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Interview with Elma Demby

Demby, Elma
Newland, Frances L
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with People and Places; Stories and Storytellers; Childhood Adventures
Elma Demby remembers the stories her parents told of when they were growing up.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Frances L. Newland interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
FN (Frances L Newland): My name is Frances Newland, and today is April the 16th, two thousand and three. I'm going to interview Elma Demby.
FN: Hi, Elma, how are you?
ED: Um, I'm fine, Frances.
FN: Um, I'm going to be asking you some questions.
FN: I want you to tell me some stories that you remember grow, uh, when you were growing up or what your family used to tell you.
ED: OK. I had some interesting stories back then, but maybe I don't always remember them all, but this is a story of my, that my parents used to tell us as we were growing up. My parents grew up on a farm down in Union County, down below Monroe. My mother came from a large family. All had their duties to do. The older ones worked the crops, which, which included a large garden. They raised most of their food, including the milk, eggs, pork, churned their own milk and butter. Around 1902, their family [clears throat] was chosen to have a switchboard put into their home from the telephone company. So they had to take turns sitting with the switchboard. And everyone in the community had to ring the switchboard to get a number or to get connected. Uh, and ask for a certain family. No through lines back then. Well, my mother took her turn when the others were in the fields. She was only seven or eight years old. She said she sat on a stool to, uh, reach [clears throat] the switchboard and her feet would not touch the floor. It was a crank phone. When I was growing up, I remember that phone hanging in my grandparents' home. I think by then it was a more sophisticated system. And the phone stayed in their home till they passed away. Then my mother's brother got it and had it put up in his den. And, as far as I know, it's still hanging there down in Sumpter, South Carolina. What memories. Also, there was a map drawn up of Union County back in about 1907 and all the roads in that area were named after the families so that this map it is, on this map it is marked, the M.L. Bakerfirst telephone in the county. Several years ago I was lucky enough to get a map of this and I had it framed and it hangs in my den [clears throat]. My mother told us about the quilting parties that she and friends would have. And, um, she said they'd all get together and quilt, somebody would make the top and they would, um, quilt each other's quilts and get together and have lunch and, uh, but back then they didn't have the heat that we have today. So it took a lot of quilts for several beds and their families. But they, she said they always had such a good time. This was while the children were at school. And she said about 12 o'clock, or so, for lunch they'd quit quilting and have a big pot of chicken and dumplings or big pot of vegetable soup and cornbread. What love they shared and what good friends they were. And some of them were relatives. In the fall when the crops were finished, corn in the barn, they would go to my Aunt Juliaand Uncle John'sfor a corn shucking. The children would be out running around playing hide-n-seek. The men were in the barn shucking the corn to put away for the winter. This corn fed the family and the animals all winter long. They would take the best of the corn and carry it to a corn mill and have it ground into corn mill and grits, southern grits. So while the men were out in the barn shucking corn, the women were inside cooking up a feast to feed everyone. This was in November when the corn had dried and the chill of the winter was in the air. My father and mother grew up in the same neigh-, community. They went to the same church as they were children together. My dad's, uh, family's land surrounded the church and he told us many times about working the land. Then the church outgrew the property, so my grandfather gave the church some land and the church extended the cemetery and that is where my parents are ba-, buried right now, on the land where he worked as a boy. When I go down there, I am so proud and so sentimental knowing, that this is, that this is the way it was back then. Such good memories.
FN: And so you said that your brother still has the phone.
ED: No, my mother's brother.
FN: Your mother's brother still has the phone.
ED: Down in Sumpter. It's the old time that you hold the speaker to. I mean you walk up to it, but you have to crank like this, you know [hand gesture] to make, to get connection, I guess. I don't understand it.
FN: Uh-huh.
ED: But it was attached to the wall, a big frame and you had to take the speaker, I mean the earphone off of the telephone, and us kids used to, 'course it wasn't connected to the telephone system when I was growing up. It was just memories sake hanging on the wall.
FN: Um-huh.
ED: And us kids, we used to play like we was using the telephone, when we would go to Grandmaand Grandpa Baker's house to spend a day or so. Yes, it was good memories. But my mother used to talk about that a lot 'cause, can you think of a seven or eight years old being trusted with the telephone system?
FN: No.
ED: That everybody in the community would someway a light or something would come on and they would say, you know, "What number?" And they would say like, "The Baker family," you know, or, "The Allen family." That was my parents' two names. And they'd just punch a, there was no lines in other words.
FN: Uh-huh.
ED: No, uh-.
FN: So there was a switchboard operator. \\That had to work\\.
ED: \\They-\\. They were actually the switchboard operator.
FN: Really.
ED: They were really the switchboard operator.
FN: Uh-huh.
ED: And I don't even know what telephone company that was. I forgot. So that was really interesting.
FN: Thank you, Elma.
ED: You're welcome.