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Conversation with Sylvia Gillard

Gillard, Sylvia
Napier, Katherine
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Childhood Adventures
Sylvia Gillard recalls growing up in Charlotte, NC during the 1950s and 1960s, when things at home and in the city were not the same as they are today.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Katherine Napier interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
KN (Katherine Napier): Just start talking. Go.
SG (Sylvia Gillard): OK, um, let's see. I remember when I was probably around nine, 10, 11, somewhere in there, we used to play outside a lot. We used to play kickball a lot. We had groups of us that would get together and play kickball every night until it got dark, so dark that we couldn't see, and then we rode our bikes. And back then, it was colder in the Charlotte area than it is now, and we would have snow at least once or twice a year, and it wasn't unusual to get a foot of snow. And we all had ice skates, so we would ice skate up and down the streets, I remember doing that. We missed at least two weeks of school every year for snow and we always had heavy coats and mittens, stuff that you don't have now here.
KN: Huh.
SG: Yeah. And the only place, there were no skating rinks in Charlotte. The only place that you, there were no roller skating rinks at all. The only place that you could go ice-skating was at the Coliseum. And every weekend we would have hockey games and during the day they would, you know, redo the ice and then you could ice skate. So that's what we did during the day. And, let's see, I used to climb trees. Once I climbed a tree, a pine tree, and I got to the top and it started swaying. And I was afraid, and I couldn't come down, and so my daddy had to get this really high ladder and come up it and get me down. You know about that don't you?
KN: Yes.
SG: [Laughs] Been there, done that. Um, let's see, there was, uh, obviously, no VCRs or any of that. I remember when color, we had a little black and white TV, that's all anybody had. And I remember when color TV came out and I was so excited. My parents finally bought a color television and the first thing that we watched in color was Bonanza. And I was madly in love with Little Joe.
KN: [Giggles]
SG: And I remember running around outside being really, really hot thinking Bonanza would come on at nine o'clock on Sundays. And we'd come running back in the house to watch it and we'd be all hot and sweaty and dirty and mother would make us sit on the floor and we'd sit there watching Bonanza. And let's see, and the other thing that I remember that was my favorite movie was The Wizard of Oz. That was my very favorite movie. And then let's see, movies, very different from now. The only theatres that was in Charlotte was the Manor Theatre on Providence Road and what was called the Carolina Theatre up town. That was the only places to go to the movies. There were no shopping malls. Um, we would ride the buses, a big treat was to ride the bus uptown to go shopping at Ivy's and Belk's. And for Christmas they had these elaborate window displays and we would ride the buses uptown on the weekend to look at all the, and walk all through uptown to look at the window displays with all the Christmas decorations. That was the big entertainment. I remember when Carolina Place Mall was built, that was the first mall. Everyone was excited about that. Um, we used to go shopping there. When I was your age, I worked uptown and, um, there was only two big buildings, First Union building and the Wachovia building and all the rest of it were parking lots. So it's, it's changed a little bit. [Pause] I can't think of anything else to talk about [pause]. We didn't, um, in Charlotte, back in the 50s and 60s, they didn't have the big orange school buses, and we either walked to school, because everything was neighborhood schools, so in elementary school we always walked to school. And there was like a thing where we'd cut through the woods. That's to tell how different it was. It was totally safe, you never locked your doors. We cut through the woods walking to school. Um, and then when I got in junior high, we started riding city buses to school. I'm not sure how that worked or how the route worked, I just remember doing it. And we had sock hops on Saturdays. Once a month we'd have a sock hop and we'd walk to that [pause], or we'd thumb. And the first time I ever went to Myrtle Beach I was 14 years old and it was, we went with a friends of mine. Her parents were renting a place and she and I and another one of our girlfriends went. And we would go up and down the main drag there at Myrtle Beach where the Pavilion is and we would thumb up and down the, and we would just hop in the car with guys and ride up and down and yell and wave to everybody and then we'd get tired of those guys and we'd hop and go hop out and hop in the car with some more guys. [Laughs] It was totally safe. You never worried about it. Um, then all the hippie stuff started in the 60s and that was during Vietnam. When I was in, uh, junior high and high school there was big letter writing campaign to all the soldiers in Vietnam a lot of the guys I was in high school with got drafted.
KN: Uh-huh.
SG: Uh, hmm, I'm running out of things to say again [pause]. I was dating a guy that lived in the apartment beside Steve. And Steve would see me going up there to visit him or see us going out and stuff. And then, um, a neighbor that lived across the street from me, her husband was a member of the Jump Club, Steve was jumping then, and she had a cookout one night, invited some people over, and I went over there and, um, I think I was the youngest one there. They were all going out to a club or something and I wasn't old enough to get in, but I went with the rest of them. I think I was kind of at the end of the line and I snuck in anyway and Steve thought I was really cute. And then he got home and I don't know how he got my phone number. He got it from somebody and called me. And I wasn't really dating that guy that seriously, so I decided to go out with Steve. So I went out with him. Then I was dating this other guy. And then one of my girlfriends that was living with me at the time, we worked together at First Union, she bet me that I couldn't date a different guy every day for 2 weeks, so I did that. [Laughs] I thought you'd get a kick out of that one. I used to be cute.
KN: [Laughs]
SG: Um, anyway, Steve and I dated, I guess, not quite a year, about nine months or so, and then we decided to get married and then he took it back, and then we decided to get married and then he took it back, and then we decided to get married and then he took it back again. What else? Hmm. [Pause] Ask me a question.
KN: So did you get married?
SG: 26 years ago. [Laughs]
KN: Obviously.
SG: Yeah. There were no, there were only two night clubs in Charlotte so if you wanted to go out, like to listen to music and dance, there was only two places to go. So most everything, the apartment complexes would have parties. Like every weekend there would be parties in the clubhouses of the apartment complexes and that was pretty much where you would go to dance and just hang out with your friends. Um, things escape me. [Laughs] Oh. When I was in high school the big excitement was cruising Shoney's. There were four Shoney's in Charlotte and you would ride from one, it was like a big circle, and you would ride from one to the other and everybody would hang out there because it was a drive-in then, so all the cars were parked outside. And you could cruise through to see who was there and if it wasn't any cute guys there or anybody you liked then you would cruise to the next one. They were spread out around town so it would take about an hour to drive between all of them. And they had the, the Shoney's Big Boy was always sitting out front. And that was the big thing for all the guys, was to steal the Shoney's Big Boy and try to get it on top of their car and go riding down the road with it on top of the car. Um, once when I was in high school, I spent the night with my girlfriend across the street and we snuck out and pushed her mother's brand new Camero out of the driveway and halfway down the road then we started it. And then we went cruising and we had an egg fight with some other guys riding down Independence Boulevard. We were leaning out the windows throwing eggs at each other and everywhere the eggs hit it knocked the paint off her mother's brand new car. So we had to get jobs and earn the money to repaint the car. [Laughs] I was a little wild.
KN: Yeah.
SG: Family things. All my family's in eastern North Carolina so we went there several times a year to my grandmother's and aunts' and uncles'. I had two cousins that were my age. And I spent a lot of summers, I spent like a whole month in the summer there with them. We, this was at the beach, and we'd go to the beach during the day and the movies or stuff at night. The family would come up here. The most traumatic thing, my daddy decided to build a house when I was in the 10th grade so, and he literally built the house, and when we moved into it there was no sheet rock on the inside and the plumbing wasn't hooked up yet. So we had a garden hose coming in through the kitchen window for our water in the sink in the kitchen. We had one toilet in the house that was flushable but since there wasn't any sheet rock around the bathroom we hung these big army blankets to the studs, nailed those to the studs for privacy. And all my aunts and uncles and cousins came up to help move in and work on the house. So we had a weekend when it was like 12 of us staying there with one toilet, the hose going in through the kitchen [laughs] and piles of dirt and then the porch wasn't finished and we had boards going up to the porch so you had to walk up the boards to get in. So I had my dates pick me up at somebody else's house because I was embarrassed for them to come my house. [Laughs] But I know how to put sheet rock up and do shingles and all of that. That's the house my parents are still in.
KN: Really?
SG: Uh-huh.
KN: Neat.
SG: Daddy built the whole thing.
KN: Wow. Well, did you and Linda ever play together?
SG: My sister and I didn't like each other growing up, we fought all the time. We weren't friends until we were in our 20s. There's four and half years difference in our age. That's a big difference. She was my bratty little kid sister that got in the way and tattled on me. I remember when we were both teenagers, she would sneak in and take my clothes and we would fight over that. But then once we got, we lived together for a while before Steve and I got married. So once we were grown, we were very close.
KN: Hmm.
SG: Um, my parents didn't have much money. Daddy worked for Douglas Aircraft and then they closed up and they didn't want to move so they stayed here and he had, it took him a while before he found jobs. He had a gun shop, he tried several different stores, and he had a gun shop. He had that on the porch of the house and I used to sit out there and help him load shotgun shells and we used to go target shooting and stuff.
KN: [Giggles]
SG: Um, so we just didn't have much money. When I was in junior high school, the big thing was, um, alpaca sweaters, A-line skirts, and Pappagalo shoes. So I had a little part time job. So that all I could afford to do was get the shoes and the sweaters and I made all my skirts and made my blouses. And the first time I ever, we, we camped, we would go to the mountains and go camping that was the only thing we did as far as a vacation. Never flew, I was 21 years old before I'd ever flown on a airplane. I was a teenager before I ever went to Myrtle Beach. Um, there weren't many restaurants. We just didn't eat out. My mother worked. So when she got home I was responsible for doing the cooking and having all that done when she got home from work. We just didn't, the big thing was to go to a place called Dino's Pizzas and get pizza. Um, is that five minutes?