Hilda Laird

Does MPHS have photographs: No

Interviewer: Nancy Hank

Date of Interview:

Oral history text:

NANCY HANK: It’s October 11. We’re at the home of Hilda Laird in Mount Prospect. I’m Nancy Hank, the interviewer. I want to thank you for agreeing, Hilda, to be interviewed and for signing the release form. I’m going to ask you some of the biographical information. What is your full name?

LAIRD: My full name is Hilda Hutchinson Laird.

Q: Where were you born?

LAIRD: I was born in Jersey County, Illinois, which is about fifty miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.

Q: What year? Do you mind giving us that?

LAIRD: No, 1912.

Q: Who were your parents?

LAIRD: My father was Alban Hutchinson. My mother was Emma Hancock.

Q: And the grandparents?

LAIRD: My grandmother was Elizabeth –shall I say her maiden name?

Q: Yes.

LAIRD: Elizabeth Reyworth. That’s R-E-Y-W-O-R-T-H. My grandfather was William Hutchinson –no, I think it’s Charles. Sorry.

Q: Okay, Charles Hutchinson.

LAIRD: William’s my great-grandfather.

Q: When did you move to Mount Prospect?

LAIRD: In 1935.

Q: And I’ll put down your address. It’s 501 …

LAIRD: No, when I moved to Mount Prospect we bought a house at 312 South Wapella. We lived there until 1956.

Q: Okay, and your current address is …

LAIRD: 501 North Pine Street.

Q: How has Mount Prospect changed since you’ve lived here?

LAIRD: When we moved here in 1935, there were 1,200 people in the village and we lived in the 300 block of Wapella, and we were the only built-up block in that side of town, and we had lots of children there. In fact, it was called “incubator alley.”

Q: What did you know about Mount Prospect before you came here?

LAIRD: I really didn’t know much. We had come out to rent a house because friends had lived here, so when we came out to rent a house, Mr. Besander –we stopped at his office and instead of showing us a house to rent, he showed us a house to buy. So we considered the house, came out once again and bought the house at 312 Wapella.

Q: What are some of the events you remember happening in the village?

LAIRD: I really can’t remember. Actually, you know, the village was so small and we had lived in Evanston prior to moving to Mount Prospect, so we went back to Evanston to the doctors, most of the shopping. It takes a while before you get used to this little town. I think there was only two store –Meeske’s and Busse’s. Meeske’s were on Main Street and Busse was over near Van Driel’s.

Q: Do you remember any of the parades or other things that happened in the early days?

LAIRD: I don’t remember any parades.

Q: Okay. What do you feel are the landmarks in the community?

LAIRD: Well, the little schoolhouse is here at the Episcopal church now. That used to be at the comer of 83 and Central Road. Really I think the library now is on that site. I think the library was started after we moved to Mount Prospect. I think Frank Eringer was the first librarian, and of course it was in a little, tiny brick building at the comer of 83 and Busse, I think it is.

Q: What do you remember most about shopping downtown other than the two stores that we…

LAIRD: Well, there was a little general store next to Meeske’s, and after that I think there was a dry goods store over in the block where Keefer’s Pharmacy is now. But the little store was owned by Mr. Kenning and he had –well, Landex owned it first. In fact, I’ve still got a little flour sieve that they gave at one time for some reason. I don’t even remember.

Q: Do you still use the flour sieve?

LAIRD: Yes, still use the flour sieve, and I think it has their name still on it. Then the grocery store was Meeske’s, and it is now where the Japanese restaurant is. You could call up and order your groceries.

Q: That’s where you did your grocery shopping?

LAIRD: Yes.

Q: At Meeske’s. Okay, and how about clothes and shoes?

LAIRD: We went to Evanston for clothes and shoes. After a few years then we went to Des Plaines and Speigler’s and Brown’s department stores.

Q: And Brown’s is still in Des Plaines, isn’t it?

LAIRD: Yes. Speigler’s was. ..

Q: Yes.

LAIRD: I don’t know if it still is.

Q: I think it’s in the mall. I think they went out of business.

LAIRD: I think they did too.

Q: How about for hardware items? Do you remember where you shopped for those?

LAIRD: Oh, Busse-Biermann. Mr. Biermann was the most wonderful man in the whole world.

Q: Is that B-E-E-R?

LAIRD: B-I-E-R.

Q: B-I-E-R-M-A-N-N.

LAIRD: Frank Biermann.

Q: Okay.

LAIRD: He also at one time was the fire chief, I think.

Q: I see. How about things like farm equipment and supplies, meaning — I don’t know if you used farm equipment necessarily, but I would think maybe even lawn mowers and so on.

LAIRD: Well, of course, we had a push lawn mover. At least, we only had a push lawn mower. Another thing we had was a coal furnace.

Q: Okay, so how about coal?

LAIRD: Mr. Wolf owned the coal –at least that’s who we bought coal from. I think Wille also had a coal company, but there was a Mr. Wolf, and I believe his home was across from the water tower, what was also one time the post office.

Q: How about your cars?

LAIRD: When we moved here we had a Chevrolet.

Q: Where do you remember buying that?

LAIRD: In Evanston.

Q: And how about medicine?

LAIRD: I suppose if I remember right I think Burda Pharmacy was. ..

Q: And that was B-U-R-D-A?

LAIRD: B-U-R-D-A.

LAIRD: Yes.

Q: And the stores were all located in what is downtown.

LAIRD: Yes.

Q: Do you remember any of the people that worked there in those stores?

LAIRD: Well, yes.

Q: Mainly the owners.

LAIRD: Yes, Fred Meeske was the owner of Meeske’s, and Ralph Busse, I think he did mostly stocked the groceries and so, and he was a really a wonderful person.

Q: Sort of a stock boy.

LAIRD: Fred Haas was a butcher along with Mr. Meeske.

Q: We know that the early stores carried dry goods and pharmacy, of course, medicines and so on. Do you remember what other things the early stores carried? Could you buy a sack of coal in a store downtown?

LAIRD: No, I don’t think so.

Q: Mainly it was delivered.

LAIRD: Yes, yes. I can’t think of. ..

Q: Anything out of the ordinary that the early stores might have stocked for people?

LAIRD: No. I really can’t, as I remember the stores, except that the cookies were like in containers where the kids could get a cookie.

Q: Yes, I remember those too.

LAIRD: But my father was never very happy about us taking cookies that we didn’t pay for. When you ordered your groceries from Meeske’s, you would ask them if they would mind stopping at the post office and pick up your mail and bring it to you, which they did. In fact, that was the wonderful thing about that store. They were very. ..

Q: Accommodating.

LAIRD: Yes, accommodating.

Q: Did they carry things like stamps, for instance, for your. ..

LAIRD: No, because the post office was right next door.

Q: Was so close by.

LAIRD: Then the post office moved over by the water tower.

Q: Okay, this was when the post office. ..

LAIRD: Was next to Meeske’s. And then National Tea came in, in that same block as Meeske’s. It was a very, very small store.

Q: The National Tea.

LAIRD: Yes. I remember the clerk was a Mrs. Maleski. She was a very nice lady.

Q: Now we’re going to talk a little bit about your grade school memories. First of all– yes, then we’ll go back to the follow-up, your fondest memories. We’ll do the school. What grade school did you attend?

LAIRD: I attended a country school called Buckeye School. It had all eight grades.

Q: Did you go there for eight years?

LAIRD: Yes, I went there for eight years.

Q: Give me the location of Buckeye School.

LAIRD: It was in Otter Creek Township. I really don’t know how I would describe…

Q: Okay, just tell me it was in southern Illinois near St. Louis.

LAIRD: Yes, yes.

Q: In Jerseyville.

LAIRD: Near Jerseyville. When we were young there was a little town called Otterville in Otter Creek Township, and it was the closest tiny, little store.

Q: What were your favorite subjects or classes?

LAIRD: I suppose English.

Q: How far did you live away from your school?

LAIRD: I lived with a great-aunt, and I was about a half a mile from school, walked there come rain or come shine.

Q: SO you walked to school. And what time did school start?

LAIRD: I don’t recall, but I imagine at nine o’clock, but I don’t really remember.

Q: Did you walk rain and shine and how about snow?

LAIRD: Yes, rain, shine, snow or sleet, whatever.

Q: Okay, all kinds of weather.

LAIRD: I could really see the schoolhouse from where we lived.

Q: What time did you have to get up in the morning in order to be at school on time?

LAIRD: I have no idea. In the country everyone gets up early.

Q: Okay, would you say it was seven a.m.?

LAIRD: Seven a.m. or before.

Q: Did you have any chores in the morning before you left for school?

LAIRD: No.

Q: Did you eat breakfast before you went to school?

LAIRD: Yes.

Q: Would you describe a typical breakfast meal before you went off to school?

LAIRD: Well, sometimes my aunt would even make fried chicken for my breakfast. Can you believe people having fried chicken for breakfast?

Q: No, that’s unusual but it sounds kind of good.

LAIRD: I can’t remember what else. I’m sure we must have had. ..

Q: Oatmeal perhaps.

LAIRD: …com meal mush, fried com meal mush. Did you ever have that? It’s delicious.

Q: Yes, it is but I don’t think we had that. I think generally we would have had oatmeal, toast perhaps. Did you bring a lunch to school or did you go home?

LAIRD: No. Brought a lunch.

Q: Could you describe a typical lunch?

LAIRD: No, I really can’t remember.

Q: Okay. Sandwich and fruit?

LAIRD: I suppose. I don’t. ..

Q: That might have been a typical one, but you don’t really remember.

LAIRD: I really don’t remember.

Q: After your country school, did you buy lunch at your high school or junior high?

LAIRD: Yes. We didn’t have junior high, you know –eight grades, no junior high.

Q: What was the name of your high school?

LAIRD: Evanston High School.

Q: Oh, you went to Evanston. Do you remember any of the high school lunches?

LAIRD: I remember what I had every day for lunch, which was a salmon salad sandwich. I still love it, and I made if for my daughter. She had never heard of it. A friend of mine that I went to high school, we still meet together.

Q: How many students did you have in class at school through eighth grade, your country school?

LAIRD: In my class?

Q: In your class?

LAIRD: I would think about three people.

Q: Okay, about three in each class through eighth grade, about twenty-four in the school.

LAIRD: I imagine.

Q: What was the typical order of the day? Did you start with a special song, prayers or the Pledge of Allegiance?

LAIRD: I don’t think we did, but I really, you know, …

Q: Can you describe a typical day?

LAIRD: We had a recess and then, of course, since we all had lunch, we ate our lunch quickly and went outside and played games. Of course, we didn’t have indoor plumbing, and there was a stove that heated the school.

Q: Do you remember coming to school in the winter when the stove wasn’t working too well?

LAIRD: No, I don’t remember that it didn’t work too well. I suppose the teacher got there before we did and started the fire. However, I suppose they banked it some way so she didn’t have to start it each day.

Q: Oh, do you think they did overnight? Do you think they were allowed to keep it going?

LAIRD: I don’t know, but it always seemed fairly warm.

Q: It was. It was comfortable in the winter as far as you can remember.

LAIRD: I don’t remember keeping coats on or anything.

[Side 2]

Q: We’re talking about grade school memories, and we’re talking about typical order of a school day. We’ve mentioned that Friday there was a spelling bee, but we’ll elaborate on that for just a moment if you would.

LAIRD: On Friday afternoons we always had a spelling bee, or the teacher read to us from whatever book she chose. That was one of the nice things. We didn’t have to really recite or have studies in the afternoon on Fridays. You asked me for one of my fondest memories. It really was a teacher, and the teacher rode a horse. She always came by horseback. Her name was Irene Springman. She had red hair, and she was such a wonderful person. That’s one of my fondest memories.

Q: Rode a horse to school? Now, what happened to the horse during the day?

LAIRD: The horse was just tied out to a post or –I think a post. Our school was surrounded by farms, but the farm would have a fence, and I think her horse was tied to a fence. She lived about, I would say, about eight miles or ten from the school.

Q: That’s a long ride. In the winter also. ..

LAIRD: Yes, she always rode her horse.

Q: How about the horse on a cold winter’s day?

LAIRD: I don’t know. ..

Q: Out there with a blanket.

LAIRD: Of course, the horses, you know, stay out in the fields on a winter day, so …

Q: Well, that really was a dedicated teacher.

LAIRD: You know, there weren’t a lot of jobs for people in those days, so, you know, …

Q: They were happy to have a teaching. ..

LAIRD: I don’t know. I imagine the pay was compared to today –I would like to know what she got, probably six hundred a year or something like that.

Q: What did you wear to school?

LAIRD: I hate to tell you this, but we always had long underwear, black stockings, high shoes and I suppose –I remember wearing black bloomers and I suppose a skirt and a top of some kind. I don’t really remember what I wore.

Q: Was there a dress code as such?

LAIRD: No, there was no dress code. Everybody wore almost the same type of thing.

Q: Is there anything your parents refused to let you wear to school?

LAIRD: No.

Q: Describe some of the things that you did during your play or recess period or the games that were popular and fun.

LAIRD: Of course we played drop-the-handkerchief and London Bridge and I thought it was called blindman’s bluff but it might not have been, because no one was blindfolded, but we’d choose sides and try to catch each other like “Here we come, where you from?”

Q: I remember something called Annie Annie Over.

LAIRD: Yes, well, we did that too. Of course, everybody young and old and little and big played together. We didn’t have cliques or –that was one of the nice things about having all eight grades together. Yes, the eighth graders usually helped build the in the winter.

Q: Did you ever play pie? Remember making a big pie with a center and like eight slices and people would run up and down and try to catch each other.

LAIRD: We never played that.

Q: Do you remember any specific songs that were taught and frequently sung at school?

LAIRD: No, I really don’t.

Q: What arts and crafts projects were done?

LAIRD: None.

Q: No cutting and pasting?

LAIRD: I don’t remember any.

Q: Okay.

LAIRD: You know, when you have eight grades you don’t have much time for cutting and pasting or teacher.

Q: True. How about things for Christmas, cards for family and. ..

LAIRD: One thing we used to have –this was after I was a little older; of course, younger children didn’t have it –we had what was called a box social. Everyone decorated a box and usually you put fried chicken and potato salad and pie or cake, and then they had an auction. Really, the boxes were beautiful. They were all decorated with different colored crepe paper and tinsels and so forth, and then people would bid on the — whoever got your box, that’s who you ate your supper with. Then at Christmas we had a play and the teacher always at Christmas gave us this little box of candy that was either like a little church or a little house and an orange. That was our Christmas treat from the teacher.

Q: Okay, Christmas play, box shaped like a building with candy.

LAIRD: With candy in it and an orange. Of course, living in the country and far from town, you didn’t see too many oranges, so it was a real treat.

Q: I’ll bet it was, back in those days. An orange was a real treat, was a wonderful treat.

LAIRD: Especially if you lived in the country. I’m sure city people had oranges…

Q: But out in the country it was a little harder to do.

LAIRD: We had apples and turnips and so forth. They were buried in the ground, and then you just went out and opened the little hole and got your.. .

Q: Like a fruit cellar. How would you answer, “1 will never forget the day at Buckeye School when. ..”? Shall we come back to that? We’ll think about that a little bit.

LAIRD: I can’t think of it.

Q: Something special.

LAIRD: I can’t get anything special.

Q: Then we’ll ask what did you do after school in the way of chores or play or work?

LAIRD: When I was old enough, why, we had wood, so it was always my job to carry wood for the house. As I got older, then I had to milk the cow, which I learned –I went to visit my sister, who lived with my grandmother, and I learned to milk the cow, which was unfortunate because then I had to milk the cow.

Q: Just one cow?

LAIRD: One cow.

Q: That was for the -.

LAIRD: I only lived with my aunt and uncle.

Q: And that was kind of the household supply.

LAIRD: Yes, that was our milk, and we had a well and no refrigeration of course, so the milk and the cream and the butter was put into a bucket and hung in the well.

Q: Where did children hang out, so to speak, in their free time?

LAIRD: We didn’t hang out.

Q: You didn’t hang out.

LAIRD: No.

Q: Did you have neighbor children to play with?

LAIRD: Yes, I had my cousins. I remember one time of course we had horses. You know, you could ride horses, and we had a stream. We used to play in the stream, and one time we were going over to a barn and we threw the bridle and it didn’t cross the creek and it fell in the creek and we were really panicky, but we finally got it out.

Q: What school did you attend for junior high? Well, the junior high was your Buckeye School and was not a junior high.

LAIRD: No junior high, all grades.

Q: And the high school then was. ..

LAIRD: Evanston High.

Q: Do you have any special memories from Evanston High?

LAIRD: No, not really.

Q: Do you remember the clothes that you wore at Evanston?

LAIRD: One thing I wore was a middy blouse and skirt with a tie that was tied in like a sailor’s knot. Did you ever wear that?

Q: No, I do remember them, seeing pictures of them, but, no, I don’t think we had anything quite that fancy.

LAIRD: Well, that wasn’t fancy. It was just a white middy blouse.

Q: But it was a blouson top, sort of bloused over?

LAIRD: Yes, yes.

Q: And a black. ..

LAIRD: A black knotted tie and a skirt. There was no dress code. Of course, in those days there weren’t slacks for people. I mean, girls didn’t wear slacks. I don’t even remember that boys wore blue jeans. I don’t think blue jeans were here then.

Q: I think they had woolen or corduroy pants, did they not, usually?

LAIRD: Yes, probably.

Q: And usually they were above high-top shoes too –higher shoes that laced up that would go up the ankle a little bit.

LAIRD: In high school I didn’t wear high shoes. I think one of my earliest memories is one thing. You would meet some of your neighbors or people that you knew when you went downtown. Now with Mount Prospect so large and so many different places to shop, you just don’t see anyone that you know.

Q: Yes, downtown has really changed to quite a few areas that are called downtown, isn’t that right?

LAIRD: Yes, but I still think of downtown as the little section that’s Main Street, or rather 83, between Northwest Highway and Central Road. That’s what I call downtown when we first moved here.

Q: That little. ..

LAIRD: Just that little area.

Q: …area. Now, is there anything that you’d like to add about living in Mount Prospect years ago? You did talk about your neighbors.

LAIRD: Yes, and I want to say also when we lived on Wapella there was a cornfield in back of us and we rented space and had victory gardens. Almost everyone had one on our street, and we had an engineer who used to almost measure every pea he put into the ground so that it would only be so far apart. I know one time the children were playing out in the –they had com shocks, and they thought the farmer was coming so they ran, ran and hid in someone’s house so that –but I don’t know whether they were ruining the com shocks or not, but they were afraid.

Q: Probably knocking them down.

LAIRD: Com shocks had a way of falling when you got close to them because, you know, it just set about eight or ten of them together to make up a little shock. Then usually around Halloween time we’d rake the leaves and sometimes we’d take them down to a comer across from Alyse Boylon’s home and we’d have a wiener roast. Of course, my children. ..

Q: Over the burning leaves.

LAIRD: The children all played together and had a wonderful time, and we really didn’t have to worry about locking our doors. Of course, the milkman would –if we weren’t going to be home, we’d leave him a note. He’d put our milk in the icebox for us.

Q: Really convenient so it didn’t stay out all day.

LAIRD: No, and was really wonderful.

Q: You popped the caps. If there is one thing you would want the children to remember about the history, what would that be? Your children.

LAIRD: Well, I think mainly how really simple life was then. They rode their bikes to school in the nice weather. My children went to Central School and that was about eight blocks. They had to cross the railroad track. Of course, in bad weather we pooled and mothers took different turns of picking up the children.

Q: In that respect, then Mount Prospect is kind of the same now as it was in the past would be certainly car pools in the winter. Except car pools kind of.. .

LAIRD: I think now so many of the children take buses.

Q: Except how about the parochial schoolchildren?

LAIRD: I don’t know about the parochial. I think bus picks the parochial children up too. Yes, my neighbors did have little children and they were picked up.

Q: And they were picked up at the bus also. What are the other things about Mount Prospect that are the same as they were in the past?

LAIRD: Of course, I still feel like it’s –I don’t feel like it’s such a big town as it really is, I guess because I’ve lived here so much. We moved to Barrington and were gone eight years. The nice thing about Mount Prospect is it’s convenient to almost everything, and of course we had good schools, good library.

Q: What do you think the future holds for this community?

LAIRD: I don’t know that it should change too much. I hope it doesn’t. I’m sure though that as people move further out, it will become more like the city, as all the towns do.

Q: SO you hope the population stays really right around 56,000?

LAIRD: I don’t see how it can change much. Well, it can because now we’re building this big condominium or rental place. I suppose that things will be tom down, but we don’t have any space for any buildings.

Q: Well, thank you very much for consenting to be interviewed.

LAIRD: Well, I’m sorry I don’t. ..

Q: I really appreciate it, Hilda.

LAIRD: You’re welcome.

Q: That’s a wonderful, wonderful recollections.

LAIRD: Well, not really.

Q: They’re important and they’re very interesting. Someone that’s been here since 1935, that’s really quite a long time.

LAIRD: Yes, it is.

Q: Yes, it is, and the changes that you’ve seen, the things that you’ve mentioned today, it’s really, really, really very nice. Thank you very much.

LAIRD: You’re welcome.

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