September 10, 2002
Hanson: This an interview with Chris Shovey of the San Bernardino City Library and the interview is being conducted on September 10, 2002 at the California Room at the Feldheym Library, and the interviewer is Joyce Hanson representing the San Bernardino Oral History Project at California State University, San Bernardino, California.
We're going to talk about your grandparents first and you were saying before I started the tape that they were really interesting. So, why don't you tell me something about them?
SHOVEY: My grandfather came from Germany, and he was a sailor on the big sailing ships that were bringing people over to America. He took two trips over here. He came here and then went back, and came here again and went back again and the third time he just got off the boat and didn't go back.
Hanson: What year was that?
SHOVEY: Oh, let's see, I don't know, in the 1850s, no it would be 1860, or maybe 1870's. When he came here after he jumped ship (laughing) he joined the army because that's what a lot of Germans did at that time. They would join the army because they were fed and clothed by the time they got to where they were going to be stationed, they had learned the English language. That was one of the things that I found out. And, he was sent to fight Indians down in Texas.
Let's see, anyway, eventually he got shot and, which paralyzed part of his arm, and they sent him to recuperate. They put him in a hospital for a while to get over his injuries and then he ended up in Pennsylvania. I think maybe the hospital was in Pennsylvania, but I was never able to find where the hospital was. But, anyway, he met my grandmother, her name was Christine Hess, and she had five or six sisters and she was the oldest one of the bunch. I suppose they would have called her a spinster, because when they married, my grandmother and grandfather, it was much later. And, they had one child, which was my father, and I think they took a trip back to Germany in 1903 maybe, to visit the parents. He learned to be a bookkeeper and worked in the Johnson City Chair Factory and I have a chair from the Johnson City chair factory. It was my grandmother's chair. [phone rings]
Hanson: So you're grandfather ended up in Pennsylvania and there he was a bookkeeper for a while, and how did he get to Los Angeles?
SHOVEY: Yes, well, I'm not sure the exact date that they came but they came to California. I think it was somewhere in the teens. You see, my father graduated 1912 from Airy High School, he and my, he and my mother were in sort of the same class in Airy High School but they weren't real close at that time but they graduated the same year and they came about the same time to California. My mother worked in a shipyard during World War I.
Hanson: She did? What did she do there?
SHOVEY: She was in the office. My father was here about the same time. We have some pictures where they went all over California you might say, especially Southern California. I have pictures of them and their friends and the old lady that lived down the street from my grandmother. They'd all put on their bathing costumes, with the long, the black legs, the black stockings and the little shoes and the big hats, and go down to the beach. We had some pictures of that. But, they liked California a lot. They settled here.
And, another interesting thing is that my grandmother loved to entertain and at that time, probably 1921, they had a lot of friends around and other relatives would come to visit and so she started a little club of ladies that met at her house. By this time, she lived in Los Angeles and they would meet and they'd share things and celebrate birthdays. I have a little notebook that she wrote what they did every time they'd have a meeting; she was secretary. It was maybe once a month, then she'd write who was there, whose birthday they celebrated. They kind of rounded up people from around the area. They found that my mother was living in Long Beach. She'd married before she married my father. His name was Middleton, and I don't know if she came to California with the Middleton's or what, but anyway, she was here living with the Middleton's. They were married one year. He died exactly one year from the day they were married in 1918 with the flu. He caught it one day and was dead the next.
Hanson: So he was part of the influenza epidemic?
SHOVEY: Yes, he had that influenza and then she had to cope with her mother-in-law. I have her diary, for maybe three years, of her coping with her mother-in-law. She always had a headache and she was always trying to what her mother-in-law said but when it came to telling her if she should go out with a group or date anybody, it was you just don't do that. So, that's, that's kind of funny. But anyway, I don't believe she belonged to this group. She and my dad were married 1923. He had gone to school, either a college or university, I'm not sure, and became a chemist and so was out here assaying chemicals and things, and he worked a couple different mines. In this picture, this particular mine he was working at the Zenda mine. When my mother and father got married they lived in a tent up at Zenda mine. That's around Bakersfield, the mountains, Greenhorn mountains. They lived in the tent up on the top of the mountain.
Hanson: That couldn't have been easy.
SHOVEY: No, but it's kind of neat I have pictures of their home, of the little tent. And it was one of these tents that had the sideboards up the side, and then the canvas top. I forget what they're called, but anyway I guess they survived the mountains.
Hanson: So when did they move to a regular house and where was that?
SHOVEY: Okay. My father's cousin, it was Christine Hess, had met and married a man, Henry Helmers was his name, that had just come over from Germany. He was a chemical engineer and he was asked to see if he could build up the plant out there in West End. When Henry was working on that my dad took a position that got them off the mountain, with the West End Chemical Company. Henry built it up and added things until the process worked so when it finally worked, well then, Henry had a job as superintendent. He ran the plant and my father was a chemist, and so they were out there in the desert pretty early as far as working in the plant. But, it was good he had a job there so that got them a little house next to the Helmer's house. And, then everything just kind of went along like that.
Hanson: Then you were born.
SHOVEY: I was born, Yes, in 1930 in August on my father's cousin Christine's birthday. Yes, so growing up on the desert was pretty neat.
Hanson: How so? Tell me about that.
SHOVEY: You had a lot of freedom; you could kind of wander around out there. In fact, my favorite thing was to climb the mountains. Well, they were small mountains, around Searles Lake. We'd go out, even when we were pretty young, I remember going out and sitting by the side of the road. They built a new road in rather than the little dinky one they had. It was a WPA project made the nice road and culverts and things like that. So, we used to go out and watch the cars go by. I remember one time this guy in a pick up truck stopped, reached into the back of his truck and brought out a big shovel and he was yelling at us to run, get up and run. We couldn't figure it out, but we ran. Here comes this guy running towards us with a shovel, and anyway, when all was said and done there was a sidewinder very close to us because we were sitting there together and here comes a snake.
Hanson: So, he was saving your life, not chasing you.
SHOVEY: Yes. He saved our lives. But that was life on the desert. We learned you don't step in the middle of a bush, because snakes don't like their belly being real hot, so they stayed in the bushes and you could hear them rattling. But, we didn't ever step on snakes. I've been on rocks teetering back and forth and I'd get off and a snake would crawl out from under just as mad as he could be because someone was squishing him. But, we had a great time out there in the desert. It was good for a kid growing up.
I remember I got real brave one time. That summer I was five years old and I'd learned how to swim and so I took my best friend whose his name was Tommy Dunne, he's now a professor up in Reed College in Oregon. (laughing) I was going to teach him how to swim. We had this big huge tank filled with fresh water and it was what we used as a swimming pool. There was a thing that was built under the water for the children's area that had railings around it and then the adult swimming was huge, deep. It was very deep, eight or nine feet or something like that. So, we wandered up there. Now, how I figured I could get away with it, I don't know. (laughing) I took my shorts off, left on my underwear, got in the water and was trying to coax him in, telling him how to swim, because I could do no wrong, after all I could swim. I wasn't going to drown. Yes, if he started to drown, I could save him. (laughing) Well, about that time somebody from the maintenance plant came up and check the water level or something on the tank and he saw us up there and said, "You guys are not supposed up here." So he chased us home, we had to go home.
Hanson: So, you didn't get to save Tommy.
SHOVEY: I didn't get to save him or even teach him to swim.
Hanson: Big disappointment at five.
SHOVEY: Well, he's still a friend. Occasionally we get together just tell each other what's been going on.
Hanson: You have on your little list there that you're mom was a clerk? She was a homemaker and a clerk?
SHOVEY: Yes, my father was the breadwinner in the house because he had a good job at the plant. She just cooked; her greatest joy in life was cooking, so she'd make cakes for bake sales, or if they had a contest she'd make a cake and she always won, because her cakes were from scratch. I mean she just love to cook. But I can't remember ever eating that much cake around the house, I think she gave it all away. Well, when my father had diabetes, he got it about 1920 or something. He had it very bad, and insulin wasn't very good at that time, and depending on how you gave the shot, what vein you hit, determined how it affected you and a lot of times he'd go into a diabetic, where you get too much insulin. It would get into his blood and then he'd act like a wild man. So my mother would have to make sure he was all right. It was just like he was raving drunk, but he wasn't, and then she'd pour syrup down his throat. Open his mouth and pour the syrup down and then he'd be okay, he'd come out of it. That's what he needed syrup. So, it was kind of difficult living like that. I think, I'm very kind of blasé about a lot of physical illness or if someone gets sick I sort of act like I don't care when I do care. You know, it was kind of hard, because it was like every day. You know, it seemed like that when I was a kid,
Yes, but my mother sure made good cakes. That was her main thing in life. My father passed away in 1945 and my mother in 1976. My mother remarried after he died and she married a guy that worked on the plant. He was something higher than someone who just shoveled stuff. (laughing) He ran some department in there and he was a nice guy. He treated my mother very well. In their later years, she became ill and he took very, very good care of her. She was very lucky to have him. I had five kids and trying to keep up with five kids, I couldn't be down in Newport where she lived. I couldn't be down there as much as I would've liked to. I just don't know what people do if they have a lot of kids and stuff and trying to take care of your parents when they get ill. It's very difficult.
Something now that might sound kind of silly, but I had no family. Christine Helmers and her husband had two children which were my cousins. There was Dorothy who was born with cataracts on her eyes and mentally not quite there. But she was a savant where she had an overly developed musical talent and all she had to do was hear it once and then she'd play it. But she was always taken care of later by somebody. And they [the Helmers] had a boy who was two years younger than me. His name was David and he died when he was nine years old. He caught something that was going around, the flu and he died. So I never had much family, and that was the family I knew, I mean other than my own family. And my mother and father just had me, so it was kind of lonely. So I always said, when I got married and started raising a family, it wasn't going to be just one child. So I ended up with five children and I'm so glad I did because I would have no family. Nothing, you know, because Christine died, and that was it. No family. So, I'm real happy with my family. Not everybody can raise their own descendants.
Hanson: Yes, five kids is a lot. I mean, I came from a family of six, so, I know.
SHOVEY: You know what it is. It's not that easy but I have nothing but wonderful memories and feelings about the kids. They fight and squabble and stuff. They still do, but they're just great.
Hanson: So, you lived out in the desert for most of your life.
SHOVEY: Yes. Well, it was my whole life because my mother went down to Long Beach to have me because she'd had a boy the year before that was born dead, so, she went down to Long Beach to have me and that turned out okay. But they had a doctor out there at that time in Ransburg.
Hanson: I never heard of these places.
SHOVEY: It was a mining town out there and they had a lot of people and they had a doctor because of a lot of miners out there. Trona didn't have a doctor, they used a house or something for a hospital and then took them to Ransburg if someone had an accident or something. But, it was much later, when I was a little, little kid, I remember, we had a doctor named Dr. Denton and he would come and he'd make house calls if you were sick. He'd give you a pink pill.
Hanson: Always a pink pill.
SHOVEY: Always a little pink pill.
Hanson: Whether it did anything or not.
SHOVEY: Yes, he'd help you. Of course, they had no antibiotics cause if they'd only had antibiotics when my cousin died in 1941 the public didn't get anything like that. I guess they had sulfas but they didn't have it for the people, so he may have lived. Everybody got sick with that bug that was going around, not real sure what it was but it was some kind of a nasty thing.
Hanson: So, how did you meet your husband?
SHOVEY: Well, his sister and I were in school together. His family had moved up. His father was sheriff of like three counties and he was also constable of Trona. Trona is in the corner of three counties. You go a little bit north, and there's one, and this way, there's another one, and back over this way is another one, so there's like three counties. So he was sheriff of three counties at that time. And, his son, Marvin, had moved out there to work in one of the plants. Lillian, his sister, came over one day. They contacted her about singing in some kind of a show. Some big director from Hollywood, no doubt, had come to direct this show. It was a little stage show that they were putting on. So Lillian knew I sang, and she gathered us all together and Marvin, who I later married, he sang too; beautiful voice. Just wonderful and he'd had some training in school in Redlands where he went to school. And, so that's, she got me together with him.
End of side 1
Hanson: So you were singing a love duet before we flipped the tape.
SHOVEY: Yes, and so then he just asked me out and we just started going out every once in a while. He a nice looking man, he was a big red head, and he had a beautiful voice. I'd grown up with music. My father was a pianist and he'd been playing piano since he was a little guy in Pennsylvania. He was church organist when he was going to high school in Pennsylvania. So, I always grew up with music, I always grew up with singing around. I was just a little kid, I don't know how old I was, but I was probably six, maybe seven, my dad put me in one of his shows. He liked to put on shows, so I remember singing Marie O'Leana or whatever was playing. That's my claim to fame. My cousin Christine played the piano, and when the family would get together, that's what we'd do in the evening. And then Christine was also a part a trio of women that lived in West End and had beautiful voices and they'd sing for this or that. So, he'd arrange music, he even had a band at one time.
Hanson: Very musical family.
SHOVEY: Yes, so that just kind of went on. It's still going on. My daughter sings, her daughter sings. And looks like the little ones are going to sing, too. They're singing already, and my granddaughter went to Cal State Long Beach. Got a musical degree. She's teaching music in the schools. So that's worked out great for her. It was something she really liked to do.
Hanson: Tell me how you got from Trona to San Bernardino.
SHOVEY: I had two children, my son was born in 1949 and my daughter was born in 1951. She was pretty little, well, maybe a year old, when he [Marvin] got a job with the county; a heavy duty mechanic. He took the job. It was out in San Bernardino Avenue, way out there. So, that's how we got there. The house [we first lived in] was something else. It had bare floors. They never put top floors on it so it was kind of raggedy wood. We put linoleum over it in some of the rooms. But it was okay until things started crawling out of the holes that went down.
But that, that was a new experience though, because I had a big garden, always had vegetables growing and stuff. Oh, good, good soil over there and I had Donny when we lived there. It was just kind of nice. About that time, my husband's aunt said if you'd like to do something, go to school, or do something in the evenings, that she'd be glad to come over and baby-sit. It wasn't just her, she'd bring her husband over, too, to watch the little kids. And, so we auditioned for the Civic Light Opera and both got accepted and so we had a couple years of singing in the Civic Light Opera, which was really fun. It was really fun.
Hanson: I imagine so. It must have been a high point for someone who's been singing for so long.
SHOVEY: Well, it, it was, it was nice. And my husband got a little more than just singing in the chorus, he'd get a little role. If they had a policeman or sheriff or something, he'd get that because he was big, (laughing) and they'd, just give him a billy club and boy, he'd look the part. But he did well he should have done something with that because of his voice but he didn't. So, that was, that was a real good time. That was fun.
Hanson: Tell me more about it.
SHOVEY: Well, let's see, we did Oklahoma, and Carousel and the Mississippi one with the steamboat. Oh, Showboat was the name. But, it was really a lot of fun and neat to do that and they always had some very good singers that would come, the ones that go from show to show. And, they'd come and sing and so it was kind of neat meeting some of the other people and the dancers. The lady dancer, this beautiful black dancer my goodness! Then she took off her shoes and, 'Oh my feet hurt!' and she'd have these big sores on her feet from dancing. You know, they rubbed their toes, but that was an awakening for me, I never wanted to be a dancer.
But, it was neat singing in the choir, or the chorus of the shows and things like that. You dance and there'd be a group singing, and you'd get in the little group of singers that were doing something or other.
Hanson: Was there a lot of rehearsal time involved?
SHOVEY: Oh yes, yes. It started out with one night a week. It was through the school system and you practiced one night, that was just getting to know the music and stuff. Later on, before the show it was everyday, every evening. It wasn't during the day, people worked, but it was every evening.
Hanson: How long would the shows be on? I mean, would you do the same show for a certain number of weeks?
SHOVEY: Yes, well, no, it was just, let's see, was it two weekends or, I'm not sure then because for so many years I went to the Civic Light Opera when I wasn't in it, and I can't remember. They had a lot of weekend shows later, a lot of weekends. But they're back now I think to just a couple of weekends, but it was neat. It was real, real exciting and the kids loved it. They got to go to the rehearsal, the dress rehearsal. That was always neat for them to see their mom and pop up there. It was also good for the family because you were doing other things.
Hanson: Anything else you were involved in back then?
SHOVEY: Well, I sang in some choirs around town, they'd want somebody to sing a special Christmas choir or something. That was kind of neat, and I did sing in a few church choirs, and that was about it. Later on we didn't have time.
Hanson: Well, five children. Not a lot of time left after that!
SHOVEY: No, that, it was neat to do, it was so glad I got to do that.
Hanson: So, tell me about how you got started working for the library?
SHOVEY: Oh, working for the library, my goodness! Let's see, my husband left and I went looking for a job.
Hanson: He left how?
SHOVEY: Well, he decided he'd rather be with a girlfriend than with me. So, one day he says, "I'll show you how the other people live." I just decided if he didn't want me I didn't want him so I put down an ultimatum one day and he didn't abide by my ultimatums. The next time I had everything on the front lawn, all his personal things so he could go do what he wanted to do. That's, that's the way it was, so I finally decided and I was never sorry I did it. It was hard and it was hard in deciding if that was the right thing that I did for the kids, but I think it was because there was no more arguing or fighting. It was better for them. And I went back to school to brush up on typing and stuff like that, I'd had when I went to high school. And, I'd worked in concession stands, done all this stuff for all these different organizations, there was Quarter Midget Association, and the baseball stuff, and you work in the concessions stands, you do this and this and this; but it really doesn't count.
Hanson: It's work, but no one counts it as work. They think you're doing it out of the goodness of your heart. It's just volunteer so it doesn't really count.
SHOVEY: Yes, and I kept tally of when people were into these classes, it was good for me. It was real good for me because I decided to go back to school, and I liked that and that I really wasn't as dumb as I what I figured I was. You know you have teachers in high school that are terrible to you, and you're not a jock because everybody that they liked were jocks, or they were somebody important in the plant or something like that, and when you did go up and argue about a grade or something, and they'd say, "Oh, you're not going to school. You're father died, your mother can't send you to school." So, I thought, well, okay. So, but by golly then I could go do something else and learn what I hadn't learned. So that started me in going back to school. Just that, working on my typing and stuff like that. And then I went over to the employment office and I asked them, "How can I get a job if I've never worked" except, you know volunteer stuff. And they said, "Well, you can come and volunteer if you want. You can see how we run the office and stuff like that and we'll help you get a job." Okay, so I played their game for a while and we got to look at some of the jobs coming in and a job came in. They were looking for someone for the library and all they had to do was type and graduated from high school and all this good stuff, so I applied and I got the job and my first job was at the Rowe Branch Library and I started May 15, 1969, was my first day of work.
Hanson: You remember.
SHOVEY: And it had benefits, sick leave and all that stuff, which was good. So I just found my niche. It was a little hard getting used to but it didn't take too long to figure out. If I'd seen something once I could remember I'd seen it, so you asked do we have this book? Oh yes, we've got that, see if it's on the shelf. You find things out that you didn't know you have. And, so, about that time I started classes at Valley [San Bernardino Valley College]. Scared me to death, I thought I'll never be able to do college work after all they said I was so dumb. I got over there and I studied and studied and took one class like an art class, and then I branched out and I took something else that I needed to have, and then something else, and then I was taking two classes but I was taking one art class and then one something else. So I had umpteen thousand units of art, other than that some poetry, and this and that, child psychology, and it just went from one thing to another until I got ready to get ready to get out of Valley College. I had a 3.75 grade point average. I really did and that pleased me no end.
Hanson: You must have been very proud. You have every right to be proud, a single mom, five kids.
SHOVEY: Raising my kids and doing all of that. I've always said that you can do it. For a while I was on welfare because he [Marvin] wouldn't give me any money, and he had everything hid someplace, so he was ordered to pay ten dollars a month child support.
Hanson: For five children?
SHOVEY: Five children, Yes. So, but, I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it.
Hanson: Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
SHOVEY: And, I'll tell everybody. I've spoken to different bunches telling them about you don't have to stay like this, you don't have to do it, you can use your initiative to do something, you just can. And a lot of people have done that, have gone back to school and done well. It's helped me with my job here at the library, because I was very kind of timid about trying for anything more than what I had. I was just kind of hanging on to my job and was afraid to kind of try anything else or take another test. It just scared me to death you know, because I've got this, I've got this, I've got a living.
So finally I got be a better clerk than just a junior clerk, and go up that way and eventually they had a junior librarian position open and I took it. That's what I retired with. Well, when you put in thirty years with a library, you've done everything. I've cataloged; I've run the computer to catalog, everything, children's work. For years I was a children's librarian; storytimes, puppet shows, all kinds of stuff like that so I figure I've been through everything. Then you work at Rowe and I ran a little branch all by myself for a while, You'd have to do reference questions too.
Hanson: Which one was that?
SHOVEY: That was out in Lytle Creek Park. It was called Lawson Library. That was an experience; it was a good experience. Not a real good neighborhood but it was okay because every time I'd hear sirens and helicopters flying around, I'd lock the doors. (laughing) If I really got scared I'd go in the other room and lock that door. You cope. Well, nothing terrible happened, they eventually closed that. They wanted to build another one over on Mount Vernon, or Mountain View, on the west side. I finally got back. Let's see, what did I do? Oh, I then worked down on the bottom floor in periodicals for a while and half time periodicals and half time in tech services upstairs, which was very good experience.
Hanson: What did you do in tech services?
SHOVEY: Well, oh my goodness, books that come in, you catalog and books that are to be discarded there is a process you go through and you discard them. Then that worked into ordering children's books because they didn't have anybody that was ordering children's books. So you do the job that no one else wants. But that was real good experience for me to do the children's work and go to the meeting and things like that. Get to know what other librarians were doing and stuff like that. So, that's what I did, but I really liked the ordering of children's books because they didn't know that they wanted. They'd, they'd get together and then they wouldn't decide what they wanted, see there were other people involved in the branches so they didn't know what they wanted. Instead of saying, "This is a good book, we're ordering it for everybody" and then it was done. You ordered it for everybody and then no one could come back three months later and say, "I want this book." "Well, we just ordered it before", but you didn't'! But anyway, we got that straightened out. (laughing) So, then I moved down here into cataloging, oh, when I went up to Rowe, I did all the children's programming, all that stuff, then I came back down to this library [main branch] and went for tech services and I enjoyed that, too. I liked to catalog and stuff but lots of stuff to do over there, and far too many people hate it because you're kind of on your own. If you're going to work, you're going to work, if you don't, you don't. Ellen put out a review every year and she put down how many things that I had done. It was amazing how much that I had done.
Hanson: You don't realize how much you do until you see it laid out.
SHOVEY: Yes, you don't, I've never been one to sort of sit by the way side. I do more sitting by the wayside this year than I think I've ever done. Of course, when a question comes in, and I'm up and at it and I'm not doing so much of the other stuff here. When I retired, I feel that those people needed to do the work that I had done, which they couldn't. And, it ended up that I came back and volunteered because there was a lot of stuff that they didn't do. I wanted those people to take control. I also wanted the genealogy group to start doing more. They take the history person away, and then they don't want to learn it. I had that trouble for several years; trying to get them to get interested in the collection over here to be able to find something for somebody and at least learn the Dewey decimal system. Yes, it's kind of a have to if you're going to work here, you need to do it. It's taken a long time to get. Some of them are pretty good librarians now; they've worked at what they're supposed to do. And it's easier. And then I told them, I said, "If you get stuck, call me at home if I'm not here." And they do. "Where is this...?" So, I'm kind of easing off but sometimes it's very difficult to ease off because some things need to be done a certain way. I'm still a librarian, and some things, like titles to things need to be close if not exact to the Library of Congress headings and they don't understand that and they put dumb headings on things. We put it under this and this and this; four titles to get to it.
Hanson: We're almost out of tape. Our hour is almost up. So, what we're going to do is end here. Thank you Chris.