Personal Interview

Carolyn Nelson Gonzales
(This was originally transcribed from a taped interview.  The [    ] indicate an unclear word or phrase.)

Thank you first of all for letting us interview you.  The first question is do you have any early memories of Bethlehem?

A lot of them.

Any of your earliest memories, anything that was special?

One thing I wanted to bring up was that in the primer that was published by the Historical Society, [   ].  They say they stopped cutting ice on Bird Pond in the thirties and I remember as a little girl in '40 or  '41 watching them do it.   Three chunks of ice.  Taking them to ice houses which some people still had.

I'd like to talk about the school, because it's so different now.  We came here in 1940 and I was put into Bethlehem Consolidated School and the reason it was called consolidated was that there were four schools in town prior, sometime before the thirties.   And they were one room schoolhouses, four of them in town.  So children in winter could get to one or the other.  And mine was called Bethlehem Consolidated School.  You're familiar with it because it's the one building and all the other structures were built on top of it.

We had four rooms, four classrooms.  Two grades in a classroom.  Not that many children, very few children.  But we combined in two grades.  And there was a horrible basement which was dark and dank and there we ate.   Transportation was very bad in those days and war was just starting and mostly we walked.  Some rode bicycles.  Some even rode horses and tied them out behind the [   ].  Seems like the 1920's but that's what they did.  And eventually I think we had a station wagon but they wouldn't accept me.  They said I was within a mile of the school.  So I still walked.  And eventually we proved to them that I was more than a mile from school and I got to ride in the station wagon.

I can remember my teachers well.  I think they were not so good as compared to our teachers now.  I don't want to say anything further.  And usually we were kept down to the level of perhaps the least intelligent child in the room because that child would need more help.  So sometimes we were very much on our own.  And I do remember graduating from the eighth grade and knew nothing about the English language, verbs, nouns, pronouns, nothing about mathematics.  And this was the middle school in those days and so we went directly on to high school.  And they sent a man in like the last week of school to try to drum all of this into us that we should have had earlier on from the very beginning.  And so there we were, all eight of us graduating from Memorial Hall, and we went on to high school and we had troubles because we had no knowledge of English, or anything for that matter.  But it was kind of fun in a way.

We were tuition students to Watertown High School and we were highly resented because we were considered hillbillies and several other appellations.  But we survived, and those of us, not me, who were good at math finally figured algebra out and the basic math.  And I was good at English so I finally figured that stuff out.   I still can't tell you what a pronoun is.  I mean it's hard to think about it.   But that's all right too.  And I just wanted to describe that because the new building is so vast now and there's more things being done every year it seems.  And it's so different.

So you've seen a rapid change in it?

Rapid change?  All at once really, yes, as I was growing up.  And then I went to Europe.  And when I came back there was a new structure there.  It was kind of sad in a way because we got so used to the funny looking building.  Really that's what I wanted to say, and you can ask me your questions.

Other than the school can you think of ways the town has changed?

People.  I think there were about 400.  I may be wrong but I think there were about 400 when we came here.  And it began to grow after the war.  Started to grow, and after the other two wars people who lived in Waterbury and worked in factories began to migrate as they did better in life, migrate to the towns and have a home of their own, not apartments.  This was a concern for awhile that we'd become like Southbury which was congested [   ] and lost its beauty, and we did have a very strong [   ] planning commission who were very careful about not designating or zoning an area for commercial because the planning commission could really take care of us because we had also inland wetlands and so much of Bethlehem is swamp and beautiful woods and things and so far it's been quite contained[   ].  But it was very different.

Interviewed August 13, 1997