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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering hard work and community in rural North Carolina's past

Norman remembers the hard work, but also the rewards, of farm life. She and her brothers worked from sun up to sun down. The long distances between neighbors' houses did not stop them from visiting or offering support, attending ice cream socials and box suppers. On the farm, Norman found joy in helping others and belonging to a close-knit community. She found a similar sense of family in Burlington Mill, but she worries that this community ethic has faded since her youth.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. 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

MARY MURPHY:
Could you not make a living off the farm?
ICY NORMAN:
Oh, yeah. But mama just took a notion she wanted to sell it. I begged her not to sell it. She had the say-so, so she sold it.
MARY MURPHY:
Did you like living on the farm?
ICY NORMAN:
Yeah, I enjoyed it. I'd get out there about daylight. Dooley, he would be a plowing this field. I'd be in this field on a harrow I'd have that field harrowed by the time he had that field plowed. Then we'd plant our crop. Then when the stuff come in we worked from sun up to sun down. That was good days. Back then you could work in the field until it was so dark you couldn't. Then you'd come in and have to milk the cow and feed the horses or the mules, whatever you had. Then fix supper. Then wash the dishes. Then you'd have time to go somewhere in the neighborhood. You know, the neighbors there lived a half a mile, maybe a mile apart. Some of them two miles. Some would always come to my house. We'd take a circle and we'd visit everybody, they'd take a circle until they'd visited everybody. And everybody just had a good time. Now people don't have time. They have more things to work with. They don't even know what the next door neighbors is doing. That's the truth. Now you take a lot of places here in Burlington, you can have a lot of sickness and your next door neighbor don't know you're sick. You can have a death in your family and they don't know anybody's dead. I don't believe in that. I believe in fellowship and being friends and cooperating with everybody. I reckon it is because the way my daddy and mama raised me. People this day and time, they don't act like they care anything for you. All for self. But me, the greatest joy is if I can do you a favor. I want to do you that favor. I get more joy out of that and more happiness. If somebody's sick that I know I can go to them and help them, any hour day or night. I'm ready to go. It's a joy to go in fellowship and do for people. That's my great—I said I didn't have no family. In the other sense of the word, I've got a big family, because I try to fellowship with the other fellow. If they need something, I'm there to help them. If I can do them a favor, I'm there to do it. I think that there is a lot of joy to me. Of course, some people may think that ain't no joy in doing that. But it is. You just come right down to it, you get more joy out of doing some little thing than anything in the world. You know, money can't buy happiness. Money can't buy joy. That's why I said I enjoyed working on my job. I got a pleasure out of it and it made me happy to do my job. When I come out of that mill, I know that I done the very best I could. Somewhere along the way I felt a peaceful mind. It's wonderful to feel that way. When I left the Burlington Mill, I left my family. They all felt like my brothers and sisters. I worked with some of them so long. I was the oldest one in Pioneer Plant, the oldest hand that they had. When those others come along, I got acquainted with them, I growed to love them. And I growed to fellowship with them. We'd all laugh and have fun together. It was just like leaving one of my family. I couldn't help but cry. I said all the time I wasn't going to cry. When I went out and started home I did cry, but they didn't know it.
MARY MURPHY:
You didn't think it was the difference between living in the country and living here that made that difference of neighbors?
ICY NORMAN:
You mean trying to be friends with people. My daddy and mother teached us eight children to love and fellowship. If you could share something with somebody, do that. I reckon it was the way I was raised. Now you take us children. If we had something that the other one didn't have, we shared it, what little we had, with them. Back then children didn't have things like children has today. We didn't know what toys was. We would get an allowance, each one of us, a nickel a week. We thought that was something. We'd go to the store and buy a nickel's worth of candy. We'd get a big sack full of candy for a nickel. My brothers and my sisters eat theirs all up and I had some. I just sat down and we share it together. That's the way we was. And if mine was gone, we'd share it until it was all gone. I reckon it was the way I was raised. I reckon it was one reason I took so much interest in employees. Now there was a lot of employees, different ones would learn them their job. They never did go back to lend that girl a lending hand if she got in a hole. I'd feel so sorry for her. I'd go over there and help her get straightened out. Really, it wasn't my place to go. I always put other people before me. I love to see other people have plenty and have everything they want if I don't have it. I get the joy of seeing them being happy.
MARY MURPHY:
What kind of things did people do together in the country?
ICY NORMAN:
At school they'd have a supper. They'd call it a box supper. The teenagers, the young ones, they'd fix it. Well, if we was going to have a supper tonight at the school, well, you would cook something yourself. And you'd fix you a box and you'd wrap it real pretty. But you'd fix your box so you knowed it from the others. You didn't put your name on it. They would give that box off. The one that bid the highest, well, you had to eat supper with the boy. That was a lot of fun. We would have ice cream suppers and we'd have parties. In the wintertime they'd have dances in some of the homes. Of course, my daddy never would let them have a dance there. But he didn't care if us young ones was going. The young people would meet at our house once a week. We'd have the biggest time. But my daddy never would let them have a dance. We'd go to dances at some of the rest of the homes. But we had to be home from that dance by ten-thirty, at the latest. No later. If we was later than ten-thirty we didn't get to go no more for a while. I don't know, all of us boys and girls go together. We all growed up together. We just had a big time. I reckon when you been with somebody like that and then you go into a textile mill, go to working, well, it come natural that you want fellowship with your co-workers. You want to be acquainted with them, to be friends with them. You take a lot of people come in the mill and work eight hours and never speak to you.
MARY MURPHY:
Would people in the mill village get together and do things like that?
ICY NORMAN:
Yeah, they have the church. Senior citizens. They meet once a week and carry a covered dish. Then they meet, like the Sunday school classes, at your house. And the next month they meet at somebody else's house until it goes around. They have this big bus at the church, senior citizens go different places. I believe it was sometime along in March they went to Charlotte for the day. They go trips. People get together. Anybody can go on that wants to, if the bus ain't filled up. If you find out they're going, you just have to call Mildred and ask her if they got a vacant seat and you can go. Another thing I enjoy, I like to get up real early and take my mile walk. But it's been so bad I ain't been this week.