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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Social gatherings and community celebrations

Snipes describes how his family used to attend the University of North Carolina commencement ceremony every year as a social event. According to Snipes, commencement offered an opportunity for community members to come together for celebration and socialization. After describing the kinds of activities they enjoyed at commencement, Snipes describes other types of social gatherings, such as corn shuckings and candy pullings, and holiday celebrations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. 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

JOHN W. SNIPES:
Back yonder fifty or sixty years ago anybody hardly ever went over the eighth or ninth grade around here. Weren't one out of a hundred that ever went off to college. The commencement at Chapel Hill, when I was little, was a big day for us. My Daddy and Mother would prepare for that day, and we'd hitch up a two-horse wagon and fill it full of wheat straw. And my father and mother would sit on a spring seat, and us nine young'uns would be back there on some quilts and wheat straw. And we'd drive twelve miles to Chapel Hill in a twohorse wagon. There'd just be hundreds of horses and mules tied out on the campus in them woods there; I reckon it would be about where Memorial Hospital is, and a little beyond Memorial. No, it'd be across the railroad there. We'd hitch horses all down in there. We carried a big cracker box full of chicken and pies and cakes, and people was just eating dinner everywhere. That was the commencement. And we didn't care nothing about the baccalaureate sermon or Doctor so-and-so making a big speech. We'd be out there around the lemonade stand. [Laughter]
BRENT GLASS:
Well, what would you do when you got down to campus?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, we'd just march around. They'd sell two paper cups of ordinary lemonade for a nickel, or one pink cup of lemonade for a nickel. We'd always grab the pink and [Laughter] a little bit of old coloring would color a barrel, you know. They'd get one cup of pink lemonade for a nickel and two plain for a nickel. And we'd have thirty or forty cents maybe, and we'd drink lemonade all day—maybe eat ice cream [Laughter] and stuff like that, and spend our little barrel of money and just see the crowd. There were just hundreds and hundreds of farmers there with their horses and mules. Way back when my Daddy and Mother first started to going there a lot of them went there in oxcarts (drive an old bull, you know).
BRENT GLASS:
Would you ever go to Chapel Hill any other times?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir, hardly. I never did see Chapel Hill no time much except at commencement. That was the first time I ever saw it in my life. And I didn't have no other business up there 'til I got up a bigger boy and all.
BRENT GLASS:
Would there ever be any music?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir. Well, sometimes we would listen at the band. They'd march, you know. We'd never heard a band; didn't know a drum from a clarinet or nothing else, I don't reckon. It was just to be in a crowd, it looked like.
BRENT GLASS:
When did people stop doing that?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
It was looked forward to every year. I was born in 1901, and I reckon I was twenty years old before we stopped going. That was an annual event.
BRENT GLASS:
Why do you think people stopped going?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I don't know why they stopped. Just thousands and thousands of people. They was marching all over town. There'd be little ice cream stands and hot dog stands and lemonade stands and popcorn. I'd love to see some of the old pictures of the way it used to be at commencement.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, did you do any marketing when you were down there?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No.
BRENT GLASS:
Did your parents bring any kind of thing to sell?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir.
BRENT GLASS:
Just a holiday?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Just a holiday. It was a big day.
BRENT GLASS:
How about Fourth of July around here?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Fourth of July used to be, of course out in the country, ball games. We had big ball games every Fourth of July. I've seen five hundred to a thousand people right there in that ballground. They'd have a ballgame in the morning and one in the afternoon, and have a little tent out there selling drinks and lemonade and ice cream and sandwiches and all of that. But them days is gone now. They've got this softball they play at night. Of course we never did see a night ballgame. See, some of the most famous, the especially famous people who have played on this ballground are Bun Hearne, the coach of Carolina. He was raised here. All these Hearnes and Bud Hearne was raised here; he played on that old ballground. He got to be coach at Carolina. * * Bun Hearne was Carolina baseball coach. His famous saying; We will win some. We will lose some. Some will be rained out. [interruption]
BRENT GLASS:
Let's get back to….
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Commencement? [Laughter]
BRENT GLASS:
No, no. We could talk about holidays, because we're on Fourth of July. I was wondering whether there were any other kind of holidays where you'd have neighborhood get-togethers?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Thanksgiving. We looked forward to them, and Christmastime, of course, and Easter. Thanksgiving my grandfather, he was a possum hunter, and he'd always catch him two or three big possums along in the fall after the frost bit the persimmons. And he'd put them in a box and fatten them. And he loved possum. Of course we'd have the turkey, and they had big dinner spreads.
BRENT GLASS:
Did you ever eat any squirrel?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Oh yes sir. We used to set rabbit hollows and catch rabbits and eat squirrels too, and quail. We looked forward to Thanksgiving. And corn shucking, all back there then they had these old neighborhood corn shuckings. And maybe seven, eight, ten farmers, you'd have a big corn shucking this evening and a big supper that night. And all of them would help you. Next week you'd have one, and it went around like that.
BRENT GLASS:
How about candy pulls?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Oh yes sir, old-fashioned homemade candy pull, you know.
BRENT GLASS:
How would that work?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, a boy and a girl. they'd love to… Have you ever seen them pull it?
BRENT GLASS:
No.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, they put this candy, sugar and water stuff, on and boiled it 'til it was a syrup. Then they let it cool a little. And then when you could work it up and get it in a ball, something like about the size of a baseball, then you could pull it out two foot long. You could work it down to small, say the size of a broomhandle. And then a girl and a boy face each other, and she'd pull that a'way and he'd pull this way, and maybe he'd reach over in the middle and that would double it. And she'd reach over and that would double it twice, you see. The more you pulled it the fluffier and the whiter it got. There'd be somebody to judge when it was pulled enough, you know. And then you'd get another ball.
BRENT GLASS:
Didn't your hands get kind of sticky with all that?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir. They'd put a little flour on their hands.
BRENT GLASS:
Oh, oh, I see.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Oh, candy pullings was big doings [Laughter] way back yonder. I ain't heard tell of one in forty years that I know of.