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Conversation with Lou Ann Lamb

Lamb, Lou Ann
Britt, Erica
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places, cultural idenitification
Lou Ann Lamb talks about her family's history and her discovery that her family is connected to a church.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Erica Britt interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
LL (Lou Ann Lamb): What I've been told about my family's history, he ended up, or we ended up losing him to black lung which is what a lot a coal miners. He had a wonderful life. He was a wonderful father with six children. Back then you call your grandparents ma'am and pap. Pap was a special person who loved, loved baseball. He was a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates ( ) uh, my grandmother was extremely sweet. We lost her rather young. My father's people on the other hand are of German descent.
EB (Erica Britt): Hmm.
LL: And, um, they're much more austere people [laugh] to put it like that, a little teutonic. [Laugh] Um, his mother had a really hard life. In fact, she was actually sold as an indentured servant when she was 10 years old to pay off the family debt, and um, towards her and her parents' debt. My understanding is that she ran away as soon as she possibly could. He came from a much better family as a brakeman on the railroad and worked ( ) and um, apparently there was just, just horrendous fighting with her in-laws and the children were pretty much left to starve after, after Ted's death. I don't think she never got over it. She, um, all I remember about her was that she was wicked awful bitter. [laugh] Um. She loved me though, um.
EB: Uh-huh.
LL: And of all the grandchildren, I'm probably only one who has really sweet happy memories of her. She had her own, odd moral code. Um, she thought that a woman that wore shirts or pants was a complete trollop, a whore [laugh], but um, if you were in the grocery store with her and you would have the bins of Brach's candy laying out, you know she'd say, "Put it in your pocket." You'd be like, "Grandmother, no. That's stealing." "Well if they didn't expect you to take it they wouldn't set it out there like that." So you know she's just full of contradictions, [laugh] extremely strange. Um. It's cool though because, um, and right before she had this massive stroke as if she knew it was coming, um, she went around to everything in her house and put a little this goes for an auction, this, you know, this must be sold but you know, certain things went to certain members of the family. There was a, um, was a, a reproduction, uh, Tiffany lamp that she had purchased in the 1920s. She put my name on it and that's still in my house. It's funny how things, you know, kind of, odd things pass, \\ pass-. \\
EB: \\ Mm-hmm. \\
LL: -Through the generations. She loved glass. She loved anything made out of glass. Little figurines, particularly the kind that were the see through glass, you know, like those little, um, sapphire blue bluebirds of happiness.
EB: Yeah.
LL: And she loved color, and she loved glass and that was really, um, I guess that's what exposed me to it and I really liked it too, um. I was, have been a stained glass artist for several years, ( ) you know I'm convinced it's because she exposed me to it, you know, having grown up in the Baptist church, I never grew up where I was surrounded by windows of stained glass. [laugh] You know those glasses [laugh]. [Clears throat] So, um, so that was really neat. My maternal grandfather, the one who was a coal miner, my mother didn't know this forever, you know, she didn't know this about her father but when he was a young man he ( ) but my brother is a musician and very accomplished at it, um, and he's an executive with, uh, Marsh Music company. And when my mother was going through some, some things, um, after her parents', long after her parents' death, some things that my uncle had these pictures in a shoebox and such, she saw pictures of her father standing with a French horn that he had played in, um, a band or something-.
EB: \\ Mm-hmm. \\
LL: \\ -In the town \\ that he was from. We thought that was really strange that you know, of all instruments it's kind of an odd one that that would be the one my brother would pick up and become so accomplished. Um, my parents, my mother, um, as a girl, she had a real good family, I mean her parents were really great. All four of her brothers were in the war. She played the organ in the Methodist church.
EB: Uh-huh.
LL: She knew that she wanted a better life then Nanny Glow offered and although her father offered to pay for her college, she knew that he could not afford it. He was English and very proud that he would never go into debt like so many of the coal miners would owe so much money to the company store and he'd, he would never ever even go there because he didn't want to be in debt, too. She knew that for him to pay for college he would have to go in ( ). She decided to go into the Air Force, and when she, which basically meant that she played all the music for all the church services so like on Monday night it was the Baptists, on Tuesdays it was the Methodists, on Wednesday it was ( ). That would go for Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, synagogues you know, whatever they needed music for my mother was there which really exposed her to a lot. Um, including to my, including my father, who back then they used to march the men to chapel-.
EB: Uh-huh.
LL: -And you know, like make them go. And um, he saw my mother playing the piano and thought she was hot. [Laugh] So, they're very opposite. No one can still believe that they, um, that they got together much less stayed married for, um ( ). You know they, they're both very different, um, they, they stayed together and they made a really good life for us kids. Um, they, they both have thought, have talked about going into the ministry at one point in time, but I think when they analyzed the situation they realized that you know, they always wanted to but they really weren't being called. It's not where you're being called, you know, it's just not, it's not going to happen for you and so no matter what they tried it didn't happen so they took the hint. They were mostly in Baltimore ( ) 'cause she still has continued with that, um, she taught me how to play the piano. My brother was, refused to learn, had no interest in music whatsoever and then he's the musician now. Until he got into high school band and then something, something-.
EB: \\ Uh-huh. \\
LL: \\ -A switch \\ turned for him. So shows that that was real ironic that she put all this energy into me and you know, to me it was only at best a hobby-.
EB: Mm-hmm.
LL: -And to my brother it became something. It was a good move for me. I mean I, I don't know that it was for the family. That was just kind of a dark time for us. We didn't adjust well to the South at first and Winston-Salem's kind of an odd town. Um, we came in the early 70s and that was when the bussing ( ) up in Baltimore, I didn't know what the big deal is. I always went to a very diverse school. I lived in a diverse neighborhood, you know, I, I didn't get it and I guess because I didn't get it, um, I became part of the problem [laugh] and um, our school was so paranoid that that they were going to have riots and stuff that they cancelled all extra curricular activities. So there was no band, there was no German club, there was no nothing and um, so therefore it was real hard to make friends, and I had a real hard time. One really good thing that I got exposed to in Winston-Salem that I did not realize which mattered to me later in life, was that um, they have a lot of Moravians. They, um, especially have a whole lot of them in Pennsylvania.
EB: Mm-hmm.
LL: Um, near where my, my mother's people are from. Though they were not, they were not, but we knew about them because the Moravians were the ones that I would ( ). In Win-, Winston-Salem I met a friend who she, um, on a Christmas, that's something that they do, that they're real famous for. And she took me to a church that had been built in the 1700s that was just a log cabin with rough-hewn benches and, you know they had apparently preserved this little building. It was just, it wasn't even a church, it was just like a little tiny building. They had preserved this and I think that they only used it on occasions like this.
EB: Mm-hmm.
LL: It was a Christmas Eve ( ) in there ( ) warm and we sat on these benches and it was completely dark. And, well, it was starting to get dark 'cause they, they did, did it right at dark. And these women, women in these, um, long black skirts and aprons came out with these giant baskets filled with these sweetened buns, and they, they passed them around and the whole time Christmas carols were being sung, and it was just ( ). It was like, it was almost [phone rings] ( ) experience. Let me turn that down. So. So they passed those out and then, then men came carrying big trays of, of these, you know, big white mugs of coffee and it was um, uh, you know Moravian coffee which, the coffee is actually brewed in the milk.
EB: Mm-hmm.
LL: So it's like real creamy and they put spices in it, and too much sugar and it's just wonderful [laugh]. Wonderful. And then after they did that you know, so while we're having this very, very simple meal, there there's a, there's a, a simple choir and there weren't a whole lot of people in the choir like maybe a dozen maybe fifteen, but each one of them was singing a different part, and it was, it was like this old German music. And it made me think about um, um, you know when they said that they first played Silent Night and the organ broke and, you know, well this must have been what that was like. You know, just this, just truly a very simple but very spiritual experience. Then, they take up the, the napkins from the buns and they take up the cups. ( ) They make themselves these bee's wax candles and they have this red trimming on it-.
EB: \\ Mm-hmm. \\
LL: \\ -You know, \\ and that's to keep the wax from your hands. And of course they don't give it to you in a holder, you know, they just give you the little candle. And everybody in the congregation gets a candle, while we're still singing, OK. And um, in fact they even have some little children singing I think during when they were giving the candles ( ) and then from a single candle on the advent wreath on the alter, which was the first time I'd noticed that, you know, having grown up Baptist I wouldn't know terminology, like liturgy like that. Um, but nonetheless there was an advent wreath and there was a single candle burning and from that single candle, one candle was lit from the pastor and then it was passed ( ). Everybody sang Joy to the World and put their candles up. It really just lit up, and it was like, you know, you hear this Christmas story your whole life, it was like the first time I really got it. And it was so, it was such a beautiful experience. Well um, for um, so um, um. Me, like my spiritual journey is just real important to me. I, I don't want to lay my trip on other people but you know it's a big part of who I am. And, and I, you know twist it all kinds of ways, you know. Um, I majored in theology so I was exposed to everything East to West and tried it all, and you know, everything has bits of the truth and then you kind a, at least for me I kind a came to the conclusion with bits of the truth weren't feeding me, that maybe I wanted something a little bit more substantial. And of all places like twenty years later, where do I go back? I go back to the Moravian church and um, and, and I'll be honest with you um, I don't [laugh] you know ( ) that ex- where something that they have-.
EB: Mm-hmm.
LL: -Crossed between their history and their faith, that just really appeals to me. It's, it's, I, I fit there somehow, and um, at the particular congregation where I belong I, I don't think that they um, they teach as much as they could or should, so I go elsewhere for my learning, and that's fine. You know, they're cool with that. They're very liberal. I like, like that part. They're really cool ( ). In fact, 80 percent of the, um, ( ) I think that's real cool and um, there were wonderful German traditions adapt to wherever they are. So apparently we have the sweetened bun and the coffee here in the South. They have um, actually um, um, a, a powdered bun up in Pennsylvania that's powdered with sugar that apparently gets everywhere, but I've been told that in places like Czechoslovakia it's not unusual for them to serve sausages and beer [laugh]. So, you know they kind of adapt to where they are, and I like that, you know. So, um. So um, but I, I think that that's kind of interesting, too, that I would um, embrace um, a faith that comes from the land where my father's people came. ( ) Gone for fifteen minutes?
EB: I believe so. ( ) [Laugh]
LL: That's, that's, um. [Cough]
EB: That's good.
LL: That's the thread that runs through my little life.
EB: Well.