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Conversation with Marjorie Harris

Harris, Marjorie
Columbus, Ashley
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places
Marjorie Harris talks about growing up without a father, the shame of food stamps and relating to her less fortunate children in class.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Ashley Columbus interviewed Charlotte, NC residents to collect various stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
MH (Marjorie Harris): [Marjorie is holding and petting a small white puppy dog on her lap] OK. My name is Marjorie Harris and I'm one of the few original Charlotteans. I was born, um, at what used to be Charlotte Memorial Hospital in the 60s.
AC (Ashley Columbus): OK. So do you tell yourself any kind of stories to keep going and if you do, what do you tell yourself?
MH: I'm getting ready to slip your dog a Prozac-.
AC: [Laugh]
MH: -Because your dog is definitely having a moment here.
AC: [Laugh]
MH: And I hope it doesn't turn into a liquid moment.
AC: [Laugh] I think she'll be fine in a minute.
MH: Yes, um, I would tell myself that I can, I can, that I could, I could be successful. Um, that if I have a good foundation in life, I found that to be in my relationship to God then there's nothing I can't do. And interestingly enough, um, it's like she was saying in the other interview, it was like so wonderful, I changed my hair but that's another story. I, I go off on tangents quite a bit. I need to slip myself a Prozac. But, um, I was thinking this morning about a psalm, "If it had not been for the Lord on my side, where would I be?" And that's what I have to remind myself of periodically.
AC: Do either of your parents, do they, have they played a role in the story that you tell yourself?
MH: Yes and-.
AC: They played a role in religion?
MH: Yes, I think more so, um, my Father and this is the time to pull out a tissue because I am from a single-parent home and his absence really bothered me more so than I than I ever expected. And so I realized I needed a Father and so I accepted God at face value that he is. Oh, no. The great escape of the puppy.
AC: [Laugh]
MH: And no accidents on that stuff ( ), because I would send you my cleaning bill.
AC: [Laugh]
MH: Um, I accepted him, uh, as my Heavenly Father. So that greatly helped. And the fact that my mother, bless her soul, did not finish high school, she didn't even finish middle school, so there was very little she could offer me academically, except the she knew she wanted her daughter to succeed and so she would constantly remind me, you know, "I can't help you with your homework, but you better do well in reference to your behavior." So that's why I try to excel.
AC: Do you ever remind yourself when times were worse? Do you tell yourself a story to say, "Oh well, things can't be that bad now because things have been worse in the past?"
MH: Yes, um, as a child we were homeless quite a bit and, um, sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in the cares of life, you know. I should have finished grad school by now or, um, you know, I should be driving a foreign import instead of having my car driven in by a tow truck. Um, I should have 2.5 kids, and, um, my husband should be cooler than Kool-Aide on a hot day. I mean, that would be wonderful if those things were to happen, but, you know, I'm so blessed to have my life and strength and a reasonably sound mind. And, um, you know, if there's going to be a change in the world, then I'm going to have to be the one to do it. And I've often looked on, you know, traumatic experiences as a child and you know they serve as a motivational factor so that I could hopefully, I could make a difference in the life of a child. That sometimes goes through. Sometimes the children I know, at our own school, they have similar experiences. And I think I can relate to them because, you know, I remember sitting and, um, waiting on, um, the mailman to bring our AFDC check. And if a teacher has never been exposed to that, they don't understand how significant the first of the month can be. And I remember, um, the humiliation of going to the store with food stamps. I mean, if you've never been there, you don't have a clue. You don't have a clue. And there are certain things that, um, your textbooks can't teach you, you know. And I've had those experiences. Thank God I don't have to wait on a check now. However, I am available for Bas Mitzvahs and parties. Just kidding.
AC: [Laugh]
MH: Just kidding.
AC: So you really think that you tell yourself these stories and it really helps you, you know, with working with them?
MH: Uh-huh. Yeah and we have to realize that children are just little people, you know, however, they may have big adult problems. They don't have the coping skills, you know, and if there's, uh, some problems at home, um, you know, uh, if Mom's not there or Mom's ( ) or Dad's whatever, whatever, they don't know how to say, "Miss Harris I am presently living in a dysfunctional situation." They may say, um, you know, [Bronx cheer] and you know, as a person that has been there [Bronx cheer] may not be directed at me, it could be directed at what's going on at home. It's just a matter of being empathetic.
AC: Do you ever tell children who come to you stories from your life that might help them-.
MH: Oh, definitely.
AC: -That make them fell better?
MH: Definitely. And it's funny because, um, I try to be as honest and candid as I can with the children and, um, they seem to appreciate it. I often tell them you know, "I see so much potential in you." If you were to tell me today that, "I'm going to be a lawyer or I'm going to be a doctor," I'm going to say, "Hook this sister up because when I'm old, I'm probably going to need both of those," you know and it's a matter of telling the children now, you know, at this young age that they can do anything because it's unfortunate, you know, that I can't go into every home, you know. My apartment is only this big when it's clean.