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Interview with Pat Borden Gubbins

Gubbins, Pat
McAuley, Joy
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Childhood Adventures; Stories and Storytellers; Tolerance and Respect
Pat Gubbins gives some historical accounts about her grandmothers and the legacy they left behind for her.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Joy McAuley interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
JM (Joy McAuley): This is Pat Gubbins. She grew up near the Coliseum, and she has some interesting stories to tell about her grandmothers.
PG (Pat Borden Gubbins): And with no further ado [laughter]. I grew up on a 100-acre farm, which is hard to believe, now near the airport, which was not nearly as intrusive as it is now, because this was backing up to my father's parent's, who came down here from Wisconsin in 1937, looking for a Southern way of life, to get away from all that snow. They bought this farm off of Wilmont Road, I think it's still Wilmont Road, anyhow it's near the new Coliseum on Tyvola [pause] and proceeded to turn it into a working plantation, at least that was my grandmother Tina's ambition. My father and his brother helped them build the house, a two-story white stucco with the first oil furnace in Charlotte, or so the family history goes. Um. My father and mother met, shortly thereafter, and married in 1930, May of 1938, I think, because I came along two years later, and grew up with my grandmother Tina there, to kind of, well, I remember when I was about five years old and we had settled down for the long haul on the farm after my father finished traveling around and taking us with him to various uh, Air Force assignments out in Texas and, oh, Myrtle Beach. He was in the Reserves. So we were kind of back and forth. But, I think, about the time I started first grade he stopped traveling, and my little grandmother Tina, who ruled everyone with an iron hand, had been living in what we called "the big house." [Pause] I'm, I'm going on too much. But, anyhow, moved her over to the cottage so my parents could have a little life of their own, and the little cottage was right across one of the lawns from us and her other son lived in a little house down from the cottage. So it was like the Borden compound [laughter]. When I was in the eighth grade, uh, our savings ran out, pretty much, so my mother told, my father was being a gentleman farmer. During these years we raised Angus cattle and ate very well, with vegetables from the garden, but we didn't have any money. So my other grandmother came to live with us to take care of the children, and my mother and father both found jobs in town. And the two grandmothers had nothing in common but each one really gave me quite a gift. Grandmother Tina had traveled, uh, as the wife of a military man herself and had a real interest in adventure in other cultures, uh, the out-of-doors and I remember when I was five or six she would take me by the hand and say, "Where would you like to go for a walk?" And I'd point and we'd go, off in that direction--.
JM: Wow.
PG: Across the fields and through the woods and over streams and I think what it did was wet my appetite for exploring new places. And she was so sweet to me. The other grandmother probably had an eighth-grade education but a fabulous mind for invention because she came up with these stories. When I was about seven, my mother was pregnant with my little sister, they sent me to live in Chapel Hill for six weeks toward the end of her pregnancy. And that grandmother was staying with my mother's brother and his family on a farm outside Chapel Hill while he was getting, uh, a PhD, and I would be homesick and my grandmother, we called her Granny, her name was Millie Frances, would make up these stories about this great white snowy owl that would carry me home to see my family.
JM: Oh, how neat.
PG: Of course if I thought about it now, I'd think of him carrying me home in his big claws [laugh] but for a child it was very comforting. And then she came to live with us probably four or five years more later, while I was in the eighth grade so it would have been eight years later, and she loved gardening and flowers. And I think I got some of that from her because I still, whenever I'm out in the yard gardening I think about Granny, my mother's mother. And when I'm traveling I sometimes think about Tina and how much she would have enjoyed it.
JM: Well, that's a neat mix.
PG: Yeah. So--.
JM: Did Tina ever tell you stories about her travels?
PG: She didn't. Mostly she told me stories about all the things I would inherit from her once she was gone [laughter].
JM: Did you?
PG: I did. She, she collected Chinese furniture and rugs, and that sort of thing, while they were based in Panama, and she took great pride in them. Pride of possession, I suppose, but also loved the thought that it would pass on to me one day. And I still have those things in my house. I have, for a poor working journalist, I have really nice furniture [laughter], thanks to Tina. And back then she bought them really cheaply because Panama was a free port, and she would get these really nice wooden, carved things from China for five, 15 dollars--.
JM: Wow.
PG: That, I don't know what they'd be worth now, but I have rosewood screens that are hand-carved, that 10, 15 years ago were valued at something like 1,800 dollars apiece.
JM: Wow.
PG: And the rugs are out of style but, and they're rolled up underneath our beds, for the most part. But it's still a nice reminder of her. At first I kind of resented having to take all this stuff because it meant I could never decorate the way I wanted to decorate, but I got over that, and realized you can have an eclectic mix of stuff. And it's nice to have some good pieces of furniture that have that history attached to them. And the other grandmother had nothing really of her own to leave us, except a rocking chair that I think was her mother's. It's not real comfortable, but it has a place of honor in our kitchen.
JM: Hum. That's neat. Um, did they both live with you until they died?
PG: Uh. Granny did. She got senile, a couple of years before she died and I had graduated from college and my mother was taking care of her and my father had died and we kept her at home and under control with Thorazine. And I remember a terrible time when my mother had gone to the grocery store and had left me, I was there for the weekend home from, I worked in Shelby or Gastonia at the time. Uh, it was a time Granny had missed her medication, and she was getting strange. She got real agitated. She'd see bugs crawling up the wall. And I tried to make her take her pill, and she hit me and I hit her back. Not hard, but it just shocked me that I would do such a thing.
JM: Probably shocked her too.
PG: It shocked her, and she took her pill [laughter]. And settled down [laughter]. And the other grandmother had a series of strokes, and my poor mother, who was widowed, [pause] was she widowed then? No, she was widowed shortly after Tina died, uh, but my father was working and my mother, I think, was kind of in charge of finding housekeepers to take care of Tina, who loved nothing better than to order people around. She was hard to get along with, and people would quit, and Mom would rehire them, or Tina would fire them, and Mom would rehire them, and she finally wound up at the Huntersville, at what's now the Huntersville Oak--.
JM: Yeah.
PG: I think. And I was in college when she died. But she was artistic. That's something else I got from her, I forgot. Back in the twenties, no, the turn of the century, ladies painted, hand-painted china. It was the thing for women of leisure to do. She was not a woman of leisure but she always fancied being that, so she would get this, this, barrels of fine china and hand-paint them and fire them and initial them. She insisted I be named for her so I could inherit her monog-rammed stuff. She was Kathryn Petric Borden - Petric was short for Petrechek. She was from Czecho, her parents were from Czechoslovakia, and that was her maiden name, but it was shortened to Petric when they came over here. So she was Kathryn Petric Borden, and so my mother had no choice in the matter - I had to be Kathryn. Well, she had the choice of the middle name but it had to start with a P and she thought about Penelope but luckily settled on Patricia Borden. So here I have all these monogrammed linen napkins that sit in this, uh, pigskin trunk that was hand-painted by my grandmother Tina, with a brass clasp. It's from China too. And lots of this hand-painted china--.
JM: Huh.
PG: That Anne and I split up when she died. She didn't specify who would get what, and when she died and the time came to settle up stuff, Mom said, "Ok, how are you and Anne going to do this?" And so we said, "We'll flip a coin and see who goes first." So that's how we did, Anne would pick something, and then I would pick something, and then if one of us would pick something the other really wanted we'd work it out and so that was--.
JM: You two were the only two grandchildren?
PG: Um huh. No, uh, she left things to two other grandchildren. Her other son had a son and a daughter by two different marriages. And I guess they [pause] um, I don't know how they figured that out because I wasn't around when that was settled, but I know that they, we all got something like $1,500 plus furnishings. Stuff. They each got stuff I didn't even know about. Until recently, when I went up to see my cousin Cindy and she unrolled this wall hanging, this thick rug, that was hand-woven, of the 12 immortals. And it's in pristine condition. My sister has the matching one, and Cindy has this Western-type log house and said, "This rug, it, there's nowhere to put it." They had things like stuffed animals on their walls. Her husband's a big game hunter--.
JM: Oh, you mean like stuffed heads of animals?
PG: Yeah, yeah.
JM: So what did she do with the rug? Did she give it to you?
PG: Uh huh, and now it's under another of my beds at home [laughter]. It's really beautiful but maybe one day I'll have a bigger house with a bigger wall that I can put it on. I don't know, sometimes possessions can be a real burden.
JM: But that's neat she wanted you to have her stuff, and I mean she--.
PG: Oh yeah.
JM: She planned that.
PG: Oh yeah she did. But I really got tired of her talking about the day when she passed on and I would get all these things. I thought of it as kind of emotional blackmail in a way, but years later I don't really think it was. She was just, she was wanting to establish that connection even after she was gone. She really, well, both our grandmothers just were the best you could have. They never criticized us, and they spoiled us.
JM: That's what grandparents are for.
PG: Yeah.
JM: Why did you call her Tina though? From Kathryn--.
PG: My mother came up with that nickname. It has nothing to do with her name. She, uh, all the other relatives called her Kathryn, or Aunt Kathryn, or whatever, but, I guess because she's little or was little, maybe Tina kind of sounded like teeny [laughter]. I asked my mother how she came up with it, and she said she didn't know, it just kind of fit her, and so from then on she was Tina. [pause]
JM: Hum.
PG: I would never have thought to call her Granny, she wasn't the "granny" type. Whereas my other grandmother, who used snuff, and was very, very religious to the point of being a fanatic, uh, was a perfect granny. My mother made her cotton dresses that came down below her calf, and she wore these shoes that are now in vogue, the black--.
JM: The granny shoes.
PG: Granny shoes. And cotton stockings. And a pretty little apron. She always wore an apron. She did a lot of cooking for us. She made great fried apple pies. Oh. And wonderful skillet cornbread. Those are the things I most remember about her cooking. But it was sad when she started to lose her memory because she would pull up plants out of season. She'd still want to garden and things would be coming up and she would think it was time to pull them out. You'd have to kind of go behind her and say, "Whoa." [Laugh] But she was a, she was a sweetheart, they both were in their own ways. And of course you never appreciate them and think to ask them stories--.
JM: Yeah.
PG: Like, until it's too late. Because I know my Granny grew up in Cabarrus County on a farm and was one of three or four kids, and she inherited her father's mother for a season out of every year. Poor old woman would come all wrapped up in layers of clothes, and my mother told me this not long before she died, but she said when she was little she remembered her granny showing up and her mother saying, "The first thing I'm going to do is unwrap this cocoon." [Laughter] She wouldn't have changed her clothes since the last time Granny had seen her probably--.
JM: Oh no.
PG: Well maybe six months. But she had just layers and layers and it was just, I can imagine her just grabbing it and going, "bloop," [laughter] and throwing all that in the wash pot and getting her cleaned up. She was an ugly woman. She was great big and looked very sour [laughter], but, uh, [pause] they all had stories of their own. I don't, now, let's see which one was it, I'll tell you this one last story because it's a great story going back to the Civil War. And it might have been this very woman, who, when she was a little girl, this would be my great-grandmother, [pause] Maryann Joyner, uh, her father went off to fight in the war, on the Confederate side, from Cabarrus County. And he didn't come back, which left her mother kind of in limbo. They presumed dead, the war ended, he never came back, they never learned what happened to him, and so she took up with this, I guess he was a traveling salesman, with a wagon and a mule. And she put her two children, Maryann and her little brother, Maryann was about 12 and her brother was about eight at this point, and they took, they moved down, or were going to move down to Georgia. But he, what happened? I think they both died [pause] of malaria, which was pretty prevalent along the coastal area, and left the two kids on their own. Maryann took her little brother by the hand and they walked back to Concord.
JM: Wow.
PG: And were taken in by this old man, older man, who was probably, I guess, 40s, early 50s maybe, who had a sick wife and a flock of kids. He brought them in, took her in, I guess both of them, with the understanding she would take care of his wife and the kids. Well, the wife died, and he married Maryann.
JM: Huh?
PG: So, I don't know what the age difference was but it was probably 30, 35 years.
JM: Wow.
PG: And she had several kids by him.
JM: Wow. That is an interesting story.
PG: Yeah, I tried to get my mother, well I did have my mother on tape telling about it and then I lost the tape [laugh]. But there's so many things like that I wish I had known to ask both grandmothers. Because on the other side, of course, they fought with the Yankees [laugh]. My grandfather's father or maybe my grandfather's grandfather, uh, fought in the Civil War and he was captured and went to [pause], what's that awful prison in South Carolina? Uh--.
JM: I know what you're talking about.
PG: That a book was written about--.
JM: I can't remember the name.
PG: But, anyway, he survived it. A lot of people didn't, um, and he walked back to Wisconsin.
JM: Wow.
PG: No, I take that back. They were living in Pennsylvania, and he walked back from Charleston area to Pennsylvania after the war, like so many other people had to do because there was no other way to get there. [pause] Andersonville.
JM: That's it.
PG: Yeah. That takes it back, the little bits I know about the family. That's back about as far back as I can go. Except for, well, there's my grandmother Tina, who grew up in Wisconsin in the central part of the state while it was still Indian territory, and you know, you know the dining table at my house. Have I told you the story about it?
JM: No.
PG: It was her mother's table, and chairs, and it was the table that she would put all her weekly baking on every Monday, for the family. She was widowed fairly young and had these nine kids. And she took in laundry and raised her family as best she could. My grandmother Tina was like the youngest of these kids and she was, I guess, eight or nine when this happened, but they, everybody, I mean the Indians were part of the community, although they kind of kept to themselves, but they knew what was going on and they would have dealings with the settlers. Well, my grandmother Tina, who was a little girl, got sick with some fever, and her mother was staying up with her night and day and was just exhausted. And the Indians, some of the Indians knew about it, and they said, they said to Tina's mother, "You go get some sleep. We'll take care of your little girl." So they brought her some sort of herbal concoction and broke her fever and she got better and they went away. And they came back the next Monday, after the baking was done, and they gathered up the four corners of the tablecloth and took the week's worth of baking, out the door, which they figured was their due [laugh].
JM: Without saying a word?
PG: Yeah.
JM: Wow, you have any idea what year that was [pause]? Can you trace it back?
PG: [Pause] Yeah, it would have been, let's see, my father was born in 1904. Tina would have been about 20, early 20s at that point, so [pause] early--.
JM: 1885?
PG: Yeah, thereabouts [pause]. It was truly the wild frontier [laughter].
JM: And here you are.
PG: And here I am, eating off that table [laughter]. Things have calmed down pretty much since then.
JM: Well, I don't know, sometimes--.