Decker, Isabelle

Interviewer: Jodi Stone
Place of Interview: Indian Cave Road
Date of Interview:
File No: 53 A Cycle:
Summary: Lakeville 1930s, telephone operator

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript


Isabelle Ateshian Decker

Transcript of a taped interview

Narrator: Isabelle Ateshian Decker

Tape #:53A

Date: November 13, 1986

Place of interview: Mrs. Decker’s home, Indian Cave Road, Salisbury, CT Interviewer: Jodie Stone

Mrs. Decker grew up in Lakeville and gives us an interesting and lively account of her activities as a young person in the town. “Iz” speaks of the shops and shopkeepers in Lakeville in the 1930’s and of her work as an operator for the Telephone Company.


Property of the Oral History Project.

Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library.

Salisbury, Connecticut 06068


This is Jodie Stone on the 13th of November, 1986, interviewing Isabelle Ateshian Decker.

Isabelle, your parents. What were their names?

ID: My mother’s name was Sarah and my father’s name was Marty. My father died when I was thirteen months old, so I never really knew my real father. My stepfather was Albert who a lot of people in Lakeville knew. My mother remarried again when I was ten years old.

JS: What was his name?

ID: Albert Abromovitch. And that’s about it. My mother moved here from New Jersey where my grandparents lived. They emigrated from Armenia, and they immigrated to New Jersey. My father contacted tuberculosis, and there was this job at Hotchkiss School where my mother’s brother was working. So my mother’s brother, my Uncle John, sent for my mother and my father to come to Lakeville for my father’s health. Well, as I say, in the meantime he got worse. He had tuberculosis. They took him to Saranac Lake, and that’s where he died, and ray mother ran the cleaning business. We owned a cleaning and dry cleaning and tailor shop. My mother mended the clothes and also ran…. my uncle dry cleaned and…

JS: This was in Lakeville?

ID: Yes.



ID: Well, at first it was down where the old DuFour buildings were. There was three, businesses in that big building. There was the Western Union, there was our cleaning shop and there was Paul Argali’s barber shop and before that or after that, I can’t remember which, was the radio shop. I think the radio shop came first. Mr. Bishop had a radio shop, and I used to play on that front porch when I was a little tyke, maybe about four, five, six years old. Many time I had a great habit of taking off all my clothes and running across the street and jumping into that watering kettle. And naturally my mother wasn’t watching me because she was busy, and there’s many a time I almost drowned because I couldn’t get out of the watering kettle. It was all slimy on the bottom.

JS: Are you talking about here in Salisbury?

ID: No, I’m talking about the watering kettle down in front of the fire house in Lakeville. I used to run right across the street and jump in the watering kettle. And Mr. Mike Dunn who worked at Joe 0’Laughlin’s meat market up on top of the hill across from the old bank would be coming down on his lunch hour and have to fish me out. Take me home under his arm.

I had a wonderful childhood. I can remember playing down at the Community Service in the yard in the coal bins and get all black, naturally, and climbing the wood piles. Both Mr. Cowles never minded me playing there. They used to let me, and the great big treat was riding on the coal wagon with the team of horses with old Grampa Garrity. That was




a treat. And then on a Sunday sometimes Dorothy Wheeler would be out exercising her horse in the Community Service yard right there now where the office is. They lived in a little house right next door which is where they still live. And another big treat was to have Dorothy give me a ride on one of the horses. She had two horses, I think. One was Prince which was the nice horse, and then there was King which was an ugly horse. 1 was afraid of King. And Dorothy would give me a ride on that horse. Then, if I was lucky enough I’d sneak up to Mary Raynsford’s because she had a horse named Chicago, and then I’d get on that horse and have a ride with Mary, and she also had a buggy. I don’t know what you call those buggies. She also had a one horse-sleigh, and the jingle bells on it. I can remember that, and she’d always give all us different children a ride on the buggy, in the wagon or whatever you want to call it.

The games we played: I grew up on Montgomery Street. My mother bought the house that belongs to Carol Wagner now, the brown shingled house. I grew up there after I … how old was I? I’m going to say ten years old. I played with Elaine Brown who was Madeleine Garrity’s niece. I played with Binky Curtis who was Johnny Curtis’s; well old Johnny Curtis was the vegetable man both at Goderis’s market and also at Shagroy. Binky’s brother now works in Shagroy, Johnny Curtis. We used to feed him mud pies. And we played by the hour. There was the Tellerdays. Mary and Freddy Tellerday and the Silvernale kids, Betty and Audrey and Bobby. Mr. Roberts lived up on top of the hill, and he was the one that owned Roberts store that burnt twice in Lakeville. We used to raid that garden every summer, and I think Mr. Roberts knew we were doing it, ’cause he never said anything to us. Never. He let us raid the garden. We thought we were getting away with something, but we weren’t.

Oh, games. We played Kick the Can by the hour. Kick the Can. And Hide and Go Seek and Tag, and I don’t know… a lot of softball and a lot of touch football. Of course, that was when we weren’t in the lake. Any youngster growing up in Lakeville that didn’t know how to swim, that was a crime, because the lake … every’ child in Lakeville was at the lake. I went there from eight o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night. Mr. Timmins used to run the little building there, and most kids can remember, the kids in my group can remember him holding out his hand saying, “Ten cents, please, ten cents, please,” and that was how much it cost to get in the lake. But a lot of us locals didn’t pay. The fee was just for the out-of-towners. And I learned to swim by the elder boys throwing me in. If my mother only knew now.

Laura Curtis and Linnea Paavola, her father owned Paavola’s variety store down where Johnny Mulville’s building is now on the other side where I think Mrs. Duntz has her sewing shop. That was Hugo Paavola’s variety store. Before, that it was up on the hill where Keuffel and Esser is. There, was a building there next to Keuffel and Esser where Mr. Paavola had his variety store. All the Hotchkiss boys used to go in there to play records and to buy pencils and pads, and oh, all sorts of sundry of things. I used to go in there to visit now and then, but as I started to say, Linnea, Laura Curtis and Tootsie Erickson Vaill were supposed to have decker been my babysitters. Also, Doris Peabody and Marsha Rudd. That




was Hop Rudd’s sister. They were supposed to have been my babysitters, but: they’d go off with their boyfriends or whatever and leave me to fend for- myself. Little known to my mother, I was gettin’ thrown in the lake out on the big raft by the big boys, and I couldn’t swim. So, it was either swim or sink until someone got in after me. Usually it’d be Jackie Hamlin. He’d come in and save me and take me back to shore.

The stores: Well, all along where Keuffel and Esser is now where that mini park is was a whole row of stores. Number one there was Doctor Leverty’s drugstore where we used to go in every afternoon after school for ice cream, sit in one of the booths. Then there was Miller’s plumbing shop and before that there was a dress shop, Harry and Hattie Amundson had a little, oh it was like a little dry goods store where you could buy’ material and all that sort of thing. Couple maybe house dresses. Then there was the Lakeville Journal office up there. Old Ben Jones was the editor, and I can remember Do Bushnell worked in there. 1 don’t think that’s anybody’ that you know. I don’t really know how to tell you who she was, but everybody in Lakeville knew Do Bushnell. Dorothy Bushnell. She lived up in the house, I think what is now Salmon Creek Builders [Undermountain Road on right beyond White Hart. Ed.] if I’m not mistaken. Then there was the telephone company.

JS: Can I interrupt a minute? When you were a child, you were telling me you were the town orphan, and you were the only one who had the nerve to visit the Chinaman? Tell me about that.

ID: Well, right there where Keuffel and Esser is, we had, before that there was a Chinaman down in Lakeville by the ASP which was in that row of buildings right next to the Gulf gas station that they took down. I don’t remember him too well, but I certainly remember Jung Lee because he had. a shop right there where Keuffel and Esser is, and as I say, I visited all these places in Lakeville. I made my rounds every day. I had to go to Herb Beebe’s frame shop, I had to go to Mr. Wheeler’s upholstery shop, I had to go into Heaton and Barnett and visit all of them, I had to go to the Dufours’ garage and see what they were doin’, keep tabs on them, I. had to go into Hugo Paavola’s, I had to hook a ride with Grampa Garrity on the horse and buggy team driving the coal, I also had to go and see my friend, Mr. Jung Lee, the Chinaman who most children in Lakeville were scared to death of him, but I wasn’t, for some reason. I’d go in and he’d make me sit down and he showed me how he ironed the shirts. I can remember it used to fascinate me to see him blowing through that thing to dampen the clothes, and in the back room where he lived he’d have something delicious cooking. 1 never knew what it was and I never really tasted any of it. I think I did once. I’m not sure. But he used to send home packaged tea to my mother. He gave me a beautiful fan, and every Halloween the kids would bother him, but I never bothered him so he never bothered me. He liked me and I liked him.

And speaking of Halloween that was another big deal in Lakeville. The trestle was in Lakeville then. The railroad used to go through, and it was a must that the Lakeville kids had to get up on that trestle and wait for the Salisbury kids; to come down so we could pepper them with


eggs, pumpkins, old, raw, rotten tomatoes, whatever else we could find. That was it for Halloween night. If we didn’t pepper the Salisbury kids and get into a good fight with them, it wasn’t Halloween. We’d hide up o that trestle I can remember. Of course, we used to walk the railroad tracks from Lakeville to Salisbury all the time. And of course with my girlfriend, June Parsons Cunningham, we’d have to walk the track from Lakeville to Salisbury, but in the meantime we used to have to stop, it was a must to stop at the sewer bed which was down in back of LPM. Why we had to stop there, I don’t know, but they had this most beautiful long .pipe that got higher and higher and higher, and we wanted to see how far we could walk before getting afraid of falling off of the pipe. That was a big deal.

JS: Where’d you go to school?

ID: Well, I went to school … first I started up with where the Friendly Club is now, where the little building is where the Masons, one of those buildings. I don’t know what’s there now. Yeah, the Mason building. I started school there, then we came down to where the Post Office is in Lakeville. I went to school there until the sixth grade. Then we went up to where the old school building is now. My teachers were: first grade, Hazel Flynn. Second grade, Betty Whalen Matthison. Miss Argali, Bessie Argali. Fourth grade: Veronica Metcalf. Fifth grade: Miss O’Brien.

Alice O’Brien. Sixth grade: Hazel Wilson. Seventh grade: Betty Holcomb Miner. And eighth grade Mr. Leavitt whom we all loved. Marshall Leavitt. I don’t know whatever happened to him. Went to high school for two years at the high school in Lakeville, and then they built Regional. And we went down to Regional and that was that.

JS: Who was in your class?

ID: In my class there was, well quite a few of us. I went to school with Henry Belter, the Belter boys, Pete and Jack Flynn, Polly Fitting, June Parsons Cunningham, Gloria Hayde, Ed Fitting, my husband, John Decker, Harry Stanton, a lot of these people nobody’d know. Kenneth Weir, Edith Weir. There were a lot of us around. Some are dead now. Rose Solan, that’s Steve Blass’s mother. Bet Sylvernale, the Sylvernale girls. Mary Marcon, Tina Marcon’s sister. The Francis kids who have all moved away. A lot of these people have moved away. Richard Beebe, Clarinda Ulin’s brother. Warren Churchill who was our minister’s son. Dick Vaill, Jim Vaill’s brother.

JS: What’d you do when you graduated from high school?

ID: What did I do? Well, while I was going to high school I worked in Bessie’s Lunch. That was in the Dufour building, in fact it was right down in the basement from where I lived, and when I was only about thirteen years old I’d go down and help Bessie peel potatoes for the next day. But I couldn’t, work because I was too young and she couldn’t hire me. Finally when I be about fifteen, we lied about my age and then I waited on table, slung hamburgers, and it was great down in that hole. Every town person went there, everybody in town, and all the Hotchkiss




boys on their day off would come down there after hamburgs, malteds, ice cream, and I don’t know, I had a great time in there. Then I worked for a while at the Jigger Shop for Mrs. Haram who was Francis Lemoyne’s parents. Mrs. Green was there, and Rena Maroon. Then I graduated and worked both at Bessie’s Lunch and the Interlaken Inn. 7 worked at. Interlaken tor the Percy family. They had the inn when it was first opened, I think. Then from there I graduated to the good old telephone company.

JS: Which was where?

ID: Which was up where Peter Wood’s oil company is now, upstairs? The Dodges lived downstairs. There was something else downstairs, and I. can’t remember — how silly of me. Of course, Mr.Ablehadian’s taxi service. That was downstairs. And then, who took the taxi company over after that I can’t remember, but we used to take their calls for them. After I graduated to the telephone company, and that, and then I stuck with the telephone company, as you know, for forty years.

JS: Who were the other operators?

ID: There was Katie Heffernan Bell who just passed away, Tryphena Forsyth, Laura Curtis, Mary Patton, and of course, Margaret Garrity, and before that when I first went there to work the Stuart sisters were in charge, Hannah and Fanny Stuart. If they only knew the things that we did, we never would have kept that job for forty years. We had a great time.

JS: This was what telephone company? It wasn’t Southern New England.

ID: Oh, yes, it was. In fact, Hannah and Fanny Stuart were trained … Hannah was one of the first operators in the whole state of Connecticut. She was trained in New Haven, if I’m not mistaken, to learn how to plug up holes, as we used to call it.

JS: Where were you trained? Here? By someone here?

ID: Yeah. It was nothing in those days to learn how to do it. You just, you know, yeah, I learnt how to do it up here in Lakeville, and then from there on I went to New Jersey during the war. The war came. My people went bankrupt. Business wasn’t too good so they moved to Detroit, but I wouldn’t go to Detroit, so 1 went to New Jersey and lived with an aunt find uncle and got so homesick I came back home again to Lakeville. I couldn’t stand it.

JS: Were you married by then?

ID: No. I wasn’t married. I came back to Lakeville. We worked in Lakeville for a while, and if the telephone company ever knew, as long as a guy had a uniform on, he never got charged. I don’t think I should tell that one, but I did. As long as he had a uniform on, tie was in the service, Laura Curtis and myself, and Elaine Brown and a couple of the others, we never charged them for a long distance call. Never… Then


Decker – 6

from there we moved to Canaan, the telephone company, and .1 worked there for quite a long time. I was married then, but more about Lakeville. All the stores that were there.

JS: Did you ever go to Millerton to shop, Canaan to shop? You did all your shopping here, the stores were adequate then.

ID: Yes. My mother didn’t have any car. We’d go down to the ASP which was next door to the Gulf gas station. She bought her meat and stuff up at Mr. Goderis’s meat market up on the hill. Then, of course, there was the First National came, that’s where the Lakeville Cafe is now. Before that it was Roberts Store. Mr. Roberts. I can’t remember too much about that, but Mr. Curtis worked in there at the vegetables, and I can’t remember the groceries and the meat department at all. But upstairs was where they had the hall where the boys used to play basketball, where they used to have the dances, and where they used to put on little plays and skits before, like, we had a Grange in Salisbury and Lakeville a long time ago. Lila Nash could tell, you about that. I can’t remember too much about that. That was a little bit before my time. But I can remember the building burning. I can remember ’cause we lived right there next door, more or less.

JS: Anything else you can remember about your childhood? Any parades or picnics or catastrophes or fires or….?

ID: I can remember the Lindbergh kidnapping. That was the great talk of the town there in 1936, wasn’t it? I don’t remember. I imagine a lot of things would come back to me if somebody asked me questions, but right off the top of my head I can’t remember. I don’t know. I was just too busy growing up, I guess.

JS: I think you’ve done very well. You’ve given us a lot of information, and I thank you muchly.

ID: You’re more than welcome.

JS: One date we forgot: Isabelle was born in February of 1923, and she went to work for the telephone company in 1941. She currently lives in Salisbury on Indian Cave Road.