestra also that was in small school.  Very small but they tried their best yeah.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Do you remember as a teenager where you concerned about the war?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh yes I can remember my folks being very, very concerned and I can remember listening to the radio because there isn't any TV and it I think it bothered me because I saw how concerned they were.  And yet what we didn't know exactly what we were suppose to do but I think the feeling was well this is it and we'll, we'll help where we can.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Did you know men that did?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Yes two cousins, a three cousins went off and one went down over Germany.  He was a pilot and then the other two did survive.  They did come back and, and I don't think they were wounded or anything but yes they were all three cousins went.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Do you think life in Ridgeway at that moment was more innocent?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh yes, yes and you know even the experience of coming up here to the city on my own because in a small community when you walk down the street you say hello to everybody.  You know hi or how are you and it didn't make any difference who it was if it's a little kid or an older person.  You know you just said hello and it's one thing that I noticed right away when I walked down the street in Minneapolis nobody said hello. I didn't say hello but they were all strangers.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   How did things change for you as the country came to war?  Things that changed the community of Ridgeway.

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh okay let's see.  I think one of the things that affected the women I think they had to as far as stocking they had I think there was a book or something.  You had ration stamps or I cannot remember exactly but that was one of the things.  So we were very careful and if you got a run in them there was a little needle that you could repair it with you know ___ thread it back and then as far as some of the -- I think grocery items.  I don't think we had as many coming into the stores.  Now I'm not quite sure about that but there was certain things that I know my parents would say well this we, we don't buy anymore.  With this we can't buy anymore.  So-

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Do you think we've changed as a nation?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Well I'm not sure.

I think small communities have had to make a big change too because I know that some ethnic groups have moved into smaller communities and it takes a little while to adjust to the different ways but I think that they have from what I have heard from and read in the papers and I think that in the city we certainly are experiencing that.  That there's different ethnic groups, different lifestyles.  I think the education system is different.  I think that when we were in small community you only had report card.  I think when you're in the city its conferences. So it's the little things like that that's different.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   People one on one.... Do you think that friends as family has changed?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I, I don't think it's close.  Now living in the city I think that your neighbors aren't as close like family and I think there gets to be a change.  You know people transfer or they move to a bigger house because of the family.  SO you don't have that many years of really growing together and but let's see what else could I say about that.  I think there's different religious groups.  Different denominations.  Certainly different schools now.  We have charter schools, we have the public schools, you have special schools, and that's one thing they didn't seem to have special education in that small community when I was growing up. And you worked things out.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: How was church important?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I felt that, that had quite a stable influence on the young people and I think the activities centered around that. Whether it was the Sunday school or the programs that they had but it was such an important part of our lives and the churches still exist.  You know it's surprising how many churches are in that small community.  At one time there was let's see one, two, three.  Three in town and then two out in the country and that's quite a few for that small community.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: What have we lost as a society?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I'm not sure if it's lost in the small community because maybe they still have that togetherness and they look out for each other.  I think that in where we live, we have our neighbors that we trust.  We still have to lock or doors because of security reasons but not because of the exact community or this area that we live in it's just a different way of life.  But I think that, now we've lived here for 50 years, and we do know our neighbors and I do know that we count on them if something does go wrong or if we need some help.  So it's still building kind of a community but it's not as large as Ridgeway.  You know it's fewer blocks. So, I can't say we've lost something but if you aren't there, don't live there for a very long time you, you need that time to build up a community.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: How do Everett’s photos depict what life was like then?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I think it's pretty true.  I think he's got a lot more photos that are not in that book and I think some of those farm scenes you know would be wonderful for our, for education.  For young people to see what they are and you know the many of the young boys had to leave school early in order to help out on the farm and I think they deserve a lot of credit because they were helping their parents and their family out and I think his photos are wonderful and I, I hope that you know you have a chance to see some of the other pictures that he took.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: What's it been like seeing yourself?  How have people responded to them?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Well I haven't show to our, our sons yet and the grandsons but they always seem to be interested because when they come here for Thanksgiving or Christmas we tell about a few things about what we did you know for Thanksgiving or Christmas when we were growing up.  And they seem to enjoy it.  So-

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: How do you think photos like these will help you explain what times were like?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I think when I show them the basketball pictures.  Well three grandsons in there are into sports I think they'll think oh grandma was in sports too. Kind of surprises them I think but I think they'll enjoy it and they'll look at the suits and they'll probably have a few comments about the suits that the guys wore and the football helmets because you know because that's important to them at this stage and they'll always ask about how were your grade because I always ask them that.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: How you dressed and how nice you dressed.  Tell me about what boys and girls wore. 

Clara Gilbertson Perry: We really didn't wear slacks going to school.  It was skirts and blouses and you know how they have designs on the shirts and things well for the girls one of the popular trends was you'd have a white blouse and then you'd get your friends to write their name in pencil and then what you would do is take it home and you'd embroidery the name.  So I, I had the white blouse for many, many years and it had the names of all your friends on this blouse and that was kind of a fashion trend and then it seemed like um, um always anklets and saddle shoes. And let's see what else?

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: How did you wear your hair?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I um I think and most of the time I wore it parted in the middle or just a little bit longer.  It wasn't real short and tried to have a ribbon and then my mother would always have to say would catch rainwater and wash the hair with the rainwater with vinegar rinse you know and then it was great.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: Boys - what would they wear?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: They would wear the I think, I don't think they had jeans.  I think some had overalls and I think some hard finished slacks and t just many times flannel shirts but overalls.... But in that photo I noticed most of them had just slacks and a shirt.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier: When you see these images, what do they make you think about?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: I guess my first reaction is thinking about my close friend Betty and Norma and then Bob McQueen because it was like the ones in town you know and then the kids that were from the farm and many of them were my cousins and we'd look forward to seeing them in fall when school started again but in summertime it was mostly in town.  But I think the close friendships that I had with Betty and Norma and I'm thankful that they're still alive.

Laurel Bower Burgmaier:   Families or school?

Clara Gilbertson Perry: Oh sure yes.  It brings back all those wonderful memories.  I think it's a wonderful time and place to grow up and it was very simple but the quality of life, it was a simplified life yes, but the quality was there for family and friends.


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