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Multi-party conversation with Lamar Thomas

Thomas, Lamar
Thomas, Kaye
Zhou, Yun
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Cultural Identification; Childhood Adventures; Stories and Storytellers
Lamar Thomas tells stories about his family and talks about pride in his family's heritage.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Yun Zhou interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
YZ (Yun Zhou): ( ) I hope it come out well.
LT (Lamar Thomas): Well, we will tell a story about the, my mother and her sister and my grandfather, grandmother and the other five children went down to Chattanooga, where they had been raised in a place called Sequatchie Valley and my grandfather worked for the railroad. Uh so they had families and friends and they would go back and forth and visit and drive from Charlotte to Chattanooga, Tennessee and back. Now it takes about five hours, used to take about a day and a half, I suppose. Um, the one day, were coming back, coming down the highway, uh they ran into some chickens and evidently hit a chicken and drove them back to Charlotte some distance, and when they go home from Georgia, coming back through Georgia, they got out of the car and there was a chicken, uh dead up against the radiator of the car. So naturally they got out of the car, took the chicken, and plucked the chicken, and boiled, uh, it, and cooked it, and had it for supper that night. [Laugh] The other is a story about our history of, I was married, um, Kaye and she seemed a quiet young lady from well-reserved family Presbyterian heritage. And later in life I found that her father when he was a young man rode a motorcycle. And in those days people that rode motorcycles around Charlotte were probably more rambunctious sort. He had an uncle out in California, and so he rode his motorcycle from Charlotte, North Carolina up to California, um, not sure but maybe in Los Angeles area. And there he went in search of his uncle. His uncle had been into some kind of mischief and had been put in jail. He was serving on what we used to call chain gang and take your leg, put a clip around it and chain a ball on one end and then give you a shovel or rake or a pick he'd go out and maintain the highways. Well my wife's father found where his uncle was located and where he was working So in an opportune time he rode his motorcycle and got his uncle to hop on the back of the motorcycle and they headed for North Carolina. And so, he helped his uncle escape the chain gang and after they got back in North Carolina his uncle became sick, and within about three months, uh died from tuberculosis. And that's a story of my wife side of family not a story from my side of the family. RECORDING PAUSED THEN RESUMED
LT: In the early part of.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: To, uh, that didn't have orphanages and things and so when a family, parents would die or someone couldn't take care of the children.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: They would, uh, give them to another family to raise.
YZ: Um.
LT: So my great grandfather, uh, adopted grandfather--.
YZ: Uh.
LT: By common law.
YZ: Um.
LT: He had some other brothers and sisters, and they went to other homes, but when his parents died.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: My great grandfather did not have any children.
YZ: Uh.
LT: Great grandmother did not have any children so they adopted my grandfather and they had a large farm, uh, and my great grandfather was very industrious.
YZ: Um.
LT: And so they farmed the farm and then they set up a touring company and they bought automobiles and they would go up to New York and pick people up and drive them down to Florida.
YZ: Um.
LT: For vacation back and forth and it was a time when they didn't have glass windows in the car they had what we called isinglass which was not plastic but was made out of a \\ material. \\
YZ: \\ Oh. \\
LT: That rolled up.
YZ: Uh.
LT: Or that they could hang a--.
YZ: Uh.
LT: So they would drive the folks back and forth from Florida and then he created a construction company and in the First World War.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: Went out and built the roads to go to a large camp that was here in Charlotte.
YZ: Um.
LT: And so my father and my grandfather at that time, uh, were in involved in laying the, putting the road.
YZ: Um.
LT: In to a military camp. Uh my grandfather had seven boys and three girls so they had a very large family [laugh] they all worked on the farm [laugh] and he educated his, most of his children, my father went to the seventh grade and quit school.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: But his other brothers and sisters went on through school and went to uh, uh college. \\ One. \\
YZ: \\ Uh. \\
LT: One studied to be a doctor, there was an electrician, a minister.
YZ: Uh.
LT: There was a banker.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: Uh, and so they had different positions but the tradition of my great, great grandfather and grandfather carried on to the children and my father who was not very well education.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: Was an industrious man and he developed his own company.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: Made his own way in life and became a member of school board.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: He went to the seventh grade and quit, and yet when he, um was older, and in business--.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: He was chairman of the local school board.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: Where he went to school, although he never graduated [laugh], and also the next two higher schools.
YZ: Uh.
LT: He was on those boards.
YZ: Oh. [Laugh]
LT: He used to kid and say that he went to, uh--.
YZ: Several schools.
LT: No he, he would go they would ask him, when the businessmen would ask him what fraternity he was a member of.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: And he would always say "Hodskins" which was the name of the school where he where went.
YZ: Uh.
LT: Up to the seventh grade. [Laugh] And they'd say, "What Greek letter is that?" and he'd say, "It's not Greek it's Southern." [Laugh] Hodskins fraternity.
YZ: Uh. [Laugh]
LT: They kidded a lot in the family, played practical jokes on one another.
YZ: Um.
LT: My father bought a mule that wouldn't--.
YZ: Um.
LT: Work for anyone but him.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: And he would rent out the mule for people to plow their gardens and they would be so frustrated they would take the mule off to plow their garden and the mule wouldn't do anything. [Laugh] And they would bring him back home and fuss at him.
YZ: Uh.
LT: Then he would laugh and give them their money back [laugh]. My great, my grandfather--.
YZ: Uh.
LT: Developed the farm they were using into a residential area.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: And he was good at doing things with his hands and some business but he took a lot tried to be a banker and he couldn't be banker because he built homes for people then financed the homes.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: And uh he took the second mortgage.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: And when the Depression came along back in the 1930's, uh, all those homes were taken over by the banks and he was left without anything and he was destitute.
YZ: Uh.
LT: When he died he was very poor.
YZ: Oh.
LT: But he had been fairly wealthy along the way.
YZ: Uh.
KT (Kaye Thomas): In that community ( ).
LT: And he named the streets in the community for his children he named, the name, the name of the community was Thomasborough which he named after the family.
KT: Thomas.
YZ: Tom.
LT: They had, uh, a large, uh, home on the peak of the hill.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: And, uh, they would ring a big dinner bell.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: And the women would prepare for the workers and maybe they would have 50 workers come back and eat lunch behind the, um, house.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: Out on the grass so when my grandmother and grandfather died the oldest son came through. He took the dinner bell and carried it off to his house he never used the dinner bell but it was a large bell like a church bell.
YZ: Um.
LT: Uh, they met together as a community and they founded a church and they met in a place called the Cannery.
YZ: Um.
LT: They built a large building put in pots to cook with and the people who had local farms could go there.
YZ: Uh.
LT: And cook their food and put them in cans and jars.
YZ: Uh- huh.
LT: And so it was a cannery and they started meeting at the cannery.
YZ: Oh.
LT: Uh and then later built, built the church there in the community.
YZ: Oh. It seems I don't know much about my family's history tree because since people choose not to tell stories I hear people choose to preserve the history and tell the stories so since that everybody here could tell stories about their family grandfather great grandfather well.
KT: And the house his great grandfather lived in had a step.
YZ: Uh-huh.
KT: Out front that was made of slate.
YZ: Uh, slate?
KT: Slate.
YZ: Yes.
KT: And it that it's carved 1785.
YZ: Uh-huh.
KT: That it could have been well that's what was that's what's in it and that's our front step at the front door.
YZ: Oh. You move it here the slate?
KT: Uh-huh you'll have to look at it. It's a step and it has in it is it 1785?
YZ: Oh.
LT: Not quite sure.
KT: That would have been your great grandfather.
LT: It would have been before me.
KT: Way, way back but it was at your great grandfather's house.
YZ: Uh-huh.
LT: The house yeah.
KT: And the house burned down.
YZ: Uh.
KT: And that was one of the few things that uh.
YZ: Uh-huh.
KT: A piece of slate couldn't burn.
YZ: Uh.
KT: And Lamar's mother and father had it at their house out in the yard just on the ground at a tree [cough].
YZ: Uh.
KT: So when we built this house we made our, we planned it so.
YZ: Uh.
KT: It was the length of this piece of slate so that's from his great grandfather's house.
YZ: My grandfather's house in front of the it's like a yard square yard and at the end at the gate there is a pair of stone lions.
KT: Oh.
YZ: And that's are very popular in China.
KT: Uh-huh.
YZ: Lions seem to be the--.
KT: The male and the \\ female with the paw? \\
YZ: \\ Yeah the male and the female \\ yeah with a ball.
KT: A ball.
YZ: Yeah One is, uh, holding the ball with \\ a paw. \\
KT: \\ A paw. \\
YZ: The other is--.
LT: Holding it.
YZ: Having the ball in the mouth.
LT: Oh.
YZ: Or it seems to be like it seems to be protecting the prosperity and also, uh, just a sign of peace and prosperity and dignity for the, the family I think we have long history but nobody tells the story. [Laugh]
KT: I'm sure they do ( ) much further back than our ancestors.
YZ: That's because the, the, you remember, uh, I don't know whether you went to that park or not. That park very small but with a lot of, of handwriting Asian handwriting carved on, on slate too you, \\ you didn't go \\ to the park.
KT: \\ In. ( ) \\
LT: Not it has a lot of flowers?
KT: \\ ( ) \\
YZ: \\ Lotus \\ it should it should be called lotus park.
KT: \\ Oh yeah we did not go there. \\
LT: \\ We did not go. \\ Because when we were there the, the greenery and all was gone.
YZ: Oh, oh yeah not the right time \\ summer should be the right time. \\
KT: \\ So we did not go to lotus park. \\
YZ: That's a that's a--.
KT: I've seen \\ several pictures of it \\ in summertime.
LT: \\ Well the lady's house we went \\ to the other night.
YZ: Oh yeah Nancy and John took that picture and she, she published \\ that article. \\
LT: \\ Newspaper. \\
KT: \\ In the newspaper \\ we saw that.
YZ: Yeah in the newspaper January 1999 that is a park built in 672 or something like that it's even 1000 more year [laugh].
KT: ( )
YZ: One more thousand [laugh] but nobody tells a story about that it's just not the tradition anymore.
LT: Well I think part of that is when you had the cultural revolution.
YZ: Yeah I , I think so because--.
LT: So many people didn't want to \\ let their history be known. \\
YZ: \\ So many is feudal \\ because a lot of things like the lions some people were saying is the symbol of feudalism because it protect the emperor, emperor or empress--.
KT: ( )
YZ: In some things so people just choose not to tell stories it seems that as soon as, uh, the new nation is was established, everything should take a new look and.
KT: ( )
YZ: We just a cut off and say bye, bye to the history. [Laugh]
KT: Ooh I loved hearing the stories of the emperors though.
YZ: Uh-huh.
KT: And all the concubines. [Laugh]
YZ: Concubines?
KT: The mistresses.
LT: Wives.
KT: The wives.
YZ: Oh.