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Conversation with Janie Mills Bell

Mills, Janie
Means, Jamila
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with People and Places; Childhood Adventures
Janie Mills retells some humorous stories of her childhood adventures in school and at home.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Jamila Means interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
J2 (Janie Bell Mills): Let me see. Um, [cough] my, my mother she died, you know, before I really, you know, knowed her. I was small, my brother, it was just the two of us, you see, and my grandmother didn't have but five girls, she didn't have any boys. And out of the five girls didn't but one have children and that was my mother. And then she had a girl and boy, Babe and myself. Babe was older than I was and I was second. But when she died she was 35 years old, so they told me. And, um, was then when I got up, you know, and they told me she died when she was 35, I knowed I was going to die when I got 35 years old. [Laugh] So I got scared. Yeah, I knowed I was going to die. But I said it, it, uh, you see what, when Babe and I was going, Babe was, would want me to, he'd go out with them boys and children and learn, you know, things. Well he'd want me to do everything, he'd come back and want me to do it. He'd want me to, to, wanted to try to learn me to ride the bicycle. I always was scared of everything, you know. And he'd get mad. Well they'd go out there and they'd get rabbit tobacco--.
J1 (Jamila Means): [Laughs]
J2: And they'd chew it, come back, and he have me, want me to [laugh] chew it, I mean smoke it.
J1: [Laughs]
J2: And he said, "Just blow it in, then blow out," then maybe I'd go choking. I'd go to coughing and go out there and then he'd get mad at me. [Laughing]
J1: [Laughs]
J2: "Oh you can't do nothing." [Laughing] Honey. Oh, we'd have a time and fussing. And then of course, you know, he was awfully mischievous and anything that was done, you know, "Who did that?" He'd put it on me. They would believe everything, because, see, he was the only boy and they catered to him, you know, he was the only boy. Honey, and I'm the one had, I'd have to get a whipping. They never believed nothing I said, but whatever he said, it was the truth.
J1: [Laughing].
J2: Well then, after he got up pretty good size, you know children, they'd have little parties, you know, and things like that and they'd ask, you know, tell, ask for Babe and myself both to come and Babe would tell me, "No she can't go. That's not for her. She can't go." I never would get to go to nothing, honey. [Laughter] One year, Christmas, say, he going to get up there and say a little speech, you know, [laughing] and then, we had, you know, a little store out, well it wasn't far from us, you go out a little dirt road, you know, and then you'd have to turn, turn to your right and then back to your left to the little store. And she'd send me to the store and I'd have to repeat it, what I was going after [laughing] all the way to the store so I wouldn't forget. So much sugar, I'd have to say, "Ten cents worth of sugar," so whatever it was, I'd have to say it, you know, if I didn't I'd forget. Well one day at the, the little girl lived up above me, Charity, well she was going the store with me. Well along the road there just was this vine, just covered, you know, 'long there, that big pretty vine there. So Charity said, "Let's, let's get some of it and rub it on us." I said, "No." She said, "Yeah." She got some made like she rubbing it on her face. Well I got some and rubbed on my face and it was, you know, // poison ivy. //
J1: // Poison ivy. // [Laughing]
J2: Honey. And my face. Oh it was a sight. And Charity didn't have a little, little place and honey, my face puffed up. And my mother she had to use, I don't know what all, it taken her for the longest to get my, honey, because I rubbed it in, you know. I thought that, she was making that she was doing it and I was so dumb, you know. [Laughter] I didn't know no better. [Laughter] She was a little older than I was, you know. Yeah, just dumb, dumb, dumb. [Laughter] I didn't know. [Laughter] I thought, I thought everybody was like me, tell the truth. My mother, you know, she was my foster mother. But she tell me, she say, "You tell me a lie, I'll kill you." Honey, and I thought, I didn't know she was lying there herself. I know she didn't lie, honey. Honey I was scared to tell her [laughing] 'cause I'd know she'd kill me, you see. [Laughter] Yeah, baby, I know. And then one time, then, when I went to school, you know, well they would, well, you know, we'd have to carry our lunch everyday and then you, you had a boiled egg, and you'd have a baked sweet potato and, uh, these little, uh, little old sausage, whatever you call them, you know, what I'm talking about, because I see them now in the store.
J1: Uh-huh.
J2: Then that little, them little cans, the stuff that you make sandwiches out of, uh, Vienna sausage?
J1: Potted meat, or Vie--?
J2: Yeah. Potted meat, and, and then them little sausages, you know.
J1: Uh-huh.
J2: Well, I'd taken, I think, I don't know what they put a egg in that potted meat or something but anyway they'd make sandwiches, you know. And, uh, so then when I get to school, you see, I didn't like nothing but the white of the egg. And I'd have at lunchtime, they was all, was out begging for yolk, begging for the yolk. [Laughs] Oh I had plenty. I had plenty [laughs] when they got ready to eat lunch and this one was begging, this one was begging. I didn't say I'd give you this day, tomorrow, give you that da--, they would all be around me for that egg. [Laughs] Oh Lordy. One time then they, uh, they was, uh, one little girl there and she was and so they was, I think they must have put her, you know, you know how children say, "Why don't you hit her? Why don't you get her? When you start walking home?"
J1: Uh-huh.
J2: So they put, put Josephine, that was her name, and I told her, you know, I said, "Leave me alone, now. You go on, now," because I was scared, you know, to bother anybody because I know I'd get a beating if I did. And, uh, she kept on, she kept on after me, and all of them was around there, you know, just, the children was terrible then, you know. But they was doing that just wanting to see, you know, just wanting to see a fight or something. And Josephine, she kept on. Josephine was a little old, real bright little old gal and she was [laughing] she was, so she kept on. She come at me, she go, "Go at the little gully here when we leave the school, right here." Right here was a little gully. Right here was a little patch to get out in the big path you know, to go home. And so she kept on. She coming after me and I turned around and I take her and I just grabbed her and I clawed her face all up. Just clawed her to death.
J1: [Laughs]
J2: Bet, [Laughs] bet all of them, "Whoa. You're going to get it yet." "Y'all," I say, "All of you leave me alone." Because I knowed I was going to get a beating.
J1: [Laughs]
J2: [Laughing] I went home and, of course I, it was there before I got there, you know. [Laughing] Yeah, honey. Lord help me. It take a good while. I don't know what they kept, what they did about her face, but anyway I know it take a good long while to get her face like, yeah, child. I clawed her to death. I bet she didn't look at me no more. [Laughter] Didn't none of them, didn't none of them bother me no more.
J1: Huh-uh.
J2: Honey if, if you had get me mad, honey, I'd do you, I'd, ooh. The strength would come to me, you know, and I got mad, honey. But honey, when I got home I knowed, I dread to go home, because I knowed I was going to get it. [Laughter] Ooh. She could beat so. Ooh, honey. That woman. Those switches. She could beat you child. And talk about now. They talk about ( ) they'd have a child in jail every day if [laughing] it was like it used to be. Child that gets angry just, just take them up there and keep going, because honey, they're going to beat you. Honey, and you're going to know it, too. Ooh. And sometime Uncle Charlie, in the evening I'd be glad, you know, when Uncle Charlie come home from work and we'd be sitting and she'd say that she going to beat me. Well she beat, me and he say, "Winnie now that's enough now, Winnie." And he'd get over me--.
J1: [Laughs]
J2: And she, she'd just beat him then, too--.
J1: [Laughs]
J2: Until she got through. Honey, he'd take a, take a lot of beatings. O Lord. I thought he was the best daddy I ever had. [Laughter] I just loved him to death and I hated her. [Laughs] I thought, "She the meanest old thing I ever--." Oh. I thought she was so mean, you know, [Laughing] 'cause she, 'cause she beat me, see. I didn't know after while I'd appreciate it, you know.
J1: Uh-huh.
J2: But honey, I thought she mean thing. And one evening, I come from school. Well, I had dresses because the white people would always give me clothes. And so she said, ah, "Go in there and get that." She had a little, it was a little old straight dress. "You wash that dress now, because that the dress you going to wear tomorrow." And I wondered why I had to wear that dress. But honey, I went in there because there was water in that place. We had, we had big wash pans then, you know, had big old, like kettles like where you heated your water in. Well I went in there, I got that dress out, washed it out, and I rinsed everything out and went and hung it on the line. I can see it hanging now. [Laughing] Honey ( ), and, you know, directly she went out there, I went in the house, she went out the door, out right then and I went to the window and looked see where she going. She went out there, she went out there, she getting the dress pulling them seams open; pulling at it, you know. I got that thing, oh my, oh my, my, that thing hurt, you know. Honey, she was going there in them seams now looking and all. I said, "What is she--?" "Sister." [Laughing] that's the way she called me, oh my Lord. I said, "What's so wrong?" "Ma'am?" [Laughing] I went out there, get the dress down, and take it and wash it. Honey, I had to wash that dress four times--. [Laughter] Before, [laughing] before I ever got to wear it. I said, "If I live and get grown, I'm going to carry all of my clothes to the laundry. I ain't going to," saying it to myself because you'd better not say nothing and let them hear you. My Lord. They'd kill you then. [Laughing] Honey, I tell you the truth, yeah. And I got a whipping every time, you know. Oh Lord. Did I like laundry? No. I didn't want to learn no--. [laughing], I didn't want to learn nothing about no laundry work. Not from that dress. [Laughter] Good gracious alive. Huh-uh. Oh Lord. All them, all they could go around there just so pretty, they might come out. But me? No. No, don't give me nothing [laughing] to wash it out. After I got grown, the only thing I liked to, to iron was little baby clothes and handkerchiefs. Nothing else, no, no, no. One time we lived down in Brooklyn and Miss Sara and she taking care and she did laundry for these millionaires out there on, uh, I can't call the place now, but anyway and she'd come then she'd get Aunt Winnie and several people to help her, you know, do the washing and ironing. And one day then, I, I think we didn't have to go to school or something, but I went down and, Miss Wheeler was her name, she said, "Don't you want to iron a shirt?" "Oh yeah, but you--," I said, "I can't iron." "Well, you try to iron." Put me in there on an ironing board. And every time I'd iron there, then there'd be a wrinkle here and every time I iron there, I said, I said "I don't want to go down to Miss Wheeler's [laughing] no more." I wouldn't go down there no more either. I couldn't iron no white shirts or nothing else 'cause I hated it. [Laughter] Ooh laundry, I hated it. I was so mad but you better not act like you're mad. Huh-uh. Don't you act like you're mad because honey, you're going to get it. "Yes ma'am, yes ma'am, ( ) yes ma'am." Ooh my children. Lord, honey. And then they're in everything you do, "Who did so and so?" "Sister," he'd call me, "Sister did that." [Laughing] He'd call me Sister, I'd say, "Babe. I didn't." " Yes you did, too." Well I'd be the one to get the whipping. Lord, I got so many whippings. Oh, it was awful. And, you know, then, they had, uh, wooden floors and you had to get down on your knees and scrub them. And honey, get down, and in them cracks. You'd better not leave not nothing in them cracks. Ooh Lord. On Saturday, that's when you had to scrub them floors. And Babe, he'd, he would get mad, you see. He'd put everything on me. He was supposed to be helping me and then he'd make me do it, you know. Oh, when it was awful. I said, I'd tell anybody, I'd say, "Please," [laughing] "don't let none of the children be home ( ), because it, you do so sure going to catch it." [Laughing] Oh me. I'll tell you, I had it rough. Talking about it, [laughing], talking about it, ooh, my Lord. I said, "Um, um, um." Ooh honey, I hated it a whole lot. I still hate laundry.
J1: [Laughs]
J2: I, I, do. [Laughing] ( )After, after that, he had a cafe and he'd, most all the time he'd send these shirts, you know, to the laundry. Well then one day up there, he wanted me to wash the tie, I mean, you know, wash the things what you use in the kitchen and then he give me two white shirts to carry over, over to the washerette with, right across the street then, right across ( ). And I came over and he said, he said, "Now you got to put bleach in there in the towels to get them clean," he told me. I said, "All right." So I put the towels, shirts, and everything together, poured bleach all over them. [Laughs] I didn't know [laughs] about using bleach, pouring bleach. When his shirts come out, they come with little holes--. [Laughter] All over. All over. [Laughs] He didn't ask me to wash no more shirts. [Laughter] They, uh uh. He sure didn't ask me [laughing] to wash no more shirts. Little holes, honey, all--. "I thought you knowed how." I didn't know how, didn't want to know how [laughing] so I--.