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Interview with Avis Gregory

Interviewee: 
Gregory, Avis
Interviewer: 
Muffley, Naila
Date of Interview: 
2000-02-15
Identifier: 
LGGR0104
Subjects: 
Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Cultural Identification
Abstract: 
Avis Gregory is an avid reader who loves the library and craves the knowledge books can teach her. It all started in the fifth grade, when she had to learn 20 words from the dictionary every night. Ironically, her solitude in learning from books made her become a well-rounded person.
Collection: 
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Naila Muffley interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
Transcript:
NM (Naila Muffley): I'm interviewing Avis Gregory. Avis is from Brooklyn, New York, and she's 42 years old. She's Black American. And Avis has some stories that she'd like to, um, tell us regarding reading and, um, some experiences she's had with books and with teachers. Now Avis, you had mentioned to me before about you had a fifth grade teacher who you really enjoyed. Who, uh, got you excited about reading. But did you have any other, uh, experiences with reading that brings back memories prior to fifth grade, or did it really start with fifth grade?
AG (Avis Gregory): Umm, reading has always been a passion for me and, um, that was probably one of my favorite Christmas presents growing up. My mom knew that if she got me a new book, I was happy [laugh]. Umm so, it didn't just begin in fifth grade, but when you had, um, asked me about my favorite book--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: It took me back to fifth grade because that's when I fell in love with my favorite book. Well, it's one of my favorite books now, but then it was. It became my passion.
NM: What fav, favorite book was that? Do you remember?
AG: Yes, of course! [Laughter] It was the dictionary!
NM: Oh really?
AG: Yes.
NM: I just did a report on the dictionary!
AG: Really? Well she, part of the fifth grade, teachers had pretty much required, five-word, that you learn five words a day, 25 words a week. And that was pretty much it as far as vocabulary and spelling.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Mrs. Agee was, I think, was perceived by a lot of the kids as a tyrant, but her, um, I don't know exactly how to express it, intensity regarding //
NM: // That's a good word! [Laugh] //
AG: Um, grammar and English. It was just something that I kind of gobbled up. It was wonderful for me. She required 20 words a day, a hundred words. And you had to not only be able spell it and give a definition for it, but also had to be able to use it in a sentence.
NM: Ooh.
AG: And so vocabulary became electric for me. I mean I just, and, and, therefore, the dictionary itself became something that I really, I mean if I had to choose one book besides my Bible [laughs] it would be the dictionary! I don't think I could live without it!
NM: That's amazing because most people, when, when, they talk about their favorite book, it's usually a short story or a novel that is a prose. And certainly the dictionary isn't prose. So that is really unusual! I've never heard of somebody who had their favorite book as the dictionary!
AG: [Laughs] Oh.
NM: So that's, that's really interesting. Now you had to learn 20 words a day? So a hundred words a week?
AG: That's right.
NM: How did you go about doing that?
AG: Oh we had assignments where, um, we had to, um, write out the definition, actually write out, you know, using the word in a sentence. And we had, um, spelling bee types of situations where we had to spell the word. Um, we tested on it and, um, but it was like every week, like clockwork. Um, we were expected to, to, um, produce you know, this homework. And, um, for me it was exciting and fun. Everybody else was like, "Oh no! Please not this!" [Laughs]
NM: And she gave you the 20 words?
AG: Oh yes! Uh-huh.
NM: And then did you have to look them up yourself?
AG: Absolutely!
NM: So that's how your involvement got in with the dictionary. You had to look them up yourself.
AG: Yes.
NM: Well, what about looking up words? Why would that be an exciting thing for you?
AG: Well, um, at heart, I'm pretty much an adventurer, and, um, as a child, uh, stories were one way of exploring, um, for me. But, um, when, I don't know, I learn something new, it just feeds something inside of me that, uh, I don't know, maybe my enthusiasm for life is just taken to another, another, level. As an adult, uh, of course, it has expanded into other areas, but I still, um, enjoy, uh, spending time with my friend the dictionary. Um, one of the things that my husband teases me about is that when, when I have episodes, during my chronic illness, and I have to be horizontal, um, sometimes I'll play Scrabble by myself. And I'll play both sides and, but I don't play, of course, [laugh] the way you would in competition. But I have my dictionary there so I can say, "OK, now, what? You know, this looks like it ought to be a word, let's see if there's anything." [Laugh] So, I use it as a learning experience and find out new things.
NM: Interesting! I've never heard of it solo! [Laughter] That's really interesting! When, um, when you went beyond the fif, that was the fifth grade wasn't it? When you went beyond fifth grade, um, did you continue on, did the next teacher continue on that passion with vocabulary?
AG: Um, not really. Um, but when I left fifth grade, I also left Brooklyn, and when I came to the VA school system things were very different. Actually, um, there was a sense in which I think I was a little bit ahead of where folks were, um, in VA at that time. Um, in, the, um, the middle school, it was a major adjustment for me, culturally. Um, where we were from in Brooklyn, it was a very multicultural environment, and, um, it was very, all the races were kind of accepted to a certain degree. Um, actually, um, I didn't even have any kind of racial, um, prejudicial-type experience except for, um, from Blacks which--
NM: Huh, that's unusual.
AG: Which, I know. Well, not really, not as unusual as you might think. But, um, when we moved to VA, and I started to go to school here, um, the rejection I got was because I was a Northerner, and, uh, well, not here because I am in Charlotte now, but there.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And, uh, they were very unhappy with the way I spoke and, um, I tended to stay to myself. I tended to read a lot. I really with, withdrew socially--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: To, into books. And, um, the teachers themselves didn't necessarily emphasize it, it just became, the library became my favorite place.
NM: Humm.
AG: And, if at all possible, I would get permission, like, to spend my lunch hours and to, um, spend my homeroom hours, anytime I could get to the library, it was, uh, a haven for me. And, uh, uh, I prob, the librarian was probably my, my, best friend. [Laughter]
NM: I can imagine why! [Laughter]
AG: Yeah, it was, uh, a, a good outlet for me. In fact, I, um, when I got to high school, which was in VA, I, um, I remember beginning in the biography section and just starting with "A." And just reading each book and, um, just keeping on going until I got to the end, and, um--
NM: Boy that was a real task wasn't it?
AG: I didn't consider it a task. It was wonderful! I mean, I would devour a book a day, and my mom would say, "Honey, take your nose out of a that book and socialize! [Laughter] Talk to your brothers and sisters!" [Laughter] I would read while I ate, I'd read on the bus, I would read while I walked down the street, if I could get away with it! [Laughter]
NM: So, you were really absorbed in that.
AG: I did. I read all the time.
NM: All-consuming.
AG: It was. It was. And my mom had to really stay on me to be more well rounded, um, because it was very easy for me to escape into that because I was, um, rejection was, that was very hard to, to deal with. And one of the things that I did, attempted to do, was to absorb the language around me, and that was part of my, my interest. I mean, I al, because we were always around so many different cultures, I always had an interest in language and an interest in cultures. When we moved to VA, it was not as diversified. It was almost, that was where, it was like, uh, I really got to see black and white division. I went to school at a predominately white uh, school after my sixth and seventh grades--
NM: Uh-uh.
AG: And, umm, I didn't have a problem with that. I mean, I grew up accepting all races, so I didn't have a problem with that. But, because I didn't have a problem with that, there were those who had a problem [laughter] with me!
NM: With you?
AG: And so, umm, so, it was very easy for me to withdraw from people into a world of reading.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And, uh, [sigh], it's more balanced now [laughter]. But, I don't have to do that.
NM: Do you ever look back and, and regret the fact that you spent all that time in those books? Do you think, in other words, do you look at your experience as being a negative one and it drew you into, forced you into those books or did you think it was in some odd way, more of a good experience because you have absorbed your life in those books?
AG: I didn't consider it negative, I mean it was negative from the standpoint that, that I was being rejected in that respect. But the books, having the opportunity, it was fun to me! It wasn't, it, you know, as if, say I had been in a situation where I hadn't had the rejection and there I was more accepted socially. I don't know that I wouldn't have done the same thing! [Laughs] [technical problem with recording] But I loved reading! And whether it was by, I really liked true stories more than novels. There are few novels that I can enjoy. It's just that, and maybe part of my critical rigging comes from--. I tend to be very critical of my own writing.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And if a story is not very well written, it just leaves me, disappointed.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And true life tends to be more fulfilling in reading to me than someone else's imagination. I guess, really, I'm not, I guess there are very few things that I find, um, where I find that someone else's imagination intrigues me enough to, for me to read a lot of their material.
NM: So you prefer more of the biographies?
AG: Absolutely.
NM: Is that the same in movie watching?
AG: Yes, yes. Um, my husband and I both tend to be very critical when it comes to story lines and stuff like that. And while we're watching something, I'll say, "OK honey, what's going to happen next?" Or I'll tell him what I think is going to happen next. And if the way that the plot is, um, constructed, if they've got like loopholes, or got, if it's a non-sequitur. If things do not follow what I consider logical, or if they make some kind of leap that is not explained or not presented at least so you can leap with them, or see how they made that leap, then it leaves me cold. I really don't want to, um, watch that show any more! [Laughs]
NM: So it basically, uh, turns you from the, um, plot instead of going with the plot. It just turns you away from it.
AG: Absolutely!
NM: You lose interest. Have you ever thought about, because of your love for books, have you ever thought about writing?
AG: Absolutely. I don't perceive in myself, and maybe this, I'll gain this as I get older, but my attempts at short stories, at least, have left me flat [laughter]. I don't do very well in cultivating the characters, you know. Now, the writing that I do, like the journaling that I do, um, of course, that's real life so that has a different intensity.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, the poem, the poetry that I write, and the songs that I write, um, depending on whether I felt that it has meet, met, I guess, my criteria for excellence, um, I, I am working on compiling my poetry.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: But, um, I haven't gotten to the point where I feel like it's ready yet. And my family is chomping-at-the-bit ready for me! "When are you going to publish?" [Laughter] And when it's ready, it'll be ready, and I really can't rush that.
NM: Uh-huh, that's because that's the creative part. And, and you know that, that creativity is not something you can force.
AG: No, but even having, I mean, I think I have, my mom, my grandmother says, "I know you have enough stuff put together!" Like, it doesn't take that much! [Laughter] But, um, the book that I'm working on, there's a certain flow that I anticipated having, and at this point there're gaps--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And I don't know what fills those gaps yet. But, umm, as soon as those gaps are filled, then the book will be ready, and we'll, we'll move, you know. By that point in time, the Lord will have shown me, you know, who to present it to, as far as, uh, uh, presenting it for publication.
NM: Uh-huh. Have you ever, because, uh, of your race, have you ever thought about writing about, um, you know, the Blacks and culture and, and, maybe, have you ever had any interest, also, in any Black writers?
AG: Oh, absolutely. Um, Yes, to both of those questions. Um, our family is a very mixed family. My heritage is Black and Indian and White and Jewish, that I know of [laugh]. There may be others [laughter], but those are the, the, the strains that I know of or the races that I know of, and, um, I know that there are gaps in what I know. And [clears throat], I haven't really thought about, um, how to present that. I mean, I always thought of it as a wonderful heritage, and I love being mixed, so-to-speak. Um, I think it gives me an advantage. I mean, I feel connected to more than just my race because my race are so many. [Laughter] Umm, but, because our family history, or I mean, there is so much history that I don't know. But, because of so many complex issues regarding-- [Technical problem with recording] My family, I don't think the older members of my family could probably appreciate me writing about, umm, our racial heritage at this particular point in time. Maybe, umm, maybe at some point in the future, although, now that you have brought it up, I'll have to consider it [laughter] more strongly [laughter].
NM: I just thought about it because, being February, and, and, um, it's Black American History Month or something like that, and I'm, I'm doing a report on that on Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and, um, I found her to be very interesting, but uh, she writes solely upon the Black culture and her experiences in growing up. So I didn't know if you had any experiences reading any of the materials that the Black writers, female Black writers have, whether that material interested you.
AG: Maya Angelou was probably the first that really captured my attention. Um, her, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, um, having experienced pain in my childhood, her writing about her pain which, you know, I write about my pain privately in my journal, but writing it for someone else to read is a totally different story! [Laughs] And I thought that was very courageous for her, and I still enjoy listening to her and hearing the wisdom that she has to share, um, regarding not letting life's experiences bitter you. And so, she's one of the Black female writers that attracted me. Um, I've read a lot. Unfortunately, I don't remember everything [laughs] I've ever read!
NM: \\I have the same problem!\\
AG: \\And that's challenging!\\ [Laughs] But one of the things that, um, I guess if any particular subject that I would feel that I might write about, it wouldn't just be from, like, uh, the Black culture because, other than, my experiences in the Black culture tend to not be traditional from the standpoint that I don't seem to fit in or be generally excepted um, at least from a childhood perspective. Now it's not so much of a problem. I mean, but I live in a multi-cultural world now. Um, but even in our family, it is incredible to me how the different shades of color of our skin bring prejudices from both sides or from, from all the different shades. Whether, I mean, my grandmother, who was on my dad's side was mostly Indian. As a matter of fact, I don't know if she had any Black blood in her. She married a man who had Black blood, but um, she was ostracized in her family because of the Indian coloring. She had more of it than any of the other children so they would call her derogatory names.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And um, from her offspring, which some married into the white race, some married into the Black race--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And, there's, from black to white there are varying attitudes. And I was really shocked. I thought my family was very small on my dad's side. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know that we had the myriad of cousins that we do!
NM: Umm.
AG: Come to find out at my dad's death that, um, one of the reasons that he shielded us from them was because of their hatred for us which was incredible to me! I had no clue.
NM: \\Yes.\\
AG: \\And to see it was shocking.\\ So that might be something that I would write about.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: But don't know. I would have to have a positive reason for writing about it because, [laughs] you know, at this point, I don't have a happy ending to the story! [Laughs]
NM: Yes.
AG: Um, just sadness.
NM: Um-hum. Some people don't write for others, they write for themselves. It just so happens that others take part in sharing it by reading it.
AG: That's true. Like, I write for myself in my journal and I don't hide things in that, but I haven't gotten to the point of sharing my journals with the world! [Laughs]
NM: Did your journaling come from a teacher's, uh, uh, expectation of you? I know that some teachers, they require a student to write in a journal everyday. I didn't have that experience, did you?
AG: I did in high school. I was already writing, but it was not every day or structured. Um, Miss Red, I think it was in tenth grade, required us to write everyday in our journal and then get to turn it in.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And that was when I began, um, journaling with consistency. And, um, and being willing to let, you know, someone know my heart, so to speak, because I felt very privately. Um, my mom had always warned us to be very careful about what we put on paper, so the really innermost things of my heart I didn't write, um, until I got much older.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: But, it was that high school experience that, that solidified it for me. Then we took a discipleship class, um, my husband and I, that, that, um, really taught us how to study the Bible and journaling and Bible study became enmeshed, so to speak, for me. So when I spent time in the scriptures, I, um, write my insights and sometimes I write my prayers and I also, you know, pour out my heart.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: My journals have, uh, taken a much different character as, uh, as I've grown older and learned different things.
NM: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. The teacher in high school that started you with your journal, did she also, um, did she also activate in you a desire for any reading or other types of writing, or did another teacher? Or did that stop back in your sixth grade class?
AG: No, um, actually that teacher did encourage me to write. Um, I was already homing as we call it. Um, and she enjoyed and encouraged me to do that. It was actually the librarian in my high school experience that, um, she was, uh, also, uh, a creative writer and, um, we would share poetry. And, um, I think more than my teacher, she really, I guess you would say, inspired me to, uh, cultivate it and express myself more so in that, that way.
NM: So your, your writing first came about in high school.
AG: Umm, no. I, I can't remember when I wasn't writing poetry. I just always was making up things.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Umm, high school was when I would write it down and keep it! [Laughter] I mean I have things now that I can go back to, uh, poems that I wrote in high school, but I was writing before that, I just, you know how things just disappear?
NM: Yes.
AG: We moved quite a bit and, you know, I have no clue what happened with all of those--. Well, Mom had six kids, so it probably ended up, you know, in the trash because it was just such a volume of mail--
NM: Right.
AG: Of, uh, not mail, uh, schoolwork and paperwork, and stuff like that. Uh, but I've been really glad that I've held on to the early things that I wrote. One of the poems that, um, I still pull out and read from time to time is, um,

NM: Do you remember it?
AG: Oh, from memory? No, um.
NM: What sparked you to write that one?
AG: Uh, one of the things that I didn't, I would never be able to articulate as a child. But, looking back, um, there was a, there was a certain chameleon quality to my personality. I was very much a pleaser, and whatever the authority figure who I was with wanted from me, was what I tried to give them. And, um, I guess in a, in a way, I was kind of [laugh] frustrated with my own chameleon self. And, um, I didn't know who I was. I was always being someone else or what was expected of me and, um, that's not necessarily a bad thing except for, um, sometimes it was a very [pause], um, the expectations were opposites. And so, you know, if one person wants you to be the opposite of another person, [laugh] I mean, who are you really when you please, when you are trying to please both people, you know? God forbid, they'd both be in the same room at the same time! [Laughter]
NM: That would be a problem, wouldn't it?
AG: It would. It would. But one of the books, one of the, one of the, uh, writers that I have been able to appreciate, um, is A.A. Milne. And, as you can see, my Pooh characters, I've got a collection of the original Pooh Tales. And, I really appreciated the original stories from this perspective. He captured personalities in a way that, um, I still go back to th, those, uh, Pooh and Eeyore. When I'm, my husband and I talk personality a lot and, you know, what personality type is a particular person and we really found it to be very helpful in understanding them and we realize that no one is one personality type. We're all conglomerates. But he, the way that he wrote the characters and um, uh, captured the different personality types was, has intrigued me even to this day, and I can really appreciate, um, how he did that. And there are times when I can really identify with Pooh, and then there are, I have my Eeyore days! [Laugh] I don't always appreciate what Disney has done with it, now, because they have commercialized it so, but, um, that's one of the few things, I, I never really was a cartoon kid? I mean, my siblings watched, and I know what they were, but, um, it was so funny. We had a situation. We were at a family reunion, and we were playing a game. I can't, I think, oh, it was Pictionary. And, um, the, my partner was drawing a anvil, but I can't remember now what he was trying to get me to say, but it was from a cartoon. It was, like, "I don't know what that cartoon was about!" [Laughter] I didn't watch cartoons! [Laughter] Cartoons really just, I mean, even to this day I think, "How can people watch that junk!" But, Winnie the Pooh is one of the cartoons that I can appreciate! But, the rest of them, I can lump them all in the same bag, and I don't have much use for them. But, um, I can appreciate Milne's
work. NM: Did your poem and his work, the poem about who you are--
AG: Uh-huh.
NM: Did you seem to assimilate that into his descriptions and characters? Did you try to say, "I'm more like this one than this one?" Did you make any connections there?
AG: No, not al all. I wasn't so much even, I, I did not even know how to, I wish I could put my hands on it. If I had of thought about it, I had no clue that we were even going to talk about him. I think, where in the world do I have that? Umm, I know I have written it down, but I am trying to think, where is my book? [Laughter] It will come to me, and I'll, I'll maybe be able to find it, and I don't mind sharing it with you. But, my, my focus was in, in solitude. I was unsure about who I really was because I was pretending so much, so it wasn't, I had no clue. At, at that point in time I wasn't even thinking in the personality realm, and I hadn't drawn any connection to it. Um, it was, it was, just, um, more of my, you know, how the teenagers go through, uh, "Trying to find myself," a questioning period. And that was one of the poems that came out of my, "Who Am I? What am I doing here? And why?" Type of, [laugh] you know, struggle. But, um, it's been really, uh, encouraging for me as I have, um, grown up, and, um, I look back to that poem because, to some degree, I have learned now that I can be myself all by myself. I can be me, you know. I don't have to be a pleaser, although I do, I still enjoy people being pleased with me [laughter]. Who doesn't? But, umm, I've, I've learned that, um, the Lord is pleased with me and if I do what is pleasing to him, you know, everybody else, the chips fall where they may be. [Chuckle] That's just the way it has to be.
NM: Going back to your high school, your favorite book in fifth grade, wasn't it the dictionary?
AG: Uh-huh.
NM: Did that change? Did your favorite book become something else when you grew up a little bit more and \\you were in high school?\\
AG: \\Well\\, it didn't, the dictionary is still one of my favorite books, but one of the books that I read over and over again, and I still periodically check it out in the library and read, Little Women. Uh, Louisa Alcott. Um, her writings, not just Little Women, but Little Men and Jo's Boys, um, I, I've appreciated, um, her imagination. [Laughter] In some parts, I know it was based on her life, and so there is a ring of reality, but there again, I hadn't realize this till we were talking, but you have the different personality types.
NM: That's true.
AG: And, um, I kind of identified with Jo, who, of course, is a writer. And, although, I was, I wasn't really tomboyish, but I was definitely not interested in boys [laughter]. And, umm, so, I, uh, I've actually, that's one of the few movies when I see, when they've done remakes of it different times, that I've been able to appreciate every single version of it. Usually, if I've read the book and then see the movie, I'm like, uh (sigh) [laughter]--
NM: It takes something away from the book.
AG: Well, my imagination is very different from their imagination, so, I don't, when I read the book my imagination is engaged and, um, I think of things a certain way, and it's very rare when I can appreciate somebody else's imagination if it's contrary to what my imagination says.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, so that became, that has become one of my favorites, Little Women, that started in, um, high school. Um, there is something I've got to tell you, it's just, uh, [laughter] uh, one of the things that my sister, who is, like, two years behind me said. I couldn't understand her frustration, she says, "Do you know, that there's not a book in this library that your name isn't in!" [Laughter] I don't know why that tickles me so much, but--
NM: Back in those days, when you check out a book, \\they put your name in it.\\
AG: \\You wrote your name in it.\\ And she couldn't, and every time she checked out a book, my name was already there! [Laughter]. But that probably went to the fact that she wanted to be the oldest and, umm, that was something that reminded her that she was not the first!
NM: Not the first one! That's interesting.
AG: [Laughter] I know! [Laughter] Why it would bother her so much, I don't know, but--
NM: Sibling rivalry.
AG: Yeah.
NM: It doesn't matter what it's in!
AG: It was from her end, more than from my end because I was the oldest. You couldn't dispute [laughter] that [laughter]. But, um, one of the other areas, uh, I did learn to enjoy, I can't remember exactly when it was, but science fiction became, became intriguing to me, and I think it was during high school years.
NM: Now, that's very creative. That would be the antithesis of biography! [Laugh]
AG: Oh, I know, I know! [Laughter] Not that I would appreciate everybody's science fiction, but, uh, there is a trilogy that I have read, and, it's The Foundation Trilogy, and, uh, I'm trying to remember who wrote it. I can't think of the author right now, but it's one that both my husband and I have enjoyed. And, matter of right, we point back to it. Lord, please help me to remember his name. I can't think of the writer's name, but the writer does so well with, um, with intrigue and irony. And one of the things that I have found, whether it's in a movie or a book, it's got to engage me psychologically on some level. I mean, I don't really go for, for fluff very much. I [laughter] have a low, low tolerance for it.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, so, um, I can't believe, I can't believe I can't think of this man's name. It must be the chronic fatigue [laughter] robbing me! Um, it will probably pop in at some point, so I'll let you know. But, um, have you ever read
?
NM: No I haven't.
AG: Oh [sigh]. For the most part I think it's pretty clean and that's something else I really appreciate, is, when I don't have to do deal with a lot of profanity or unwholesomeness. You know, there is so much that you can write about that's good and wholesome and intriguing without going into the areas that are unprofitable that, um, and I don't, I haven't read The Foundation again in, like, probably the last five years, but, um, periodically I'll feel like, "I've got to visit this book again!"
NM: So, you don't mind re-reading?
AG: Oh, no, especially, that's how I know what my favorite books are because they are books I go back to.
NM: Go back to--
AG: Yeah. Umm, other than them, I'm trying to think, favorites. Um, oh, there was one back from, I guess, from the elementary years that I had forgotten to mention to you, um, Harold and the Purple Pen.
NM: The Purple Pen?
AG: Uh-huh. Uh, if I could get my hands on this book, I would buy it. It, that was a book that left a lasting impression on me. Harold, was, um, a little boy, and the way that this book is written, it's somebody that's drawing. I mean, you basically just have, you know, it's not, like, um, photo, photographic. It's, you know, somebody's drawing. Well, Harold was a draw, was one who, who drew, and he would draw things with his pen that would come alive [laughter]. I don't know, there is just something about that book, that even though I haven't read it in decades, that still intrigues me, and I want to put, get my hands on it and read it again. Umm, as a matter of fact, when, um, oh, I guess my first radio job in VA, I, I started doing this little, um, like, anonymous gift thing? Like with my co-workers, I might bake something, or whatever, and I'd, I had bought a purple pen, and I would say, "The purple pen strikes again!" [Laughter] And, uh, [laughter] no one ever knew it was from
! But, or, I don't, I don't, I don't think anyone ever knew it was from me unless somebody maybe figured out my handwriting or something like that, but it was [laugh]--
NM: That's really neat the way you did that. You made that connection there!
AG: Yeah.
NM: Do you always seem to have a habit of making connections in your personal life with things you have read about?
AG: Absolutely!
NM: And so you celebrate those things like you did that one?
AG: To some degree. I mean, obviously you see my Pooh stuff! [Laughs]
NM: That's obvious!
AG: To some degree, things that really have an impact on me have tended to become a part of my life on some level or another. I mean I may not, it may not manifest in my everyday existence, but, um, at some point or another, when it's appropriate, you know, I'll reach back and re, and connect to that book or that character or whatever or some aspect of it and bring it forward.
NM: I think that is really, um, putting your reading into real-life, uh, experiences and making your reading become a part of you and personalizing. Uh, not very many people do that.
AG: Really?
NM: And with your ability to do that, I think that that carries over into your writing.
AG: Hum.
NM: Because what you read about might spark something that becomes an interest to you, and then you carry it over into your writing. You might do it completely different than what the book has done--
AG: Um-hum.
NM: And just basically assimilated it into writing.
AG: Humm.
NM: Carry on that creativity into some other avenue.
AG: One of the recent, when I say recent, in recent years, I read a book about George Washington Carver. And it was incredible to me, the things that he went through, the, the, his intrigue with, um, discovering, like, all the uses for soy, a soy, the soy, the soybean, um, or peanut, or whatever. I mean, I went out and bought peanut oil [laugh] just because he was, in the book it, it was saying, um, how good it was for your skin and stuff like that! I started in rubbing peanut oil, [laugh] I got over it, but, and I still use it!
NM: You didn't get a greasy effect, did you?
AG: I really didn't mind the grease, it was the smell! [Laugh] But, um, yeah, the books that have an impact on me. Usually in some way, yeah, you can find little pieces of it in my life. And, um, my life experiences are often what end up in my writing. Like, um, there's a poem on the wall over there that I wrote. And I wrote it out of an actual experience that, um, my husband and I had. We went on, um, a honeymoon, well, it wasn't a honeymoon. A, uh, anniversary trip.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And, um, he took me to, um, Charleston and Folly Beach, and to Isle of Palms because he knows I love the ocean. The Isle of Palms Beach was my favorite. I mean [sigh], every beach has a character. And, um, as I was walking along the beach, there were broken sand dollars. I mean, it was just an incredible number of broken pieces of sand dollars. And it was, I couldn't believe I couldn't find a whole one. That was, ah, my first thought, "There's got to be a whole one down here somewhere!" [Laugh] But, umm, then, as I was thinking about it, and I was looking at it, and, at first, I wasn't even so much interested in the broken ones. I was picking up the broken pieces, and it made me think about our own brokenness in our lives. And, umm, I don't remember whether it was that night, or, I think it was later. But that experience was so impacting for me that, that poem was born. And, um, so it was just, uh, I don't know, you don't let your experiences, whether they're experience, it's experiences that you've read or what you've lived.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: How you don't connect with it. I don't understand how people don't connect with it. But then again, maybe, in a reading, took a different, because it was an escape for me, maybe I connected with it too much! [Laugh]
NM: You never really escape from reading.
AG: Oh, not from it, no. Um, I enjoy visiting the different worlds, so to speak, you know, of the character or whatever. Whoever they were, I enjoyed walking, so to speak, with them in their life.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, and um, and that's, that's still an enjoyable thing for me you know when I have the opportunity.
NM: Does that carry over, we've talked about you know the area in that the reading and the writing, does that carry over your love for all those things into theater as well?
AG: Um, I have enjoyed, um, working in theater in my youth. [Laugh] I don't really have much of an outlet for it now. Um, I guess, the, um, lack of opportunity is probably the biggest aspect of why I wouldn't now, but if I had the opportunity, I wouldn't mind.
NM: I guess my favorite um, one of my favorite courses in college was improvisation. I enjoyed doing that. Um-hum.
AG: And, um, when we were growing up, uh, our Sunday school youth group, we, we did put on plays and, and so that there was an outlet in my youth, in my younger days in college. But since then, um, I haven't had much of an opportunity to indulge that passion.
NM: What about attending theater and watching it? Does that do, uh, does that do very much for you? Or do you find that that is not the same as reading it?
AG: It depends. It depends on the story and it depends on, um, well, whether or not it's well done.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, when I was in, in junior high our orchestra teacher took us to see Fiddler on the Roof.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And that, it was a theater production, it was. Um, it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed and I could, you know, get right, and it is something that's one of my favorite stories, although now that I think about it, I've never read it. I've, you know, seen it on television, but I've never read it. I'll have to do that! [Laugh]
NM: Put it on your list!
AG: That's right! [Laugh] Fiddler on the Roof. Um, but, uh, I did enjoy it in the theater. Um, one of the plays I enjoyed reading, Lorraine--
START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B NM: Excuse me.
AG: That's all right.
NM: A Raisin in the Sun was the title?
AG: Yes.
NM: And you saw it on television?
AG: I've seen it on television and I've, I was interested in seeing it in, the theater, but, but I never had that opportunity. So if it's well done, if it's a well-written story--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, I feel I would definitely enjoy. I have not had a lot of, other than college productions and stuff like that, uh, I haven't done a lot of theater going.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: But, um, it's, um, and I'm trying to think the theater uh, other than Fiddler on the Roof, of course I haven't seen a lot of different things, but, um, has not had the same level of impact, I guess. Uh, uh, going to see Fiddler on the Roof, of course, as a violinist, that, you know, was part of our, our class, um, project, and that was part of our appreciation. They also had a full orchestra.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: So she wanted to expose us to that, but, uh, that has, um, remained an intriguing story partially I think because of the insight into a different culture.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And, um, also when you think about the characters [laugh] that are in Fiddler on the Roof, you know, they have very definite personalities!
NM: And there you're, again, you're drawn to personalities in writing or even acting. I think just from talking to you, that's a very important aspect of, of, um, your reading. And I think with that we can make the connection of the dictionary. The dictionary is a definition of a word and a personality is a definition of a person.
AG: Whew! How interesting! Yeah! I hadn't thought about that!
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Well understanding is one of the things, if I had to say that there was something underlying in my life, I've always wanted to understand, whether it was understanding people or understanding why things happen.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, understand why, you know, there are times I know it must drive my husband crazy when we get to talking about [cough] a particular word, and I'm saying, "That doesn't mean that!" And he's like, well that's what it, you know, that's what it means to him and I'm like, "Well let's get the dictionary!" [Laughter] "We'll find out what Webster, uh, understood it to mean!" So we can have a common ground so we can both speak the same language and we can both, you know, know what we're talking about. Because different words do mean different things to different people.
NM: Yes.
AG: And, and I have found it to be a spark of misunderstanding so quickly--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, that, you know, if you can get an understanding to clarify, figure out where they're coming from, and there again that personality thing--
NM: Yes.
AG: Understanding, um, a person's perspective from their personality view, you know, helps you, whether you need to make allowances for them, or, um, [Sigh] just, uh, figuring out the puzzle, you know.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And I have to admit that there's a little bit of a Sherlock Holmes in me. I love figuring out puzzles!
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Whether it's life puzzles or, um, in my work, um, we [cough] we often find ourselves in situations where there are mysteries and we have to follow the clues. And I, I love, I love it when I find the answer! [Laugh] Everybody in the office knows! "I got it!" [Laugh]
NM: Did that ever lead you into mysteries for reading?
AG: Um, to some degree. But, um, sometimes I guess I find mysteries that leave gaps or I don't follow them quite, I don't know whether it's my perspective or my language. We're not on the same plane. And I end up not finishing it. [Laugh] Now I'm the kind of person, I'm very sequential, I've got to know what the end is! I go to the back of the book [laugh] to find out how it ended. But I don't care about the middle part because somehow they lose me in the, you know, especially if they digress to other, you know, if they don't follow the story.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: They go too many different places without bringing some level of resolution to whatever the, uh, issue is that they're dealing with, you know. Jumping around with three different kinds of story lines, that does not appeal to me [laugh] at all!
NM: Are you in the habit then, since you go to the back of the book for the mysteries, are you having to do that with the other readings?
AG: Um, sometimes. I guess it really depends on my mood.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: If, if I want to, if I really want to know how it ends and then I really want to know how they got there, then I'll do that but usually now I'm more patient. [Laughter] I usually just wait until I get there and see how it ends.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: If they don't end it right, then I'm mad! [Laughter] "That's not how it should have ended!" Not that everything has to have a happy ending, it just has to have a, a Bible solution of, one of the things going back to The Foundation Trilogy, in their closing chap, chapters, well, it's like two chapters that end the book. The chapter before the last chapter is, is titled, The Answer That Satisfies. And it's like the answer to the mystery that the characters are dealing with and they are satisfied with this answer. But then the final chapter is the answer that's real.
NM: Umm.
AG: And, I don't know. There's something, well not only that aspect of the way that the writer, he writes, he basically gives two different endings to the story. You know, you could stop at the answer that satisfies and think that that's the end of the story, but then you go to the next chapter and it's like, "Ah ha!" [Laugh]
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And I do happen to love a touch of irony. I don't know what it is about, um, my sense of humor, which I don't have, don't have an appreciation of humor that seems like the general population has. Because I mean, a lot of things that people think are funny, I don't think are funny.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And I can appreciate that they do, but personally it doesn't tickle my funny bone, but irony tickles me! [Laughter]
NM: Um-hum.
AG: Um, and one of the other things that, um, I almost had the name of the author, um, the writer of Foundation, um, that my husband and I both have taken away from that book is, um, there is a, I guess a philosophy, so to speak, of um, the, um, there are a couple of main groups in the story and the group that knows the most has a certain philosophy.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And uh, we have seen, I guess, the essence of that truth to be, uh, applicable in real life.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And so when a book can take a real life truth and weave it into the storyline, then, I don't know, even though it's a novel, it has a basis in reality that's intriguing.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: So, um, that's--
NM: Speaking of reality, you like the realism type of writing. We talked about the classics, you know, with Louisa May Alcott and, uh, do you, have you ever read much of the realism in modern literature which deals with realistic living and realistic lives and realistic families and the way they really are and not, something that's fictional. They call Cinderella type of stories. These stories are pretty much what you would see today in lives of people, realism. Have you ever involved yourself much with the reading of that?
AG: When you say, "modern," do you mean like, I mean how modern are you talking about? [Laughter]
NM: I know there are degrees of modernness. [Laugh] I'm talking about modern in the 19th, or actually 20th century type of reading, of novels in literature. They deal very much with realism, they don't like, the authors don't like the Cinderella endings, the Cinderella type of, of storyline. The Father Knows Best types of families, you know. They think it's very unrealistic. Uh, ever involved yourself with that type of reading?
AG: I'm trying to remember something specific. I mean, I have--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: I mean because, I like to read about people's real lives. So from that standpoint, I would say, my answer to your question would be, "Yes." And I'm trying to think of something specific. Um, I remember um, a book, uh, this is probably in the 60s, Black Like Me.
NM: All right. OK.
AG: And that probably would fall into the category of reading that you're thinking about. Um, it was where, uh, a Caucasian man underwent a treatment where his skin color was darkened, and he experienced what it was like to be Black.
NM: Umm.
AG: And um, that had, you know, that realistic tone that you're talking about. And, um, I'm definitely attracted to real life stuff. As long as they don't get too vulgar.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: I appreciate not having to deal with vulgarity. I mean, you can, you can be realistic without going into great detail. I think about the ugliness of life.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: It's not that I think that we should gloss over, and I don't. But I think that you have to, um [pause]. You can tell enough of the story for people to understand without, um, mashing your face in it, so to speak.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And, um, I, I don't have a high tolerance for violence, and, um, I, I, I recently read a book, um, it was the author's name that attracted me to it. I'm trying to think of the name of it. Aftermath was the name of the book and it was by [sigh]. I don't remember his name. It's the gentleman that played Jordie on Star Trek. [Laugh] I don't know if that will mean anything to you!
NM: No, I didn't follow Star Trek that well!
AG: He also does, um, Reading Rainbow for kids. I cannot remember that guy's name! It'll come to me after while. Anyway it was his name that, uh, attracted me to the book and, uh, um, I've read the book, but I threw it away!
NM: Ooh!
AG: I would never want to read it again. It was just too graphic for me and I wouldn't have given it to anybody else.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And I don't believe in throwing books away. I come from a family where you just don't throw a book away! It's a treasure. And, you know, um, I recently, as a matter of fact, had a situation where I was at my grandmother's house and in the bedroom where I was, was a book. I looked at it and couldn't believe that it was in her house! And I went to her and I was expressing my concern to her, and, um, of course, that, "You don't throw away a book" came up, "But Gran! Some books you just have to throw away!" I mean, it's garbage, just garbage! And it wasn't something that she read. It was something that had come from someone who had gotten a box of books and was somebody else's library. So they probably didn't even know it was in the house. But I wasn't the only grandchild or great-grandchild that was there and I would have hated for some impressionable person to have gotten a hold of it! And being in grandmother's house, they would have thought it was OK!
NM: Umm.
AG: And it was horrible! So um--
NM: Was your grandmother a prolific reader?
AG: Very much so. She's, um, and probably, liked poetry, love of poetry comes from her because she would quote poetry all the time. And that's one of the things that is handed down from my grandmother to my mom, and, um, you know, to us and to the great-grandchildren as well. One of the poems that she would quote to my mom, and I don't know the whole poem but, it starts off, "I have to live with myself so I have to be fit for myself to know, um, I can't keep on the closet shelf a lot of secrets about myself I think that no one will ever know." That's where I get lost! [Laugh] But she can quote the whole thing. And so, yes, she definitely, um, in the, um, time where she was raising her children, it was really a, a challenge to, um, that she took on to encourage them to be their absolute best. And, as a matter of fact, both of her daughters became teachers. And, um, all of her children are, are readers. And, um, she definitely believed that education was a essential and, "You will go to college!" So that was something that was definitely handed down.
NM: Did she ever read stories to you? Or did she just quote poetry?
AG: [Sigh] Um, I don't know that my grandmother has ever really read a book to me. When I would spend time, most of the time she was working. I mean, she was either working for a living or she was working to take care of us. And she was, I can't, I don't remember a whole lot of leisure where she, now she's more leisurely.
NM: Um-hum.
AGAG: And one thing that we do is play Scrabble! [Laugh] And she still beats me!
NM: She does?
AG: I can play as hard, and the best I can and she can still beat me! [Laugh]
NM: So she's still living? \\And still has her wits about her! \\
AG: \\Oh yes! Definitely! \\ And that's a real blessing.
NM: I can imagine that it would be. Now she doesn't live here?
AG: No. She's in Sutherland, VA.
NM: Oh, OK.
AG: I don't, I know that she reads her Bible. And I know, I know that she is a reader, but actually seeing her read--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: I didn't, now my mom has piles of books [laugh] and piles of articles, takes two papers and it's everywhere!
NM: Does she collect or does she read?
AG: She reads and she collects! [Laugh] And I um, try to keep my piles under control. [Laugh] And periodically I have to go through and I will go to like, the library book sales and I'll choose to take what piles, either the author or the title, that will interest me. It's only a quarter so you support the library and you buy a book and--
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And then I'll eventually get around to reading it and whether it stays or goes depends on what it's like! [Laugh]
NM: Yeah. Do you have a collection of special books?
AG: Oh definitely! Ones that I always will have and will never get rid of.
NM: Yeah. Um-hum.
AG: One of my, almost every year, I've got to read books. And since I've got one of the few non-fiction books that, uh, and again, it's based on, um, reality, is Hannah Hurnard's, Hind's Feet in High Places, and Mountains of Spices. And the depiction, the, the, the story that she depicts, um, is so, to me, has so many aspects of a true, the struggles of our lives, that every time I read it, because I'm a little different, I get something a little different from it. And that's one that I give it away, and then have to go get another copy! [Laugh] Because I always want that in my library. I always want to be able to go back and read it again.
NM: Uh-huh. I had someone give me that book once. Years ago. I probably still have it.
AG: Um-hum.
NM: So I'm familiar with that particular book. Um, in your high school years, you're going back to that time period and your librarian was one that you said who encouraged you and you had some challenges between each other in writing poetry--
AG: Um-hum.
NM: Um, did she, did you meet weekly or was it--
AG: I was in there everyday!
NM: Everyday?
AG: [Laugh] Several times I day! [Laugh]
NM: Now that was still during those times in high school?
AG: Um-hum. I got permission to have homeroom in the library and I then I would go there for my lunch and, I mean, I would take me like, [snaps her fingers] that long to eat my food and I would go, "I have permission to go up to the library."
NM: Umm.
AG: And so, um, I found it kind of like being the librarian helper because I was there all the time. And, uh, I, as a matter of fact at one point I was going to go into Library Science.
NM: I was just about to ask you! I was surprised that you haven't become a librarian.
AG: Yeah. I toyed with it at times. I've worked in a couple of different church libraries and, um, I thoroughly enjoy it. Um, at this particular point, physically it's not something I could keep up with, but, um, the library is actually my favorite place.
NM: Um-hum. [Laughter]
AG: Other than home! [Laugh] Uh, well if I had my way, I'd have the library in my home! [Laughter]
NM: That's possible, you know.
AG: I know!
NM: You've probably collected enough books that you could fill up a room with them!
AG: Yep!
NM: Well, we have a study that we have filled, you know, you've seen our study, the books that we have.
AG: Um-hum.
NM: And I'm, I'm now with Ron's collection and mine, I'm starting to go into his area and pulling off the shelves, books that he's collected and going to read those.
AG: Ooh!
NM: Because I'm like you, you know. I just like to read, and I'd like to continue that. Are your bothers or sisters as much of a reader as you are? Or have an interest at all in reading?
AG: Oh, um [pause], I think, there are six of us all together, and there's only one brother. To my recollection, I think all but one of my siblings is very strong in the area of reading. And that one sibling is, she came up at a time when they switched from phonics to sight-reading--
NM: Yes.
AG: And it crippled her to a certain degree. All of her life she has struggled with, um, not being able to sound out words and that it, it has really limited her in reading and it's not very much fun to her. But the rest of my siblings, um, are always, kind of, not so much that they're doing, I don't get the sense that they're doing so much leisure reading now, but they are, um, always, you know, continuing their education in whatever area they're studying in and their reading in that area.
NM: Umm. Interesting.
AG: Yeah. They definitely encourage their children in that regard, too.
NM: Um-hum.
AG: And so they have passed on that passion unto their children.
NM: That's great! Well, it's been real interesting, your life story about reading and writing. I appreciate the time!
AG: Oh it's my pleasure! Any time!
END OF INTERVIEW
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