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(transcript) Oral History Interview with Eunice Austin, 1980 July 2. Interview H-107. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
(series) Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-4007)
Chapel Hill, N. C.
Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Interview conducted on July 2, 1980, by Jacquelyn Hall; recorded in Newton, N. C.
Interview transcribed by Jean Houston
Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series H. Piedmont Industrialization, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original transcript on deposit at The Southern Historical Collection Louis Round Wilson Library.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-CH
digitization project, Documenting the American South.
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[Interview conducted] by
Original transcript on deposit at
The Southern Historical Collection
Louis Round Wilson Library
JACQUELYN HALL: . . . your background, where you were born and where you grew up.
EUNICE AUSTIN: I was born in Catawba County, and I grew up on a farm. In 1936, I believe, is the first public work job I ever had.
JH: Where was the farm that you were living on?
AUSTIN: In the Ball's Creek section. We just had a small farm, and then we tended some of my relatives' land. My daddy didn't have enough land of his own, so we were sharecroppers on some of my aunts'.
JH: Did he own some land of his own?
AUSTIN: Yes, he had about eleven acres. I had two maiden aunts, and they had a lot larger farm than we had, and so we were sharecroppers on their property.
JH: How did that work exactly? How much of your crop did you give to them?
AUSTIN: On the corn you didn't get as much. I don't remember just how much. We got two-thirds of the cotton, and I believe we just got half of the corn. It's been so many years, and I don't try to remember all that.
JH: These two maiden aunts ran a farm by themselves?
AUSTIN: They didn't farm. They just let their relatives farm it.
JH: But they owned it.
AUSTIN: They owned it. They got a certain percent of the crop that was grown on the farm. They had a little cotton patch. They would raise maybe a bale or two of cotton. They didn't try to farm any other than the cotton and their garden.
JH: Did they live out there on the land?
AUSTIN: Yes, they had a big white two-storey house that was their
parents', and they lived there in the house.
JH: Were they your father's sisters?
AUSTIN: No, my mother's [side]. My granddaddy's two sisters is who it was. I didn't have any brothers. It was four girls in our family, and I was the oldest. I had to be boy and girl.
JH: What do you mean?
AUSTIN: I had to do work that a boy would ordinarily do, because my daddy didn't have any other help to do that.
JH: What kind of work did you have to do?
AUSTIN: I hauled hay and shocked wheat and just anything that was to do. I didn't do much plowing. He never did think that was a woman's place, and I didn't do much of that. But I would always help plant the crop and do a lot of hoeing.
JH: What about your sisters?
AUSTIN: They helped some, but I have a couple sisters that their health has never been good, so they couldn't work like I did. They just wasn't able to do it.
JH: Even from the time they were real young.
AUSTIN: One of my sisters had a chronic appendicitis, and it bothered her for years. Then another one had a kidney problem she's had about all of her life. So they were just not able to work like I did, and still are not.
JH: Did your mother work out in the field?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes, she worked. She could do about anything a man could. She plowed, and she'd help haul hay and all them kind of chores that we had to do.
JH: So was it basically just you and your father and your mother that did the farming?
AUSTIN: My sisters helped some, but they couldn't work like I did. They'd help hoe, but they couldn't lift very much. Daddy just depended on me.
JH: How did you feel about that at the time?
AUSTIN: I knew it had to be done, and we just didn't have money to buy things with, and we just had to cooperate and do the best we could.
JH: Do you know where he had gotten the eleven acres of land that he did have? Was that handed on to him?
AUSTIN: He bought it from my great-grandfather. Before that, when I wasn't old enough to work out in the field except to hoe, he had bought what they called the Wilson farm, and it just had an old house on it. And my great-aunt kept after my daddy and mother to get a better house and to try to have it a little easier, more convenient. So she kept after her two sisters, which were the maiden aunts, to sell my daddy some property, so that's where he got it. See, it was out in the country on a dirt road, and it was a little closer to a state road than where we were living. They finally consented to sell him some land, so that's how we got that eleven acres. But it wasn't enough to put out a crop on, and we farmed their land.
JH: What kind of house did you live in?
AUSTIN: It was a five-room, just a bungalow house. But it was built new when they sold him the land. It didn't have a house on it, so my daddy and mother had a house built on it. In those days, you didn't even have electricity. There wasn't even power lines anywhere around, and you had to use a kerosene lamp.
JH: What do you know about your grandparents?
AUSTIN: What do you mean?
JH: Did they live around nearby?
AUSTIN: They did then, but my granddaddy was born in Caswell County. That's down below Burlington. My mother was a Love, and they were originally from Caswell County. I don't know how they got up in this part of the state, but my grandmother was from, I think, Lincoln County. She was a Whisnant before she was married. When my great-granddaddy bought a property and moved up here, his family was all just small children, and then my granddaddy met my grandmother and married here in Catawba County. I believe they said that my grandmother was from Lincoln County. But my granddaddy was buried on what would have been his ninety-second birthday. And my grandmother lived to be ninety-four and a half. And my great-grandparents lived to be old, too.
JH: A long-lived family.
JH: Did your grandfather and grandmother farm for a living?
AUSTIN: Yes, that's all they ever done. They had a molasses mill; they made molasses. I used to help make them, too.
JH: Did they make it to sell?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes. And they made for people. They'd make molasses for six weeks or longer at a time, every day except Sunday. Sometimes they didn't make them on Saturday. It was usually five days a week. They'd start grinding the cane in the mornings about four o'clock, and it'd usually be ten or eleven before they'd get the last ones cooked and off of the pan, before they quit.
JH: Who would be in charge of that?
AUSTIN: My granddaddy and grandmother.
JH: The two of them together?
AUSTIN: She was in charge of the cooking of the molasses, and she was
really good at it. She stayed right there from the time they got juice on that pan and started cooking till it was all off at night. She didn't even go to the house to eat her meals. They'd bring her meals to her.
JH: Why did you have to be there every minute?
AUSTIN: They cooked them with wood. It was a big long pan, and you let the juice come on first, and you'd keep the fire going. It had to be a certain kind of wood, oak wood. And you'd keep the fire going under that pan to get the juice started, and you'd have to skim the skimmings off because it would be real green and foamy skimming. And you had what looked like a wire pan, and you'd take that and go down in under them skimmings and dip them off, and you had cans and buckets that you'd put those skimmings in. They weren't any good; they'd just throw them away. And as the molasses would cook, they'd have divisions in that pan, and over here would be when the juice would start coming in. And then after they started thickening a little bit, it had a place that would close up, and they'd open that up and let that juice, as it started to thicken, come over in the next section. And it would cook so long in that section. And then at the last they would let them go over in the third section to finish cooking. And you had to stay with them all the time and keep stirring them to keep them from sticking, after they started thickening. You really had to work to keep them molasses. And they tried to keep that temperature about the same temperature all the time, to make good. . . . They would make them for people and take so many gallons for making them. That was the pay they got out of it. They'd get twenty-five cents a gallon for them when sold them, and now they're twelve dollars a gallon.
JH: That's a real change.
AUSTIN: It is.
JH: What about your father's family? Where were they from originally?
AUSTIN: They were from Surry County, in Elkin. But my daddy's father died when my daddy was eight years old. Daddy had a sister older than he, and he had three brothers and a sister younger than he. My grandmother worked in Chatham Woolen Mill to make a living for them, and she couldn't hardly make a living for them. The Murrays that lived in Catawba County right close to where my grandparents lived had relatives that lived over there, and their relative was the minister. He found out about my grandmother and what a hard time he was having, and he talked to the Murrays about it. They begged my grandmother to let my daddy come over here and live. They had children, but their children were all about grown, and part of them were married and gone. They begged her to let them take Daddy and bring him over here, so that's what they did, and he never did go back over there to live. He came over here when he was thirteen years old. He passed away November the thirtieth, and he was eighty-seven years old his last birthday.
JH: What did the Murrays do for a living?
AUSTIN: The Murrays were farmers. He farmed. My daddy and mother, neither one got to go to school. They had about a fifth-grade education.
JH: Did you know your father's mother?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes. She'd come over every summer and stay a couple weeks with us. There at first, the transportation was very, very poor, because nobody had very good cars then. Later in life she would come and stay longer, or she'd come more often, maybe two or three times during the year, and stay a week or two. She would enjoy it the first week she'd be over here, but then she'd get homesick; she'd want to go back. [Laughter]
JH: Where was the Chatham Woolen Mill?
AUSTIN: In Elkin. It's still there. They've got one furniture plant there, and that's the only industry there are, that one furniture plant and the Chatham's Mill.
JH: She would have started to work when your father was about eight years old?
AUSTIN: No, I don't think she started that early. I think he was about eleven. Because she had small children, and I think Daddy said he was about eleven years old when she started to work. Her oldest daughter died, and she had a child, and she had to take her and raise her, too, as her child. So she had a rough life.
JH: Did she ever talk to you about that time in her life, about trying to support those kids?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes, she talked about it. She couldn't stay home with them and see that they went to school. She would tell them to go to school, but so many times they didn't go to school, especially Daddy's youngest brother. He just didn't go to school hardly any. But he was real smart. He could get a job doing most anything. He was just a whiz at the things that he could do.
JH: Who took care of the kids while she was at work?
AUSTIN: They had to take care of themselves. They lived in what they call the mill hill, the houses real close together. I guess the neighbors probably kind of looked out for them. I don't know. But they just had to more or less look out for themselves.
JH: Did any of the kids work in the mill?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes. My daddy's sister and two of his brothers. They worked in the mill till one was sixty-five and one was sixty-three.
JH: Do you know how old they were when they started to work?
AUSTIN: No, I don't. I know they were young, though. Back then you could go to work, I think, when you was about twelve or fourteen years old. I believe I did hear my daddy's sister say she was fourteen when she went to work. And she's the only one left in the family living, and she's in a nursing home in High Point. Her mind is just about gone. She doesn't even know her own children.
JH: What was your grandmother's job in the mill?
AUSTIN: She worked in the card room, but now what that is I don't know.
JH: You know how much money she made?
AUSTIN: No, I don't.
JH: Not much?
AUSTIN: No, not much, I know, because I know I didn't make but two dollars and a half a week when I started to work. [Laughter]
JH: And that was much later.
AUSTIN: A lot later! [Laughter]
[Omission; story about reporter from Charlotte News and Observer taking a picture of them cleaning up after a storm]
JH: You were talking about your grandmother. Did she keep working then until she was old?
AUSTIN: I don't remember how old she was.
JH: Or did she quit when her kids were able to go to work?
AUSTIN: No, she worked as long as her health permitted, but I just don't remember how old she was. She was a diabetic and her health got bad, and she just wasn't able to work any longer. I can't even remember how old she was when she passed away. She's been dead twenty-some years. I think she was in her seventies.
JH: Do you know how they felt about your father having to go away and live with another family?
AUSTIN: I just don't know. I know that they didn't think he was treated right; I know that.
JH: By this family that raised him?
AUSTIN: Yes. And he didn't get to see his family very often.
JH: Would they not let him?
AUSTIN: It was the transportation. In those days you had no way to go but horse and buggy or the train, and the train connections were not good either. Daddy would ride a bus and go over there occasionally. And another problem was the money.
JH: How did they think he wasn't treated right?
AUSTIN: He just was more or less a servant.
JH: Did he work out on the farm or inside?
AUSTIN: He'd have to get up in the mornings and build the fires and then go to the barn and feed the livestock. And then if they had to go somewhere or the girls wanted to go somewhere, he would always have to get the horse out and curry it up and get it hitched up to the buggy and take them. And he didn't get a thing out of the estate when they passed on. He was supposed to have been treated as a child, but he didn't get a thing.
JH: They left everything to the other children?
AUSTIN: The other children.
JH: So he lived with them until he was how old?
AUSTIN: He was twenty-three, I believe. He came over here when he was thirteen.
JH: Were the other children girls?
AUSTIN: The oldest one was a girl, and then Daddy, and then two boys, and then another girl, and then another boy. [May be referring to natural siblings]
JH: Did you know the Murrays? Were they still alive when you were . . .
AUSTIN: Oh, yes.
JH: Did you visit with them? Was it a kind of family relationship or not?
AUSTIN: We didn't have time to do much visiting. It was work most of the time. But we visited them when we could, but they never did visit us very much. One of the Murray girls and my mother were about the same age, and I doubledated with a daughter of hers. And we were married the same year. We were married in June, and she was married in November.
JH: Were the Murrays pretty well-to-do?
AUSTIN: They were pretty well-to-do farmers. They were an average. . . . They had a pretty big farm.
JH: After your father was grown up and out on his own, did he feel badly toward them?
AUSTIN: No, I don't think he did. He was a person that didn't talk about people. He was real easy-going, and he just didn't believe in having family troubles. I never did hear him make very many remarks about it.
JH: How did you hear about the way he was treated as a child?
AUSTIN: He'd tell us. My mother was the same way. She was the oldest child in her family, and she had to do the same way. She had to get up in the mornings and go to the barn and feed the livestock. She was the oldest, and then she had a sister, and then a brother. And the brother was quite a bit younger, so it was left up to the girls to do the work there for a long time. Back then that was just the way you were brought up.
JH: How did your mother and father meet?
AUSTIN: I think at church, because they always went to the same church. But I know my granddaddy wouldn't let my daddy come but every two weeks to see her. And it had to be on Sunday afternoon. He would not ever let
a boy come around there after dark. He wouldn't even let us bring a boy and go down to his house after dark. He said nobody had ever dated at his house after dark, and we wasn't going to either.
JH: What did you think about that?
AUSTIN: I just didn't contrary him. I just didn't go. I'd go during the day. But my mother let us date after dark. It was a lot of us young people in the same community, and we'd have a party every couple weeks. Just the young people get together and play games out in the yard. I would always bake a cake, and we'd have pickles. We didn't have tea and things like that to drink; we'd drink water. But we had a good time.
JH: So your mother wasn't as strict on you as her parents had been on her.
AUSTIN: Oh, no. She has told us time and time again that she said if she ever had a daughter, she'd never be as strict on them as her daddy was on her, and she wasn't, either. It was quite different.
JH: Why do you suppose he was so strict?
AUSTIN: It was just his way. I don't know.
JH: He didn't want you to marry?
AUSTIN: No, he didn't. He had two daughters that never did marry. My mother's got two sisters that were never married. And if one of them ever had a date, I never did know about it. One of them did have a boyfriend for a while, but he was not allowed to come after night. He had to come on Sunday afternoons.
JH: Why do you suppose he didn't want his daughters to marry? That seems kind of unusual.
AUSTIN: I don't know. That's what we could never understand, because he got married. I don't know why. That was just one thing; he did not want his daughters to marry.
JH: Did it have anything to do with his religion?
AUSTIN: No, he was a Methodist, and he was faithful to his church. He always attended church. My great-granddaddy was one of the founders of Friendship Methodist Church, and he was a charter member of it. But he just didn't want them to marry.
JH: How did your grandmother feel about that?
AUSTIN: She didn't express herself too much.
JH: So she didn't really have much say-so about . . .
AUSTIN: No, she always let him do that. What he said, she tried to do. She was an easy-going person. My granddaddy was kind of a nervous-type person, and he had these migraine headaches a lot. She never would contrary him much. She just more or less went along with him.
JH: What about your mother when she got married? Did she let your daddy be the one to say what was going to happen and go along, or did she . . .
AUSTIN: If we would ask her to go somewhere, she'd say, "Go ask your daddy." If she was willing for us to go, she would tell us to ask him about it. But if she wasn't willing for us to go, well, we didn't hardly ever ask him. A daughter always feels like asking her mother, I think, before her father. But they agreed on things together.
JH: Do you think that their relationship was very different than her parents' relationship had been?
AUSTIN: I think it was, to some extent. But my mother always would go
ask her daddy on lots of decisions that she had to make. She would go ask him instead of asking my daddy. And that was one thing that I just couldn't go along with. It used to really bother me, but that was just the way it was.
JH: Even after she was grown and married.
AUSTIN: Yes. In some decisions that she had to make, she would ask him about it, instead of them making their own decisions.
JH: I wonder how your daddy felt about that.
AUSTIN: He didn't like it too good, but he didn't say too much about it.
JH: What kind of decisions would come up like that?
AUSTIN: It was decisions about things concerning the farm. And then when they bought this land and built the house, they just let him decide on how it should be built and the builder. They had to ask for help, too, because they didn't have the money to really finance it. So they would ask him what he thought best.
JH: Did your father stay at the Murrays' and your mother stay at her home up until they got married?
AUSTIN: Yes. They rented a house and moved when they got married. I don't know if they ever stayed one night with the Murrays or not, but I don't think they did. I think they had already rented a house and got out on their own when they got married.
JH: When were you born?
AUSTIN: September 30, 1915.
JH: And you were the first-born.
AUSTIN: Yes. I'll be sixty-five in September.
JH: How old were you when you started being allowed to date?
AUSTIN: Seventeen. I never did date very much.
JH: What kind of things did you do?
AUSTIN: We'd usually go to a friend's house, and we'd double-date together. We did go to movies, and we went to the cafe and we'd get us sandwiches. We attended League--they called it League then--at the Methodist Church on Sunday afternoons. And on Sunday afternoons several of us girls would get together and just have a little social, just the girls. I had several cousins that lived there in the community, and we'd get together.
JH: So your father was a Methodist, also?
AUSTIN: Yes. My father and mother both joined the Methodist Church, and the Friendship Methodist Church is the only church they ever attended.
JH: Had he been raised as a Methodist?
AUSTIN: No, his mother was a Baptist. But he didn't join the church until he joined over here. He never had joined the church over in Elkin.
JH: So was he a grown man before he joined the church?
AUSTIN: He was eighteen or nineteen, I believe my mother said, when he joined.
JH: And he joined Friendship Methodist.
AUSTIN: Yes. I'm not going to say for sure about his age when he joined, but I know they were young adults when they joined.
JH: Was that a special occasion when he joined the church?
AUSTIN: It was a revival. They had revival meetings.
JH: Did he know your mother then?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes. They went to the same school. It was just a little country school, what they call a two-room schoolhouse. They didn't live but about a mile apart. See, they grew up in the same neighborhood.
JH: So you went into your first public work in 1936?
AUSTIN: I graduated in '34, and I kept house for my uncle for a year. [Interruption]
JH: Did you live in his house?
JH: Where was that?
AUSTIN: I helped them, and I helped another family that lived across the road from them. It was in Statesville.
JH: How did that come about, that you decided to do that?
AUSTIN: He lived over on the Extension Farm in Statesville, and there was a family of Paliers that lived across the road. They wanted somebody to live in and take care of their youngest child and fix their meals. So I went over and stayed with them and helped my uncle out some, too. I really worked for both of them. Because my aunt had to have surgery, and they had a small child, and I would help both families.
JH: You lived at your uncle's house?
AUSTIN: No, I lived with the Paliers, and I'd stay at my uncle's some on the weekends. Because I couldn't come home every weekend; the only transportation I had was the train, and then my daddy would have to meet me in Catawba. That was the closest to home. And I didn't get to come home too often.
JH: How was that year that you spent doing that?
AUSTIN: Well, it was pretty rough. [Laughter] Five dollars a week.
JH: Were you pretty much on call all the time?
AUSTIN: No. I did what I had to do. I would get up and fix their breakfast and get the child off to school, and then I'd do the laundry and the housecleaning and fix their evening meals.
JH: What did the woman of the house do?
AUSTIN: You know, it's been so long ago that I can't remember to save my life what she did. Mr. Palier was in a store, but I can't remember what kind of work she done. I just don't try to remember all the past. [Laughter]
JH: No, not all the details. But she worked out of the house.
AUSTIN: She worked out of the house. I was there around a year.
JH: What made you decide to quit doing that?
AUSTIN: I wanted to get a job at public works where I'd have a little future and make a little more money. My granddaddy talked to Mr. Morrison that was superintendent of the Ridgeview Hosiery Mill, and that's how I got a job in the mill. I worked at Ridgeview Hosiery Mills, and when I started out working I had to work for two dollars and a half a week. Fred and I were married in 1939, and I was making about twenty-five dollars a week. Topping full-fashioned hose is what I was doing in the full-fashioned mill. After you learned, you were on production, and usually we got about twenty-five dollars a week.
JH: You got two and a half dollars a week while you were learning?
AUSTIN: For six weeks. And I had to pay a dollar every two weeks for ride bills, from Ball's Creek to Newton. I'd get a five-dollar check, and I'd have to give this man I rode with to work a dollar, so I had four dollars left every two weeks.
JH: That's not much.
AUSTIN: Well, it's not much, but we sure couldn't live on it now. [Laughter]
JH: No. So you lived at home while you were doing that?
JH: Who taught you your job?
AUSTIN: They had supervisors in the mill that taught you.
JH: Did you find it hard to do?
AUSTIN: It was hard. You were on production, and you really had to work.
JH: How many people were working at Ridgeview Hosiery then?
AUSTIN: Several hundred, but not that many in full-fashioned. They had three shifts, and I'd say that there were around fifty people on each shift. They had three shifts, so it was a good many worked there.
JH: So they were making full-fashioned hose and. . . .
AUSTIN: They made the circular hose, but the circular hose was made up in the other part. They had two divisions.
JH: Did you get any better pay for working on full-fashioned than on circular?
AUSTIN: Yes, it was better pay.
JH: Why was that?
AUSTIN: They said it was more skilled. And it was really a harder job, because you had to put all those stitches on needles, and it was hard to see, too.
JH: Why were you able to get a job in the full-fashioned?
AUSTIN: My granddaddy talked to Mr. Morrison, that was a friend of his. He had a farm right below my granddaddy's. He talked to him and asked him if he wouldn't help me out and give me a job. So when he had a vacancy, he did tell my granddaddy to send me up there.
JH: Were there mostly women working on your shift, or were there some men?
JH: About what proportion?
AUSTIN: I imagine it was about as many men as it was women, because the men had to run the machines. They didn't have any women on those machines at that time. I imagine it was about equal.
JH: What do you mean, the men ran the machines?
AUSTIN: A full-fashioned machine is as long as from that door over to that door, or maybe a little longer. There was different steps they had to
take in running those machines, and it was kind of heavy work. They had to lift these gears. It's been so long I can't remember too much just exactly how it was, but it was a hard job for a woman. But during the War they did teach women to do it.
JH: During World War II.
AUSTIN: Yes. Because there was so many of the men had to go into service that they taught some women to do that. Right after the War all that was discontinued. They didn't even make full-fashioned hose like that. They started making everything the circular hose. Those full-fashioneds, you know, had a seam right down the back, and they quit making them after the War.
JH: Did you make more money running machines?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes, they made more. They really didn't have to work as hard as we did; it was just a little more heavier work than the topping of the full-fashioned hose.
JH: So the toppers didn't make as much as the . . .
AUSTIN: No, they didn't make as much as the men that ran the machines.
JH: Did you think that was fair?
AUSTIN: I was happy to have a job. I couldn't have done that job. I don't think I could have done that. I was satisfied with what I was getting.
JH: Did you like doing that a lot better than doing housework?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes, much better. [Laughter]
JH: Why did you like it so much better, besides the better pay?
AUSTIN: At that time that I got a job, Fred and I were dating and we were going to get married, and I wanted to get a job that I could depend on and something that I could make some money.
JH: Were there other people working at Ridgeview that you knew before you started down there?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes, a lot of people. A lot of the people from the Ball's Creek section where I lived worked up there.
JH: Did people from Ball's Creek tend to get jobs in Ridgeview as opposed to getting jobs someplace else? Would there be a whole congregation of people from community?
AUSTIN: A lot of the people in town would say anybody from Ball's Creek had priority over other people, because they thought that they were better workers.
AUSTIN: They grew up on the farm, and they knew what hard work was. And they'd say if you was a Drum or a Caldwell or any relation to them, you could get a job. That's what the people in town would always say. [Laughter] There were a lot of Drums and Caldwells in Catawba County, and a lot of them worked there.
JH: Were there other mills that were known to be places where people from other communities congregated, from other areas?
AUSTIN: Yes, they had several cotton mills and several furniture plants.
JH: Where did the people in the cotton mills tend to come from?
AUSTIN: They came from all around, too. Some from the county, and then a lot of them were from town. Well, it was a lot of people from town worked at Ridgeview, too, but there were quite a few from the country that got jobs, too.
JH: Did very many people come down from the mountains to work in these mills around here?
AUSTIN: Not in them days, but later on they did.
JH: When did that start?
AUSTIN: After the War. And right around the time the War started,
they was beginning to come from Taylorsville and all around, getting jobs.
JH: But right when you started work, would you see mostly people from Catawba County, or did people also come from Burke and Caldwell Counties?
AUSTIN: No, there wasn't many from there. About everybody was local [Interruption]
JH: . . . people to socialize much during work hours?
AUSTIN: Not too much. You had to stay on your job. I worked the second shift, and we would have a lunch period. We went to work at four-thirty, and at eight-thirty we could stop for about half an hour. They had a cafe, and the man had what he called a buggy, and he'd load it with sandwiches and bring it through the mill, and we could buy sandwiches off of it.
JH: And you could talk to other people during that.
AUSTIN: Yes. Well, if you caught your job up, you could talk, but as a usual thing you didn't have too much time to socialize; you had to keep on the job.
JH: You couldn't talk while you worked.
AUSTIN: Yes. There would be two of us working, one at one end of the table and one at the other, and we could talk to each other. And then if the girls on the next machine were on a large-size hose, if they got their job caught up they would come and talk to us. We got to socialize quite a bit when we'd be on a large size. You take an eight-and-a-half foot in a full-fashioned hose, that's not very long, and you really had to work to get your what they called then bars filled, and you'd have twelve that you had to fill. And if you'd be on a size ten or ten-and-a-half, you didn't have to work near so hard, because you had more time. And you could work real hard, you'd have time to get up and go to the rest room in between or get you a drink of water.
JH: Did you have any choice?
AUSTIN: Of the size you were on? No. You had to go by whatever orders they had.
JH: So it was assigned to you what you were going to work on.
AUSTIN: Yes, they had orders. It depended on what kind of orders came out of the office. That's what you had to go on. Because each man that was running a machine would get a certain allotment of what size they was supposed to make, and that's what you had to go by. Those machines were set up for the size, and they would narrow down the foot, and it was done mechanically. And whatever size they had orders for, that's what they had to make.
JH: Did you have any other breaks besides just your lunch period?
JH: So you worked how many hours?
JH: And it was a thirty-minute . . .
AUSTIN: Break period.
JH: Did you ever have any kind of birthday parties or any kind of thing like that around work?
AUSTIN: No, not then. But in later years. . . . I worked at Conover Chair for nineteen and a half years. And we would have birthday parties every month up there, everybody that had a birthday in the month. We'd all bring a covered dish, and we'd eat. One of the ladies brought a big pot that was electric, and we'd cook beans and make soup and just do a lot of cooking up there. When I first went to work there, it was more like a family. It was just a small place, but as the years went by it kept growing and growing, and my last few years there it wasn't nothing like it
was when I first went to work there. But I enjoyed working there. I enjoyed the ladies I worked with.
JH: At Ridgeview?
AUSTIN: No, at Conover Chair. Well, I enjoyed the ones I worked with at Ridgeview, because I knew quite a few of them. But when they quit doing full-fashioned I had to hunt another job, so I learned to loop, and I looped socks for about five years.
AUSTIN: Isenhour's. It's not in business anymore. He went bankrupt, and I was out of work about a year and a half. And Mr. Rum Jones that owned Prestige Furniture called me one Monday morning and asked me about coming to work for him, and I wasn't even hunting a job. So I went up and applied to the floor lady, and she told me I was too old to learn to sew and she just didn't have anything for me to do. That was on Tuesday, because on Monday when he called I told him I couldn't come because Fred had taken the car to the mill with him, and I . . .
AUSTIN: . . . to the plant. So on Tuesday I kept the car and went up and applied. And she told me she just didn't have anything for me. On Wednesday night she called me and wanted me to be at work the next morning.
JH: Doing what?
AUSTIN: I was making buttons. And at that time, they put fringe on all the furniture, about six inches long. I was measuring fringe and making buttons.
JH: Why do you suppose she told you they didn't have anything for you and then . . .
AUSTIN: Mr. Jones changed her mind, after he had called me and asked me about working. I don't know if he said something to her about it. I never did know the details on that. But anyway she called me one night about seven o'clock and wanted me to be at work the next morning.
JH: Did the floor ladies have the power to hire and fire people?
AUSTIN: Yes. They still do.
JH: Did she have any hard feelings towards you?
JH: Why did he call you like that? How did he know about you?
AUSTIN: He knew that I wasn't working. I hate to tell you this. [Laughter] It sounds terrible. We were at church on Sunday morning and we were having communion, and he said when I went up to communion. . . . He said, "I guess this sounds like I didn't have my mind on where I was and what I was doing," but something just hit him that I would make a good hand. Now he told me those words over the telephone.
JH: Wow. That's very interesting. Do you suppose he had heard about your work?
AUSTIN: He knew Fred, and he knew me, too. And he knew I wasn't working, and he thought he needed a hand, and he was just going to offer me a job. And I'd never been in a furniture plant before. I didn't know a thing in the world about furniture. I'd always worked in hosiery, and it was a lot for me to learn.
JH: What was Conover Chair like when you first went to work?
AUSTIN: Now that wasn't Conover Chair.
AUSTIN: It was just a small place.
JH: Had you been planning just not to go back to work at all?
AUSTIN: I just hadn't made any plans about it. At that time jobs were
kind of scarce. We had had this house built, and we had moved over here, and we'd been living here several years when that was. It was a help to us. Of course, Fred was making enough for us to live on, but another payroll come in mighty well.
JH: At Ridgeview Hosiery, did you have some supervisors that you liked better than others, or were there some supervisors that treated people better than others did?
AUSTIN: I was on the second shift, and I never did know any of the supervisors on the other shifts. I knew them, but I never did have any dealings with them.
JH: Did you have the same supervisor the whole time you were there?
JH: Mr. Morrison was the supervisor.
AUSTIN: He was the plant manager, plant superintendent. But Mr. Marion Garrison was our supervisor on the second shift, and Virgil Bolick was the assistant supervisor. If you stayed on your job and worked, they never did bother you. They never did bother me. But if you'd be killing time and not trying, they did say something, but they never did say anything to me. Later on, not when I first went to work there, we had a lady that was the supervisor under them, but when I first went there she wasn't supervisor. They hired this other one. I knew her, too. She'd never been married. She was older than I, but I had known her.
JH: Which did you like better, Isenhour's or Ridgeview, as places to work?
AUSTIN: I'll tell you, I just never did criticize any of them too much, because I was too glad to get a job. Because we were wanting to get us a home of our own, and I just had a high school education and I knew I
couldn't get a lot of jobs. I just worked. I was glad to get a job.
JH: What kind of benefits did you have?
AUSTIN: We didn't have any except hospital insurance until about twelve years before I retired we had a retirement. But at one time, I don't remember just how it was, but the government took over. The company invested the money and was making money on what they set aside for you. And they lost a lot of money that one year, and then the government stepped in and took it over and fixed it so they wouldn't be losing your money. I know the company lost about $4,000 of my husband's in one year.
JH: Of his pension?
AUSTIN: Retirement. And I lost over a thousand.
JH: Just because the company didn't make as much.
AUSTIN: It wasn't that; it was who they were investing the money with.
They lost it. You see, it wasn't insured or anything, and it was whoever the company was letting invest the money. It was during that depression. It wasn't really a depression, but it was. . . . How many years ago has that been since everything was about to go under? It's been quite a few years ago, but I just can't remember how many.
JH: You're not talking about the Depression, but more recently?
AUSTIN: It wasn't really a depression, but it was. . . . It must have been in the sixties, when everything got real bad.
JH: More a recession, I guess.
AUSTIN: Yes, recession. It was in the sixties when that recession was, wasn't it?
JH: I guess.
AUSTIN: I think it was the sixties.
JH: You were working production.
AUSTIN: I wasn't, not in furniture.
JH: Not in furniture, but in hosiery.
AUSTIN: In hosiery I did at Ridgeview, and when I looped socks at Isenhour's I was on production, but not in furniture.
JH: Were there ever what they call stretchouts while you were working there?
AUSTIN: No, not really. They would add onto your job, but they didn't lay off employees. But they would ask you to do a little more.
JH: Did people ever complain about that?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes. We all complained. [Laughter] There wasn't anything we could do about it, though, but do it or leave. I never was laid off in a stretchout. They never did bother me.
JH: What would happen if someone had complaints that they wanted to make to the management? Was there any way that people could make complaints? Did people ever try to make complaints?
AUSTIN: For the last few years I worked, they had a suggestion box, and they would let you make suggestions and put it in the suggestion box. Or if you had complaints, you could. . . . Several times I went to the assistant plant manager and talked to him about some problems.
JH: This was at Ridgeview?
AUSTIN: No, at Conover Chair. But you never did win. [Laughter]
JH: You could talk, but . . .
AUSTIN: That would be as far as it would get. They'd say, well, they'd see what they could do about it; when they had their supervisor meetings, they'd talk it over. The supervisors would have a meeting every week. I never did get much benefits out of it, though.
JH: What kind of problems did you take to him?
AUSTIN: I just thought I was having to do a little more than I should
have to do, because they was adding onto my job all the time. And a lot of the things that I did when I was there, they have changed that altogether now. They don't do it that way. It's making a little more problem on two more girls, but it eased my load a little bit. They didn't have quite as much responsibility in one sense as I had. The job was just a lot of responsibility all the way through.
JH: Was this when you were making buttons and . . .
AUSTIN: No. At Conover Chair I didn't make buttons.
JH: You went to Prestige, and how long did you stay there?
AUSTIN: Six years. I didn't make buttons the whole time I was at Prestige. I started making buttons; that was my job. And I didn't make buttons too long, and they put me to inspecting the covers that the sewers sewed. And I was the inspector. And then when the tie-up girl would be out, I had to learn to tie up the covers, assemble all the parts. I had to know all the parts that went in a piece of furniture, and I'd have to put the cambric in the cover. That's that dust piece that goes underneath. And all the parts you had to get in the cover and get the right ticket on it. And it had group numbers, and you had to be sure you got it in the right group. That was the job I did after I worked there a year or so. I started inspecting. Then Prestige moved out in a new building, and the sewers would sew and let their covers all fall on the floor. Well, I had to stoop right down, just continually bending, picking them up. And my back started bothering me, and I started hunting me another job. I got a job at Conover Chair. And there I had tickets to get the covers up for the sewers to sew, and then I'd tie them up after the sewers would sew them, to start with, because they didn't have but eight sewers. But as the years went on, they kept enlarging the plant and hiring more sewers, so I didn't do that too awful long till I just started getting out the covers
altogether. Then they gave me another job tying them up and gave getting out the covers to another girl. You have to take these tickets and hunt out the number. Every cover has a number, and every group. It's like loads, and they have load numbers, and you'd have to hunt the covers. You had to know the fabric; you had to go by the color and get the covers out and get them in a box and put all the things that a sewer needed to sew that cover in that box and get them ready for the sewers to sew. They're on production, and they want everything in there. They had inspectors to inspect them part of the time, and then I tied them up. I helped to inspect some, but as a usual thing it kept me busy tying them up. I didn't have time to inspect. The before I retired, they quit inspecting, and they just let the sewers sew them and take it for granted they were sewed right.
JH: Why did they do that?
AUSTIN: It was costing the company a lot to have all those people working. Then they decided to let an inspector inspect the seats and the cushions after they went out of the sewing room back to the upholsterers. They had one lady that did that. But they told the sewers they should be responsible. They were making the money, and they were sewing the covers, that they should be responsible for sewing those covers right.
JH: Did they do it?
AUSTIN: They got a lot of them back. The inspector that inspected them in the back would have to send some back.
JH: Were there conflicts between the inspectors and the sewers? Did the sewers get mad when . . .
AUSTIN: Oh, yes.
JH: When you were inspecting, they'd get . . .
AUSTIN: Yes, they did. They would get pretty angry with you, but you'd just tell them, well, it had to be right. I didn't argue with them. I'd
just take it back to them and tell them it had to be fixed. Now a lot of them wouldn't say anything. If they saw what was wrong with it and it was their fault, they would fix it and wouldn't say anything. But they were supposed to make half-inch seams on everything. Their patterns were made to sew them with half-inch seams, and they were supposed to be it. But it didn't work out that way all the time, because some material would stretch more than others. If it was the sewer's fault, if their seams wasn't half-inch seams, they had to fix them. But they had utility sewers, and if they made their half-inch seams and they didn't fit, the utility sewers had to fix them. If the inspector in the back that would inspect them when they put them on the frames saw that they had half-inch seams and they didn't fit, she would mark whichever way they had to be let out, if they had to be taken up or if they had to let them out. She'd mark how deep a seam they had to have, and the utility sewers would have to fix them.
JH: You said that when you first started working at Conover Chair, it was like a family.
AUSTIN: Everybody was real nice to each other, and it was just like a family. But as other people come in, they were different and it was just different.
JH: Did different kinds of people start working down there?
JH: How did that change? What kind of people started coming in?
AUSTIN: A lot of them was real hot -tempered. It was just different. You know, the bigger crowd you get together, you're going to have different types of people.
JH: You said there were just eight sewers at Conover Chair when you first . . .
AUSTIN: When I went to work there.
JH: Did they make mostly upholstered furniture?
AUSTIN: That's all we made. This furniture was made there.
JH: Were you able to get discounts on furniture there?
JH: How many women were there in the plant, in comparison to how many men at Conover Chair?
AUSTIN: When I first went to work there, it wasn't very many women. The women just worked in the sewing room. But later on they started hiring women in the frame room. And there were more women working in later years than there were when I went to work there, but I'd still say at least two-thirds were men. Because they had a machine room; they cut their own frames, and they glued them and sprayed them. And they didn't have women upholsterers.
JH: Why is that?
AUSTIN: They tried a couple, but they didn't work out. They may have some now--I don't know--but they didn't when I was working there.
JH: What are the best-paying jobs at the plant?
JH: Why couldn't women be hired to do those jobs?
AUSTIN: A frame on a sofa like this is heavy, and it had to be lifted, and a woman just wasn't able to lift it. Now they could lift a chair, but you couldn't do just chairs; you had to take whatever was coming through on the line.
JH: Which of these places that you worked did you like the best?
AUSTIN: Oh, I don't know. As I said before, I was just happy to get a job. [Laughter]
JH: How would you compare furniture work with hosiery work, for example, in terms of how hard it was, or how enjoyable, or how well paid? If you had
your choice, what you'd rather do.
AUSTIN: I would rather work in furniture.
JH: Why is that?
AUSTIN: I just enjoyed the furniture more. Now a good sewer could make thirty-five and forty dollars a day. But a day laborer didn't make but about a third what a sewer would make, because you were paid by the hour. And if a sewer had good work and was really skilled, they could really make money.
JH: You didn't consider trying to become a sewer then.
AUSTIN: No, I'm left-handed, and that is a handicap when it comes to sewing in an industrial place, on industrial machines. See, everything is set up for right-handed people. There are left-handed sewers, and some of them did real well. But since I was the age I was when I went into furniture, I just never did try it.
JH: How did the men and the women get along in the furniture plant?
AUSTIN: They got along fine.
JH: Did you have friends among both the men and the women?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes. Even some black ones.
JH: When did the blacks start working there?
AUSTIN: They never did have but two black women to work there, because they just didn't apply for work. But they did have several blacks that were janitors, and they were real nice.
JH: They didn't have any blacks that were working in the frame room, or upholsterers?
AUSTIN: They didn't in upholstering, but they did back in the frame room. They had a few. But in upholstering, I don't know if a black ever applied or not. I never did know of one applying.
JH: How did people react when they first started hiring blacks to work in this kind of thing?
AUSTIN: They didn't like it too good, but they got used to it. They had one lady that run borders in the sewing room, and at first they resented her but she seemed to be a real sweet person and she was clean, and everybody got to where they liked her and respected her. I never did mistreat her in any way, but there was a few that did make some comments about her, but that was just to start with. You know, when something like that happens, you've got to get accustomed to it. The main problem was using the bathroom and drinking from the same water fountain that we did. Now they didn't say much about when the lady came, but the men, they didn't think too much of that. But after a period of time, you got used to it and thought nothing about it.
JH: Did people make remarks to her face?
AUSTIN: No. They didn't really make, that I ever heard, any remarks, but it was so new. It was something we wasn't accustomed to, and they wasn't too friendly to her right at first, but after they learned to know her it was altogether different.
JH: Had you known blacks when you were living on the farm, for example? Had there been black families around you?
AUSTIN: Our next-door neighbor was a black, and she kept me when my mother was working in the field.
JH: So you had been around blacks.
AUSTIN: Yes, I'd been around blacks. I had to even eat her cooking. And back when my mother had her babies, she had a black lady that stayed with her one time and looked after her.
JH: Was she a midwife?
AUSTIN: No, but she went around staying with people. But a midwife did deliver one of my sisters. That was back during World War I. The
family doctor had to go in service, and they didn't have but very few doctors, so a midwife delivered one of my sisters.
JH: How did you meet your husband? Did you meet him at work, or did you grow up with him?
AUSTIN: No, his sister and I worked together. He was real bashful and never did date girls. Our church would always have cake walks and auction sales, and we were having one one weekend, and I invited her to spend the weekend with me. She had him to bring her down, and he asked me then for a date the next week, and that's how I met him.
JH: How long were you courting before you got married?
AUSTIN: About two years.
JH: What did he do for a living when you first met him?
AUSTIN: He was working on the third shift in the weave mill that Klopman's or Burlington bought. I forget the name of it. He didn't work there too long. When we were married, he was working in the furniture plant.
JH: What was his job in the furniture plant?
AUSTIN: Filling cushions.
JH: At Prestige?
AUSTIN: No, at Bolick, Southern Furniture.
JH: Did he keep working there?
AUSTIN: He worked there until 1941, and he got a job at Burlington Industries in Newton. A friend of his was working there, and to start with he was making twelve dollars and a half a week, when we got married. But he'd get little raises, and I just forget how much he was making. It seems like it
was about eighteen or twenty dollars a week, and he was wanting to get a better job. And he had had experience in a weave mill, and this friend of his was working at Burlington Industries, and he got him a job. The first job he had there when he got the job at Burlington was sweeping, and he didn't have to sweep too long until he got on the job learning to fix. So he fixed looms for about thirty-two years.
JH: I thought it would be hard to get a job as a fixer.
AUSTIN: He had to learn. And, too, it was during World War II, and so many of the employees were called into service, and he had a better chance. He's handicapped, and he was in IIIA so that he couldn't go. He has a short leg.
JH: Has he had that all his life?
AUSTIN: Since he was a baby. He fell and bruised his hip, and back in those days they didn't have penicillin or anything, and they had to have his hip operated on. And his leg growed until he got about twelve years old, and then it didn't grow as fast as the other leg. But it didn't keep him from working or doing anything he wanted to do. Well, he couldn't run and jump and do a lot of things like that, but as far as working it never did bother him.
JH: How come you all didn't have any children?
AUSTIN: Well, we just didn't. We wasn't to have them, I guess. [Laughter]
JH: Did that bother you?
AUSTIN: It did at first, but I got to the place it didn't worry me, because I thought if the Lord had intended for us to have them, we'd have them. Quite a few people tried to encourage us to adopt one, but I told them no, if I couldn't have my own I just wasn't going to adopt any.
JH: Did you go to doctors to try to find out what was wrong?
AUSTIN: No, I didn't.
JH: In any of the places where you and your husband have worked, would there have been any unions?
AUSTIN: No. The union tried to get in over at Burlington Industries, but they never did. I don't think they ever had an election, because they weren't . . .
JH: When was that?
AUSTIN: They tried several different times, and Fred's been retired six years. I'd say it's been twelve or fifteen years ago. They would come and stand out on the street and hand out literature as they'd change shifts. They had three shifts. But they never did call an election; they didn't get that much response.
JH: Why do you think people didn't respond?
AUSTIN: I think that most of them were satisfied as it was, and they had heard how the union did in a lot of other plants, and they just didn't want the union in there.
JH: What kind of things did the union do in other plants?
AUSTIN: I don't know anything about a union. I've never worked around a union. But I do know they have contracts for so many years. Fred's got a brother that works up in Ohio at General Motors, and every time the contract runs out, they strike for more benefits and higher wages. A lot of times he's out of work weeks at a time, and they never make back what they lose. And the help seemed to be satisfied like it was. They just didn't think that the union would help that much.
JH: How does Fred's brother feel about the union at General Motors? Does he think it's a good thing or a bad thing?
AUSTIN: I think about everything's unionized up there, and I don't hear
him say too much about it. He has another brother that works at GE, and he belonged to the union for a while, but he withdrew. He just doesn't go along with the union at GE. They were just striking so much. He's on maintenance, and he would go on and work. He would still pay his union dues, but he was on maintenance and he would go ahead and work. And they would set tacks, and at one time I believe it was about twelve flat tires he had in a week. They even set some tacks in his driveway at his home, and he just didn't go along with that kind of stuff. And it got to the place where they were just striking so often that he got tired of it. But now when they strike, a lot of times they have the law there to see that violence is not done. Because it got so bad that they would break out people's car glasses and cut their tires and mess up the paint on their cars. I don't hear of them doing that now like they did.
JH: Have you been active in any organizations or any groups?
AUSTIN: The only thing was church.
JH: And you still go to Friendship Methodist?
AUSTIN: No, I go to Beth-Eden Lutheran Church. Sidney Hallman(?) goes to the church I go. I married a Lutheran, and he wouldn't join the Methodist Church with me, so I joined with him.
JH: Why wouldn't he join the Methodist Church?
AUSTIN: He was brought up a Lutheran, and he just didn't think a man should go with the wife; he thought the wife should go with the man. That was just his idea.
JH: [Laughter] What did you think about that?
AUSTIN: I wasn't going to be that contrary about it. I wanted him to go to church, and I could go to either church, so I just went with him. And, too, we didn't have a car. When we were first married, we didn't have any way of getting down to my church, and we could walk and go to his church.
And that's what we did.
JH: What kind of difference do you find between the Methodist and the Lutheran?
AUSTIN: It's not too much. I enjoy my church work, and I enjoy going.
JH: Is there a women's group at the Lutheran Church?
JH: What are they called?
AUSTIN: Lutheran Church Women.
JH: Do you belong to that?
AUSTIN: Yes, I've belonged about thirty-two years.
JH: What kind of things do the Lutheran Church Women groups do?
AUSTIN: We meet monthly, and we have our program. For the past few years we've been making quilts to send overseas to the World Relief programs. I've been head of that now for about five years. When I was working, I'd get scraps at Conover Chair, and I made quite a few quilts.
JH: Did you learn to make quilts when you were growing up?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes. But the kind we make now is altogether different. We don't make them by patterns. We just take a piece of material, as big a piece as we can get, and just piece it up in pieces. And we don't put filling in them. We just use this upholstery material. You've got two pretty thick pieces there, and you can sew them two pieces together and just make the quilt out of the two pieces. They're not really used for quilts altogether. They're used for room dividers and for tents. They say that they put up sticks and use a bush and lay that over it to protect them from the sun.
JH: What countries do they go to?
AUSTIN: They go wherever they're needed most, when they're flood-stricken or tornadoes or whatever country that needs them the worst.
JH: Have the women done any other projects in past years?
AUSTIN: We made thirty-five little school kits last year. We filled them with school supplies. We also collect used clothing for children and men's work clothes. They don't ask for ladies' work clothes; I don't know why. But they ask for sweaters and material and children's clothes and men's work clothes, and our church always gets several boxes. And then we ask for a donation for blankets. Kress's dimestore in Conover, for the last three years, I'd go talk to the manager and ask him if he'd give us a good price on blankets, and for the last three years he's give us a dollar off on each blanket. One year we bought fifty-some blankets, and last year it was thirty-some we got.
JH: And these were all sent to the . . .
AUSTIN: Overseas. Fred and I are on that committee; we pack them in boxes, and then we get somebody with a pickup truck to haul them up to Hickory to St. Stephen's, and a trucking company comes and picks them up there. I believe the trucking company is from South Carolina. The man that owns it is a Lutheran, and he does it free. He hauls them to New York, and they're put on the boat and sent over.
JH: Have they ever done any local projects?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes, we have Clothes Closet down in what used to be the old hospital's nurses' quarters. We gather up clothing and food. We have two months out of the year to gather food to supply the Food Closet. Then we pick up used clothing, and our groups work there once a year. They have certain hours for people to come to select clothing, and they have to keep a record on everything. But they do have a lady that does all the book work. We just stay there and go along with the people when they go to look for clothing. You have to watch them real close, and some people would come every week if you would let them, and they're just allowed to get three changes
each time. And they can only get them every so many weeks.
JH: Has your husband been a member of any organizations?
AUSTIN: No, he used to go to the Lutheran Brotherhood some. He's on this Social Ministry Committee.
JH: What is that?
AUSTIN: That World Relief program. And it's the different activities of the church. We were going to sponsor a Vietnamese family, and the Social Ministry Committee had to approve it and send the approval to the Church Council to see if they would approve it before we could decide. He's on that committee, and we're on the Teller Committee to count the church money. We go to the bank every Monday of every other month to count our church money. We were on a Shepherds' Program. That was visiting; you had six families out of the congregation to visit, and if they had any illnesses or needed anything, they were supposed to contact you, and then you were to help them if you could, and if you couldn't you were supposed to get the pastor or somebody else to help with their problems. But we're not on that this year. We served on that committee for six years.
JH: Did it work very well?
AUSTIN: It was nice. I don't know if they've even got that program this year or not. I've not heard it mentioned.
JH: Who have your best friends been, the people that you have been closest to or socialized with most?
AUSTIN: We have had one couple that was real good friends of ours. We used to play canasta together every Saturday night, but Fred's parents were both ill and we had to spend so much time with them and do for them that we just had to drop out on a lot of our social activities, and we just don't have many anymore. His mother was an invalid; she didn't walk for fourteen years.
And his daddy's health was bad, and his mother had a stroke and she just gave up, and she was a diabetic. Then she got diabetic ulcers on one foot, and she had to have her leg amputated. We just had a lot of responsibility. And I'd dress her sore every other day, and it was for a couple years that we were there every day. Every morning we'd get up and get our breakfast. I'd pack our lunch at night, and we'd leave here around six o'clock and go by and get them up and get their breakfast. And one of Fred's brothers and his wife would come and help. We would make the bed, give her a bath and dress her and sweep up the house before we'd go to work. And I'd give her her insulin shot. All of the family would cook and bring stuff in. And I'd go on Saturday and clean the house. We just had a full schedule.
JH: I should say.
AUSTIN: And Fred was working six days a week, too.
JH: Did you have any women friends when you were younger?
AUSTIN: Oh, yes.
JH: That were just people that you socialized with a little bit?
AUSTIN: We never did really go out very much.
JH: How about your neighbors?
AUSTIN: We have visited our neighbors and visited them, and they never visit back, so we just . . .
AUSTIN: We just don't visit. Fred said, "I get tired of doing all the visiting." But if anything happens, if you need them they're always here. If you're sick or [there's a] death or anything, they always come, but it's just that way in all neighborhoods now out in the country. I don't know how it is in town.
JH: What do you mean?
AUSTIN: People are just too busy; they don't visit.
JH: Oh, really? When did that change?
AUSTIN: For the past ten years anyway, it's been like that. When we first moved here, the neighbors did visit, but they don't visit anymore.
JH: That's too bad. Is it the same neighbors?
AUSTIN: Yes, the same people. But you know, when you just keep going and going and going and nobody returns your visit, well, you just feel like you're just not wanted, or you get tired of it, so. . . . Well, there for so long, though, we were tied up with Fred's parents, and then my dad wasn't well, and we've had to do a lot down there, too, so we just haven't had too much chance. And like I say, Fred worked six days a week, and Sunday was the only day he had off. And he was really tired, and we'd get up and go to church and visit both of our parents on Sunday, and that was about it.
JH: Are there any other things that we haven't touched on that have been important to you?
AUSTIN: Nothing that I know of.
JH: What have been the happiest times in your life, looking back?
AUSTIN: I have just always been happy. I just don't have a bad outlook on life. I enjoy living.
JH: Do you find some people around you that do have a bad outlook, that just don't enjoy life no matter what?
AUSTIN: I used to go to work in the mornings, and I'd say "Good morning" to the girls I worked with, and they'd say, "Well, what's good about it?" And a lot of times I'd say, "Well, it's a lot of good things. We've got something to eat, and we've got a job." And I just can't see how people feel that way. But I imagine you've heard them expressions, haven't you?
JH: Yes, for sure.
AUSTIN: The Lord is always good to us, but we just don't know how to accept it, I think. We're not grateful enough.
JH: When did you first join the church?
AUSTIN: When I was eleven.
JH: Was it during a revival?
AUSTIN: Yes, at a camp meeting.
JH: Was it a real religious experience that you had that made you go down and join the church?
AUSTIN: Yes. I attend church regular. I'm chairman of the Altar Committee now at Beth-Eden. I have to change the pairments.(?) We have different seasons, and the pairments are different colors for each season. I have to look after that and look after the communion. I'm the head of fixing the communion, and we have communion the first Sunday of every month. And keep the pairments cleaned and laundered, what has to be laundered. And if it's a funeral, we use a funeral pall on the casket when the body's brought in the church. And I put the funeral pall out, and then I have to go to the funeral or either go after the funeral, so I usually go to the funeral and sit in the choir and help out a little bit. The funeral pall has to be rolled back up and put in a cover and put up. And look after the lighter that the acolyte uses, keep a wick in that. Have the church secretary to order the communion cards and the wafers that we use for communion. Then one of the men of the church orders the wine, so I have to keep watch for when the wine gets low, have him order wine.
JH: That's a lot of responsibility.
AUSTIN: Yes, it is. This is my second year. I have fourteen ladies that help me, but I have to call them and ask them to help fix the communions for the communion.
JH: Have you or your husband been at all involved in politics?
JH: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
AUSTIN: Democrat. We vote, but we don't get involved in politics.
JH: Were you raised as a Democrat?
AUSTIN: Yes, both of us.
JH: Did you ever hear, maybe from your grandparents or from other people talking about the Populist Party in this part of the country?
AUSTIN: You mean the party that was most popular?
JH: It was called the . . .
[End of interview]