Isabel Carpenter Masland discusses growing up in the Two Mile House outside of Carlisle, Pennsylvania during World War II.
Mrs. Isabel (Carpenter) Masland was born on April 16, 1928,in Harrisburg Pennsylvania where her parents were also born. She has one older sister and during the war she moved to Two Mile House in Carlisle, six months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. During the war she attended Lamberton Junior High and went to Stewart Hall. She would later attend Syracuse College, Hood, Dexter, and Bloomsburg University. Mrs. Masland later married and had three children. Mrs. Masland is living in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Masland began the interview by describing what her life was like before the war and how she came to be living in Carlisle, in the Two Mile House, at the time of the war. She the discussed how daily life changed through her family’s participation in activities such as rationing, growing a victory garden, and raising animals for meat. She continued by describing how her family boarded soldiers and their families who were stationed at the Carlisle Barracks and the experience of living with men and women from different parts of the United States. She then described how she was in New York City on V-J Day and shared her impressions of the celebration. She ten discussed how her mother became ill and her father placed her in a boarding house for the remainder of the war. She concluded the interview by discussing how the hardships of the war had forced her to grow up and learn to take care of herself.
The following transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview that is available from the library of the Cumberland County Historical Society located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The project’s intent in transcribing the interview was to create a clean, readable text without sacrificing the original language of the interview. Because written English differs from spoken English, the project adopted conventions to deal with the variations. No words have been added or changed, and no changes have been made in grammar or sentence structure. Words or short phrases added to clarify the text always appear in brackets; longer explanations will be placed in footnotes. Likewise, descriptions of non-verbal signs, such as nods of the head to indicate agreement or disagreement, have been noted in brackets. In preparing the text, the transcriber omitted false starts and filler words such as “ you know” or “um.” The transcript does not include language from the interviewer that is purely procedural (such as references to turning over the tape) or language that repeats or rephrases a question. No attempt was made to preserve the dialect or pronunciation of the interviewee since the original tapes are available for those interested in those aspects of the interview. (based on the methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War II Oral History Project)
JE: Can you tell us a little about what your life was like before the war?
IM: Before the war, I actually lived in Harrisburg. I had a very carefree life as a little child and right before Pearl Harbor, about six months before we moved to Carlisle, the Two Mile House. So I was a stranger in town and I wasn’t really in town, I was out in the country. I had an older sister much older who was off in college at this time. Lets say I moved to Carlisle out in the country there with no friends, nothing. It was a very different existence from living in the city of Harrisburg. Where I had been where I had friends all around the block and a gang I played with and all that. To suddenly being transplanted out in the country. And the war years were very different; you were no longer a child the minute war hit.
JE: Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
IM: I was in the living room at Two Mile House. We had a radio, of course no television and I can remember us all sitting there glued to it and I think I realized that it was pretty serious. I was thirteen at the time and it did change our lives.
JE: How did you react to the news?
IM: I don’t think at thirteen I reacted much one way or another. It was kind of a wait and see.
JE: How did your community respond? Did they take an active role?
IM: I wasn’t part of the community at that time.
JE: That’s true. How did the war affect you and your family’s daily life? With things like rationing, victory gardens. Did you participate in those?
IM: We definitely participated. At that time I was at Two Mile House with my mother and father. My mother was not particularly well. My father was an engineer and quite quickly, he wasn’t drafted but he was commandeered to build army camps. So he was sent away a lot. He worked in Harrisburg so we had more of a gas allocation than many families. So gas wasn’t too much of a problem, I know it was for other people. We planted a huge victory garden and I learned very quickly how to garden. And I really thought it was quite a burden. Well to be out weeding everyday, I mean our garden was the size of a normal house plot, I guess in the city. We got five sheep and we would butcher meat once a year. All that was new to me. The meat rationing was kind of a jolt because we did not have meat everyday and I just assumed people had meat with every meal but we didn’t when the war came. I think teenage years you think of now, just disappeared. I had too much responsibility to have a normal childhood.
JE: Did your school become involved with the war effort?
IM: I don’t remember that at all. I went to Lamberton eighth and ninth grade I guess. I don’t remember anything like that. By tenth grade my mother was very ill and I was sent to boarding school.
JE: With the soldiers, what was it like having them living with you?
IM: Well that was interesting because there weren’t motels and places where they could go because they didn’t exist. And there was just a call that anyone, who could take in couples, would they offer bedroom space, etc. Could they come live with you and I think particularly because my mother was ill, my father saw, hey that’s good, because I was alone quite often. At thirteen in that house, alone for a week before your father came home for the weekend wasn’t really great and so he very quickly offered. I think we took in two couples at a time and I think if the man came without the wife he stayed at the Carlisle barracks. But where the wife was involved they were looking for homes. What was an experience was that these people were from all over the United States and we right away pooled the food situation and everything else. They only stayed six weeks, but in a sense they became part of our family. I think what blew me away was to be introduced to all these, I guess today we’d call them regional foods, which weren’t--the world just didn’t have these things. I can remember one family from Texas and of course we were very careful with the meat. We had some kind of meal that had gravy with it. I remember I was cleaning up afterwards and she said, “Oh, save the gravy.” Normally we threw out leftover gravy and so she packed it carefully in a bowl and said, “We’ll have gravy sandwiches tomorrow,” and I’m thinking “huh”? The next day she sliced the gravy like it was meat put a little mustard on two pieces of bread, and that was your sandwich. This was not how I was use to eating. I had peanut butter and jelly or real meat. But we had some pretty spicy foods from some of these people. I can remember the people from down South wanted their greens, their keel, and stuff like that, which we had never eaten, just because it wasn’t a common thing up here. From that standpoint it was very interesting. Some of them had accents so thick, I had trouble understanding because again we were not exposed to, nobody traveled that much, you didn’t have television so you weren’t hearing the Southern drawl or the twang from Texas. So all of it was very interesting, we enjoyed these people. I think particularly between the women. I talked to my sister, she was up visiting me this week, about what she remembered and she said she remembered all day long in the summer, the women were there with me or with her if she was home. We just had never had the experience, as youngsters of associating with women who were maybe thirty years old and just spending like a whole day after day with them. To us it was quite interesting.
JE: What did you and your family do for them? Were they involved in the cooking with you for the meals?
IM: Yes, we were a family of girl scouts. We kept a paper chart and the minute they came we said each family was responsible for food on this day, this day, or this day. If someone cooked the dinner then someone else cleaned up. I had my places, I was my family so to speak. There were times when I had to cook the meal or clean up, etc. But we divided all the chores, my father had insisted on that, he said you are not the maid to these people. They wouldn’t have wanted us to be. After dinner if my father was there, we were a family that sang a lot. He played the mandolin very well and we would just sit and sing songs. “She’ll be Coming over the Mountain,” that kind of stuff, but it kind of solidified all of us. I would say we kind of had a bathroom schedule because suddenly there were a lot more people using--there aren’t to many bathrooms in that house. But it worked out very well and I can’t say that there was any couple that we found difficult. They were all different, but they were all very cooperative and everyone was under a lot of stress. And that is a time to be very tactful and giving to others.
JE: With having these families stay, did you get more rationing stamps or did you work with what you had?
IM: We worked with what we had, but they had theirs. You handed over your ration stamps when you walked in the house. There would be a purse for money that we’d all put in maybe fifty dollars, I don’t know how much. And a purse of rationing stamps. They gave us their rationing stamps for the six-week period they were with us and we worked from that.
JE: Were there things that you and your family wanted to buy during the war but couldn’t because of the rationing and such?
IM: Let me just say I wasn’t aware of anything. It was much less of a consumer society than you girls are used to. I mean I made my own clothes even at that age. I sewed a lot, I’m not aware of being denied anything.
JE: With your victory garden, did you can your food then to save?
IM: I think we froze it but we didn’t have a freezer. There was one over here in Lemoyne and my father came by it to work. You walked in a big room and you had like a vault or a locker where you kept your food. It was for the whole community. I can remember preparing the things to freeze and he brought them in when he went to work.
JE: Did any of your family members participate in any war effort activities?
IM: Except for my father who built army camps as an engineer, he was still a civilian. One summer he was building an army camp in Greensboro and we spent the summer, I spent the summer up there with him. He was to old to be drafted because he was in World War I and I had no brothers.
JE: Do you remember V-E and V-J Day?
JE: Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that the war was over?
IM: I was in New York City. [smiles] I was at that point in boarding school and my roommate was from New York City and I had just gone after June say to visit with her. I can’t remember whether it was V-E or V-J which occurred in the summer. But the place was wild and I can remember we came out of a restaurant and the father said, “We will go directly home, you will not go out tonight.” So we very quickly got to their apartment and we weren’t allowed out. The next morning I was to take a train back to Carlisle [or] Harrisburg. I can remember he drove me to the station and there was all kinds of junk all over the street. A few people definitely still drunk and loitering. A very different scene then you would normally [see], New York was not bustling, everybody going to work. They were totally just celebrating.
JE: How do you think the war changed your life?
IM: Well I think it definitely took my teenage years, my carefree years away from me. But in return I think it made me a very responsible person. Who didn’t expect much in the way of carefreeness. I definitely learned, I was paying the household bills at fourteen. At one point in eighth or ninth grade probably before the soldiers came, my father realized my mother could not take care of me and I was taken into Carlisle. He found a boardinghouse which was all you had in those days. An old lady ran it and he rented me a room in her boardinghouse and I lived in a boardinghouse and got myself to school. Took care of my meals and every weekend I had to take my bicycle out to Two Mile House, pay the bills, check the house, do whatever was necessary. But I was not allowed to sleep there alone. I had to then come back to the boardinghouse and [I] mean that was lonely. I don’t care how you slice it when you’re new in town. I think I learned you do what you have to do and don’t bitch about it. After I had been with her several months and I had to walk downtown to some hamburger shop to get my meals. After I had been there several months, one of the girls in my class, Dorothy Strayer, would take me home for lunch because I could help her with her homework. After maybe three months one Saturday her father came marching into the boardinghouse and said, “Is she paid up to date?” and the woman said, “Oh yes.” He said, “Well here’s a note from her father, she’s coming live with us.” So I moved into a nice house and lived with them for the rest of the year until things gotten straighten out. I think those of us who lived through the war learned how to take care of ourselves. We learned that--not survive--I didn’t even feel it was a question of survival. But you don’t have to have three square meals a day, what you want to do has no importance, its what you have to do. I mean I didn’t want to not live at home with my family but there was no choice. At sixteen, I was driving, I had a car, and I took care of everything. I don’t think it hurt me one bit. It was probably extremely good for me. I think now or as I’ve grown older, I’ve just been so thankful that we didn’t lose anyone in the war we knew. There were people we knew, were so and so’s son, but no one we intimately knew. No one was lost in the war that we knew. I certainly appreciate how horrible war is and you do everything to avoid it. I think I’ve really been so thankful that from the time the war was over until now I have not been affected by a war. Our country has not been as severely affected by the Vietnam and Korean War as we were by World War II. I felt and I have felt that’s been very fortunate for everybody.
JE: With the people that lived at your house, did you ever keep in contact after they left?
IM: It wasn’t easy to keep into contact. Well we didn’t do long distance unless someone had died. Now you call all over the world and keep in contact. We didn’t have time, they were saying goodbye to their husbands and they were anxious to get back to their family wherever that was. We may have kept in contact for a year or so and again I was a thirteen-year-old child.
JE: The soldiers that stayed at your house, where did they stay in the house?
IM: We gave them each a bedroom, if you know that house at all, you
probably don’t but there’s four or five bedrooms on the second floor. There’s a little apartment over the kitchen. We gave them each a bedroom or a section and then the whole downstairs was open territory for everybody. There is a lot, a den, a huge living room, dining room, and another breakfast room and a huge kitchen and porches and thing. We were all over the place. They weren’t confined to a bedroom; they just all had a room where they slept. I think we took care of sheets and everything. They came with a suitcase.
[end of interview]