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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Roy Ham, 1977. Interview H-0123-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rural recreations

Ham recalls what he did to have fun when he was young. He recalls in detail building vehicles out of wood, going swimming, and hanging May baskets, taking the opportunity to tell some stories.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Roy Ham, 1977. Interview H-0123-1. 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

PATTY DILLEY:
What kinds of things did you do when you were a kid, to have fun?
ROY HAM:
We made what they call now Appalachian toys. Some of the first toys I remember would be these blocks; some people call them clackers. They're making them out of plastic now, but we made them out of wood. And we had slingshots that we'd shoot and kill snakes. We made motorcycles.
PATTY DILLEY:
How did you make those?
ROY HAM:
Well, we called them motorcycles. They was just something to coast off the hill. We had to work to push them up the hill, and in some instances we'd saw the wheels off of a log of black gum. We had brakes on them. We had springs on the seats, but the way they were constructed, if you hit a rock with the front wheel it would throw you, because the front wheel would fold up with you. And a lot of times we'd wreck the motorcycle, and it'd take us another week to get them repaired to ride the next Sunday. And we'd hoe corn all day, thinking. We'd watch a black cloud. We'd go out the row of corn, digging up the corn and watching that black cloud to see if it was going to rain so we could go work on our motorcycle.
PATTY DILLEY:
[laughter]
ROY HAM:
And we'd push those up the hill. It'd take us a whole lot longer to push them up the hill than it would to come down. That was in the summer that we'd do that. In the winter we always had bobsleds that we'd make out of wood, and put cradle fingers on the runners to make them run faster. Anything we could do to get up a little more speed. One winter we were going to put a set of wings on the bobsled and fly it across the branch. I like to froze to death that day, because it didn't work.
PATTY DILLEY:
[laughter]
JAMES HAM:
Just got to the branch.
ROY HAM:
It just got to the branch, right in the branch.
PATTY DILLEY:
You were telling a story earlier about going swimming and everything. [laughter] Go ahead and tell us that. Don't be ashamed for that. I won't put you on the spot.
ROY HAM:
[laughter] That is on the spot. There was four of us boys. I'd say we were thirteen or fourteen, maybe fifteen years old, and we were going swimming. We didn't have bathing suits like you've got now. When you come to a place deep enough, you just went swimming. That was it. And on this day it was hot outside, and we walked up Helton Creek till we come to a place that was deep enough to go swimming. And we pulled our clothes off and went swimming. Meanwhile, two ladies maybe twenty or twenty-five years old must have saw us go swimming, so they came down through the woods. And they had a foot log right above our swimming hole, and those girls come and crawled on the foot log, kind of watching us swim. We saw them coming and we went to the deepest water we could get, which was right up at our chin. And the water from mountain streams in the summertime, in July it was still cold as ice. They like to froze us to death …
PATTY DILLEY:
[laughter]
ROY HAM:
… keeping an eye on us, keeping us in the water. My toenail was about to come off over there; it froze.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did your daddy make you work a whole bunch, or did you-all think it was just…
ROY HAM:
We thought we had to work hard… Mountain life, I guess, is the best life there is. But for a kid that wants to do something, play, work is hard. Hoeing corn, beans, potatoes.
PATTY DILLEY:
But then you got to go out and have your fun afterwards, then.
ROY HAM:
One of the things that I can't understand, I don't know where it came from or what has happened to it, but we had a game the first day of May every year. A group of people would get together, and they'd go and hang a May basket. Picked the first flowers they could find, and if they go up to a neighbor's porch and throw that basket on the porch and holler, "May basket!" people in the house were obligated to catch every person in the crowd. And sometimes it would take till twelve or one o'clock for the old farmers to do that. The people that brought the May basket up there would throw the May basket and then start running down through the fields or woods or whatever. And the people in the home thought they were obligated to catch everybody that was in the crowd that hung the May basket.
PATTY DILLEY:
I remember doing something like that when I was a little kid. We'd take bundles of flowers and go and leave them up on people's porch and ring the doorbell and run. But we never had them chase us. [laughter]
ROY HAM:
In that section of the country they felt obligated to catch every person in the crowd. And the first one that the old farmer could catch, if she was a young, pretty girl, he got to kiss her.
PATTY DILLEY:
[laughter]
ROY HAM:
She would run to get away from him.
PATTY DILLEY:
I see why they'd run now.
ROY HAM:
But sometimes ladies would dress up like men to keep the men from kissing them. Well, after a hard day's work of plowing, I don't see how the old farmers had the energy for that.
PATTY DILLEY:
[laughter]
ROY HAM:
But they all, at that time in life, everybody looked forward to the first day of May. And sometimes we'd do that the entire month of May. Every night somewhere, somebody would be doing that.
PATTY DILLEY:
And you'd get in big crowds to go around and do this?
ROY HAM:
Oh, yes. The bigger the crowd, the more you could laugh and holler and have a good time. You didn't laugh out loud until after you'd hung your May basket. That was supposed to be a surprise. Catch the farmers at the supper table. And the faster that farmer gets out and catches them, the quicker that he'd go back and go to bed. And we'd a lot of times gather at molasses boiling. After you'd gather the cane and get it ground and boil it sometimes till two and three o'clock in the morning. That's what we used for sugar. We couldn't buy sugar; we had to make it. And a lot of times people would bring their musical instrument in and play hillbilly music. I think that's the way a lot of the songs were handed down from family to family, for years, from generation to generation.