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Interview with Annie May Diggs

Interviewee: 
Diggs, Annie May
Interviewer: 
Young, Melvin
Date of Interview: 
2001-10-30
Identifier: 
CGDI0002
Subjects: 
Farming; Wilmore Neighborhood; Charlotte, NC; Dry cleaning; Gardening; Freezing; Canning; Vegetables; Food habits; Family
Abstract: 
Annie May Diggs recalls growing up and working on a farm with some of her family members. She tells about her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and how times have changed since she was growing up. She describes her job working for a dry cleaning business and how she now enjoys working in her garden in Wilmore Neighborhood. Mrs. Diggs was one of the founders of Wilmore gardens so she explains the various locations of the garden and how it developed where it is today.
Coverage: 
Charlotte, NC; and Wilmore Neighborhood in Charlotte, NC 1960s-2001
Interview Setting: 
The home of Annie May Diggs, Wilmore Neighborhood, Charlotte, NC
Collection: 
Cultivating Common Ground
Transcript:
MY (Melvin Young): This is Melvin Young. It is October 30th 19--, 2001. I am interviewing Mrs. Annie Diggs at here home in Wilmore community for the Cultivating Common Ground project. Mrs. Diggs take your time in sharing with us as much information as possible about the following questions. We'll start with some questions about your childhood years. Question number one. What is your full name?
AD (Annie May Diggs): Annie May Diggs.
MY: Question number two. Can you talk for a few minutes about the community where you grew up? Take your time and describe what it was like and how it was growing up there?
AD: I grew up in the country. We didn't have telephones and televisions like you all have today. So it was just learning what you was told. You know like your mother tell you what to do. It wasn't so bad.
MY: Question number three. Tell us about the house you grew up in and how it was different than the house you live in today.
AD: The house I grew up in we had--. It was a lot different from ( ) house. It was just built out of wood with a clay chimney. We had to gather wood for fire. We had a well that we had to bring water from. Some of my relatives they were lucky to have pump that you pump the water. A hand pump. A long, long time ago.
MY: Who lived with you when you were growing up? Can you tell us about your family members?
AD: I lived with my mother and my father and I have a sister. She lives in New York now. We grew up together.
MY: Who lived with you when you were growing up? [Pause] Tell us about your father and how the work he did and things he taught you. What do you remember most about him?
AD: I remember that he used to smoke cigarettes and we had to roll a bit of it. He'd send me to the store and we'd have to roll the cigarettes for him, a hand rolled. He worked at the factory. He worked at a cigar factory in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston, South Carolina and he'd come home like every, every week or every two weeks something like that.
JB: Pause it.
MY: I'm going to pause real quick. [RECORDING INTERRUPTED AND RESUMED]
AD: In the country but he didn't do no farming. I worked on the farm with my grandpa, aunts, cousins, and uncles.
JB (June Blotnick): What, what kind of things did you do on your farm?
AD: We picked cotton, thin--, plant cotton, thinned cotton off the plants when they get too thick. And then I grew up, we picked cotton, harvest them you know. Are you talking about what we planted? We planted sweet potatoes, corn and peanuts, ( ) vegetables you know. We helped plant. We helped work and make them grow and we helped the harvest.
MY: Tell us about your mother. Did she work outside the home, raise you, taught you? What do you remember most about her?
AD: This is my mother. She was a good mother. She taught me how to cook, how to clean. [Pause] Love and affection for her kids.
MY: We're interested in what kinds of chores you did--you had when you were growing up. Can you talk about that for a few minutes?
AD: We gathered wood for the fire, we, we hauled water to wash with. We, we had a well that we had to fill water with a bucket.
JB: Pause
US (Unidentified Speaker): We need to refocus the camera.
JB: OK. [RECORDING INTERRUPTED, RECORDING RESUMED]
MY: We're interested in what kinds of chores you did, you had when you were growing up. Can you talk about that for a few minutes?
AD: I had to see that we had water. We had to fill water from the well. And we had to gather wood for the fire for cooking we needed water. Well we had to clean and wash dishes I remember that.
MY: Did your family have a garden or raise animals when you were growing up? Can you tell us what you remember about those things?
AD: I remember we had a chicken house that we raised chicken. [Pause]
JB: Did you ever have to kill a chicken?
AD: Yes.
JB: Have to catch them and what was that like?
AD: Well at that time I thought it was fun to catch a chicken and put it up in a little, in a little rack like a, you know keep them up a couple a week, a couple of weeks before you killed the chicken. Cut his head off and pick the feathers off of it [Laughter] and clean it.
MY: What do you remember about your school years? What schools did you attend? And can you describe for us what they were like?
AD: I had to walk I'll say maybe from here to South Boulevard from school. I was lucky because I lived close to school. And we had a, we didn't have central air and heat and that stuff. We had a stove that heat the classroom. Blackboard and chalk, books and papers and that's it. We did what the teacher said. We had homework.
MY: Can you talk a while about the kinds of things that you did for fun when you were a child? And how it's difficult, or different from your grandchildren today?
AD: Oh yes. We had chores that we had to do and we didn't have TVs to sit down and look at. We had to help with the wash, the laundry and iron our clothes.
JB: Do you remember playing games when you were a kid? Or what kind of, there had to be some fun.
AD: I know we had a--. We didn't have games like the children of today. I remember we had a ball and a bat and played ball. Wasn't too much playing it was mostly work.
MY: Here are some questions about your adult life. How long have you lived in Wilmore?
AD: I've been here about thirty, about thirty-six years.
MY: What do you remember about the neighborhood that you live in before Wilmore? And tell us why you moved here.
AD: I lived on the, I lived in Double Oaks before we move here. But we needed a larger house and I have a large family and so I was glad when we could get a bigger house. [Pause]
MY: Tell us about the kinds of work that you've done over the years. What was your first paid job? Do you remember how much you got paid per hour? Can you share anything interesting or memorable stories about working a job?
AD: I've always worked in dry cleaning. My mother did before I did. And I started finishing silk at a early age; I'll say about fifteen part-time. And then that's all I did. I ran the silks to many cleaners on South Boulevard. That's all I did dry cleaning. Running the plant, until I retired like ten years ago.
MY: Can you talk for a few minutes about living during the Great Depression?
AD: I don't know nothing about the Depression.
MY: Do you raise vegetables or farm animals during that time?
AD: No.
MY: Do you remember who the first President was you voted for? Tell us about the election.
AD: I don't remember. [Pause]
MY: Can you tell us some old stories about Wilmore? What it used to be like when you first moved here? What did you look like etcetera?
JB: What did it look like?
AD: Huh? It wasn't much different than it look like now. I had to work so I was just in and out. My mother lived with me so she took care of the children. So you know it's, it's not all that different.
JB: Was there a trolley that came into the neighborhood or?
AD: I don't know.
JB: Down South Boulevard? Do you ever remember riding the trolley?
AD: Are you talking about that little train? Yes we rode it. For the first time we rode it in September. My granddaughter ( ) we, grammy and I, and grammy's mother.
MY: Do you have any stories you would like to tell us young people about the days of segregation and what it was like growing up here?
AD: No not really.
MY: How did the civil rights movement affect your family? Do you have any stories about those days you what to share?
AD: No.
MY: Tell us about your children and grandchildren.
AD: I have six children. They all finished school and some of them went to college. I have about eleven grandchildren. Four or five great grandchildren.
JB: Are they all spread out or do a lot of them still live in Charlotte?
AD: I have two daughters and a son that lived in New York and I have a son that lives in Texas. And some of the grandchildren live here and they're spread out here and there.
MY: My next-move on to--I'm going to ask you about is some garden experiences. How did your love for gardening begin? Can you tell us about some of the early gardening experiences?
AD: I've always liked to work in the garden. First you start with a flower garden and then like ten years ago Cissy Shulls and some of the ladies told us about a garden group up there at the center that we started. It was like twenty of us and we started planting up there. And then, no at first, at first we was up the street and Wilmore and the 1500 block. We moved from there and we went from up Wilmore to Kings--, on Kingston, we was on Kingston a few years and then it was, we were lucky to get the place back behind the center and that's where we plant. Where we work and we plant the gardens now. But I enjoy the people that we was planting together. You know it was fun meeting each other and everybody worked together.
MY: Talk a little about how gardening is different today than it was when you were growing up.
AD: I won't say exactly--it's different. It's just planting and harvesting. What you want to do. What you want to plant. What you want to harvest. You still have to work it the same way.
MY: Do you have a garden in your own yard at home? Can you describe it for us?
AD: Yes that's right I have a garden in the back. But this year it haven't been doing good. The squirrels really they go out and ruin the plants. I don't know it must be something I'm doing wrong in the garden in my backyard. But I enjoyed the garden that I work up the street.
MY: What kinds of things do you enjoy growing?
AD: I like to grow tomatoes. I like to grow okra and squash and mixed greens in my garden. I grow broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage.
MY: If you could grow just three things what would they be and why?
AD: If I could grow just three things in my garden it would be tomatoes and okra and squash.
JB: Why?
AD: Because those are the vegetables that I like. [Laughter]
JB: You like those best. [Pause]
MY: How does gardening in the community different than gardening in your own yard?
AD: I don't know maybe it's the soil. It's tilled up there. I can plant the same thing up there and then I plant the same thing back there but the one in the back I think the soil is, is more clay like. It just don't grow back there like it does up the street in the garden with the group. [Pause]
MY: What has having a community garden in Wilmore meant to you over years? Why do you still do it?
AD: It meant a lot. It saves the vegetables. It grows here instead of going to the farmers market. I can just walk up there and get whatever I want to cook to prepare for my family. I really enjoyed the gardening.
MY: Have you worked in the greenhouse ever the years, over the years?
AD: Yes.
MY: What kinds of things have you enjoyed growing?
AD: Yes I've worked in the greenhouse. We plant seeds for the garden. We plant flowers. We learned, I learned to pick the plant off a larger plant and root it and we can share those plants with other people, the other gardeners. I really enjoyed. Up there we make wreaths for Christmas and hanging baskets during the spring. I learned a lot.
MY: When you first put tomatoes plants out in the spring, what are you thinking about when you put them in the ground?
AD: I like to watch them grow. Watch when they start bearing their fruit. Because I'm forward to tomatoes coming on the vine.
JB: How do you like to prepare your tomatoes? Do you make sauce or eat them raw or what kinds of things do you do with them?
AD: I fix tomatoes with okra, okra and tomatoes. And I slice them into two and eat them like fruit.
MY: Do you ever can or freeze vegetables? What kinds of things have you put up over the years? And who taught you how to do it?
AD: Well my mother did most of the canning. But I enjoyed preparing things for the freezer.
MY: Have you passed on your knowledge about gardening and putting up vegetables in your, to your children, grandchildren why or why not?
AD: I have tried but they don't pay no attention. They think it's much easier, easier to go to the store and get frozen vegetables or canned vegetables.
MY: Do you have any stories about snakes in the gardens or other critters?
AD: No.
JB: We had to ask that because all the kids want to know did you ever seen a snake in the garden. [Laughter]
AD: Yes I saw a snake in the garden.
MY: Can you talk about how you decided when to plant a spring garden or when to plant your fall garden? Have you ever used the almanac?
JB: Almanac.
AD: Well some of the ladies they read the almanac and they'll tell you what date is the best time to plant. But I've had trouble with my eyes so I can't see to read the almanac. But some of the gardeners they'll share that information with you.
MY: Do you remember ever having a really bad year in the garden?
AD: Not up there with the group, but I have in my backyard.
MY: We're going to include a section in your book about successful gardening tips and garden folk wisdom. Can you talk about what you've learned over the years in terms of growing a good garden?
JB: Any wisdom about growing things you want to pass on to these guys?
AD: No. You know some people think you can just plant a garden and it's going to grow on it's own. But it's not like that. You have to work. You have to weed it out. And you have to take care of your garden. You can't just sit aside and wait for the garden to grow on it's own.
JB: How do you take care of your garden?
AD: I goes up there and pull grass. Hoe and put dirt around the plant and water it sometimes.
MY: What do you do to keep bugs from eating the vegetables?
AD: It's a powder, I think it's sevendust that you can use to keep bugs from eating.
MY: What do you use for fertilizer?
AD: We uses the 10-10 fertilizer.
MY: Have you ever composed your leaves or your kitchen scraps to use in the garden?
AD: Yes.
JB: Have you tried doing that at home or up at the garden?
AD: I have composed back in the, in the back yard that I pull leaves and scraps from my vegetables. I went to class with, I forgot his name, he taught us how to make your own fertilizer.
JB: Don, Don (Dolcomide) or? Is that his name?
AD: I can't remember right now.
MY: We are going to include favorite recipes in your book. Can you talk a little about cooking with your garden vegetables or herbs and share some of the, your favorite recipes?
AD: [Pause] Well I'm from the South so I believe in cooking lots of greens. And it's not really a recipe. You wash the greens about five times. You boil your meat whatever your going to cook it with. That's usually a lot of smoked turkey because my family this one don't eat pork and that one don't eat this. But I like to season mine with ham hock. All you have to do it boil it until it get almost done and you put your vegetables in it with a little salt, pepper. I'm talking about cooking collard greens or mixed greens now.
MY: We are now going to close the section of the ( ) with a few more questions. Why do you think it's important for young people to learn about gardening?
AD: I think it's important for you to learn so if you ever have to plant and grow vegetables at your home it would be nice to know how even if you never have to do that. [Pause]
MY: What bit of special wisdom or advice would you like to pass on to the younger, our generation?
AD: To the gardeners?
MY: To the generation.
JB: To the younger generation ( ).
AD: I would say stay in school and get all the knowledge and education that you can because you're going to need it in this day and time.
JB: Do you guys have any other questions? Do you have the last one?
US: Which special way do you plant your garden? Is there any measurement you spread your garden out when you plan?
AD: Special what?
US: Like do you put your collards one feet apart?
AD: You know I'm not, I guess maybe you have to be best because it's going to grow up into a big bush. And you don't want it to crowd it out too much.
US: And is there a special way that you water your plants in your garden?
AD: Not really. If I'm up there and somebody is watering their garden I might water my garden. It has a spray on the end of the hose and I think it's best just to keep it low so the ground don't get wet. But there's no special way just sprinkle it like it's raining.
US: And for, with your tomatoes do you wait until they get all, get red and then pull them off or do you let them be green, let them stay green until you ( )?
AD: I, I usually, some people like their vine ripe but when I go up there what's ripe I bring them in. If some is turning I bring them and set them in my window and let them get ripe there.
US: When you walk out to your garden is there big roots that you pick off when you use the garden? Do you use it all?
AD: Not really.
JB: Do you think you'll be gardening for another (ten)?
AD: If I live that long. Right now arthritis is setting in my finger and my sight is going dim. Even now sometimes when I'm pulling grass I might miss and pull up a few of my plants. But as long as I can, as long as I'm able, I'll be up there.
MY: In closing, is there anything that you would like to say that we haven't gotten to?
AD: No.
MY: Well thank you very much Mrs. Annie Diggs.
JB: Thank you. [Clapping] All right.
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