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Interview with Mary Ellen Caldwell Nash

Nash, Mary
Graham, Tequilla
Date of Interview: 
farming; Charlotte, NC; Pineville, NC; Wilmore neighborhood; Family; Employment; Segregation; Civil rights movement; Family reunions; Education
Mrs. Mary Ellen Caldwell Nash begins by describing the community she grew up in and the various schools she attended as a child. She comments on her family and recalls the various skills her parents taught her, such as cooking and gardening. She then describes some of the jobs she has held over the years and the duties that went along with working. Wilmore neighborhood is described as peaceful and quiet when Mrs. Nash and her family first moved there thirty years ago, but now, she says, things have changed for the worse. Other topics discussed by Mary Nash include segregation, her children and grandchildren, and family reunions.
Charlotte, NC, 1931-2001
Interview Setting: 
Wilmore Community Garden, Charlotte, NC
Cultivating Common Ground
TG (Tequilla Graham): This is Tequilla Graham. It is November 3rd 2001. I am interviewing Mary Nash at community garden for Cultivating Common Ground project. Let's start with some questions about your childhood years. What is your full name?
MN (Mary Ellen Caldwell Nash): [Clears throat] My name is Mary Ellen Caldwell. And the married (souls) Mary Ellen C. Nash.
TG: Where were you born?
MN: When? I was born October the tenth. Tenth day, thirty-one year.
TG: Where were you born?
MN: In Mecklenburg County.
TG: Can you talk for a few minutes about the community where you grew up? Take your time and describe what it was, what it was like and how it was growing up there.
MN: As a childhood, I've lived in Mecklenburg County all my life. Where we lived was in the rural country. Now it's moved to developments, business parks and such other things. I, I lived on Pressley Road, where Rose Lane is when I was a child. I lived where Montclaire School is when I was growing up going to school. I lived where Park Road Park is when I was growing up. And I went to Sterling School in Pineville when I was growing up and--.
JB (June Blotnick): Was that mostly country back then?
MN: It was all country. It was farmland. It was cotton fields, pastures, cows, dairy farms and all of that. And the houses was like from a half a mile, a mile apart when I was growing up.
TG: Tell us about the house you grew up in and how it was different than the house you live in today.
MN: We didn't have [Sneeze] the house we lived in we didn't have inside bathrooms. We didn't have running water. We had to get our water from a well out in the yard a couple of blocks away. We had to heat with wood. We had a fireplace. Either a heat--, a warm water heater where we put coal and wood in. That's what we usually do for heat. We cooked on a wood stove. We didn't have electric or gas or any of that when I was growing up.
TG: Who lived with you when you were growing up? Can you tell us about your family members?
MN: My father his, his name is George Caldwell and my mother her name was Maggie B. Caldwell. I'm the oldest of three children. My, I have a sister that was Sarah Elizabeth Caldwell and my brother was George Caldwell Junior. And we, we lived in like three rooms, sometimes four when we were little growing up.
TG: Tell us about your father, the kind of work he did. Things he thought, I mean things he taught you, you when, never mind--things he taught you, what you remember most about him.
MN: Well at that time he was farming. When I grew up like to, from a baby to around about five years old, he was farming, but he was farming for his own self. He did patchwork. And everything he planted I helped him. He used to work on the railroad but he still did patchwork. And what you call patchwork is just like these gardens you know you've got a field over here you probably put corn in it. Another place you put sweet potatoes. And it was his own garden. Whatever he planted was his own garden. And I helped him to plant everything he had to plant. He would mark off the rows and show me how to drop the seeds and I would drop the seeds. He'd mark off the rows and dig holes for the plants and I'd drop the plants. And we'd go back and pour water in there and then put the dirt over them. Same thing today as setting out plants.
TG: Tell us about your mother. Did she work outside the home? Things she taught you, what you remember most about her.
MN: My mother she worked a little bit outside the home but mostly she was homemaker. And well I learned how to cook. And learned how to clean. I learned how to wash. She was the type of person that you had to do it right. If you didn't you had to do it again. So that's stuff that you don't forget because you don't want to do it over and over. You want to do it right to start with. So we had, I learned how to take small amount of food and make a big meal off of it. Sometimes people today they think they can't cook unless they go to the store but they have stuff in they pantries that they can go and then make a meal off of. And they don't know how they can make a meal off with but you can. So I learned how to do. And we, and washing, we had to wash by hand. So I learned how to wash my clothes by hand because we didn't have a washing machine. And we had to carry water from the well to wash with. And we had a big pot that she heated the water in outside to make a (boiling water) wash pot. Heated the water to wash with. And we washed with the scrub boat.
TG: We are interested in what kinds of chores you did when you were growing up. Can you talk about that for a few minutes?
MN: We had, I had to, when I was growing up, I had to wash dishes, help clean up, and in the summer we gathered berries for canning. So we had to go pick berries. We had to pick the blackberries. We had to go pick the strawberries. We had to come back home and then we had to help, help my mom to clean for canning. And then my daddy I helped him in the garden. We had to gather the crop corn. We had to pick the peas and all that.
US (Unidentified Speaker): Can we stop it for one second? ( )
MN: So that was, that was a chore I had to do.
TG: And we're going to stop one second.
TG: Did your family raise animals when you were growing up? Can you tell us about what you remember about those days?
MN: When I was growing up yes my family raised animals. We raised the pigs, chickens, and my daddy had cows. And he would, he would, he didn't kill the cows. He would take them and to the butcher and swap even, you know. He would take the one he had and then he would get meat from the butcher. Get the beef and stuff from the butcher. But we killed our hogs. We killed our own pork. We killed our own chickens. We raised our chickens. And, and the fall of the year we'd kill the hogs and preserved the meat. So my mother had a way of saving the sausage and we salt down the fatback and the hams, salt them down and saved them and they would cured and we'd have them to eat all year.
TG: Do you remember how she made the sausage?
MN: Well then, you know, we didn't have refrigerators. We had what you called a, a ice-box, box that you put the block of ice in. And she would make a sack and stuff those sausages in the, in the you know like a sack and hang them up and let them, whatever they, dry you know they would, that's what she would do. Or she would stuff in corn shucks. You know corn after it dries on the stock you know it's just a dry shuck. She would stuff them in the corn shuck, corn shuck and you know tie it up at the top. And put, after you put the seasoning stuff in it, that's the way she did it.
TG: What do you remember about your school years? What school did you attend and can you describe for us what they were-- what they were like?
MN: Well I went to elementary school. I went to Pineville and we had two classes in one room. And I guess pretty much some of the same basic as schools are today except for the book, paperwork. You know the books. The books and things are different now. And it was and out in the country. I walked three or four miles to school. Then later on we caught the bus. And I lived where near where Montclaire School is today. And we had to walk up to South Boulevard for the bus stop. That's how far we were from the bus stop. And I went to Sterling in Pineville. And sometime me and my sister would miss the bus and we would walk to school in the morning because we didn't want to go back home so we walked to school. And I went to school at they called Little Hope. I don't know if you know anything about Little--. You know where the Y is on Park Road? OK. You know where the, it's behind where the Y is on Park Road, that little settlement in there. And we lived Clanton Road and South Tryon it was country then. And so we had to walk, so we walked from there to school in the morning and walked back in the evening.
JB: Where did you go to high school?
MN: I, I, I just got to junior high. And I didn't go to school anymore. I took up some adults, some classes in you know the adults class that come out and stuff. I took some of that but I didn't finish it either.
TG: Can you talk for a while about the kind of things that you do for fun when you were a child and how different from your grandchildren today?
MN: We lived in out like I say in, it was country. And me and my sisters we played in the woods a lot. We just like roaming the woods. And we just played together around in the yard and just, and, and we liked to go fishing. We would go fishing. Climb trees and just played with each other.
TG: Here are some questions about your adult life. How long have you lived in Wilmore?
MN: I've lived in Wilmore for thirty-two years. I've been, I moved here in '70. I've been in Wilmore since '70.
TG: What do you remember about the neighborhood you lived in before Wilmore? And tell us, and tell us why you moved here.
MN: I didn't know anything about Wilmore before I moved here. I just knew the street because we would always go past the street. And I always wondered where did the street go to? Because when you go past the end on Wilmore you can't see anything. And it just looks like a driveway. And at the time we were looking for a house. And the agency found the house that we were in. And when we looked at this house it's just my husband we just fell in love with it and we moved in it. And we're still living in it.
JB: Where did you live before you moved here?
MN: Down there where Piedmont Natural Gas is. They call it the brickyard. Right where Service Merchandise. Right behind where Service Merchandise, we lived there. We lived there fifteen years. And then we moved from there to Wilmore.
TG: Tell us about the kinds of work you've done over the years. What was your first paid job? Do you remember how much you got paid per hour?
MN: I did domestic work. I don't know what the first was but I did domestic work. And we got like five dollars. Three to five dollars a day back then. And I would, when I tell my grandchildren that they laugh. But then that was what we were making. And I worked in a trailer park, trailer park for some ladies and I just worked a half a day. This lady paid me two-fifty and the other lady paid me two-fifty. And that's what it was then. That the, the first well I did restaurant work but I can't remember what the first pay was. But I went to work at Lance, later years I went to work at Lance. And my first check was like sixty-nine dollars for a week. Back you know when I started.
JB: Tell us about the work you did there at Lance?
MN: I, I just cleaned. I cleaned maintenance like you know. I cleaned behind the ladies' that run the belt where the crackers run on, they'd feed the machine. I'd clean the crackers up from around their feet. And did the bathrooms and stuff just cleaned.
TG: Do you remember who the first president was you, was you voted for? Tell us about that election.
MN: I don't even remember. [Laughter] I don't even remember who the, who the first one I voted for. The only reason I can find that is just have to go back and look on the record because I don't remember.
JB: Nobody has remembered so far so don't feel bad. [Laughter] That's a, I guess it's trick question.
TG: 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, etcetera?
MN: When I first moved here, I can't tell you a whole lot because when I first moved here I didn't, you know I didn't cover Wilmore. I, I did later on but not when I first moved here. When I first moved here I was just on this side of Wilmore where I lived. And when I first moved here the, the yard, people had their yards pretty and it wasn't as much traffic. And I liked it, the street I lived on. And since then and these years past it's been a lot of traffic, a lot of noise, and as far as my neighbors I've had good neighbors all the time. And I've met the people in Wilmore that a lot of people are still here. I've walked with, I've walked Wilmore and I've met a lot of people. And some of the houses are empty that used to didn't be empty. And some of them are still hanging empty. And then it got to be people after Third Ward had to move out, a lot of people moved in here and they, people got to coming in here that you know hung out on the streets and did a lot of drugs and stuff. Outside of that, I, it's, it's been OK except for lately, the years lately. A lot of young people don't go to school; they hang out on the street. You know you can walk Wilmore all day long you see somebody hanging out. They're supposed to be in school and they not. And that used to didn't be.
TG: Do you have any stories that you'd like to tell the young people about the days of segregation and what it was like growing up here?
MN: No I can't remember what I. No I, I can't remember because all my life I've been living beside people that we've mingled together all my life. That's where we've lived at the neighbors we played with their children, they come to our house. We ate at they house, they ate at my house. As far as that part is that it's no different, but the only thing is, is when they used to didn't like to, like to ride the bus. And uptown we couldn't stop at different counters to eat. I, you know I remember that part but as far as then. Because I was young and as far as then, as far as that I didn't, I don't know much about it.
TG: How did the civil rights movement affect your family? Do you have any stories about those days that you'd like to share?
JB: When the lunch counters were being integrated. And do you remember--?
MN: I remember but I don't know much about it because, except for just listening to the reports, the news and stuff because I wasn't out there you know. We, I, I wasn't mingling, mingling with it, because I wasn't out there going places and riding and eating and stuff.
TG: Tell us about your children and grandchildren.
MN: What do you want to know?
JB: How many do you have and--?
MN: I got married early. I got married as a teenager. Dropped out of school. Got sassy, dropped out of school. I got married as a teenager and I married my husband that I have today. We've been married fifty-four years in January and I, I have seven children. I have twenty-five grandchildren and I have about seventeen or eighteen great-grands. My oldest, my oldest son named Sam, Samuel he, his wife, him and his wife got six boys. Some he adopted and some, you know, is their own. And then my daughter, I have a daughter live on Merriman. Miss Davis. She has three children, Derek and Tanita and Tomette. So I'm fixing to have a new great-grand in the next month or so. And one named Willy. He got six children. And Robert he got two. And my daughter Pauline she's got two and--.
JB: Do you have family reunions ever during the year?
MN: We have, well I don't, well it's like a family reunion. Thanksgiving they gather at my house for dinner. And I have like thirty-five to forty people for Thanksgiving. And Christmas they gather at my Pauline's house, my daughter, for Christmas breakfast. Easter they gather at my eldest daughter house on Merriman for dinner. And different days: birthdays, Fourth of July, Memorial day and stuff like that we gather at my oldest sons house for different days because they have cookouts and we all the time go in there. So that part is like a family reunion with my personal family. But just a whole big family reunion? We have it like, we've been having like once the year, with the other part of the family. All except this year we passed it and we're going to have it in next year. So they're planning to go somewhere.
US: How big are those? How many people go to those?
MN: Approximately, approximately 300, 2 or 300 people. Possibly something like that. We usually have it at Park Road Park.
JB: Which is where you grew up.
MN: Yeah. I can't hardly tell where the house used to sit but you know where the lake is? Where the lake is that's been there all the time. When we lived there it was just, it was just a little swamp with running water. And further down the line we played in the drain in the, we called it a branch in the drain when it runs. We played in the water we made us a swimming pool in the branch and we played in the branch and that was when I was like eleven or twelve years old (way then).
JB: I'm just going to hand this to you if you need it
MN: Oh.
JB: for your face.