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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Broadus Mitchell, August 14 and 15, 1977. Interview B-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Living with mother and grandmother when father was away at school

Mitchell describes what life was like for his mother, his siblings, and himself when his father went away for a year to complete his graduate education at the University of Chicago around the turn of the twentieth century. Although they had been living in Richmond, Virginia, where his father worked at Richmond College, Mitchell explains that it was necessary for the family to move back to Louisville, Kentucky, to stay with his grandmother. He offers some anecdotes about what it was like to live with his grandmother—particularly focusing on her cooking traditions—and he emphasizes how crucial her help was to the family's survival during that time.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Broadus Mitchell, August 14 and 15, 1977. Interview B-0024. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

But that year when he was at Chicago, my mother took us children to her mother's home in Louisville, my grandmother, which was a large house. And [laughter] if there was any severity in my grandmother's conduct, it was quite understandable because, in addition to my mother and her four children, my Aunt Ella's family, Mrs. Robertson and her husband, were there. And there must have been three or four of their children in the house. I remember some of the little peculiarities of my grandmother. She was very fond of a strong beef tea. It was made with beef extract, essence. It looked sort of like very thick black molasses. It came out of a little bottle or sort of a vial. I knew afterwards it was Valentine's Meat Juice. It was made in Richmond; I knew something about it later. It was to an ordinary bouillon cube what gin is to Coca-Cola, say. And she liked that. Her only exercise was taking long trolley rides, and I frequently went with her and my mother on long rides around Louisville. She liked that. She was a quiet, small woman, Scotch also in her habit of serving oatmeal. And [laughter] one of the things that I associate with her, which is not her fault and which is not pleasant in my own recollection, is cold oatmeal, because at that time we didn't have quick-cooking oatmeal, and it was quite a production to make a big double boiler of oatmeal. So what was left over - and it was expected to last for several days - was put in the refrigerator in a bowl, and when it was turned out it was gray and slick and cold, and you ate that with milk, not heated up. My grandmother thought it wasn't necessary [laughter] to heat it up; it had been cooked and so on. Very kind; very kind indeed. And my father couldn't have got his degree - and that had everything to do with his later career - if she hadn't given us this cordial hospitality. Incidentally, my sister, the fourth child, was born at my grandmother's, which was another complication.
How did your mother feel about your father going off to Chicago for a year to get his . . .
I don't know about that, but I'm sure she shared his ambition and realized that this was very important for all of them. And it wasn't a sudden thing, because, as I say, he'd been going in summers.