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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Mary Thompson's parents divide family responsibilities

In Mary Thompson's family, her mother handled discipline and finances while her father worked. She also explains how the children staged small rebellions against her parents' strictness.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. 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

You know, the Baptists used to be against dancing, and my mother was always a Baptist, and so they were just against it, I guess. They was against drinking. There wasn't no drinking in our house. No cursing. That's unusual now, for the families now. I'm proud my mother raised me that way. But our father didn't do it; my brothers didn't do it. My sisters never did drink or smoke. My father did smoke cigarettes. He was the only one that used tobacco. It was just the way they were raised, and they raised us that way, and I can't see that we were hurt by it.
JIM LELOUDIS:
But did any of you ever sneak off and try any of these things?
MARY THOMPSON:
We used to get under the house and get this rabbit tobacco and roll it in paper and try to smoke it, but it tasted bad, so we never did do very much of it. [Laughter] We did sneak around and do that. And none of us never did like it well enough to smoke it. But we were mean children, in a way, just like all children were. We wasn't perfect, not by a long shot. We done lots of things that if our mother had caught up with us, we would have got a beating.
CARL THOMPSON:
Just more devilish than anything else.
MARY THOMPSON:
Yes, we didn't do any harm. We didn't smoke cigarettes; we never thought about such as that. One time there was a girl who had some snuff, and she wanted me to taste some, and I took just a little bit on my tongue and like to strangle myself. [Laughter] I never did want any more snuff. And if my mother had knowed that, she'd have whipped me for it, but she didn't know it. We were always wanting to make things, too. My brothers liked to work with things, and we'd make our own valentines and things like that. We had things to keep busy. We sewed. And I don't know how them houses at that mill are still standing, but we used to get up in the loft when Mama and Daddy'd leave and cut the wires up there and splice it and put us lights all up in there. [Laughter] Before they got home, we'd take them down. I don't know how we helped from getting killed. Of course, the power wasn't as strong into the houses, I don't think, then as they are now. But if Mama and Daddy left us home, that was after we got pretty good-sized children. My brothers was older than me, and so they liked to fool with electricity. And so we'd just climb up in there and cut it apart, get us some lights. My daddy, see, working in the machine shop, always had wires and tape and light bulbs around the house, and we'd get them and we'd put us lights up in there. And sometime we'd want to make valentines up in there, if they was going to go to the store and be gone a good while. We done the meanest things. I've wondered lots of times how the houses are still standing, but they're still standing, so we must have done a pretty good job at it. [Laughter]
JIM LELOUDIS:
You said if your mother had found out, she would have whipped you. Was she the one who did the disciplining?
MARY THOMPSON:
She's the one who done most of the disciplining. We were a little scared of Daddy when he got mad at us for anything, but Mama was the one, she done the bossing. My daddy worked all the time. Then you didn't work eight hours like you do now, you see, and he was working in the machine shop, so he'd have to work sometimes night and day. I have knowed him to work two days and nights before he even got to come home. They'd had machinery break down, you know, and all. So most all men then done the work; the women done the raising of the children. I can't say that that's altogether right. [Laughter] I think both ought to take responsibility, but at that time men didn't have time to do around the house like they do now.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Who handled the family's finances?
MARY THOMPSON:
My mother did. My daddy was one of these "Live today and let tomorrow take care of itself." [Laughter] And if it had been left up to him, we'd have starved to death. But my mother was very close. She could manage real good, and she managed all the finances.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did she ever give him an allowance or something like that?
MARY THOMPSON:
Very seldom she give him anything. Of course, he always had an automobile. And she managed enough to pay the things that he needed, but I have knowed him to want a Coca-Cola, and she'd fuss that that was throwing away money. She didn't let her children throw away money. She wasn't mean, that she wouldn't let you have what you wanted, but there wasn't too much money to spend for things like that then. Not with seven children to raise. He was pretty good; he never did fuss at her about the way she managed the money, because he knowed she was a better manager than he was. He couldn't have kept an automobile to drive all the time if… There wasn't too many people around there had automobiles then. But we usually had an automobile, and if my father wasn't working at all on Sunday we'd always go up in the mountains or somewhere and take a picnic dinner, all the whole family. It was a carful [Laughter] , but we'd always go somewhere, up in the mountains or somewhere. You know, it ain't far to the mountains from Greenville, South Carolina. And I had an aunt that lived up there, and we'd go up there sometimes and stay all night at their house, way back up in the mountains. But it was always the family went together. My daddy wasn't a person to run around. When he went, the family went with him. I had a good father, and a good mother. Naturally we thought Daddy was the best, because he didn't have the responsibility that Mama had. She had to be a little bit tougher.