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Interview with Katie Grier

Grier, Katie
Crosby, Tameka
Date of Interview: 
Charlotte, NC; Gardening; Vegetables; Herbs; Canning; Wilmore Gardens; Great Depression; Civil Rights Movement; Segregation; Wilmore Neighborhood; Farming; Family; Children; Cooking; Food habits
Mrs. Katie Grier discusses her life in an interview for Cultivating Common Ground Project. Mrs. Grier shares childhood stories of growing up on a farm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. She describes her farm experience as raising animals, growing vegetables, and doing a variety of household chores. As a result of growing up on a farm, Mrs. Grier still enjoys growing her own vegetables in the Wilmore Garden and uses them to cook her favorite meals. She also touches on growing up before the civil rights movement and describes the changes that took place after desegregation. Throughout the interview, Katie Grier shares various anecdotes of her life. These include: life during the Great Depression, fishing in a pond near her childhood home, walking to an all black school, feeding chickens, and her parents making butter and milk and canning various meats and vegetables.
Charlotte, NC and Mecklenburg County, NC 1927-2001
Interview Setting: 
At the home of Katier Grier, Wilmore Neighborhood, Charlotte, NC
Cultivating Common Ground
JB (June Blotnick): Are we ready?
IB (Ivica Bilich): Uh-hum. Okay, go ahead and push record here Dmonte.
JB: OK. Tameka.
TC (Tameka Crosby): This is Tameka Crosby interviewing--. [long pause] [laughter]
JB: October 27th.
TC: OK. October 27th at Mrs. Grier's house for Common Ground Project. Okay, today I'm going to interview with your childhood years and the first question is, what is your full name?
KG (Katie Grier): Katie Laurie Anne Stewart Grier. [laughter] I'm kidding. It's Grier.
TC: Okay. When were you born?
KG: June 1st, 1925.
TC: Where did you grow up?
KG: I grew up in Mecklenburg County.
TC: What is the city, small town or county?
KG: Mecklenburg County.
TC: Can you describe the house ( ) where you grew up?
KG: Yes. [pause] We all, we lived in a little sharecropper's house, had a upstairs where all the kids slept, and living quarters were downstairs.
TC: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
KG: I had three sisters and four brothers.
TC: Can you tell us what kind of work your father did?
KG: He was a farmer.
TC: What did your mother do?
KG: My mother worked in homes, cleaning houses.
TC: What kinds of chores did you have when you were growing up?
KG: Getting in water, wood, seeing after the younger kids, feeding the pigs, chickens.
TC: Did your family--? Did your family have a garden when you were growing up?
KG: Yes.
TC: Can you tell us about it?
KG: Yes. My father grew the food that we ate, vegetables and pigs, for the meat, chickens, raised our own. We had our own eggs, cows for our milk and butter.
TC: Where did you go to school? How did you get there?
KG: I walked, one mile and a half.
TC: What was it like going to school there? Describe your school.
KG: I went to a four-room school and now it's still standing. Our church bought the property. Now we use it as a community house. It's been redone, looks nice, very nice building.
TC: As a child, what kind of things did you do for fun?
KG: Hopscotch [laughter], swinging on tires, my daddy would make a, hang a tire in a tree; later on we got a bicycle. [pause]
TC: Did you have any hobbies or play sports as a child?
KG: I used to like fishing. Playing with dolls. We made our own dolls out of corn, corncobs and used the silk of the corn for doll's hair.
TC: Describe a day in your life when you were my age, tell, tell them how old you are.
JB: Tell them how old you are. How old are you?
TC: Oh, I'm seventeen.
KG: Oh, I was thinking about marrying at seventeen. I was in high school. Yeah, senior in high school at seventeen. Rode the bus in, because we went to school in Pineville.
TC: How long had you been in Charlotte?
KG: All my life. I went away awhile after I got married. I went away with my husband; he was in the service.
TC: How long did you live in Wilmore?
KG: Thirty-two years.
TC: Where did you live before moving to Wilmore?
KG: In the Brooklyn section.
TC: What kind of work have you done over the years?
KG: Well, like, I was a short order cook for about fifteen years at airport, I decided to go to school, I went and took up licensed practical nursing, and I worked there for twenty-one years, and since retired from hospital.
TC: How many children do you have and grandchildren?
KG: I have four living children, one has passed. And I have twelve grandchildren.
TC: How long have you worked in the Wilmore Garden?
KG: About ten years.
TC: What do you--? What do you--? Why do you keep gardening after all these years? Why do you keep gardening after all these years?
KG: I like to grow my own vegetables.
TC: What do you get out of it?
KG: Out of the garden? Oh, beets-that's what you mean? Beets, greens, tomatoes, that's my favorite, tomatoes.
TC: Do you have a garden in your yard at home? Tell us about it.
KG: [sound indicating negative response] No, I don't have one now, I used to.
TC: Who inspired you to start a garden?
KG: Cissy, what's her name, Cissy Skull? Is that her name?
JB: Cissy Shull.
KG: Shull. [laughter]
TC: And may I ask who is that?
JB: She works for Charlotte Green.
KG: Charlotte Green.
JB: Was there someone in your growing up years, or is it just because you were raised on a farm, that's why you continued gardening.
KG: Yes, I like that. I like to grow my own.
TC: Did your parents ever garden or raise farm animals? Tell us about it.
KG: Yes, they raised all kinds of vegetables and raised their own beef and pork and chickens.
TC: Is gardening today different from, from it-from then it was when your parents were, were gardening?
KG: Yes, they use different fertilizers and stuff now. In the older days, they kind of made their own fertilizer from manure from the barn.
TC: OK. Where did you live during the Great Depression?
KG: Out there in Mecklenburg County.
TC: What was it like for your family?
KG: Well, things were hard to come by, but I remember when sugar was five cents a pound and we could take eggs to the little general store and trade in eggs for, say give me ten eggs worth of sugar. That's the way, that's the way I would do it. [laughter] And to get the stuff that we didn't grow, you know, like sugar and some of the things that we did not grow we had to go to the store and get.
TC: Are there any other mem--, memories from that time that you remember? Can you tell us about that?
KG: Farming, picking cotton, hoeing and picking cotton. [pause]
TC: What was your earliest memory of gardening? Tell us about it.
KG: Well, as a child I had my own little spot in my garden, you know, to grow stuff, watermelons and different things.
TC: What kind of things did you grow in the community garden?
KG: Greens, tomatoes, onion, herbs.
TC: Any special reason for growing these things?
KG: Yes, they help out with your grocery bill [laughter] and they're enjoyable. They're enjoyable. [long pause]
TC: Did you ever freeze the vegetables ( )? How did you do that?
KG: In later years, yeah, since we, since it's come about that we had freezers.
JB: But did you used to can vegetables?
KG: My, yes.
JB: Tell us about some of those stories.
KG: Well, in the bedroom, my daddy built shelves. He put up shelves, so mom could put her jars on them. You could sleep and look up and see your different fruits. And we picked blackberries and mother would can about a hundred quarts of blackberries a year, you know. When she'd get a hundred she'd stop. And she had a pressure cooker, you know, to cook the, to do the canning of the meats and stuff. And our sausage, let me tell you about that. We cooked the sausage in the frying pan, make the balls of sausage. I could do that while mom was working. Put them in the jars, you get your jar full, you pour some of the fat over in there and turn it upside down, and it would seal the sausage, so you could eat it all winter, you could eat it, you know, all winter. The houses weren't warm like they are now, so it didn't bother it, that grease stayed up the top of that jar.
TC: Have you passed on knowledge about gardening and canning of vegetables to your grandchildren? Why or why not?
KG: They are not around enough. It's different now. They don't. They just come to get some.
TC: What do you think about when you're gardening? Are you a lot of old memories?
KG: Yes.
JB: Any particular memories? Any ones that just take you back?
KG: Oh. One thing, this is how my Dad would make us plant like onions and so forth, you have to turn the top up, you know, he showed us all of this stuff about planting vegetables, how far apart to plant your beans and--. And let me tell you about this chopping the cotton. Daddy wanted his cotton at least a whole length apart. Forward, and go backwards, and leave two stalks. That would make the best cotton. If you knocked it all down, you know what would happen. [laughter]
TC: May I ask you what would happen?
KG: You'd get a spanking if you knock down all that cotton off of that row! [laughter]
TC: What kind of wildlife and things have you seen in your garden, like snakes or anything? Have you been bit by anything?
KG: No, just stung by a bee.
TC: How does the weather affect planting in the garden?
KG: Well, if it's too hot, the vegetables will perish. [long pause]
TC: Do you remembering having a really bad year in the garden?
KG: Yes, what did we call it? We had a draught one year. Everything just kind of-we had hard times. We didn't have anything to eat that year, that winter but peas. Some how or another they saved a field of peas, and the boll weevils ate up all the cotton. We didn't have money to buy clothes, shoes. That was a bad year.
TC: What kind of suggestions do you have for young people who want to be successful gardeners?
KG: Training from former gardeners.
TC: Do you use any chemicals in the garden? What do you use to keep the bugs away?
KG: I like to use the powder. [long pause]
TC: Tell us about any special recipes or dishes you would like to prepare with your garden vegetables.
JB: What is your favorite vegetable from the garden you just love?
KG: Tomatoes I think is my favorite. You can make tomato sauce for your spaghetti.
JB: Do you ever cook green tomatoes?
KG: Oh, yes.
JB: Tell us about it.
KG: The way I do it is sprinkle a little salt and pepper, roll it in meal, put it in oil. I like fried green tomatoes, but my mom could make a green tomato cobbler.
TC: And how would she do that?
KG: I mean with two crusts. Put two tomatoes down in the pan and put a crust on top of it, bake it, take it out and put another one on it, you know, and that was good. Whether you know it or not, that was good, maybe it was because we didn't have a choice of all this stuff, but that was really good.
TC: What kind of hobbies and stuff and interests, besides gardening, have you had over the years? Like what type of stuff interests you besides gardening?
KG: I like cooking. [beeping noise/cell phone ringing]
IB: Uh-oh. That's my phone. I'm sorry.
TC: Can you tell us any old stories about Wilmore? [long pause]
JB: Let's go back to the cooking. What do you like to cook?
KG: My favorite thing is cakes I guess.
TC: Can you tell me what type of cakes? What you--? What do you like baking best?
KG: I like pound cake, layer cakes, his favorite is upside down pineapple, red velvet. I make all kind of cakes.
JB: What kind did you bring to the dinner? Was that coconut?
KG: I brought a red velvet one.
JB: Oh you did?
KG: Yes. You heard about that because they're always want that pineapple coconut.
TC: Can you tell us some old stories about Wilmore, what it used to be like when you first moved in?
KG: Well, no, because one thing it was mostly white people living here. I was the first black to move in this, in the five hundred block.
JB: What was that like?
KG: Well, it was okay with me. No, we would speak. And the next-door neighbors, we became quite friendly before they moved away, but when I first came here seemed to me like I got so many stares. You could see me coming up the street. My car broke down and I had to ride the bus to work, and I walked most of the time because when I moved I used to work at Honey's. And when I got off that bus and come all eyes were on me, and that made me feel funny. [laughter] It really did. Some would speak and some didn't.
JB: How old were you then?
KG: I was in my sixties, yeah. No, forties, forty, forties. I moved here in my late forties.
JB: And, were there other people from Brooklyn that moved over here that you knew about?
KG: Yes, right up there my neighbor from Brooklyn, Ms. Neal, and across the street-. I ran into several of them, you know, they were placing us. You had to buy or rent.
JB: And was that in the 60s when Brooklyn was cleared out?
KG: Yes, I moved here in '69.
TC: Do you have stories you would like to tell us young people about, about the days of the segreg--, segregation? And, what, what was it growing up then? What was it like?
KG: Well, we walked to school; white children rode the bus. They'd come by and spit on us. They actually would. They'd spit on us. You'd have to hide your face and they'd call you the n-word.
TC: What was it like? How did you feel?
KG: To tell you the truth, I was afraid of them. [laughter]
TC: How did civil rights movement affect your family?
KG: Well, you could feel comfortable sitting on the bus, you know, and where there was an empty seat instead of going to the back. I remember those days my dad told me to always go to the seat next to the back if it was empty, otherwise, he said, go all the way to the back, and sit down. He said and you won't have any problems.
TC: Were you in Charlotte then?
KG: Yes.
TC: Do you have any stories about those days, that you, that you wanted to share?
JB: Any other stories?
KG: Well, I can't think of anyone. We just have to-, usually during that time you'd have to wait. You know, like if you go to the store, there was some white person, there, they'd be standing behind you, the clerk would say, "What do you want? What do you like?" You know, they'd overlook you. You'd have to wait until--. But I don't know. We got used to that. I mean we had to wait.
TC: Are there other hardships that you, you had to overcome in your life? What in your life that let's young people to learn from?
KG: One thing you need to go to school get your education, so that, you know, you can get a decent job. [long pause]
JB: Did you go to nursing school in Charlotte?
KG: Yes I did. Central Piedmont.
JB: Where? Central Piedmont?
KG: Yes.
TC: Do you think it's important for young people to learn about gardening and why?
KG: Yes, I think so. You can raise your own vegetables; it's cheaper on the pocketbook, you know, going to the grocery store. [phone ringing] Hello. I'm busy. I'm interviewing. [recording interrupted, then resumed] [phone ringing] [recording interrupted, then resumed]
TC: What type of wisdom or advice would you give to young people who're leaving for a job in education?
KG: Be persistent. Stay in school. Stay off drugs. [pause]
TC: In closing, is there anything you'd like to say, or have forgotten to say?
KG: I would just like to remind you all that where Carowinds Amusement Park is. [phone off the hook] I grew up in that area. That's where, it was a big farm, that's where we'd pick cotton and--.
JB: Hold on one second. I hear a phone. Okay, start over again. Say that again. [laughter]
KG: Carowinds Amusement Park. That was the farming land. It was owned by different plantation owners, we took in several of them there, but that's where we used to pick the blackberries and do all our farming and stuff. [pause]
JB: That was the country?
KG: Oh, of course, farming land, houses far apart. [laughter]
JB: Did you--? How did you used to get into Charlotte back then, when you were growing up?
KG: They had buses and my daddy, my daddy sold a cow one year and bought a car. [laughter] We had, my daddy kind of kept old cars around. He bought a brand new car the year I was born, in 1925. He bought a T-model Ford. And I was going to school and we were still using that car. [laughter]
TC: What was the name of the school that you went to?
KG: McClintock Elementary.
TC: Was it mostly blacks that went there or--?
KG: Only blacks. Only blacks. And another thing, the Steele Creek School wasn't far from there, and we didn't get new books. We got books that the white people used. They'd use them a year and then transfer them to us.
JB: What was your feeling when the court's order came down to integrate the city schools?
KG: [laughter] Now, I didn't know too much about it then, but I think it was a great thing to do. Education-wise. I really do because we just had our own, all blacks, thrown together, and whites ( ). I don't know how they felt on the school issue.
JB: I don't know.
TC: Do you think that it is better for both whites and blacks to go to school together?
KG: Yes, yes I do, I really do. [long pause]
TC: OK. Was the Great Depression, would you say it was very difficult, to survive during that time?
KG: Yes, it was.
TC: How did you?
KG: Well, you couldn't get some of the things you needed. You actually could not. Clothing and food. Who was our President then, Hoover? And you could hear people say, Hoover need to be impeached. I didn't know what they were talking about, but it was just, people watched everything, and you had to just try to save everything you could get your hands on, you know, take hand me downs, and my mom was good at that. She would take the white girls, she worked in people's homes, they had children older than me. I wore their clothes. Mommy took that home, linen and did like they had it. It was like mom put starch and iron. [laughter] It was something those days but nowadays people don't realize that. Oh, lights, we didn't have electric, electricity. See. We had to use those. Lamps. See, my job was, was I had to wash the globes everyday because they would smoke. And can you imagine when we got electricity? We could see every crack in our house. [laughter]
TC: How, how would you say that for people who didn't know about gardening, if they didn't learn about gardening techniques from their ancestors, how do you think they would survive during the Great Depression?
KG: That's a tough one, I don't know. Back in those days, though, you learned from your parents. You kind of followed in your parents' footstep and mostly everybody had gardens. That was the way of survival.
TC: Do you think it's important to learn gardening techniques from your ancestors?
KG: Yes I do.
TC: Will you explain why?
KG: So you'll know how to do it. You learn from them. Now a lot of things is the fertilizer and stuff now. Now I get confused because I don't know what this fertilizer is, you know, different types of stuff that they put on the ground. I'd be skeptical about whether that's a chemicals that are going to hurt you, because we grew stuff naturally, had a little powder to put on it for the bugs, eat up your beans and stuff, but we just used like I said, they tilled up the soil and used this manure from the barn. That was our fertilizer. [phone ringing]
JB: About the fertilizer, I was going to ask you, if you ever have a compost pile where you threw your old leaves or your kitchen scraps?
KG: Yes, yes.
JB: Can you talk about that a little bit or if you had one at the garden or here.
KG: Yes, I had one out there in the backyard.
JB: Tell us about it.
KG: We would just put all the old lettuce and all the old things from the kitchen, and we'd water it, chop it up, put leaves in and we used that on our gardens too.
TC: What did it do for your garden? Make it stronger or--?
KG: Makes the soil richer.
TC: [inaudible speech] Have you ever had any insects get into your garden? ( )
JB: What kind of insects are good for the garden?
KG: Ladybugs. You don't kill them. I think I would leave them there. Kill the, some worms you know that eats things. They really eat up the stock. [phone ringing] Hello. [sound of phone being shut off]
JB: Any--? Anything else anybody wants to ask cause we're at the end of our list.
TC: Do you think the tomatoes in the garden are better than the ones from the store?
KG: Of course.
TC: And why is that?
KG: The flavor is better. One thing, you let a tomato ripen on the vine you've got a good eat. And the stores I think they pick 'em early and they really don't taste like tomatoes, you know, don't get the right flavor.
DC (Dmonte Calloway): Is there any vegetable you do not eat?
KG: No. I don't think so. I eat it all, squash and cucumbers. I eat it all.
JB: You said you grew some herbs. What kind of herbs and do you use then--? How do you use them in the kitchen?
KG: Dry them out.
JB: What kind of herbs?
KG: What did we call that stuff? Oh my goodness. We had a list of herbs: sage, and I bring it home, and let them dry out. Then [sound of hands rubbing together] put them in jars. I can't think of them, but we had a lot of them.
JB: Oregano?
KG: Yes, oregano. And--.
JB: Parsley?
KG: Oh yes. [pause] Some I didn't know but--.
JB: What about flowers?
KG: Oh yes.
JB: Do you like, do you grow flowers?
KG: Yes, and we put flowers in the garden too as a--it helps with the insects, that you don't need. So we always puts flowers in the garden. I like marigolds; they're my favorites. Keep not like the bugs away.
TC: What type of flowers do you plant?
KG: I don't do much planting flowers now, but I used to plant them all. When I lived in country we used to order the flower garden, the seed would come and we'd plant everything.
TC: Did you like living on the farm?
KG: Yes. I did.
TC: What was the most exciting thing about living on a farm?
KG: I don't know. I liked the good (furs) you had and I liked to hear the frogs at night and--. [laughter] You'd be surprised if you kids could live, you know, like that now. You would wonder, what's that? What's that? That'd be a frog and the owls. Owls sound good at night.
TC: Did you ever have to feed the chickens?
KG: Oh yes. Uh-hum. [pause] I used to have to, if we didn't have--. We used to raise our own corn, and they'd have it cracked for the chickens, if we didn't have that we'd have to make corn bread and feed the chickens. [long pause]
DC: Do pigs have teeth?
KG: Teeth? Sure.
DC: Were you ever been bitten by one?
KG: [sound indicating negative response] No.
DC: I've never seen one ( ), so-curious.
KG: [laughter]
JB: These are city kids.
KG: Yes.
TC: Did you use to kill, like did your father used to kill cows for meat?
DC: Pigs for bacon?
KG: Uh-hum, uh-hum.
TC: What would you have to do to the milk? Would you just drink it or--? What would you have to do to it?
KG: First of all you strain it, you sit down and you milk the cow, take it home and you strain it. You had milk jugs. Strain it again. And mother used to kind of heat it, what they said to stop bacteria or something. She started heating our milk and then you let it set up, and sour. Then you churn it.
DC: And then did you ever have to chase a chicken for ( )?
KG: Uh-hum, uh-hum.
DC: Did you--? Wait. Do you think you was faster than the chicken?
KG: Faster?
DC: Were you fast at catching the chickens?
KG: Oh, yeah. I could run. I'd run the chicken in.
TC: Do you think that the chickens that you raised were better than the one's in the grocery store?
KG: They taste much better. They really did.
TC: Did you kill any other--? Did your father or your family kill any other animals to eat to survive like in the Great Depression or--?
KG: Rabbits.
TC: Did ya'll have any goats?
KG: No, we didn't have goats. Had neighbors that had goats. Goat milk, goat milk is good though. You see, we didn't have refrigerators, we had a icebox. Iceman would come put a block of ice in your icebox. Then you have to remember to empty that water up under it. Every time I let that pan run over I got a tanning. And we would, my, my parents sold butter and milk. Mother would give the butter up, save the butter all week and then churn it over again and wash it up and make pounds of butter to sell using these little things. This make a pound of butter.
JB: Stand right there. [pause]
KG: See you'd pack the butter in there. Each time you get it full and then you have pretty little print on them. Mother would wrap them in wax paper, put it in the spring overnight and your butter wouldn't--. In the tub, in a tub with ice in it. Then bring it to town and sell it. Oops. I just jumped up and ran. I forgot that was on me. [laughter]
JB: That's OK. That's a great story.
DC: Did ya'll have horses?
KG: We had mules. We used mules for farming. And we caught our own fish.
DC: Did you ever ride them?
KG: Daddy wouldn't let the girls ride 'em, the boys did.
DC: And how did that make you feel?
KG: I wanted to ride the thing, he wouldn't let us. Yeah I wanted to get on that horse. And we'd go fishing and catch our own fish to eat. We were lucky. We lived near a ten-foot pond, different kind of fish in it, catfish.
DC: What is your favorite kind of fish?
KG: Oh, I like bream, croakers. I buy croakers now.
JB: Where, where do you get croakers? Which store?
KG: Out on West Boulevard. The fish-
JB: Fish market.
DC: Do you eat fish sticks?
KG: I don't like them. I eat them sometimes. I have to buy them for my grandson, he don't want to pick bones so, my son thinks it's fast.
JB: It's a long way from the pond, the fishin-a fish sticks.
KG: Oh, I fell in the pond. I didn't fall in; my brother pushed me in. Back when they let you all in. He was a devil. He was playing and he pushed me in the ten-foot pond and I couldn't swim.
TC: How did you get out of the pond?
KG: My sister gave me the fishing pole. First time, I went all the way down, then when I came up, you know you can fight even if you're not, don't know how to swim, I came up and grabbed the grass, it was a bank, and the whole thing fell, came loose, went down again, and I swore when I came back up, and my sister gave me her pole. And they, all the kids, I was the oldest, and all of the kids were pulling on it and I got out.
DC: Did anybody--? Did your parents find out what your brother did?
KG: [sound indicating negative response]
DC: Did you get a tanning?
KG: Yeah. My daddy believed in using the rod. He was--. You'd have whelps on you, but they'd heal. Then you'd get another one and you'd heal. Now you can't touch a child. [long pause]
TC: Well, I'd like to thank you for letting us interview you.
KG: Oh, you're quite welcome.