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Interview with Alfred R. Waters, Jr.

Waters, Alfred R. Jr.
Deatherage, Justin
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places; Then and now
Al Waters talks about his first tv set, and stories his dad told him about the Depression.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Justin Deatherage interviewed Charlotte, NC residents to collect various stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
JD (Justin Deatherage): I guess this is close enough say something.
AW (Alfred R. Waters, Jr.): Hello.
JD: All right, let's see. Do you remember, uh, do you remember reading any like, do you remember being, maybe like the first book that you remember having read to you or reading or-.
AW: Probably, ah, the story of Little Red Riding Hood when I was about ah, four years old and the Three Little Pigs and ah, just, just general nursery rhymes.
JD: Did you, did you read them or does your mother read them to you?
AW: No, I, it was read to me and then ah, probably the first book that I ever read all the way through was called Black Beauty.
JD: Who read to you when you were younger?
AW: Ah, my mother.
JD: Was there any particular time or place?
AW: Oh yeah, usually before, ah, before bedtime we'd try, ah, go down and get a book out and then she'd read some of the stories and sometimes we'd, ah, I, I would talk about, I would, I would read the same thing again. And ah, we would read through the same thing several times like most children would and uh, we would go through several different books. In fact I had all kinds of books. I had those Golden Booksyou know that ah, most all kids had. And ah, they used to have the general nursery rhymes and stuff that you would start out with small kids to get you interested in books, you know, little stories and things like that. And I think I read ah, the story about Bambi. Had a book that had a story about Bambi in there. And ah, gosh, I can't think of all the stories, all the stories we had when we were young. Of course that's been a long time ago now. [Laugh]
JD: Uh, well, um, do-, is there-, do you remember, did anybody in your family use to tell you stories orally?
AW: Oh yeah, uh, my grandfather. He always used to tell me stories about ah, back when they, ah, they lived out in the rural area and they farmed and ah, how hard it was especially back then in the Depression, during the Depression era and when they didn't ah, in town, in the towns, they didn't ah, they had no jobs and really didn't have any way of ah, of getting food. But ah, they all lived out on the farm in the country but they didn't have any money. They didn't even have any money to go buy tobacco, chewing tobacco. They didn't have money for cigarettes or anything like that. They always had plenty of money, err-, not money, but they always had plenty of food. And they had people in town that'd be starving, but they had food. And ah, they also went on to say that, uh, you know, when it come time to make clothing, ah, back in the back, way back in the backwoods like that, they, we'd, ah, they would buy their fertilizer for the crops. All right, then grandma she'd take that, ah, the fertilizer sack and, ah, they'd usually give it back to them. Then, back in the, ah, 1930s and the 1940s, ah, fertilizer sacks came in, in stuff that was material.
JD: Hmm.
AW: And they'd take the material and some of it would come in a material that would be, ah, to where you could make a kind a pair of pants or kids shirt. And, ah, usually grandma for the girls, she'd usually, ah, she'd usually get out the real nice fancy prints and they'd make, ah, they'd make dresses and blouses and just about everything. They were self sufficient. They didn't have to go to town buy anything because they didn't have any money anyway.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: But ah, whenever they did, they, they, they worked for the barter system. When they needed, ah, ah, smoking tobacco, when they needed chewing tobacco, when they needed, ah, sugar, or needed salt, they'd go and they had chickens, and they'd take, ah, eggs from the chickens, and which was a commodity which was the people at the stores would want and they'd take their eggs, and they'd trade their eggs for ah, chewing tobacco, smoking tobacco, sugar-.
JD: Uh-huh.
AW: -And the basic things you would take to go in together to make a meal or ( ). And they didn't have any money for entertainment. So I know my great grandmother and, which I used to go to her house back when I was real small, about six or seven years old, we'd go to my grandmother's house and ah, the house that she lived in never had any paint on it. It was made with heart pine flat board and it was never painted. It was weathered just like those panels in here it'd be a gray and weathered. It was a big two-story house and had a porch all the way across the front and it had a bunch of rocking chairs on it and all that stuff and when, when you'd go in the front door it was considered the parlor. They always called that the parlor, you didn't call it the living room like you'd call it today but that was the parlor and in the parlor you look around my, my grandmother's parlor would have all those ah, Duncan Phyfe type ah, little old lady furniture you'd sat and ah, I remember she had a velvet chair with nice velvet on it and I thought that was real cool you know and, ah, we'd come in there and they'd have, ah, they'd have a bass fiddle, a banjo, a guitar, they'd have just a, I mean they had a pump organ and all the little kids would like to if somebody, well my dad played by ear and didn't have, ah, sheet music, ah, he didn't need it. He could play a guitar by ear, and he could play piano by ear, and he could play the ah, organ by ear and the little kids would get in and they'd pump the air [laugh] with their feet for the organ and, and some of the family, the other family members you know, they'd get in there and they would ah, they would take and ah, pump that thing and on, and on Sunday, this was a big deal on Sunday, they'd all get together and go to grandmother's house way out in the country to a big field and you'd be on a little dirt road and the dirt road was really a rut-.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: -Literally ruts in the road and that rut was the road to the house. It was like about a half mile off down the main road. And ah, you'd go back in there and, and everybody would bring something you know a covered dish type deal and then she'd have the main course and stuff like that and, ah, I remember they cooked on a wood stove and that was a long, long time ago, man. They'd cook on a wood stove and they'd, ah, make big main meal and everything they cooked on it was great. They'd make things with, ah, honey they also had a bee hives and they had their own honey and they also had cane, sugar cane and they had molasses they'd make, ah, with sugar cane and they would make a little thing was the greatest dessert you ever put in your mouth. It was called Pickies. Pickies were little old things made with flour and they would make a little pearl in them and then they would take molasses or honey or whatever syrup you would want to put on it and you'd put that on it and they would put it in the oven and bake it and it had butter on it and when they brought that thing out everybody would go trucking over there at one time. They didn't even wait for them to get cool and ah, that was, that was the cooking while you were sitting there eating the main meal and ah, it's a, it's an old house. I remember the old house and it was big high ceilings and in that old house they had like a long table and the table was made with uh, pine boards and it was varnished. And then they always had an oil cloth on it and it was checkered ah, oiled cloth on top of it and ah, that was your table cloth and it ah, it was real long. Ah, I bet ah, you could probably seat 15 people at that thing and it was ah, on both sides of the long table there was benches. So if you were a kid and weren't old enough you'd sit on the bench. The old men and the old [pause] old ladies, they got to sit on the ends-.
JD: Um-hmm.
AW: -Because they were the ones that run the show you see but ah, that was, that was, that was a great time because ah, that was a very basic time and ah, a time you would probably never see now maybe unless you went back in the Appalachians or something like that but that used to be that way in a 60 mile radius of Charlotte at one time. Back then Charlotte was a metropolis compared to the rural area around there but that was kind of what my dad grew up in and he had known those tough times and he would take us out there so we could see the way he grew up.
JD: Right.
AW: And, and, and, and he always related his stories to me about you know how tough they had it and how they had no money but they were, they were happy. They did not have a lot of problems but you probably think gosh, they had all sorts of astronomical problems but you know they didn't worry about it. They didn't have problems they just, ah, they just made do with what, with what they had, and everything was simple. Most of the families were large. Ah, you'd probably had a minimum of five kids, mostly more than that. My mother ah, her family had 11 kids in it. My father's family, uh, had five kids in it and my family there were five kids and, ah, the reason why they had so many kids was, ah, they always had enough kids because they could work the crops and see you didn't have tractors and stuff like that. You just had mules. And there's a few people had tractors but they who had tractors were usually rich and that was the big prominent persons and all the rest of them had a plow their fields with ah, mules or horses or whatever you know. But ah, that was kind of, ah, the way, the foundation of how everything started and when my dad though um, he will tell you ah, or he would have told you he is passed away now but he used to say that as soon as he got big enough to where he could get ah, where he could get his job working somewhere he left ah, the farm because he never wanted to do that because that was a tough life-.
JD: Hmm.
AW: -And he would work, ah, in a textile mill and he just went in you know, at entry level and didn't have but a tenth grade education. As soon as he went in there they could see he knew how to do a lot of things. He was, ah, sharp and, ah, he worked his way on up to where he was ah, supervisor and then, then he went to textile school. Without an education this textile school that is, ah, the North Carolina Textile School and he started up probably the first plant in the state of North Carolina that had air conditioning in it.
JD: Hmm.
AW: The first plant and the air conditioning wasn't the air conditioning like we know today. The air conditioning back then that they had was air conditioning where they had, ah, they had, ah, water towers and the water towers you would take and blow air across the cold water and it would, it would, ah, emit a mist and it would give enough humidity so that the fibers would run right in the textile mill. And he learned how to do that and he learned how to do, ah, to read the graphs from all that stuff to keep that thing in control. When I was real small I used to-, we would go to church on Sunday and after church we would go over and my dad would go all the way through the plant and read every one of those big round graphs. You'd have to climb up a ladder to get up in the top ah, oh, 12 or 14 feet high and, and, and read off those graphs and then take that stuff, the old graph out and take it and show the record of what all the humidity was through the mill for all during the day. Ah, but he stayed in there probably 10 years and ah, shortly thereafter he ah, he, he could hardly-, found that to be a hard way to make a living but he got out of that and ah, he started building homes. And when he started building homes, he'd get up before daylight and hand dig with a pick and shovel all sorts of houses, then he'd work eight hours, get off, and work until dark again. He was always up from daylight to dark everyday and he also ran two or three different jobs. He'd work in the textile mill, he'd sell Electrolux vacuum cleaners, and he ah, ah, you know, just did everything else that needed to be done around the house. But you know people are always talking about they got an eight hour job and where I come from, they don't know nothing of what ah, the people back 30 to 40 to 50 years ago did you know, that-, you know that's not been all that long, long ago. That's been you know, when the industrial revolution actually ah, got its foothold in around here and textiles was king, and cotton was king, tobacco was king and all that stuff before we got all our ah, things that we have now like ah, your high tech stuff. See there wasn't anything around like that back then. We didn't have any, any, any, anything like that and, and too, it was hard to-, hard to get money. Money was hard to come by. You couldn't ah, you couldn't hardly get money. Money was probably ah, if you didn't have a lot of land or a lot of cotton fields, you didn't have money. So, a pretty tough time coming up but I, I had it a lot easier time than my dad you know. He provided-, he had five kids and he provided for all his kids but we never had to work like he did because he grew up with nothing-.
JD: Um-hmm.
AW: -But he made a lot of money but ah, he never did let money mean a whole lot to him. It was just ah, a means where by he could provide for his family but he didn't have to have a lot to do with it all.
JD: Hmmm.
AW: [Laugh]
JD: Well ah, that was a pretty good role model. Ah, umm is there a, ah that was you father that would told you those stories or-.
AW: Yeah, yeah. That, that, that's the type of stories that he told me when I was a kid growing up so I could learn the many things he took me out to show me so that I would get a better picture of what how, how you had to grow up and that was really a better education than what you'd get from reading a civics book. A civics book won't ah, tell you ah, how difficult things were and like stuff in our area or ah, and that's all the stuff of our history.
JD: Right. 15.58
AW: Ah, and, ah, it had a lot of things, a lot of, ah, things that, ah, but you know, ah, I'm not saying all this to say that this area is booming now but it was once you know. Everybody was basically tied to, ah, everything around here and North Carolina was basically tied not much to commerce. It was tied more to the large textile corporations and, ah, the large, ah, farming ah, enterprises and things like that but now we've branched off to where now, in this time, we have ah, we have so many, many options. Back then you didn't have an option. You either-, you either went through high school, after high school you probably went to work, not many people got to go to college and ah, but now you know, when you get out of high school if you don't go to college or at least try to go to college but ah, now everything is based on if you don't get a higher education you won't be able to get there. The peep-, the people I was talking about earlier, the people that were you know ah, people ah, that are the fore-fathers that started things and are really responsible for what we got today, these people had to come up with nothing had to come up with no education and they had to self teach themselves. Now my dad was a self-educated man. My dad married, ah, a girl that ah, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He went to take his, took his, ah, real estate examination for his broker's license. He passed it, she failed. [Laugh] That tells a lot you know because he, ah, had more common sense about him in the world, ah, whereby she had a lot of learning as far as their education in books but she didn't have an education to get common sense you know, about what she knew about real estate and things like that and, but understand-, that is to say that, ah, people came from nothing up to achieving a whole lot of things in a different era than what we have today where if your going to really have anything or doing anything with your life you've got to be more well prepared for it then you would be back then because people are not as apt these days to self teach themselves and other people are not as apt to hire them unless they have a great educational background whereby they can learn all these different trades and things like that. Ah, people back then, then they just had enough desire to do-, to where and, and you really didn't have the money to go to school you know like you would today. You didn't have a lot of things like now. Ah, but ah, now we have a lot more opportunity then ah, then they ever did back then. So we got all our medical stuff now. They didn't have any of that during that period of time. They just, ah, they basically had to ah, just self medicate themselves you know-.
JD: Um-hmm.
AW: -With home remedies and things like that. If you got the flu you stayed at home. You didn't go to the doctor. You done the best you could but if you got pneumonia you just died.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: So they didn't know all the medicines back then [laugh] but ah, then they just didn't have it. Then too, when they ah, all the children in like, all the children in, in my family, of all the children in my family only two of us was born in a hospital.
JD: Uh-hmm.
AW: The other three were born at home with midwives. Back then you didn't have medical facilities for that and ah, most, most of the kids born in the ah, late '30s and early '40s, the biggest part of all these kids were born at home and that's kind of unheard of now.
JD: Right.
AW: But ah, back then they were born at home. I was lucky enough I was born in a, in a clinic which was the clinic that I was born in was in a little place called Toluca which a lot of those guys up in the country call ta-loo-la-key. And it was a rock hospital. It was a clinic but the guy, all he did was deliver babies. He specialized in that and that was big. That was a big deal to go there.
JD: Where was that?
AW: Ah, that was between Shelby, North Carolina and Hickory. Half way between them right on the, on the county line between Cleveland county and Lincoln County and its still there. The guy is still operating. He don't operate for that purpose. He operates it as a, a clinic for that area ah, which is rather rural and its far away from the hospitals. It's probably 15 miles from the nearest hospital in Shelby or Hickory and they still operate that as kind of like a local clinic which is, but they don't do baby deliveries like they did back then because you know, they just don't do that anymore. What other questions do you want to ask me?
JD: [Laugh] Do you ah, do you, do you tell these stories to your kids, too?
AW: Probably, yeah, yeah. My kids? Yeah, you know they never-, they never, they never knew a day when they didn't have a television. Oh yeah, here's a good story. I remember when I was about only five years old and at five years old I'd never see a television set. And I went with my dad. He took me to a place called Highway Refrigeration and Appliances. And these guys would sit there with a TV set, just a black and white TV. Fifteen inch, a huge TV, you know, and oh, I thought-, and, and we would park the car out front and look at it through the store window. [Laugh]
JD: [Laugh]
AW: Funny thing about today you know, you wouldn't, um, you wouldn't think I'd remember like that. And, ah, I thought golly boy, I hope we'd get to watch TV someday. And ah, we'd go to our new home and, ah, had just moved in and the kids next door liked to play basketball ( ) in the neighborhood, all four of us made ( ) and um, we'd go and we'd hope and, um, just a little ( ) and um, seemed like fun since then and everybody would do this, everybody made a memory from it. The whole ( ) found how to use this. ( )
JD: [Laugh]
AW: So I was ( ) when I was bored I'd just go up and watch TV. She wouldn't let anybody in the house. She got the place all neatened up and we might screw up stuff like that. All the kids were outside playing and we all said, "We heard you." "How you mean you heard me?" "It's five o'clock." It was supper. Her name was Mrs. Clark. I mean she was fat. In fact, she was huge. She about 250 pounds and about five foot tall and she said nothing. She said, "OK kids. Time for you all to quit playing. Time to come in the house because I'm going to raise the rent" and she kept that big old TV, it was huge fifteen inch screen. Huge set about three feet wide and she turned that thing around to the limit and turned the volume up and watched it outside on a bicycle and watched Howdy Doody and that was the first TV show I ever got to watch. Then um, shortly thereafter, I think it was about a year, that I would bug my dad, "I want to watch a TV set." But you couldn't watch it but just so much. You had to have permission to watch at night. You couldn't watch it all day like you do today. Well you got to watch that thing now. And I remember that thing was a Sylvania. Sylvania. And I mean it took three guys to haul that thing in the house. It was humongous and ah, but I remember that day we got the TV. They got stuck out here in the hall where she had her vacuum usually.
JD: Uh-huh.
AW: And it was black and white and I think, let's see, I must have been 16 years old before we ever got a color TV set. But of course there wasn't but one station that had color TV and that was-, color TV was WBTV here in Charlotte and some of the programs weren't coming from Charlotte and they'd come up black and white. And then finally we got-, that was the only TV station was the one in Charlotte. I mean, Channel 7 came in from Spartanburg and was one of two stations.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: And those came in with an antenna or without rabbit ears on top of the house or it was nothing. And that was a big deal. And you'd, you'd get in the house and you'd set that thing and it would get snowy and dad would always send one of the kids out there on top of the house and he'd get one of us to rotate the antenna and he had a big old, uh, pipe [laugh]-.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: -Off the side of the chimney and you'd rotate it around and daddy would holler, "Yeah, man. That thing looks good now." And that was our black and white TV.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: Yeah, we had that for about 11 years up on top of the house and we got two stations then and shortly thereafter finally, at long last, they got a third station and that was WLOS Channel 13 in Asheville. So Charlotte and Shelby area had three TV stations and that was, for a long time, then finally Greenville got one and that made it four. And you know, in my time you had nothing but four stations and that was it. So you know, you think about children today have got a hundred stations or a satellite TV, you've got unheard-of stations. Um, but that was a big deal. When you think about growing up, all they had before that was the radio and the entire show that we watched when I was a kid, I watched Hopalong. Hopalong Cassidy and he was on the radio and TV, the Lone Ranger who was also on that, Mickey Mouse and the Mickey Mouse Club.
JD: Um-hmm.
AW: Watched that and uh, let's see, uh, Gene Autry, uh, Roy Rogers. There were a lot of westerns then. Westerns. Westerns were a big deal. There were more westerns than anything. And in the movies, we didn't get to go to the movies much because we didn't have any money because money would go for clothes and things like that. And, uh, we, uh, we would, uh, to go to the movies on Saturday was a great big deal because it made you so happy. If you got to go to the movies it cost 12 cents. Then it went up to 20 cents. It went up to 30 cents and we thought what in the world?
JD: [Laugh]
AW: 30 cents for a ticket to a movie? God. I'm not going to pay that. That's highway robbery. You know when you go to the movie now, it costs you what? Seven bucks for a popcorn and a coke.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: Costs you more for the popcorn and the coke than it does for the movie.
JD: [Laugh]
AW: And uh, so that was a great big thing for entertainment are there was a whole lot of entertainment, too. So you know, kids now gosh, they've got everything going. Back then, we had nothing going. And uh, it, it's inexpensive. Everything that I was going through when I was growing up was the same that we have now. It was just in the beginning stages and in the developing stages and then when I went off to college, it began developing more and more and more. And when I graduated from college, uh, and I went into the Air Force they put me in computers and a computer, if you think about today, that PCs that they have, the PC that I have in my home right now has got more power in it than the 362 Univac computer that the United States Air Force had to keep up with all the inventory of the C120 aircraft of the USA and it took a room ( ) and it filled the entire office we had these ( ) long black desk ( ) and that was to kind of-, and everything that you keypunched into it went to an instrument that 80 column index cards ( ) They were computer cards.
JD: Um-hmm.
AW: And they had to be keypunched in and I had like 10 or 15 girls that worked for me when I was in the Air Force and I ran an office and ( ) every day and ( ) bigger than the one we had then and it's a whole lot bigger than the one they had then. ( ) But generally, it was a pretty good size ( ) I've often wondered about ( ).
JD: Do, do you remember life changing a little bit once you got a TV, do you remember if something changed?
AW: Nothing because there wasn't a whole lot of TV at night until your schoolwork was done. Of course Mom was strictly after that. She turned the TV off and unplugged it and dared anybody to go anywhere near it. It was next to the kitchen table and she could do her chores and she'd stay there until you got all your work done and then you'd have to check with mother to make sure it was all done. And generally speaking, back then they'd send home a homework list and your name on it and you'd do the homework and a parent had to sign it. It was a pretty good deal. Better than it is today but they don't do that anymore but back then they did it and a parent had to sign off. And another thing, the high school didn't have but 360 kids there, at a rural high school. And out of that high school, we've got a doctor here in Charlotte right now that's the biggest, most well-known man, orthodontist in the world in a huge, about six or seven floor building down here and it's all spread out all over the place and, uh, another one's there at Nalle Clinic and they all came out of that one school. Lawyers-, you wouldn't believe. Too many small class size ( ) not many classes, not many people in there. A lot of professionals.
JD: Uh-huh.
AW: So therefore you got the very best and I didn't, back then, think those were subjects, I never even ( ) college and I was a guy on a full basketball scholarship, I mean, you know that's a little ( ).
JD: [Laugh]
AW: ( ) We got off ( ) and he's now a uh, basketball coach up in Asheville and, uh, I remember when he came up there and he'd talk to his girlfriend and ( ).
JD: [Laugh]
AW: We had a lot of fun. I went, too up in the mountains-.
JD: Uh-huh.
AW: Western Carolina University. But, uh, you know back then we didn't have a problem with drugs ( ) in the girl's, uh, dorm. And that was no big deal. They'd just come and throw your clothes out the window until you fell out of it. [Laugh]
JD: [Laugh]
AW: And that was about it.
JD: You had friends?
AW: Oh, yeah. I had a lot of friends. That was, that was fun. ( ) We all had fun, you know.
JD: ( )
AW: ( ) We thought is this, is this real or what?
JD: ( )
AW: ( ) High school ( ) part of the time ( ).
JD: ( ) Yeah, that's about 30 minutes.