Monday, August 15, 2016

From Folk Cures to Courtship and Family Life, Seniors Remember What Life Was Like in Rural North Carolina, 1985

North Carolina Extension Homemakers took part in an oral history project of the National Extension Homemakers Council. Some of the quotes were published in Voices of American Homemakers, published in 1985. Here are some of the quotes from North Carolina women. Questions asked by the interviewer, Virginia Harris, are in bold.

“I learned to wash dishes with the dishpan down in the chair. My brothers did help me at night to dry the dishes.”
                --Theo Hammond, 82

“I was real sick one time and my mother said, ‘I’m going to put some onions in the hot ashes and I’m going to put some onion poultice on you.’ And do you know where she put them? On the bottom of my feet.”

How did you keep them there?

“Well, she put the onions inside of a little thin cloth and put that on the bottom of my foot and then put on a sock. Well, I was on the verge of pneumonia and she said, ‘She’s not getting any better,’ so she called Dr. Reid.

“There was only one doctor in Matthews and he was getting on in years and he traveled with a horse and buggy. She called him in the morning, and he didn’t get there to right down in the night. So when he came, I still had the poultice on my feet.

“And he said, ‘Well, you needn’t call me. I see you’ve done got her fever broken.’ And she said, ‘What did I do?’ and he said ‘You put those onions on her.’

“I expect he wanted to back out the door. You couldn’t go in the house hardly when you used onions.”
                --Letha McCall, 91

What about folk cures?

“We had one famous cure in the family that was handed down to us. A doctor gave it to us to cure rattlesnake bites and blood poisoning. He gave the ingredients to the family.

“My littlest brother, LeRoy, was following Father as he was plowing in the field and a rattlesnake bit him. My father unhitched the horse and rode to Holmberg and got the ingredients to make this medicine and gave it to the boy. In about a week he was coming out of it, and the medicine had cured him.

“Also, my uncle was in the hospital for operations, and he was being sent home to die. He said the cloud was coming down over his eyes when the family arrived with the medicine. They gave him a few drops and he recovered and lived for several years afterward.”

Have the health lessons presented to your Extension Homemakers Club been useful?

“Yes, I’ve made much use of the lessons on nursing and health care.”

“In 1932, when I first joined, there were many lessons that were very helpful. They were all helpful to me. I found that the literature was helpful, and I filed them away. I’ve been asked to help people and I went and looked in my file.

“My parents were very limited in their education, but they wanted their children to have the best education they could receive. That was a guide for me.”

What are your biggest satisfactions?

“I think that I have helped raise these four children and they have made themselves known in the world. I’m very happy about my grandchildren and the progress they’ve made. Now I’m looking forward to the outcome of the great-grandchildren.”
                --Eva Gill, 80


“I remember that first year that I started to school. My brothers and sisters that were older that I went on to school. We could see the schoolhouse, it was a half a mile. And they left me the lunch to carry.
“Mama fixed all our lunch in one market basket, a little market basket, and they left that for me to carry. There was ice on the ground and I can’t stand up on ice—never could. (laughs)

So I started with the lunch, and it was a rolling land. I could walk up a hill, but it was going down that I couldn’t stand up. So I’d sit down on the ice and give the basket a shove and shove it on down in front of me, and I’d slide down on to the basket. Then pick it up and walk up the hill, get to the next little ridge, I’d do the same thing.”
“I wanted to be a trained nurse, but my father and mother didn’t want me to.”

I bet that you have let your children pursue their interests.

“Yes, anything they wanted to do. And we sent seven to college.”

That is a real record.

“That’s why we never did get much ahead. I don’t care how scarce money was, we never deprived our children of anything that was uplifting, that would help them later in life.

“And what I was doing, I was doing for them. I told my husband many a time it wasn’t just what I was learning from my own use in Home Demonstration work, it was what I could teach my girls, so they didn’t have to go into marriage as blind as I did.”

“They got a sermon every few days, just telling them how to live, live a good Christian life, be honest, truthful children, and learn how to work. We taught them from just little things, wait on themselves and to help others. And they came up helping others.”
                --Letha McCall, 91


“When I was growing up, Mama said, ‘No courting alone until you’re 18 years old.’ Well, I had a few dates before then but was always in the company of someone else.

“I remember my husband came to see me, before we were married. He wanted to take me to an Elks entertainment. And Mama insisted that my younger sister ride with us in the horse and buggy over there and stay with my other sister who lived in Raleigh [until the entertainment was over] and come home with us.

“I was brought up strictly. Today that isn’t true, and I think the pendulum swung a little too far the other way, now. There ought to be a happy medium in there somewhere. All in all, I prefer the way I was brought up, than the way things are happening in many homes today, with teenage pregnancies and all.

“I belonged to the old school of physical reminder of bad things. My children got spankings, but I didn’t have to do much spanking after three years old. I still believe in a little bit of physical punishment. It has worked for me.”

“During the hard years, my boys wore short pants made from the legs of men’s pants. And my younger boy, he had his corduroy overalls and they were his Sunday and everyday clothes. And my girls, lots of times, had garments made of feed sacks, which you could get in very pretty colors at that time. I even had a dress myself, made from feed sacks, and went to college with it one summer.”

I remember they were real comfortable.

“That’s right. And we had a cow at the time, and we had to buy feed for the cow, and we’d try to buy two sacks the same color because it would [be enough] to make a garment.”

I bet you’ve had trouble with all the name changes since you have been a member for so long. First, the Tomato Club, then the Poultry Club, Home Demonstration Club, Extension Homemakers Club and now Extension Homemakers Association.

You’re right. I often say Home Demonstration Club now, instead of Homemakers.

Well, you know it’s all the same program, continuing adult education through our land-grant colleges. The name changes have just kept abreast of the program changes.
                --Theo Hammond, 82

Now you said your children never did hesitate when you asked them to do a job. They knew that you expected it done, and there was no argument about it.

“Yes, well, we really worked as a team. You’ve got to start when they’re small, letting them do little things for you.

“I’ll give you an illustration. Cecil [my son] had to put in a new side porch for me. His little boy is four years old and his mother teaches school, so Cecil keeps the little boy. Well, yesterday the little boy had a brace and bit and hammer, and he was making holes, and he was driving Cecil’s good nails in a block, just a-hammering.

“Now I shouldn’t have said anything, but I hate to see waste, and I said, ‘Honey, you’re driving up Papa’s good high-priced nails in those blocks.’ And Cecil says, ‘Mama, he’s learning.’

“Well, I thought about it afterwards, and he was learning—learning to drive a nail in that piece of wood. It was in Cecil to teach him while he’s little, and that’s going to be a lot of help to him later in life.”


“When my girls were at home, we ironed with the old black irons in front of a wood fire. They would build that fire of a morning in the summertime when they were going to iron. One of them would be going to build a fire before we ever got breakfast to get the irons hot.

“One would really be ironing all day long, but they’d change off, the other one would take it later on. And we would be ironing a lot of times when the sun went down. We ironed all day long.

“We had three boys. Back then the menfolks in the summertime wore white duck pants. And mine had to have two pair apiece, usually. If they went to anything during the week and wore a pair of those pants, then Sunday morning they had to have a second pair. And it took a long time to iron six pairs of duck pants.”

Do you know why they were called sadirons?

“No, I don’t.”

Well, I believe after I had been used all day, like you told, from sunup to sundown, they really were sad irons.

Where did you find the time, with 10 children, to do all this work?

One reason is, that is where my husband came in. I would help him in the field all day long and then we’d come in at night and we’d get supper, put the babies to bed—a lot of times he gave the children their baths and put on their little pajamas and put them to bed, while I was doing something he couldn’t do, and that’s how I got a lot of it done, because of his help.

I remember, a lot of times we washed; that’s before we had a washing machine—had to scrub it on a board in a tin tub. Well, we would wash the clothes and get them in the rinse water and leave them overnight. Then the next morning before I went to the field to help him, I’d get them out of the rinse and hang them out to dry. Then that evening, when we came in, I’d gather the clothes off the line.

I always ironed; I had to iron everything. I ironed even the children’s little everyday shirts and things they were going to just put on and go right back in the dirt to play. I just could not put them on without them being ironed. And I ironed the pillowcases; pressed the hems of the sheets.

And he never would go to bed and leave me up ironing—I always did my ironing at night. I’d lay out, as I ironed, anything that had a little rip in it, or a button off, or a loop gone—I’d lay it out to itself, so maybe when the next night come, I’d do my mending. And he’d say, ‘Tell me where to get a button and a needle and thread, and I’ll sew that button.’ And he would sew the button on while he was staying with me.

So that’s how I got a lot of it done, because he was right there helping me every minute.

You mention your husband—he died how many years ago?

He died December 19, 1971, so we were married 64 happy years.

What would you say to a new couple being married today?

Never let the sun go down on your wrath. If you have any differences, anything you’ve argued about, settle it before you go to sleep. And keep up your courtship after you’re married.

And you always kept yours up?

I did, I did. And, well, I won’t tell you that now.
No, go ahead.

I can’t without crying. [I got] this Mother of the Year award, because my husband always worked in the background. I’d go to conventions, be gone a week, he was always at home, he didn’t want to go. Kept the children—mothered them just the same as I did. I knew when I left the children with him that they’d be cared for just like I cared for them.

And I think now of all the honors and attention that I’ve had, and that he stayed in the background, keeping buckle and tongue together.

Can you tell me why you decided to join?

Because I was young when I married and knew very little about being a wife and mother, so I decided the Home Demonstration club was the thing for me to join.

Do you remember your first meeting?

It was on July 20, 1920, and we met at Jones Spring Church grounds, just in sight of my home. We decided to meet outdoors that afternoon at the spring.

What topic did you have that afternoon out at the spring?

We made organdy flowers. At that time organdy flowers were very popular. Some were wearing them in their hair, some trimmed their hats and some wore them for corsages.

Through the years, Mrs. McCall, have club programs been helpful to you?

Every program that I attended was very helpful, because I knew very little about housework, sewing, cooking, canning, all those things. I felt like I needed some of all—I can’t single out one single project. I’ll just say I always carried home something very valuable, every meeting I attended, and always learned something new.

I want you to tell me something about this short course that you attended for a week in the early years.

Well, that was schooling through the Home Demonstration work in Raleigh. It was called Farm and Home Week.

That was usually held in the summer months, wasn’t it?

Yes, in August. You see, we were through with laying the crops by and we hadn’t started gathering [harvesting] and by that time you had your vegetables and fruit [canned] and your jellies and jams and pickles all made, so you had more leisure time.

We had specialists and each one had classes in their own particular training. And it was just like going to school. We stayed on campus in the dormitories.

Did you sign up for special classes?

We signed up after we went down there. We couldn’t take all they had to give us, but I took everything I could squeeze in.

I know that was a real experience—getting away from the home grind, and I bet you went back a better mother and a better wife.

Oh, yes, I did! I went back all just so full of ideas. They didn’t know each day what I was going to suggest doing that day, because I was so bubbling over with everything.
                --Letha McCall, 91

“My daughter was at the age where she wanted to get into cooking, and we used corn bread particularly for our noon meal. I was letting her make the corn bread, in that she poured the dry ingredients together and sifted them in the bowl, but then I took over. I didn’t let her break the egg, I didn’t let her put in the milk and stir, nor put the batter into the pan and put it into the oven.

“And my Grandmother was visiting with me at that time, and she told me, ‘Let the child carry the job all the way through. Let her finish up, it doesn’t matter what kind of a mess she makes. Let her finish it up, put it in the oven, cook it, take it out and put it on the table. Then she’ll feel like she has had a part in this meal.’

“And many times later her words came back to me. For years, with all those children, I felt like that I was the only one who could decorate the Christmas tree. I knew how to put it up. I knew how to bring in the decorations and just where to hang them, handle them carefully and all that.

“One Christmas it became so congested at my home that I could not do it, and the children did it. What a revelation that was to me.

“They did it as well. They had all that pleasure. They handled all those things so carefully. They had real enjoyment in putting that Christmas tree together and look how much better off I was.

Do you think that one reason you wanted to [join] Extension Homemakers was that you had to attend many national meetings and got caught up in the enthusiasm of them?

I do, and you keep seeing old friends from all over the United States.
                --Henrietta Phillips, 69
Did you save your Christmas decorations?

“Oh, yes. I’ve got decorations that were on the tree when I was a child. I have given my daughters some of these decorations to put on their own trees, because they need to be handed down. Some of them are the little German blown glass things. They weren’t expensive at the time that we had them, but they are now. They are worn, but that’s part of their charm.
                --Henrietta Phillips, 69

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