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Interview with Patsy Payne

Patsy Payne
MacMonagle, Peter
Date of Interview: 
children's games; cutting tobacco; moving to town (PART UNTRAN)
Patsy Payne tells stories about various times in her life.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Peter MacMonagle interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
PM (Peter Macmonagle): I'm here with my neighbor Patsy Payne and she's going to tell us about her life in North Carolina and perhaps some stories, uh, that her father, uh, used to tell when she was younger. And so let's just start.
PP (Patsy Payne): OK. [cough] I am Patsy Payne. I was born in 1930 to a family of six children. I was the fifth of the six and had three brothers and two sisters. Born of course during a time that it was hard times financially and, uh, we had hard times like everybody else at that period. We hard times and yet we had a happy home life. And, uh, I remember probably from about six years olds probably some of my first memories, that we lived in a big house with big yard and all our neighbors had big yards, too and seems like all our neighbors also had children. And there was also a lot of playing with children in the community. We would, uh, play such games as hop-scotch, uh, tag, kick-the-can, hellover, that was a neat game. We had, one group would get on one side of a shed and the other on the other side and you had a ball. One group says, "Hellover." When the other group responds, "Hellover," that means you can through the ball over the top of the shed and whenever they caught it they could run and try to catch you before you reach the base. [Laugh] Uh, and then kick-the-can, I was, I was thinking that must have been sort of the way we played must have been sort of like playing, uh, softball because we'd kick the can and then whenever the other side caught it they could start running and chasing us and we had bases to get to. And, uh, that must have been sort of like softball. And then we, we lived pretty close to the gymnasium, I mean to the schoolhouse that had a gymnasium, and the principal, we'd go down there and knock on his door and ask him if we could go skating in the gym. And he would unlock the gym for us to go skating. I can't imagine any principal letting anybody skate on gym floor today 'cause I can remember today, today they make you be careful that you walk way on the edge in the gym. You can't touch that floor. But we got to go down there and skate in that gym. And it was a good floor for skating as I remember exactly it was probably made of pine. It seems to me like it was sort of soft, but whatever, we got to skate in the gym. Then, uh, I remember that we children would catch junebugs and we'd tie a string on their legs and that was a lot of fun course it was probably really not the thing to do as I think about it today 'cause I'm sure occasionally sometime a junebug lost a leg, but they probably were the fortunate ones 'cause they got away with their life and I'm not sure what happened to some of the others. Nighttime it was time to catch the lightning bugs and the, it was always a contest of who could get the most in their jar. And here again, that was really not the thing to do, those poor bugs, but that's what we did anyway. Uh, I remember Saturday night that, that was always a time that everybody was getting themselves ready for Sunday. Getting ready for Sunday, one of the things was that after we all went to bed Daddy would get everybody shoes and polish them. We'd get up on Sunday morning then our shoes were polished. In those days one pair of shoes was all we had. Wore the same shoes to church on Sunday that we'd worn to school and to play during the week but that worked pretty good, they had a good polishing. They looked pretty good, looked good as anybody else's. Uh, church on Sunday the same folks that went to school with us were the ones that also went to church with us. It was kind of a community church and community school. And I remember I had one friend who, uh, liked to come home with me and I liked to go home with her and so most Sundays we'd ask our mama if we had enough food to invite, for me to invite Peggy home with me and course the answer was always yes and so she'd go home with me for Sunday afternoon and stay until it was time for church Sunday night and then she'd go to her house and I'd go to mine or I might do the same and going to her house on Sundays. I remember a lot of those Sundays that we would sit and talk all afternoon. There was a lot of talking that went on in those days, didn't have TVs to sit in front of. In fact the first TV that I remember seeing, I was in college and I went to Washington, DC with a friend one weekend and they had a TV. First one I'd seen. The TV was about probably six inches in circumference and there was a great big magnifying glass sort of thing in front of it so that it was big enough for you to see. I remember watching that TV and that was my first. Um, during my early teenage years I had an aunt that I liked to go visit in the summertime. And one of the things I remember down there was the watermelon patch. The best way to eat a watermelon is to go to the field and of course the watermelon's hot and that's the best way to have one is hot in the field and you just drop it and burst it open and then with your dirty hands [laugh] you get some of this watermelon. You start getting the watermelon out and eating it. I've never had a watermelon that's cold and cut with a knife that tastes like those watermelons did in the field when they were hot and you got them that way. Also there was a little creek I remember it her near where she lived and we, she'd take me down to the creek and that's where we'd go swimming in the creek. I don't know why I wasn't afraid of the snakes and all this in those days but I loved to go swimming in that creek. Name of it was Terrible Creek. And then when I was about nine or 10 years old, making those summer trips, the tenants of housed tobacco and that was the my aunt's money crop was tobacco and so I got her to let me go work with them in the tobacco. I was the only white person, uh, and, but they seemed to not mind having me working with them. And really as my childhood that's probably the most, uh, pleasant experience for me to recall today of those years that I as working in tobacco. The women would find a place that was in the shade and I remember one place particularly that was by the creek and, uh, they had set up their operations there. The men would be in the field what they called priming the tobacco which meant they pick of the ripe leaves and, and when I first started working, like nine years old probably, my job was to drive the slides. Now the slides were mule driven and you'd take a child, would have to get them from the field with the tobacco that the men would put in the wooden, was it wooden or canvas? In the canvas uh, uh body of the slide and then the child would take it to the uh, this nice cool place under the shade of the trees where the women were putting it on the sticks. So I drove the slides the first year but then I graduated next year when I got a little older and some other child drew drove the slide so then I was able to uh, uh I became a hander. Now that meant that you handed the tobacco to the looper who was tying this tobacco on sticks. And, uh, so I had that job for several years. I remember what I bought with my first money that I made working in tobacco that first summer. I bought a winter coat, I bought a flannel, red flannel nightgown, and I bought a string of pearls. Remember vividly my purchases with my first money that I'd earned. And when I got in the sixth grade we moved to town and thing I remember about that house was the front porch because all the houses all up and down the street had porches. And these porches were wonderful places for people to gather. You knew all your neighbors 'cause you'd walk down the sidewalk and they'd be on their front porch and you'd stop in to visit and they'd do the same with you, of course. And our front porches were used to string beans and shell the peas and, uh, whatever you sat out there a lot because you didn't have air conditioning and it was might hot in the house in the summertime. So that was another reason to be in on the porch but it really made for a lot of wonderful conversations, great place to talk. Uh, along about this time when we moved to town they were, when the war broke out and of course when somebody my age says the war, that means World War II, I remember vividly where I was and hearing that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, uh, I expect most folks, that's one of the things I most remember a lot of details of that. And I remember going to the radio and, and listening to Franklin Roosevelt tell that we'd been attacked and that war had been declared. During this time every able-bodied man very soon after this was drafted, every one from age 18 to 35. And with all my many cousins and friends' brothers and all of this, I don't know but one or two men that age, between those ages, that did not go to war. And I have to say that they were, uh, rather looked down upon beside the fact that they had physical ailments that made them not be able to go to war, people really didn't feel too kindly towards those that hadn't served. Uh, rationing was necessary during those times. We were issued ration books that had stamps in them and, uh, some of the things that were rationed: we had stamps for sugar, in fact sugar was the thing that stayed rationed even after all the rationing of other things had been lifted but sugar, coffee, uh, canned goods, shoes, uh, gasoline, tires for cars, cars themselves, um, we didn't have a car at that period of time so the tires and the gasoline didn't particularly affect us but the, uh, meats were rationed food stuff affected us. Uh, let's see what other things? That's what I recall at the moment. Then I remember the air raid drills at night you'd hear these mournful sirens go off and that meant every light in the house went off. You were not to even strike a match. And there would be block wardens that would walk the block to be sure that everybody's lights were out and as I remember also your shades were, in addition, were to be drawn. And then fortunately the 'all clear' would sound. And we never had to have a real air raid, it was only drills. Near Durham was a camp, Camp Buckner, an Army camp and a lot of the civilians would go, went out there to work. That was what they could do. I remember the day that the telegram came from the Army, it was December the 29th, uh, saying, I remember the very words of that telegram, "Mr. and Mrs. Olive, The war department regrets to inform you that your son Billy Dee Olive has been wounded in battle." And the really sinking feeling that all of us had because of course we didn't know, uh, what the extent of the injury was and yet there was this little bit of joy that at least he was not in the front lines anymore and, uh, that we were happy for. Turned out that he did have a pretty serious injury that, uh, he was in the hospital in England for three months and then he had to have a lot of surgeries after that, but he fortunately lived to this day, 78 years old today. Uh, when I finished high school I went to Duke, that was in 1947, and I remember how school had many, many veterans were there, uh, 'cause that would have just been a couple of years after the war ended. Actually my brother who was injured, uh, returned as a veteran. He had been drafted before he'd been able to finish. Then after college, I began teaching, began teaching in the eastern part of the state in the northeastern county, Currituck County. That county has, had three schools, it had two white schools and one black school. The white school was in the north were in the north end and the south end of the county. The black school was in the central part of the county. Each of these schools had a teacherage and that's where we lived. There was a Mr. Knap who was a, I think uh, owned a publishing company as I remember, he used to come down there to Currituck County hunting and he liked those people, he really became fond of them and it was a very, very poor county. So he decided he was going to do something for the county and what he did was to build these teacherages at all three of the schools. So that's how the teacherage came to be. It was right much fun living in the teacherage. We were, the principal lived downstairs and there was five of us single teachers who each had our room upstairs we shared, uh, one bathroom and one very small kitchen but we managed quite well. PTAs at that school were really an enjoyable occasion. They were community affairs. It didn't matter if you had a child in school or not, you came to PTAs. That was the social event of the month for the community. The parents of the children were either fisherman or they were hunter guides or they were farmers. The farmers were the ones who had a little more money than the hunters and the fisherman but they were, uh, thought their teachers were I think the next thing to God I think. They really, really, uh, [laugh] liked us right much. In fact, we were just constantly invited to their homes for Sunday lunch to a point that sometimes you really wished nobody would ask you again. [Laughs] But after that experience there, I have to say that I don't recall but one other time that I ever was invited in, in years since to have a meal at a, well, maybe I just thought of another time or two. But it's nothing like it was there in those days. After I left the eastern part of the state I moved to, uh, Gaston County, taught school over there. And the reason I went to Gaston County, I was, I was just ready for some adventure and didn't know where I wanted to go but when I saw they had a teacherage that's the thing that made me say, "Oh! I think I'll apply there!" So that's what brought me to Gaston County because I enjoyed the teacherage experience and I have to say I enjoyed the teacherage in Gaston County as well. Then after Gaston County it, uh, I was married so from then it was a matter of going where my husband went, which took me to Greensboro and then back to Charlotte. It was in 1964 or '65 that I taught my first integrated class that was at Piedmont Junior High and, uh, as I remember we were the only school that year that had integrated and we were, it was not just a token integration, it was, uh, probably about 1/3 black and 2/3 white but we did not have any black teachers that year.
PM: That's it?
PP: That's it. [Laugh]
PM: Good. Well, see that's, was that so hard?
PP: No. That wasn't hard. ( ).
PM: Yeah well that was pretty good. Thank you.
PP: Sure.
PM: Yeah. You did good. And that's your own story.
PP: Yeah.
PM: And, uh-.