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Interview with Margaret Coles Sutherland

Sutherland, Margaret Coles
Hilton, Brandy
Date of Interview: 
overcoming obstacles; relationships with people and places; stories and storytellers; cultural identification
Margaret Sutherland talks about growing up in Charlottesville, VA during the Depression.
Charlottesville, VA; Great Depression
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Brandy Hilton interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
BH (Brandy Hilton): What is your name?
MS (Margaret Coles Sutherland): Margaret Coles Sutherland.
BH: And your date of birth?
MS: November the 12th, 1917, 82.
BH: OK. Where are you from originally?
MS: I'm a native of Virginia, uh, Charlottesville, Virginia.
BH: And how, oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
MS: Um, that's it.
BH: How long have you lived in Charlotte?
MS: I came here in 19 and 53.
BH: What are some memories you have of growing up?
MS: Well there are many memories, that I, uh, one thing particularly I do remember, the Depression. The Wall Street crash in New York when the stock markets, um, went dead. And 'course there was a lot of, there was a loss of money. It happened in my family. My father was very well off. He had a country store and in this store, of course, he supplied the neighborhood with groceries and, uh, clothes and so forth. But when the Depression came along the people were having a hard time. He supplied them with food. They could never, they could not pay for that food. They couldn't pay for their clothes, because there was no money.
BH: Uh-huh.
MS: And, of course, later my father died and there was, at that time $40,000 on the books that the people could not pay. And there was no way we could collect that money because they did not have it.
BH: Hmm.
MS: It was a very hard time. Back then I was a child.
BH: Hmm.
MS: And I do remember before the Depression, ah, really after the Depression the ent-, entertainment was in the home.
BH: Uh-huh.
MS: The neighborhood kids would come in. We had all kinds of games like checkers, books. Um, we didn't, as well as I can remember, and another game we played was called Fishers, that was with cards. We would all gather around the table, the kids, and play and usually the parents were sitting in the background.
BH: Uh-hmm.
MS: We were all in, as a family. There was a lot of love in the family, a lot of support and closeness.
BH: Uh-hmm.
MS: And that is, oh, I do remember going to the element-, um, going to school. In the elementary grades there was very few, uh, selection of clothes. We would wear our school clothes but when we'd come home we would have to take that dress off, hang it up, for the next day.
BH: Hmm.
MS: And we would just put on play clothes.
BH: Now what were play clothes?
MS: Ah, play clothes was something that, uh, maybe had holes in it, something that you wouldn't wear to school.
BH: But was it a dress? \\ Did you always wear a dress? \\
MS: \\ Yes, it was a dress. \\ We wore dresses back then not pants. Not like they do today. We wore dresses to school, and socks. And I do remember during the hard times that a lot of the kids had to put pasteboard in the shoes because the shoes had worn out. That was the only thing that they had to take care of, the shoes, to keep your feet from being on the ground.
BH: Oh.
MS: Uh-hmm.
BH: What are some of the memories you have of your father?
MS: I remember my father as always sitting at the head of the table. We were never allowed to help ourselves at the table. He would, we would pass plates around.
BH: Uh-hmm.
MS: And we had to eat what was on the plates. I can remember you never left food on the plate because they consider that being very wasteful, to leave food on the plate.
BH: Uh-huh.
MS: You had to eat what was there. And he was very strict, and especially in manners.
BH: Hmm.
MS: We had to conduct ourselves around people, ah, with manners. Say, "Excuse me," or, very polite.
BH: Uh-hmm.
MS: We had to be very polite with one another. And that was really with fam-, um, brothers and sisters. We had to be polite with them and respect them.
BH: Really?
MS: Uh-huh.
BH: Um, did they ever read to you?
MS: No, I, my mother did not do any reading.
BH: It just wasn't done?
MS: Uh-huh. It just wasn't done. But I do remember on Saturday afternoon all the kids in the neighborhood would get ready to go to a movie. A matin-, a matinee we'd call, and it was 25 cents.
BH: [Laugh]
MS: But, uh, we would try to save that, those few pennies to make 25 cents, so we could go to our movie on Saturday afternoon.
BH: And that was expensive back then wasn't it?
MS: Yes. It was. Very expensive. Even a dime.
BH: Hmm.
MS: It meant, it was something you really appreciate. A nickel, a dime, and a quarter was very much respected back then.
BH: Wow! Um, [pause] um, what is, what are some stories you have about your ancestors? What do you remember?
MS: One in particularly, I remember my father was, told me that he walked eleven miles a day to school, ah, to get his education. They were on a, I would suppose, a plantation. And his father was from Ireland. He never, he always kept that English accent. To me it was amazing because he just did not talk right to Southerners.
BH: [Laugh]
MS: He had an accent that I could never understand. He was like, for instance. he'd say "tomahtoes" when I thought he should say "tomatoes." A lot of little things that he said that was ah, very interesting to me.
BH: Uh-hmm.
MS: And he lived on a big estate, near Charlottesville. But he used to, and they were tutored a lot back then. Though he did mention the fact that he walked eleven miles a day to school-.
BH: Wow!
MS: -To get his education and he was a well-educated man. He would go back then, I don't know how high they went into the grades, I mean the highest of whatever they had, high school or what, but I do know he was a well-educated man. Everyone really appreciated him. If they had any problems whatsoever in the neighborhood they would always come to my father. Get advice. That's just about the only thing I can remember right now except that he still kept his, that he was very professional-.
BH: Uh-hmm.
MS: -About where he was from, he loved his-, to hear it he said he loved to hear his father talk about the slavery. They had slaves, his father had slaves. And he would talk about how interesting it was, ah, when his father would talk about the slaves.
BH: All right [pause]. Thank you.
MS: Uh-huh.