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Conversational with D. Kermit Cloniger

Cloniger, D Kermit
Cloniger, Catherine
Date of Interview: 
Stories and storytellers; Relationships with people and places; Then and now; Childhood adventures
Kermit Cloniger talks about growing up in a cotton mill village.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Catherine Cloniger interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
CC (Catherine Cloniger): OK.
KC (D. Kermit Cloniger): You go ahead and introduce me.
CC: [Laugh] Well, it's just for me. I'm going to be writing out what you say, so.
KC: Well, as I have told you many times, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a cotton mill village. And I was born in a house that's still there, and we had outdoor plumbing facilities and no running water. It was pumped into the house by the back porch, and, uh, we, uh, were able to, uh, do our laundry outside and hang out the clothes to dry in the sun. And, uh, then, of course, iron them or sew them up, whatever the women in the house had to do. My Grandmother Cloniger lived with us for, uh, all her life, uh, from the time my dad was a baby, because his dad died when he was six months old, and his mother, uh, took care of him, and then when he became a man and had a job, uh, he took care of his mother the rest of her life. And I think she lived to be in her 90s in good health. But we had a good fraternity of people in the cotton mill village. They all were working people, blue collar people, and the average pay at that time, and this was back in the 20s, the average pay was probably, probably 10, 12 dollars for a family a week. And there were always children because people would want to produce children so they could go to work in the cotton mill when they became fourteen years old. And most of the kids that I grew up with did quit school when they were fourteen to go to work in the mill. They could not do it because of the labor laws, they couldn't go to work there before fourteen. And of course as a child, I grew up in that environment, and with the most wonderful people in the world. I've heard people through the years criticize the, these people in cotton mills, and they didn't have good education, and they didn't have the privileges that other people had, but they were honest. We happened to have, be fortunate enough to have, a house in the mountains, at Chimney Rock, really, Bat Cave, at that time, in the 20s. My dad and his brother owned a house up there, and we would leave our house in the cotton mill village and go to, uh, Bat Cave and stay maybe two or three weeks, or maybe a month, and not even lock our house. We did not have any keys to the door in our house.
CC: [Laugh]
KC: My sisters were girls, growing up, and I was a young man, growing up, but we had no keys. My dad didn't have a key to the house, or my mother. So when we went off anywhere for a weekend to see one of his brothers or something, why, uh, we just left the house open. And when we came back, everything was there. I don't remember in my youth, there were 65 families lived in that cotton mill village, and I don't remember anything ever being stolen from anybody in the village. The people themselves did not tolerate it. They were honest, God-fearing, church-going people, who worked, uh, 12 hour shifts, five days a week, sometimes six days a week, for what little pay they got. But we had a company store where they bought groceries at a good price, and they could charge what they wanted to there. And each week after they got paid, they would come and pay their bill. And the grocery man, my dad owned part of the store too, uh, the grocery man would give a little bag of candy to the children in the family because people paid their bills. It was a situation that, uh, required our, uh, children in the village to go across town to go to school. And we walked. We didn't have school buses in those days. We walked, and we'd run home for lunch, they didn't have cafeterias, and then run back.
CC: How far was it?
KC: About a mile, and so we put in, we walked four miles a day to go to school and back. And, uh, and my dad finally got tired of his people in the village, and there was another cotton mill or two around close to this one, built on the river there, and, uh, he got tired of his people having to go across town, walk across town, to go to school, when the kids that lived on the other side of town could go to the school without any problem, maybe a five or ten minute walk away. So he built, helped to, led a drive, and put a bunch of money in it himself, and built a school in the cotton mill area, so that the children from several cotton mills could go to school there. And that school, I suppose, is still there. I haven't seen it in a long time, but the thing that I would like to impress on you is that they were good, honest people, God-fearing, as I said a moment ago, and they believed in sticking together. They would stand up for one another and I never saw anybody hungry, even when they were out of work, we didn't let them go hungry. They looked after each other. They lived as Christ would have them live. They loved their neighbor as themselves, and most of them loved God with all their heart.