Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hoy Deal, July 3 and 11, 1979. Interview H-0117. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Recalling Depression-era relief work

Deal recalls doing "relief work," maybe for the Works Progress Administration, during the Great Depression. This anecdote may be more amusing than informative, but it offers a look at Depression-era employment. Deal describes a confrontation with his supervisor and his talent at building fires.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hoy Deal, July 3 and 11, 1979. Interview H-0117. 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

I worked on the relief work back during the Compression [sic] when you couldn't hardly get no work, you know, here in Hickory. That was later years, after I'd moved to Hickory. What little bit you got, you had to take it out in groceries and stuff. I've helped digging ditches and everything all around over here around the town of Brookford, digging ditches and cutting out thickets. He was digging some ditches around over in there behind the old Brookford Cotton Mill, and old Mr. Jim Hart—he's dead now—was another one of them men that come around a-short-talking and cussed lots, and he didn't do no work. He carried a little old stick, like, made with a chair and a walking cane made together. He'd set that three legs down and set that walking stick back and sit down on it, and he could shut that up and go around and use it for a walking stick when he had it shut up, too. And he come around there one day and … [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
… and said something to me. He told me to backfill somewhere else or something, and he commenced to cussing. And I didn't like that a litle bit. I said, "You're an old man. You can come around and tell me what to do, but don't cuss when you talk to me. If you do, I'll take this shovel and trim your ears off." And he went on down the ditch. There was another boss under him, and he went on down the hill and told the other boss about it, and he come up there and said, "What got the matter with you and Jim?" I said, "Well, he come up here telling me to do something and was cussing and a-snorting, and I told him that if he went to cussing me or cussing when he was talking to me, that I'd cut his ears off with that shovel." And he said, "Well, go ahead and do what you was doing." And directly, old man Jim come back up the ditch then, and he said, "Little Deal, you go up on the hillside. Take your shovel along and go up on the hillside and pick up all of the loose tools that we ain't a-using." It was geting up pretty close to quitting time. "And pile them up in a pile up there where the truck can get to them. And when you get that done, if the truck ain't come just stay up there and wait till the truck comes." And so after that, when old man Jim come around me he was quiet. [Laughter] And when we got through with that work up there, we went to the Hickory Airport up here and went to working on the Hickory Airport, building it bigger. And old man Jim would come around every morning. It was getting cold weather then, and we was cutting brush and grubbing out stumps and stuff, and we was burning it as we piled it up. We'd pile it up in piles and burn it. And he come around up there and said, "Little Deal, you're the only one that seems to know how to pile brush so they'll burn up. What about you keeping the brush put on the fire and keeping me a good fire going so we can burn all this trash and stuff up? They have everybody piling brush, just crosses them up every way, you know, and they won't burn up. They just burn a hollow out from underneath of it, and it won't burn up. You seem to be the only one that knows how to pile stuff on there so it'll burn up, and I need a fire to warm my toes by all the time." So he put me to just carrying the brush. I didn't have to do any more grubbing or digging or nothing. People'd dig them up, and I'd carry them and pile them on that fire and keep the fire a-going. I stayed around the fire about all the time. I didn't do much except taking around a drink of water once in a while. When it was cold weather, they didn't need much water. And I'd always carry the stuff and keep it piled up on the fire. And every morning, if the fire had went plumb out, I'd start a fire up and start putting stuff on the fire. You know, if you cross brush up like that, it'll just hollow out, but if you lay it all the same way and keep it packed down, it'll burn completely up all the time. And I kept him a fire built all the time. And on up when warm weather come, after we got through burning brush and stuff and went to digging ditches and stuff like that, about all I done was carry water around. [Laughter] That old man, he seen he couldn't get by with nothing and pull nothing over me, and so he went to taking sides with me kind of, too. Because I just wouldn't take nothing off of nobody. And when people got wrong with me, I got wrong with them.