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Interview with Earl V. Church

Church, Earl V.
Myers, Jean Church
Date of Interview: 
relationships with people and places; stories and storytellers
Earl Church talks about his father and about growing up with his family.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Jean Church Myers interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
JM (Jean Church Myers): You were going to tell me about one of your, uh, your cruises on the Mediterranean when you were a Marine Corps, in the Marine Corps, Dad.
EC (Earl Vernon Church): Well, do you want me to tell about the cruise or you want me to say that about Dad working at, uh, Hanes Hosiery?
JM: Oh, actually, let's start with that one because it's a more, more family history. The ah, cruise is family history too, but we'll maybe move on to different experiences within the Marine Corps, your tour in the Marine Corps in the, in our next ah, segment of the interview.
EC: OK. Well, to start out with Dad working at Hanes Hosiery, he worked there for about 25 years. No, not about, he worked there for 25 years. However, he wasn't old enough to retire so he quit. Now, while he was there he was a machinist, not an operator. He was a repairman and a mechanic. But he, uh, remember when the stockings, well you probably don't remember, but the stockings used to have a seam up the back and the women had to try and keep it straight. Well, Dad was the guy that did away with the seam, he made the seamless stocking. Which, you didn't have to worry about it being straight anymore because it didn't show anyway. But uh, Hanes Hosiery really did him right. They gave him two hundred dollars for this. So that was his contribution to Hanes Hosiery, I guess. They probably made billions off of it. Well, that was Dad's share so then when we started to build the store. Uh, that's when he decided that he would quit, build the store and, and run the store. So, uh, he didn't quit at the time we started building the store because Paul, the next brother older than me, and I, uh, started the process of digging the basement for the store. Now, [laughs] our process was a pick and a shovel, and our tractor, which we had an L-Model John Deere and a scoop that you ran by hand, and, uh, since I was the youngest, Paul got to ride the tractor most of the time, and I got to do the, uh, work with the scoop. And it really wasn't that hard, but it was, you were tired when you got finished, I'll put it that way. But we would dip, scoop it out and the tractor, tractor would pull it out of the hole, we'd dump it, go right back and just get another scoop of which this took, quite a while, really, 'cause I can remember we were, ah, this was during the summer, I believe, of 1949, and I was, what, fifteen years old, so I was big enough to, to handle the scoop as far as that goes. But anyway, it was a lot of work and we'd, you know, take out all out that you can with the tractor. And then the only thing left to get in the corners and right down the walls was a pick and a shovel. So you did the pick and the shovel, threw it in the scoop, when the scoop got finished, got filled, you pulled it out and dumped it and went back and did the same thing. But ah, this took the summer of , uh, 1949, and seems like when I went back to school that fall, that ah, Paul and Dad and I would imagine that they had some other people there that was gonna lay the cement blocks and everything to straighten the walls out, and everything, get it ready. And ah, we poured the, ah, concrete for the basement floor. And that was a lot of work, too because at that time you didn't just have a cement truck just come in and put it all out. You had to mix each batch with a, we didn't have a, ah, electric motor to run ours, so we turned it until it, ah, the cement was ready to be poured. Then you dumped it over into a wheelbarrow, pushed the wheelbarrow down, down to the end of the corner or wherever it was along the floor. But that took quite awhile and [laughs] turned into a little work too. But we did get it all done. And they built the walls and stuff. They built it out of concrete block, but it was a lot of work and ah, something to remember, I guess. And it turned out to be ah, Doc Church's Corner Cupboard.
JM: Is that what the first name was?
EC: Uh-huh, that's what the first name was.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: And then when all the boys left home, I think it turned into just Doc Church's Grocery.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: That's what it was when we sold it.
JM: So how long did it take to uh, to pour the concrete, just for the basement?
EC: I really don't know, but it was several days.
JM: So it wasn't an afternoon.
EC: It wasn't an afternoon, that's for sure.
JM: [Laughs]
EC: But ah, like I say, it would, it couldn't have taken too awfully long because the concrete wouldn't have uh mixed together properly.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: But I can remember getting started early in the morning and it was well after dark when we got, when we'd stop. And I'm really not sure if we did it all in one day or not, it's possible we did.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: But-.
JM: You and Paul?
EC: Well, primarily it was Paul and me.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: Well, because Alvin, George, and Roy were all gone. They were in, ah, George and Roy were in the Navy, and Alvin was in the Army.
JM: Oh. I didn't know that.
EC: Yeah, and then later on, after the, well Dad, ah, he had Paul running the store to start with when it first opened. And it was, uh, matter of fact, Paul ran it until he got drafted in the Army, that's what it was, and Dad had to quit. So he quit work and, and he ran it.
JM: Now, if you built it in '49, and Paul was drafted, there wasn't a war.
EC: No, there was no, no war. But there was a draft. Everybody went in.
JM: OK. //OK. //
EC: // Yes, everybody // had to sign up for the draft at age 18. So did I. I got my, uh, uh, notice that I was [pause] what is it? 'A,' I think it was, you know, eligible for the draft. But I got mine while I was in boot camp, so I really didn't have to worry about it.
JM: You were in [laughs].
EC: But ah, I do remember Paul getting drafted. And that created Dad quitting at Hanes Hosiery, and start to // run the store. //
JM: //Oh, to run the store. //What about Joyce? Did the girls work?
EC: No. Well, at, at that time, Joyce was a, well she was still going to school just like me, but they would just help Mom in the house.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: And Mom didn't work in the store either, not at that time.
JM: Oh, is that right?
EC: No, she didn't start working in the store until, I guess all of us left home there was nobody else.
JM: Is that just a division of uh, uh roles, or //was that just the way that it worked out? //
EC: No, // that was a division of roles, // because women didn't do that much outside, or not in my family, they didn't do that much outside, except for Mom and her garden.
JM: Right.
EC: Now she did work in the garden and the boys did most of that too, because ah we didn't do anything in the house.
JM: So she was in charge of the house // and the kitchen -. //
EC: //Yeah.//
JM: //And the food? //
EC: Yeah, and Dad worked at Hanes Hosiery and, uh, was gone from probably six o'clock, six-thirty in the morning, 'til four, four-thirty in the afternoon.
JM: Well, that reminds me of the story you were telling, you told me, on and off, about having to wake up and milk the cows-.
EC: Oh, yeah.
JM: -Before you would each catch the school bus.
EC: Yea, we had two cows when, ah, when I guess, Paul and Roy was probably still at home then. So we had Roy, Paul, Audrey, me, Joyce and Ruth.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: So at that time we had two cows and Paul milked one cow and I milked the other. And then when, ah when Paul left, we got rid of one of the cows. So that just left me milking the cow. And I had to get up every morning and milk, before I went to school. Well, I had to get up every morning and milk it didn't make any difference, seven days a week.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: And milked in the morning and in the evening.
JM: How long did it take? You remember?
EC: [Laughs] It didn't take me very long after I learned how. [Laughter] But we had a, I, I could get a, a 10-quart bucket full, each time I went to milk.
JM: That's a lot of milk.
EC: Well now, the bus used to come by the house and it would, ah, go down the road which was about, eh, three quarters of a mile, turn around, now it would pick up several kids along the way, turn around, and come back up the road. There was lots of times when I would go out to milk when the bus went down the road-
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: And I would catch the bus when it came back. But-.
JM: //That's moving! //
EC: //-But, it was // moving.
JM: [Laughs]
EC: But I ah, I did, I still got the ten quarts of milk.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: So ah, I ah, it was moving right along and I didn't like to move that fast anyway, 'cause I always had a problem with getting up in the morning. So-.
JM: So how early were you out there milking? And you were-.
EC: It seems to me that the bus came about 7:20 or 7:25 in the morning.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: So, that means I had to be up, dressed, milk, and over to catch the bus plus I had to eat breakfast and I always ate breakfast.
JM: What kind of breakfast did Mamaw fix?
EC: Eh, normally it was, uh, biscuits and gravy, or eggs. But ah, it was just a typical breakfast, I guess.
JM: Well, just out of curiosity there was always sheep, there on the property?
EC: Well, we didn't have sheep when I was growing up.
JM: Oh, is that right?
EC: No, Dad got those after everybody left. That was something for him to do.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: So, I don't know that much about sheep.
JM: Did Mamaw, uh, knit sweaters or things like that?
EC: Not as I know of. But now, now, well somebody, ah, knitted something for him, but I don't remember what it was.
JM: So when you sheared the sheep, what did you do with the wool?
EC: Oh, that was him now.
JM: [Laughs]
EC: I, I never had anything to do with shearing the sheep.
JM: [Laughs]
EC: But I know that he, he would shear it, let it dry and, ah, he had somebody to, to work with it. I, I can't remember who it was. They would spin it into thread.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: And then they made something for him but I can't remember what it was now. Seems like it was an afghan?
JM: This is a real taste of history here, 'cause people just don't do that so much in contemporary society.
EC: No, no.
JM: That was after you were gone, in the Marine Corps?
EC: Yeah, yeah.
JM: What about the banjo story that mom's referring to? Is this, is there a story here?
EC: Well, Dad played the banjo, the guitar, uh, and the fiddle.
JM: Now I didn't know that.
EC: Yeah.
JM: Never heard a word.
EC: Well, I really don't know why because he used to play a lot. But as he got older, he didn't play as much. But, yeah, he was very good on a fiddle, and the banjo was a five-string banjo, of which he could, he could really pick that. Now he never used the finger picks or anything, all he used was his fingers.
JM: Well, what about, what's your earliest memories of him playing? Or is this something you've grown up with?
EC: Well, it's something I grew up with. I don't remember when he didn't.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: So, //uh-.//
JM: //So at night, around dinner, you just-. //
EC: No. Sometimes he would just pull it out and play and there was no special time it was just, eh, if he decided he would play, he would play. Lots of times it was on a Sunday afternoon or something like that.
JM: You going to tell me the stories?
EC: Well, you ever hear of Bill Monroe, and ah, Blue Grass?
JM: Ah, I haven't. But now that you've mentioned it I'm going to look into it.
EC: OK. Well, when Bill Monroe first started to get into his playing this way. He used to live about five miles from the house, maybe, maybe 10, something like that. Anyway, we used to have some bottomland down by the creek. And we'd have to go way around to get down to it.But, Bill Monroe lived, ah, back off the road a ways, as we went around to get to the bottomland. But, ah, he knew that Dad played the guitar and the banjo. And a fiddle as far as that goes. So, when he first started, he asked Dad to be in with him. So, they would practice, ah, I don't now for how long, cause this was really before I was old enough to know that much about it, but he used to practice with him. And he really wanted to be in the band, but when, ah, Bill Monroe decided to go national and start moving around to all the different places, and playing and living on that, then, ah, Dad dropped out of it because he didn't want to leave Mom. And he didn't want to quit his job at Hanes Hosiery. So, ah, even though Bill Monroe made millions, he started out, or, Dad started out with him.
JM: I'll be darned.
EC: So he was, huh, Dad was good playing. There, there was no doubt about that.
JM: Well, how did he get musically inclined? Did his dad play, or what?
EC: Well, I'm assuming that he just learned-.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: -At home as he was growing up. As to what his mom and dad, ah, played, I really don't know because I never saw either of them.
JM: Oh, you never met them?
EC: No, I never saw either of them. All I remember is, Dad was only 16 when his father got his head blown off at the sawmill.
JM: Wow. [Pause] I didn't know about that. Do you know that story?
EC: No. All I know is that, uh, he used to run a saw mill.
EC: He and, I think he had three or four brothers that all worked together.
JM: Ah-huh.
EC: But anyway, one of the brothers was in charge of keeping water in the, in the steam, you know, for the steam to run the sawmill.
JM: Right.
EC: And he let it get to low. And it blew up. And when it blew up, it took my granddad's head off.
JM: Oh, my God!
EC: Well, that's what they said. Now I only know from stories.
JM: What happened to your grandmother?
EC: I don't, I really don't know. I never heard anyone say as to why she died. Just that, ah, she was dead long before me.
JM: Wow.
EC: So, uh-.
JM: See you-.
EC: -I never thought about it. I probably should of asked. And I could probably as Alvin. I would, I would imagine that he would know. But uh, I have no idea. I never asked why she died, or when or anything.
JM: So you, growing up, you never took trips back into the mountains?
EC: Well, but, we went to the mountains to see Mom's mom and dad. Well, because they, they actually grew up, probably twenty miles from each other in North Wilkesboro.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: Well, it was just called Wilkesboro then. There wasn't any North, it was just Wilkesboro.
JM: Well, what do you remember about these trips?
EC: Very little. Because I was, ah, I was small when we used to ah, pile all seven or eight of us in the car and go up there. And the roads were rough to get there.
JM: What kind of car?
EC: It wasn't like going out on the expressway and running up there now.
JM: What kind of car?
EC: We had a '33 Chevy.
JM: Isn't that something. What color?
EC: I think it was blue.
JM: Yeah?
EC: But uh, anyway, we would drive up there and ah, most of it was dirt roads.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: So, this was, ah, oh probably a two to three hour trip, one way, at that time, which now you drive up there in an hour you know, from down here, you would drive up there in an hour, and you cut off a lot of the distance from Winston-Salem to up there.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: So ah, well, things were different. But we'd go up, and, and Mom and, or Grandma and Grandpa lived in a log cabin.
JM: Oh, my goodness!
EC: Yeah, they did. And, ah, I think Grandpa had built the log cabin, either him, or maybe his dad had built it. It, it wasn't brand new, that's for sure.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: But it had, ah, several rooms in it. And a large living room with a huge fireplace.
JM: Do you think it, well, does it still exist?
EC: I really don't know.
JM: Uh-huh.
EC: And, and even if I go up to see my friend up there now, I don't know where to go as to where it would be.
JM: I see.
EC: So, well I guess the last time I was up there was maybe when I was 11, 12 years old.
JM: That's old enough to remember being there.
EC: Yeah.
JM: But that's pretty young.
EC: Yeah.
JM: So what do you remember of your Grandma and Grandpa?
EC: Well-.
JM: On your mother's side.
EC: Well, my Grandpa, on Mom's side, was, uh I think he died when I was four, five or six years old [pause] because I remember going to the funeral but they wouldn't let me come in the church.
JM: Why's that?
EC: I had to wait out in the car.
JM: Why was that?
EC: I really don't know. I never asked that. Unless it was just that I was too young to go in. I really don't know. [Telephone rings]
JM: I'm not going to, well let me-.
EC: Stop it? [Telephone rings again]