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Interview with David R. Utley

Utley, David R.
Denton, Cayce
Date of Interview: 
Stories and storytellers; Relationships with people and places
David R. Utley talks about family life growing up in Durham and stories about his dad and grandfather.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Cayce Denton interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
CD (Cayce Denton): This is Cayce Denton's interview, first interview for the idiodialect study for English study 132 for Boyd Davis' class. Um, the first subject I guess is David Utley. Um, could you just tell me first off where you're from, where you were born and grew up and stuff?
DU (David Utley): I was born in Durham, North Carolina, um, in 1978. Uh, a family of me and my brother, Mom and Dad of course and. [Pause]
CD: And you, you grew up in Durham?
DU: Yes.
CD: OK, um, didn't you tell me that you lived with your grandparents at some point in time?
DU: Yes, actually my parents, um, were separated for approximately, four to five years I guess. They got separated when I was in the first grade. And then they were divorced I guess around sixth grade and then when I turned 11, I moved in with my, me and my dad moved in with my, with my grandmother and we were, uh, we lived there until I went off to college. Um, but in that, in that transition of moving from my original home place or whatever to my grandmother's, um, my dad was an alcoholic, um, he also went into a treatment center and for a brief time I lived with my mom. Um, and I guess in the process of him coming out of the treatment center it just so happened, co-, coincidental or whatever, um, that he also lost his job, um, and that was sort of the process of us beginning to move in with my grandmother and sort of taking up residence there.
CD: Um, during that time that you lived with your grandparents what, what kind of things did they talk about? What kind of stories and, um, family history things did they tell you about? Was there anything that really stands out in your mind that you remember about your grandparents?
DU: Um, actually they, they told me ten zillion stories I guess. Um, I guess just a few that my grandpa, that I remember were, ah, I remember he used to say he used to run 10 miles a day, or he used to carry his cows down to Mount, uh, no, to Holly Springs, and he'd hit them on the butt and they knew exactly where to go home. Um, actually as my grandpa, as he was growing up, or whatever, um, he sort of wasn't interested in getting, getting into business, uh, with anybody else, he just wanted to get in business for himself so, his brother helped him get into the car business for a little while and then, uh, that sort of got him a little money where he could start his, his own dreams or whatever, um, during the summer he'd go down to Carolina Beach and he'd open up a little hot dog stand and make a little side money there but I guess where the family roots, or where he started his fortune, uh, he opened up his own cafe in downtown Durham right beside Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company and, uh, it was Lewis' Diner. And back then he al-, he always remembered that, uh, he told me one story one time where the war, when the war was going on, uh, World War II, I guess, uh, he remembered just whistles blowing everywhere and he had come out of his cafe and there was a little kid standing on the street corner selling papers and you know we had won the war and blah, blah, blah and whatever. And he just, when, as he was telling me these stories he was just, like he was actually there you know, or whatever, um, there was also some other things he had said about, uh, about the cafe where back then whites and blacks they weren't allowed to come into the same building together, but he would, um, he, he just didn't, he didn't think that was right, but he, uh, he would let the black families come in the back door and they'd eat in the back, um, and he'd just serve them back there because if he did, he did let them eat out front that would just, that would, uh, run all the business away and he wouldn't have any business but he didn't think that they shouldn't be allowed to eat there so he'd just let them in the back door and fed them that way. Uh, as he, uh, as a few years passed and he had three, uh, three children, two daughters and a son. Um, his, uh, his son, which is my dad, um, was growing up playing baseball and he decided, um, my grandpa decided one day, he said he wanted to go, um, see him play ball, so he decided, "Well, I'm going to close at two o'clock." So from then on, from then on he closed at two o'clock. And the other good thing about that is because when he was open at night or whatever a lot of his nighttime help would, uh, steal a bunch of his money and they, one, uh, person, well actually a couple, had stole some of the money out of the cash register and they took it to Florida and they finally found them down there and they had all of his money and that was the good thing that he started closing at two o'clock.
CD: How long did your grandfather run that cafe?
DU: Well, you know he started I guess back in 1943 I guess or something like that. And I think he closed it around 1981 because I know I remember going up there maybe one time I was about three I guess so that would make it '81. And, uh, I think that's when he closed it down, what they, what they used to, what they wanted to tear it down, uh, put uh, or make it into a parking lot for Brightleaf, uh, Square. And that's just, that's like a little collection of shops and things like that. It's no big thing but I don't know.
CD: What, um, things have your grandparents [clears throat] told you about your dad when he was little? Have they told you anything about him growing up or anything that could maybe parallel to your life or something? You've already said about the sports and baseball.
DU: Well, um, [clears throat], they had told me that, uh, what they used to do is he was real big in singing, elementary school, middle school, high school. I mean he would win talent show after talent show and in the newspaper and he actually, uh, when he was three years old he, uh, was, was he either three or five? I can't remember. Um, he had, uh, nobody could see him when he was singing so they stuck him and he stood on top of the piano while this lady played and he was singing to the audience or whatever. Um, they used to take him to sing to, uh, the troops that come home, uh, he, he went to sing for everything, uh, out of town and he competed in talent shows at school and usually win. And even today he, uh, goes to like karaoke and wins money there so, uh, and I guess that's kind of passed on to me because I do enjoy singing, uh, singing at church a lot or whatever.
CD: What's that thing that, um, your grandmother always shows us when we go to your house that she had a bookmark made? What, what was that of?
DU: It was actually, it was a bookmark of, um, it had, it had been in a paper back in, uh, shhh, I guess he was about eight, my dad was about eight, um, at Oak Grove Elementary School he, uh, he was in a talent show there, and, uh, the local newspaper had published it and, uh, how you know a rising talent or whatever he was, uh, they had published it in the newspaper and she wanted to give one to all the family and she makes sure we all see it every time we go back, um, so she had a bunch of copies of it and had it laminated and things like that.
CD: Did your, um, parents or even your grandparents when you were living with them, um, read you any stories or did you read any stories to them or anything like kids do, you know, with their parents? School readings? Is there anything that really stands out in your mind about that?
DU: Uh, well, well, no not really, um, I guess the substitute or whatever of, uh, reading the stories, was I guess my grandparents they would, I mean we'd just sit around for hours and actually, probably every time I went to see them and even when I was living with them but you know whenever we'd sit around and watch TV but so, somehow get into a hour or two conversation of the just past stories and there's always a new one coming along so, um, I guess that sort of substitutes the literature of whatever of them reading to me or whatever.
CD: So you didn't read much when you were a kid. Did you, do you remember anything about what you read when you were little?
DU: Um, I remember one thing in elementary school. Uh, I would always go to the library whenever we had like library day. Um and I'd check out this biography of Abraham Lincoln and, uh, I don't know why I checked, I checked that book out like seven times. I mean, the little card in the back had my name on it and nobody else's. [Laughter] But, um, I don't know why I was doing that but I remember there were two things out of that book, um, that when Abe Lincoln was growing up he would read a lot you know at home and people just thought he was a bookworm or whatever. But when he got in class and I think they were having a spelling bee or something one day and, uh, and the only word or there was, he was the only one that could spell Mississippi and I just thought that was so bizarre but I remember that but there was also a thing when he was, uh, when he was going to school, there was no heat and there was really, you know, not a, not a lot of clothing or whatever to keep warm. So what he would do to keep warm to go to school he'd, um, I mean, when it snowed back then they still went to school, so uh, his, his mom would bake baked potatoes in the oven before they went to, before they went to school and he would, uh, carry those in his hands as he walked to school to, uh, to stay warm. Those are probably the only two things I remember out of the book, but I don't know why.
CD: I think I read that, too. All I remember was the studying by the candle light thing, because they didn't have any electricity or whatever. Well anyways, um, I guess that's all. Do you have anything else you particularly remember from your childhood or anything that really stands out for you?
DU: Well, no not really, I guess that's about as brief or whatever. I don't, I can't think of anything else, to say, you know.
CD: Well, you're only 20. You'll make some more stories, I'm sure. Thank you for participating in this.
DU: Thank you.