Gladys Evans: I’m Gladys Ellen Wimberley Evans, G-L-A-D-Y-S E-L-L-E-N W-I-M-B-E-R-L-Y E-V-A-N-S.
Kelly: Terrific. Okay, now if you could start with telling us, you know, where you were born and raised and how you got to Oak Ridge.
Evans: All right, well, I was raised in Sweetwater, Tennessee, which is about fifty miles from here, and my first knowing about this plant was that there were some men that were dropped off in our town and come in to a café there. And when I was there, they came in and they had muddy boots up to their knees. And that was unusual, in the town, for people to come in with muddy boots, especially mud on them.
So I got brave enough to go over and sit close to where they were because I was curious. There may have been five of six of them, and I was curious as to where they worked. And I stayed there long enough to hear the words “Black Oak Ridge,” and that’s what Oak Ridge was called when I first learned about it. And then they dropped the “Black” and now it’s just called “Oak Ridge.”
But I also learned later that it was a war plant that helped to make the war faster won, and I was interested in that. I worked at Wright Hardware after school and also after I graduated. And so then I decided to hire on up here. And I first came to Oak Ridge in January of ’44, and it was such a bad experience.
I came in—we had gates every entrance to Oak Ridge. We had, I don’t know how many, three or four, and they would be tall gates. And I came in to what was called “Elza gate.” And I got inside the gate and there was nothing but mud everywhere, and green Army trucks, and vehicles, and soldiers, and that was just inside the gate. And I told them I wanted to hire on here.
And they pointed to a little shack—it looked like about ten by twelve or eight by ten or something—and they said, “Go over there. They’ll take your information.” Well I just stood there a minute and decided I didn’t want to work here, so I went back home and stayed ‘til March of ’44, and then I came up and stayed then.
I worked at Y-12. And I first hired in the personnel office, and then decided I’d go to Records because you got a little more money if you worked—I think it was five cents an hour—if you were a shift worker. So I went to Records and that was taken care of, and Records was running a comptometer. And those are not in use now. This is just something that you added up the production for the day. And then I went from there to production, and that’s when I worked on the cubicle.
But then I married my husband. I met him in the training session rooms—and we called it, then, “The Bullpen,” because all you did was just stay in there, more or less, and they gave you little tests and stuff all the time and talked to you mostly about security. And you were almost frightened when you left there, because of the security things.
You couldn’t talk. You couldn’t say anything to anybody about where you worked, what building, when you left the plant. In fact, there were huge banners up all over the plant: “When you leave here what you see here stays here.” And you weren’t allowed to tell even anybody, somebody worked on the same thing you did.
And I worked on what was called “cubicles.” We didn’t know that word then, and I think it’s called something else now, but that’s where you put out production.
The one thing that just intrigued me—they had these three monkeys: “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.” And I’ve always thought those were real cute. But a $10,000 fine listed under each thing if they caught you. That, and jail; $10,000 and jail. $10,000 to me then was like a million now, I guess.
But anyway, I worked ‘til the plants closed. And I married my husband in December and I moved from the dormitory to the flat-top [house]. Now I commuted from March until August, and that was so rough on me.
We had to ride these buses. They were big old Army buses in dark green. I think it’s called “marine green” or something like that, “army green.” But anyway, they stopped at every—anybody standing on a highway between Sweetwater and Oak Ridge at the time this bus went by, the bus stopped for them. It was like a milk route run. So we would be one and a half or two hours, three sometimes, getting to Oak Ridge, and that was a lot of hours out of my day.
But anyway, in August I came up here and lived in a dormitory, and that was another experience. I’d been to my grandmother’s house and I’d been to my sister’s house and spent the night, but I’d never been away from home. So that night I moved into my dormitory room, which—it wasn’t a three quarter bed. It was a half bed. It was the smallest bed I’d ever seen. But there was two in the room. Each of us had a bed, a desk, a lamp, what I call a stick chair—just a straight chair—and one chest of drawers.
But there was a lady sleeping in the other bed, and that kind of bothered me because I’d never gone to sleep with a stranger in my room. But I soon adjusted to her and that didn’t bother me anymore.
Now, my cousin—no, my friend came up and I eventually got a room with her. And she did the same thing I did, but we weren’t allowed to—we didn’t talk to each other about anything we did. To the best of my knowledge, no one talked to anybody about what they did in the plant. But I learned that you didn’t know who secret service was, and that was a frightening thing to me.
We stayed in the one-bedroom flat-top [house], which was small, and my sister had decided to come up, so she stayed with us and slept on the couch in that little room. That little flat-top was about as half as big as this room, the total. So we moved to “E-2”, which meant a two-bedroom. So we stayed there, and my other sister came up then and she stayed with us.
But the life here in Oak Ridge was—I didn’t have any time in Oak Ridge the first six months because I was on the road or working. But, after I came up here, I learned that, of course, I should see more of my husband that way—well, he was my boyfriend at the time. But they had tennis court dances and we loved that, and there was ball games.
The thing about Roosevelt that was nice during the war was, he promoted sports. He promoted entertainment, it seems, because we had that. And I do feel a big debt to the German nuclear scientists that came over here because, if they hadn’t come over here and helped us build a bomb—Germany was already two years ahead of us—if they hadn’t helped us do the bomb, we couldn’t have won the war. They came over here and they told Einstein, Einstein alerted President Roosevelt, and he gave the okay for the Manhattan Project.
And then General Groves was a fantastic man. I’ve heard, and I don’t know, but I’ve heard that anytime he saw any truck on the road carrying lumber, carrying anything that Y-12—not Y-12, but the Manhattan Project—could use, he steered them to this project in order to get it. He was a unique man.
Roosevelt chose him because he built the Pentagon in record time and record monies. You know, he didn’t go over the budget, and that’s the reason why he was chosen. Well, I read this in a bulletin from Washington, D.C., that that’s the reason why he chose that. I have two sisters that live up there now, so they’re keeping me informed on lots of stuff up there.
But anyway, the dances were wonderful, and they always crowned a queen. And some, maybe a superintendent or a plant manager or something, would crown the queen each time. So that was kind of interesting, who would be bidding for the queen, what you’d call the tennis court queen.
Kelly: So were you ever the tennis court queen?
Evans: Oh no, I didn’t apply for it. I mean you had to, I guess, apply for it. I don’t know how they got it. I wasn’t interested. I had just met my husband and I was just interested in him mostly. And, of course, we were working six or seven days a week all the time, around the clock. We’d get off—I think every twenty-eight days we got something special off, but never more than a day or two.
Of course, we were all young. And we had—our cafeterias were open. They were all over town, and, in any section, you had a cafeteria. And they were huge, and they were open all night long because people were out all night long. There was no day and night then. It was just all people working and getting off.
And the way I got to see my husband would be—or my boyfriend, at the time, which turned into my husband—I’d go home off of one shift. We wouldn’t be on the same shifts, and I’d go home and take a nap. So we spent a lot of time dating on the skating rink, and that was one thing that we could do. The tennis court things were something that happened maybe once a week or something, but the skating was every night, and we skated all night long.
Kelly: Okay, why don’t you tell me a little bit about the security? You mentioned that you didn’t know who the security—
Evans: You didn’t know if you were dating the security man. Well, you want me to wait. Are you ready to go now?
Evans: Well, the security was so tight, and you didn’t know who was a security person. In fact, my husband was and I didn’t know it until these later years. And, of course, he could turn me in, which is a nice idea. Of course, there was no way I was going to do anything to be turned in.
But we lived by a neighbor in the “E” apartments. They had an E-1, we had an E-2, and he was one of the—I imagine he was considered a high security because he was Army; he dressed in Army clothes. I think it was Army clothes. I don’t know for sure, but he was up from one of the services, and they would give him a check, and his checks were not true what he received at the plant; had to be exchanged for another check. Somehow, secretly, he did this.
Now, I learned this after they left Oak Ridge. They left Oak Ridge and went north. I’ve been trying to think of their name but it fails me. Anyway, I was surprised at such a high-powered—at the time, of course, I didn’t know my husband was one of these on the side, little bit of one, but he was negative considered [inaudible]. I guess they had everybody reporting on everybody. I don’t know. They didn’t ask me to report on anybody.
But anyway, the security was real tight. It was extremely tight. And you didn’t hear anybody talking to anybody. You couldn’t say which building you were in. I don’t think you even said—if you worked in Y-12, you couldn’t say you worked in Y-12. You would have to say you worked for the government or something. I don’t know what we’d say. But a lot of people worked outside of Y-12, of course, in stores and things. But, anyway, it was very—we were really security-minded.
Kelly: Now, tell me about the cubicle, you know, that you had been in. You weren’t told what it was, and so forth?
Evans: Well, when I went to work in production, I was working on a cubicle. And you had a board that stood about ten feet tall, a machine-type thing, on this kind of like a board, and it had lots of gauges on it. And you had to turn these gauges constantly. You were trying to raise a needle. The gauge would be about three inches, no, about two and a half inches around, and you’d have to try to raise a needle up to get the highest production that you could get.
But you couldn’t take it as high as you wanted to take it or the whole machine would pop off, and then you’d get a blue light, which was a high voltage light, and then that would get you a lot of attention from the foreman and the shift supervisor and everything else. But trying to keep that just below, trying to get as much production as you could out of it, and keep it just below popping off.
You had about, I don’t know, about four or six of these gauges that you were watching. And that was really a tedious thing, to try to keep that production up.
We were given, and we weren’t allowed to go anywhere—now we wore blue uniforms, and they were just shirt and pants. And then the chemical wore white. So we weren’t allowed to go out in the chemical—that’s just going out of one room into the other, almost, only these rooms are huge. You weren’t allowed to go in the other room or you’d be violating and you’d stick out like a sore thumb, a blue something in a white-uniformed place. And that’s where my husband worked, in the beginning.
But they let us go over—towards the end, before they dropped the bomb, they let us go over and see what we were making. So there’s a big—we called it the track—a big track, and we climbed upstairs and got up high, and peered into a little window, and we could see—I don’t know, I don’t think this is me violating—but we could see the production we were doing.
And of course, you know, it’s a magnetic field, and they told us to take all the bobby pins out of your hair before you go out there because it would yank your bobby pins out. But what production I was doing is what mystified me, because all it was—now, this is back in time—all it was, was a ray, something like, you go to the rainbow—a ray. And they called it the “F-ray” then. That’s the only thing we could say, “F-ray”.
But my granddaughter, the other day, said, “Oh, I know what that is.” Of course, evidently, she’s just a young girl. Evidently, she’s studying Dr. Dyson.
But anyway, of course, a lot of this stuff is not classified like that anymore. But anyway, I couldn’t imagine how that mist, that looked like a rainbow almost, in the little screen, could be making anything. But it was evidently collecting on something.
So that was the production and I was surprised. I thought, “I don’t see an object.” You know, I’m twenty years old. I don’t see an object. I don’t see something. I’m making it, out there in that big track, but it was a ray. All I got to see was a ray. And we only got to stay there about a minute because we couldn’t leave our machines.
We took turns watching each other’s machines. And we’d have a break in the morning. But when we went out there we had to get somebody to watch our machine. They watched theirs and ours. Cubicles, I’ll call them that now.
Kelly: Gosh. So were you told— how did they term—what term did they give you, when you were looking at those gauges, to get that needle way up? Did they tell you, you were producing in code? Did they give a codename?
Evans: They didn’t tell you anything. I mean, they didn’t tell you—I didn’t know. It was just like looking at them. The clock, say look at the face of a clock with one hand on it, and as you turned it, a hand could go up. You know, you had to watch the hand, and you just inched it up, just a hair at a time. I mean barely, barely, barely. And you had to get it up so far and you couldn’t go over that.
But the minute you went over it, it would pop off. Now you’ve got four or six gauges to work all back up, but if that blue light came on, that was the time that we would get a lot of attention because that was the high voltage blue light. I don’t know.
Kelly: So when that came you had these supervisors rushing to your cubicle? What happened?
Evans: Yes, we worked on a long track, a long hall, and there were cubicles solid on both sides, and we usually had a shift supervisor on that shift, and what they called a floor foreman.
And then there was a troubleshooter too. And he was constantly watching all the machines because if there’s somebody sitting there and just barely, you know, like they had a bad night the night before, and they just want to sit it out today and not do anything, they could just keep it at a certain level and not have to do a thing.
The only time that you made any issues for them is when your whole machine popped off and you couldn’t get it back. Now, you usually had a chance to get it back, but if you couldn’t get it back you had to call for them. But then if it went up too high and the high voltage went off, then that’s when you got extra help. I mean, they were concerned. It was just really—you didn’t want that to happen. So you made as much as you could, but you didn’t want to ever violate too much to pop off that blue light.
Kelly: How long did it take you to get a handle on this? I mean, did you have a couple of shake-down weeks where you weren’t so good at it?
Evans: Wait a minute, how long did what?
Kelly: How long did it take you to get it smoothly operating? Did it take you a while to learn how to jigger the dials just right, or was it pretty quick?
Evans: Well, it wasn’t hard for me to learn at all because, for some reason or other, when they told me what I had to, and I made a few—I guess I went cautiously because I didn’t want—you could get by with not doing much production, if you wanted to play that game with them.
But I was playing the challenging game. I wanted to get everything I could out of it. I was squeezing for everything I could get out of it. So when I went too high, you know, that’s when they would pop off. You’d have a pop and then the whole machine went down, and that’s when you had to start working it back up.
But if you didn’t get it up, I think that’s when the blue voltage came on. But you could come out of it, if you were serious about what you were doing, and it didn’t—I would say in not more than five minutes, you could get it right back on.
Kelly: Were you able to carry on a conversation with your cubicle-mate at the same time, or did you just concentrate the whole time?
Evans: It was concentration the whole time. You have—I don’t remember if it was about four or six of those gauges to watch. And when you’re—if it falls down any—and it’s calibrated, you know, it’s like seconds on the clock. It’s calibrated.
But if it fell off any, and you became—if you were aware of your mission, then you usually did one over here and one over there. And there’s about six feet between them. And then, unless you had trouble—and we were always helping each other, you know—and next door, the next door would come over in case you were in a bad.
But we just—I mean, it wasn’t hard to learn. If you want this needle to go up, and you control it, you’re in control, and you turn that little rayon thing about this big and I stood there—you know, this is what you did all night long, watching each gauge. And you just had to keep trying to squeeze more production out.
Kelly: Did they give you any recognition if you had a good week? Was there some way to—
Evans: Well, your recognition came from—since I worked in Records—your recognition came from Records. Now, they added your production. I mean, you put your production down, each hour I think it was, and then it was sent to Records. And Records, that’s where you do the comptometer. That’s what I did. I added up all the production on those cubicle things.
And, at the end, if you were low on production, I imagine the foreman or the superintendent would come see you. I don’t know. I never was visited there, so I don’t know, because I spent my time squeezing that thing for all it was worth.
Kelly: When did you know what was going on at Oak Ridge as a whole? What was the—I mean I’m assuming—maybe you could start with, “I didn’t know what the purpose was”—
Evans: Well, I knew—I guess I heard when I was back in Sweetwater that Black Oak Ridge was a war effort, just a war effort. And I wanted to do something for the war effort.
And I’d been working in the hardware. My boss, Homer Wright, the owner, he had built stair step bookcases in the big window, and all the people in the surrounding counties, and in the town, when their sons went away to war, they brought their pictures down. And it was my job to keep those pictures straightened up.
Now, they were mostly from the service and they were in cardboard folders, and the heat in that window would cause them to buckle, and I had to keep them straight. And then, if the boys got killed, their parents or grandparents would come in and get them—take the pictures out, which was real sad for me then because I was young. I was in high school, and it was real sad for me to have to go in there and get their picture and then give it to them. But I’ll have to say I’ve never seen such dignity in people in my life, when they picked up those pictures.
But that made me want to help in the war effort. I became so concerned with that.
And you asked me about when I found out for sure what—it came out in our town’s paper. And my husband, there was a shock in his life, because he kept preaching security to me. And I’m just a twenty-one year old, and he’s twenty years old, and I said, “Why, one day you’ll see this all printed in the paper.” I always knew that it’d be what it’s—what they’re doing. And, sure enough, there it was.
I think it was—I don’t know what year that was, but it must have been ’45, I guess, and there it was. We were living in a flat-top and there came that Oak Ridger—it wasn’t the Oak Ridger then, but the Oak Ridge Paper. The Oak Ridger didn’t get here ‘til ’49, when Dick Smyser became the most knowledgeable man in Oak Ridge, I guess. He’s deceased now, sadly.
But anyway, that’s when I learned that we were building an atomic bomb. But I didn’t know what an atomic bomb was! They announced in the plant—I knew something was happening when I worked in the plant, because there was—it seemed like, a big, high tension in people, in some of the higher supervision. I knew something, but I didn’t know what it was until we dropped the bomb. And when we dropped the bomb, was when I learned about it.
Kelly: So how’d you feel when you learned you had—
Evans: Well, it was kind of an eerie feeling because I didn’t know what it was. I knew it was a bomb, but we’d been bombing all through the war, and it was just another bomb to me. I didn’t that it was, what kind of bomb it was.
So when they said they dropped the bomb and it was what we were doing, I thought it had to be special. But I had no idea how huge it was. I’m twenty-one years old at this time, and you’re not told anything but what you have to know, and you don’t tell anybody anything that you know. You just didn’t do it.
And just even common conversations, you didn’t—in fact, occasionally, I think everything’s so free now, what they say, that I don’t think I could hardly operate in this world. I wish it was a little more, not quite so, people talking so much. But anyway, you have another question?
Kelly: Let’s see. People keep talking about flat-tops. Can you describe, what is a flat-top?
Evans: Well, a flat-top were prefabbed [prefabricated] houses they brought in their own trucks and set on stilts. And they were made out of plywood, inside and out. And they had—one whole side of my one-bedroom flat-top was huge windows. Now, what we needed that many windows in a little room—it was about from here over to there, is what it wass, I don’t know—and what they needed with all those windows? When I had to buy material to cover them—but you couldn’t buy material to cover them in Oak Ridge.
You couldn’t buy anything in Oak Ridge hardly but basic groceries. You had to go to Knoxville, and they didn’t want us over there. Our shoes were muddy. For a long time it’s nothing but boardwalk and knee-deep mud. And one of my treasured purchases, I found a pair of galoshes. I was so happy to get galoshes, because I didn’t have to go out with mud on my shoes.
But we had boardwalks, we didn’t have sidewalks. And the mud on the turnpike was about a foot deep, I think. We just walked in mud. But everybody was used to it here. But when we finally got the chance to go to Knoxville to buy stuff, they didn’t want you in their stores. Now, they’d look down at your shoes and almost turn their nose up at you. They’d like to ask you to leave, but they wouldn’t. But you usually, if you got over that, you just went to buy what you went for. You were independent enough for that.
But you could buy groceries, and of course we had a dress shop, I think, finally, and we could buy shoes. But it was ration time, so you could only have one pair of leather shoes a year. You got canvas otherwise. And that’s if you had a stamp for leather, you could get a leather shoe.
And that was a one-bedroom flat-top. Now they had two-bedroom flat-tops and they had three-bedroom flat-tops, but the top was just simply like a flat box. And there’s a bunch of them still here in Oak Ridge, but they put roofs on them, peaked roofs. Now they look better.
But it was a cold building, but we had a big Warm Morning heater inside. Yes, you know about Warm Morning heaters, do you? It’s a round stove, about three feet around, I think. And they had coal bins. Coal was filled up in our bins out front, out on the highway, I mean on the street. And you brought it in and put it in those stoves, and fired it up, and kept yourself pretty warm in the winter. But the stove was too big for the little house. But they only had one size, and they fit all.
Kelly: So where were the flattops?
Evans: Well they were all over the—they had all kinds of housing here. They had dormitories for single people, and they were everywhere, up and down the turnpike area. And then the flat-tops were usually where the turnpike is. It was above on the hill.
Most of the flat-tops were on hills, and then over towards, I guess—the Amber Valley was where the black people, a lot of them lived. And they had hutments, they had trailers, all kinds of trailers—now, trailers for the black—they had hutments where they lived several in a group.
And then there was a section over in that area that they had what they called “Victory cottages.” And it’s a step up between a flat-top and a cemesto, and white people lived there. That was the “Victory cottages.”
And, of course, the cemestos were the prime houses in Oak Ridge, the only ones, until more recent years, that people have built their own. But now, they were also kind of like the—you had one wall, and it was cemesto board, that separated you from outside, the big sheet of cemesto board. And the flat-top was a sheet of plywood, thin plywood. [Laughter.]
Kelly: So how did you keep—this stove really did the trick of keeping you warm?
Evans: Yes, well, you banked it. A lot of people that grew up with stoves at home, and what you do was, in fireplaces, you kept covered the coals at night. But all you did in the stove was, you just let it burn down to a certain point, and I don’t know what we did to keep it. We’d have to fire it again, I guess.
We’d have to put—we always had to carry the ashes, you know, from the stove, but they were coal ashes, not wood ashes. And I’m pretty sure they just furnished you the coal. You paid rent and the coal came with it. But you have two big coal bins outside, at the end of your sidewalk, which, I thought—when I first went to it, I thought, I can’t live in that house. It’s too small. It was so little, so many of them sitting right on the street, looked like shoe boxes to me.
Because there was a big family, of course, we always had a big house. We probably didn’t have any more room per person then. But that little thing sitting on the side of the hill, I couldn’t believe I could live in that thing. But you lived pretty good in it. It had a real small bathroom, a real small kitchen, and a bedroom, and when we first came up—we had gotten married down in Georgia.
His sisters lived in Chattanooga. We went down and stayed with them when we got married. And so we ended up buying our furniture there. But during the war, we didn’t think we were too young to have sense. To think nobody warned us; they wouldn’t bring our furniture up until they got a truckload coming to Oak Ridge. So we had to live six weeks without any furniture.
But I had bought a bed at the hardware, so we had a bed, and a neighbor of my sister’s that lived here loaned us a card table. And we just made do with a bed and card table and two chairs for six weeks. And they finally brought our furniture up. We didn’t realize. We didn’t know.
And then on D-Day, in Georgia, my husband had told them, everybody, I think, he worked with. He had sixty girls working for him at the time, and I think he told them all to come up; we were going to celebrate D-Day. We got home that night off the three to eleven shift. The yard was full of people on quilts, and they came to celebrate. We didn’t have any food in the house or anything to celebrate with, but we celebrated that night.
I was worried that my neighbors—she came down the next morning and asked me what was going on down there. And I said, “Well, it’s D-Day. We’re celebrating.”
And she said, “Well, I started to call the police on you but just decided not to.”
And I said, “Would have been all right. Go ahead any time I’m doing anything. I’m not going to do anything wrong. Any time you want to call the police on me, you go right ahead.” So anyways, she realized what was happening then, I think.
But I guess maybe they didn’t celebrate. But, you know, it was a big thing to me and to my husband. We’d won!
And I really feel real proud of working at Y-12. As far as I’m concerned, I just honestly feel, if those nuclear scientists hadn’t come over here—they knew what was happening to the Jewish people over there, and it was the reason why they came over here, they didn’t want Hitler to have the bomb.
And one of his last tricks he had up his sleeve was, on his last submarine that left Germany before he killed himself, he put all his atomic energy he had on a submarine and was shipping it to Japan, hoping that they would beat us at making a bomb. But we captured the submarine, and I think we took it out before it got to—we had, evidently, good security then, and intelligence, because they captured it, and I think it ended up northeast, in one of the ports up there. That’s the way we found out about it.
But Germany was fighting until Hitler quit and decided to kill himself, because they wanted Japan to beat us.
Kelly: Do you know any of the people—
Kelly: Now, we’re back on tape. Do you want to talk a little bit about anybody you knew, or how that made you feel about your participation at Oak Ridge in building the atomic bomb?
Evans: Well, everybody that I know—except if you are including some write-ups in the paper, I don’t know them, never saw them. You know, I think you probably know about—we have these protestors each time the bombs were dropped, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, we had protestors that march, but they’re brought in from all over everywhere. They’re not all just Oak Ridgers, by no means, none of them practically. Most of them, they just pick them up and bring them in to protest.
I don’t guess I know anybody that would be against us using the bomb or making the bomb. I don’t know of anyone, except people that write in papers, you know, like letters to the editor, but I don’t know them personally. Most of the people I know, we’re glad we won the war. We didn’t want to be governed by Germany or Japan.
And I do feel like it was necessary. I’d lived, and, as I say, had firsthand saw that a lot of the soldiers in around my town were killed. And, you know, we’d had so many killed already in this war against Germany that I didn’t want to lose another soldier. I just didn’t want to lose another soldier to invading Japan, and I think we’d have lost twice as many because, as you know, Japan was a stickler for not giving up.
Kelly: All right, are there any funny stories that you can think of?
Evans: You want me to go ahead and talk now?
Kelly: If we could stick with just the Manhattan Project for now and those experiences, or memories or funny stories or ironies or, you know, how you felt when you found out that your husband was involved in the secret service?
Evans: He was a part of it.
Well, when I came to Oak Ridge and I had to pay my rent, and didn’t have much money until I’d get a paycheck. And you get kind of low, you kind of live on coffee and doughnuts, but you can buy these easily because there were little stations everywhere, all over town, where you can buy them.
But what I would do, each payday, I’d buy myself a jar of peanut butter, a good-size jar, and boxes of crackers. I’d get a loaf of bread, and when I went home and came back they’d set me up with some jelly, and so I could manage to make it from one time to the other, to paycheck.
But one time I got so completely out of money, and my problem was, they always laughed at me—our dormitories were run like a, I think, like some of the dormitories in colleges now. You had a desk lady, and boys didn’t go past the desk. You had a living room kind of setting outside, and you could sit there and have your date if you wanted to.
But anyway, when I’d go through there, I’d have my peanut butter and crackers and stuff, and people would find out I had it. They’d come and eat up my peanut butter and crackers and sometimes I’d run out.
So one time I was out and had nothing left but two dried crusts of bread. And I also bought a jar of mustard because you can put mustard on bread and you can eat it as long as it’s not moldy. But I wanted something green so bad. You just wanted something green.
So I just went out in the yard around my dormitory and picked myself some greens, dandelions and mustard leaves and stuff, and made myself a fine sandwich. When I went back through the desk lady, I said, “I’ve been starving for greens and now I’ve got them.” But it was, you know, kind of in the spring. You know, there’s still stuff green out that time. But you didn’t have a lot of vegetable-type stuff that wasn’t cooked. And I got to wanting some greens so badly. But, anyway, I think that’s a story and then the—what was the others?
Martha: What about going home and the—
Evans: Oh yes, and you couldn’t get chocolate during the war and that’s one thing I really got to craving, is something chocolate. And so, you know, I tried to go home to Sweetwater, after I came up here to live, occasionally. We couldn’t go very often, on account of the way we worked. But you couldn’t buy anything but lemon pie. You could go to the cafeterias but they had lemon pie, lemon cake. You could get anything lemon-flavored but you’d never get anything chocolate.
So, when I went home, Georgia, my stepmother, had baked me a lemon cake to bring back with me. I liked it and it was great and it was something I didn’t have here. But Lord, I would have given anything for chocolate. But they were sending the chocolate, now, to the soldiers, and when I realized they were doing that I didn’t begrudge them a minute.
Kelly: That’s a great story. People will be able to relate to that. That’s a real sacrifice. [Laughter.] Chocaholics.
Evans: Well, it’s just, we were used to having chocolate cocoa and stuff, but you couldn’t buy any of that then. You’re in the war, pretty much, you bought necessities. You didn’t have money to buy anything else, but if you had money, you couldn’t get it anyway. But you could always buy peanut butter! Good ol’ Carter. [Laughter.] I guess his family had that peanut farm going, President Carter.
Kelly: Do you remember what kind of peanut butter it was?
Evans: I imagine JFG, about the only kind you could buy. I don’t know. Peter Pan is what I use now, and I’m still eating Peter Pan. But whatever they had is what I bought. You didn’t ask what kind; you asked for peanut butter.
Kelly: I just need to get a picture of it for the—
Evans: Well, JFG, I believe, was the company that made peanut butter, but I’m not sure of that, really.
Kelly: That’s great. So is there anything else that—
Evans: Can you think of anything Martha? I’ve told them so many stories.
Martha: You know, I remember you talking about the tennis court dances and talking about the secret service and stuff.
Evans: They felt like there’d be some violation of people talking. You know, there wasn’t much—this was a dry place, so there wasn’t any drinking. You know, I imagine some people might have drunk something, but there wasn’t that kind of loose-tongued stuff going on here, lot of drunken-type stuff.
But I wondered if some of the guys that I dated after I met my husband—I still was dating other people. What you would do, you would end up meeting at a cafeteria, and then, if it’s close to a tennis court, you’d go over to sit on the tennis court and talk, so you’d have some privacy. We’d call that sort of like a date.
And I wondered if some of those guys asked me over there to sit on that tennis court and see if I’d say anything. But I don’t know if I ever did say anything. But I’ve wondered if they—“Why don’t we go over and sit on the tennis court a while?” And there’d be other, probably—you had to be there to get a seat, always a popular place for young people to go and sit and talk on a date.
Kelly: In the dark?
Evans: In the dark. [Laughter.] In the dark. It was dark, but once you’re used to the night it’s not dark unless it’s black dark.