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Interview with Pauline Cox

Cox, Pauline
Date of Interview: 
Gardening; Canning; Freezing; Farming; Segregation; Wilmore Neighborhood; Charlotte, North Carolina; Wilmore Community Center; Then and Now; Relationships with People and Places; Tolerance and Respect.
Pauline Cox describes her childhood being brought up by her father who was a farmer and her mother who worked as a homemaker. Paula Cox was born in Anson County, but has spent the last thirty-two years of her life living in the Wilmore Neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina. Paula describes the chores she performed in the house, which included taking care of her younger siblings and milking the cows before school. Paula talks about her first job working at the Carolina Medical Center and describes the existing segregation of the time. In discussing her love for gardening, Paula provides insight into the importance of gardening for the community and for the individuals of Wilmore. She describes her personal methods of gardening, canning, freezing, pest control and caring for the vegetables and herbs. Paula describes her great passion for gardening and her opinions of the importance of gardening for future generations.
1960s-2002 Wilmore Neighborhood, Charlotte, North Carolina
Interview Setting: 
Wilmore Community Center, Charlotte, NC
Cultivating Common Ground
IN (Interviewer): It is January 23rd 2002. I am interviewing Miss Paula Cox at Wilmore Center for Conservating Common Ground. Please take your time and share with us as much information as possible about the following questions. We'll start with some questions about your childhood years. What is your full name?
PC (Pauline Cox): My name is Pauline L. Cox.
IN: Where were you born, Miss Pauline?
PC: I was born in Anson County.
IN: Can you talk for a few minutes about the conveniences where you grew up? Take your time and describe what it was like and how it was growing up there.
PC: Well, at that time as far as I can remember back, I had a good childhood as far as you know, at that time, we, you didn't know any better. Everybody was living the same way, you know. In this, in this community. And I would say I had a good childhood.
IN: Tell us about the house you grew up in and how it was different than the house you live in today.
PC: Well the house in the country at that time, it was, we didn't have any electric light at the beginning. And we had wells and outside facilities to use. But still everybody was doing the same thing and we, you know [Laughter] have no difficulties in living at that time like that.
IN: Who lived with you when you, when you were brought up? Can you tell us about your family?
PC: Well, mother and father [Laughter] and my siblings. I am the oldest of nine children. And at this time we are all still living.
IN: Tell us about your father, the kind of work he did, the things he taught you, what you remember most about him.
PC: My father was a farmer. And we worked from this house we did, made our living.
IN: Tell us about you mother. Did she work outside the home? Things she taught you, what you remember most about her.
PC: My mother, she was a hard working mot--, momma. She worked in the house, plus she worked in the fields and she taught us to do the same thing at the time.
IN: Would you just, would you just for instance the kinds of chores you did when you were brought up? Can you talk about that for a few minutes?
PC: Well, I wasn't interested in them but that was something [Laughter] I had to do. And the chores was, are, tending to the younger children when she was out, getting up in the morning we had cows and my sister and I had to go out and milk those cows early in the morning before we went to school.
IN: Did your family have a garden or raise animals when you were brought up? Can you tell us what you remember about those days?
PC: Yes, just like I said before we had cows. And my father raised hogs. And my mother attended the garden.
IN: What do you remember about your school years? What schools did you attend and can you describe what they were like?
PC: The school that I, I attended was (Gatewell Station) that was my first school. And we went there until I was in the seventh grade and then I went to a high school which was more of a, more of in North Carolina, more of a high school, at that time.
IN: Can you talk for a while about the kind of things you did for fun when you were a child and how it is different form your grandchildren today?
PC: Well when I was a child, we didn't have toys like the children have today. We played in the woods. We made dollhouses. And we stayed in the woods a lot because that's where we was living near the woods and we enjoyed that.
IN: How long have you lived in Wilmore?
PC: I have lived in Wilmore 32 years.
IN: What do you remember most about the neighborhood you lived in before Wilmore? Tell us why you moved here.
PC: I stayed in Greenville for years and then I moved to a house off on (Rozzells Ferry Road) and before coming to Wilmore Drive we decided that we wanted to buy and went looking and found a house in Wilmore. That's why we're here.
IN: Tell us about the kinds of work you've done over the years. What was your first paying job? Do you remember how much you got paid per hour?
PC: My first job was when I came to Charlotte I worked at Charlotte Memorial Hospital, which is Carolina Medical Center. And I worked there for thirteen years. And I started working there in 1954 I think. And what I, at that time what I was making a hour was a dollar and thirty-five cent an hour. And I worked there thirteen years. And then I changed up and I went to where they (disp) there thirty-two years.
IN: Do you remember who the first president was you voted for? Tell us about the election.
PC: The first president I voted for was Kennedy, John Kennedy. And it was very exciting [Laughter] and when he--, on election night when he was, you know, was going to be president that night I stayed up all night long and it was very, it was a very exciting time.
IN: Can you--?
JB: That's great. You're the first one that remembers the president they voted for the first time.
IN: Can you tell us some old stories about Wilmore? What it used to be like when you first moved here? What did it look like?
PC: Well when I first moved to Wilmore, it was like I say, I was working a lot and I didn't meet a lot of people you know. And I worked for thirty-two, oh well you know that long. But it was, it was, it was nice, the street that I live on. And the peoples is friendly. And a lot of them have moved and gone but it's been a change. But its still quiet in the area I stay in. I don't have no qualms about that.
IN: Do you have any stories you would like to tell us younger people about the days of segregation and what it was like growing up in it?
PC: Well, just when I was in school, we had to walk a long ways. A long ways, in the cold. And then we had to walk and, and catch the bus two or three miles form my house. And there was a bus that was coming by our house but we couldn't ride that bus. And at that time I did have different feelings, you know. I, I didn't feel good about it.
IN: How did the civil rights movement affect your family? Do you have any stories about those days you want to share?
PC: I can't say how it affected my family but, because my children--, well I was away from home and my children was young at that time but, it affected me by riding the buses, going to places that we wasn't allowed to go in. In the bathrooms and things like that. And that, that the affect it had on me, that we could do those things afterwards.
IN: Tell us about your children and grandchildren.
PC: Well, I am the mother of three children, two boys and a girl. And I have eleven grandchildren and three great grand. And they are, they, the grands are different from mine when I was growing up, but ( ) I could put more with my grandchildren than really I couldn't have with my children when they was growing up because I had to work.
IN: How did your love of gardening begin? Can you tell us about some of your earlier gardening experiences?
PC: Well that's what I grew up on, is gardening. Because we didn't go to the store and buy vegetables, then my mother canned all of that. And in the summer or at that time we had wood stoves and she would can on, on, stoves that burned wood. And the house would be so hot at night you couldn't even hardly sleep in the house [Laughter]. You couldn't sleep in the house but we had to sleep in the house some way. But that's the way she did her food and, and we were brought up on food that was raised on the farm and garden.
IN: Can you talk a little about how gardening is different today than it was when you were coming up?
PC: Well, I wouldn't say it's any different. It's, I would say it's about the same. I can't see any difference, you know, between growing one vegetable then and now.
IN: Tell us about your work in Wilmore Garden. How you became involved? What kinds of things do you enjoy growing?
PC: Well, well I haven't been at Wilmore Garden but for two years but I heard about it some years earlier that they was growing vegetables and herbs and I said at that time I haven't never grew anything but sage. [Laughter] And I wanted to get, you know, get to know the other herbs and things that was being gr--, you know, that you grow, and that's why I became interested in Wilmore Garden.
JB: Have you been growing herbs since you have your little plot back there?
PC: Of course, yes.
JB: OK, what kinds?
PC: Well, rosemary. I've never seen any rosemary before, growing in rosemary. Let me see. Basil and [Pause] well, well I grew sage. That's about all I can think of right now.
IN: What do you know about the history of Wilmore Garden and how it got started? Where it was first located and why it, and why it was moved around so much?
PC: No I, I don't know anything about when, when it was other places, another place I don't remember that.
IN: If you could grow just three things, what would they be and why?
PC: If I just grow three things it would be corn, I love corn and, and string beans and cabbage.
IN: Do you have a, do you have a garden in your yard at home and can you describe it for us?
PC: Yes, I have a garden in my back. And I grow [Pause] string beans, tomatoes, my favorite and lima beans and onions. I've grown that. And in the fall I do put out collards at my house too. And greens.
IN: Is gardening in your community different than gardening in your own, own yard?
PC: No. It's no different. It's just so sm--, the Wilmore's is just a smaller area than, than the one I have at the house.
IN: What has having a community garden in Wilmore meant to you over the years? Why do you still work in the garden?
PC: I just love working in the soil. I like that.
IN: Have you worked in the greenhouse over the years? What kinds of things have you enjoyed growing there?
PC: Yes, I've worked in a green house. The planting the seeds and seeing them grow so fast, because they grow faster in the greenhouse than I can put them in the ground and they grow like that. And flowers.
IN: Have you worked in the green--? When you first put tomato plants out in the spring what are you thinking about when you put them in the ground?
PC: I think about the day that I could go out and, and pull one and eat it. I cut it up in for my lunch or dinner or whatever. I like that, that's what I am thinking about. My biggest ( )--.
IN: Do you, (have) you ever freeze vegetables? What kinds of things have you put up over the years and ( ) to do these things.
PC: I have canned. And I have put things in the freezer and my mother taught me. I, I have seen my mother do that and I just watched them. It just came natural to me when I started doing it.
JB: What kinds of things have you put over the years?
JB: ( ) hold on one second.
PC: What are you talking about?
IN: Do you ever freeze vegetables? What kinds of things have you put up over the years and can tell us about these things?
PC: My mother taught me how to do and I have, over the years I have put up corn in the freezer, soup, and canned. I have put up kraut, tomatoes and peaches. I've canned peaches. And I have made preserves.
IN: Have you ever canned any, any vegetables--?
JB: Wait a minute, wait a minute.
IN: Do you have any stories about snakes in your garden or other critters?
PC: Yes. Mostly bugs eating the vegetables or trying to eat them when I try to keep them out.
JB: Do you ever encounter any snakes?
PC: Oh no, no, no, no, no, no.
IN: Just bugs.
PC: Yeah mostly bugs.
JB: What kind of bugs and what do they eat?
PC: Well on the cabbage, worm, you know worms get on cabbage and, and it's the bug that get on your collards. Especially your plants and in the fall they, they just eat them up almost. And this year, I have had a hard time with some little thing they call lice. That's what we call them and they just, they just, they suck your plant to death if you don't try to keep them off. And, and spraying them doesn't do any good because I just use soap and water to try to keep them off and it did pretty well.
IN: Can you talk about how you decide when to plant your spring garden or when to plant your fall garden? And do you ever use the almanac?
PC: Yes, every year I try to get an almanac and I try to plant by that most of the time. And, and the spring garden I try, sometimes I try to start it in February. I plant what you call sweet peas. And I'm, and I'm looking forward to doing that this year. It start--, it would be small but it will be just a small garden but that's when I start in February.
IN: Can you remember ever having a really bad year in the garden?
PC: Yes, but I can't remember what year. All my tomatoes died one year it was hot. And that was a bad year for me. It was really tragic.
IN: We'd like to include a section on how to go about successful gardening tips and gardening of those ( ). Can you talk about what you have learnt over the years in terms of growing a good garden?
PC: The only thing I can think about growing a good garden is getting, getting, getting the garden proper water. And, and you know fertilizing it, and that's, that's caring for it. But water is very important.
IN: What do you do to keep bugs from getting in your vegetables?
PC: Well I use a dust and a lot of the time I just hand pick them off.
IN: What do you use for fertilizer? And do you ever compost your, your leaves or table scraps to use in the garden?
PC: No, I just use mostly fertilizer. Sometimes I use leaves that, well I guess you could call it compost but I really just don't have a compost area. But I do put rotten, you know the leaves that have rotted over the years in the garden, in my garden (out there back).
IN: We are going to include favorite recipes from your book. Can you talk a little about ( ) with your garden vegetables or herbs and share some of your favorite recipes?
PC: Well I don't have any favorite recipes. I just, just cook naturally. You know just like a meal. I don't really have recipes.
JB: What would be a good summer meal out of your garden?
PC: Corn, cabbage, string beans and tomatoes [Laughter]. That would be a good meal. Maybe not all the vegetables at one time but those would be some of them that I would like to have.
IN: Why do you think it is important for young people to learn about gardening?
PC: I think it's very important because you don't know when you will have to have these things. And I like just to go out into my garden and not to go to the store and get them.
IN: What bit of special wisdom or advice you would like to pass on to younger generations?
PC: Knowing how to do these things is very important.
IN: In closing, is there anything you would like to say that you haven't got to?
PC: No, I think we've said enough. [Laughter] I think we've said enough.
IN: Thank you very much.
PC: Thank you.
JB: Jasmine do you want to ask anything or any other questions? Maybe you can talk a little about gardening or--.
JG (Jasmine Gathier): (Does she make preserves?)
JB: OK well, give her the ( ) you can ask her.
JG: How do you make the preserves, how do you can the vegetables?
PC: My soup, I just do, do the tomatoes in hot water and if I have okra to put in it, I just cut my okra up in it and it does fine. That's the way I do my soup. And add the other vegetables when you get ready to put it. You know, when you get ready to cook it. And my preserves, like peaches, that's the most I have preserved. I let them sit in sugar over night and then I cook them in the morning. You know the next day. And this year, I did some drying. I bought me a dehydrator, and I, I did some peaches and I did some apples and I did one bag of tomatoes.
JB: How were the tomatoes?
PC: They did good but it takes longer for them to dry.
JB: And then how would you use dry tomatoes?
PC: You know I haven't used them yet but the next time I make soup I'll put some, I'll put some of them in there. [Laughter]