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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 >>

Everyone pitched in to support the family

In Mary Thompson's family, everyone contributed to the household income. While her father worked, her mother kept a garden and animals to offset the household income and the children hired themselves out to neighbors to earn extra money for clothes and treats.

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

JIM LELOUDIS:
You said you had your own animals and all. I guess you had a garden, too.
MARY THOMPSON:
Yes, we had a garden. The mill company gave a place to put your hogs. And the cows was back in the backyard. They had barns, with four stalls in it for four houses, and every house had one stall for a cow. But our hogs had to be on down. There was a place down there fixed for them. We had chickens, mostly, in the yard, but we had a little garden. But about three or four blocks from there there was some open land, and we had a garden there. They let us have gardens there. And we always had a garden, raised our own things and had our own meat and our own milk and butter. And my mother sold buttermilk. We liked butter very well, but we wasn't crazy about milk, so she sold milk and made money thataway. But we did drink what we wanted. Most of the milk we ever wanted was buttermilk. None of us children wasn't crazy about any other kind of milk. We made pretty good. My mother canned vegetables and things. Back then, people were very nice to one another, too. If one didn't have it, they wanted to divide with them, you know. People was more neighborly then than they are now. We had a good life. We didn't have things. I don't have much now—I never have had—so it doesn't make much difference to me. But still, we didn't have things like they have now. We didn't even have rugs on the floor till I got pretty good size. We scrubbed the floors. My daddy was the bossman when he was at Poe Mill, so they put water in our house, and we had water and bath and all. But all the regular mill people that lived there had pumps out on the street, and that was cooler water than what was in the house, so we'd get our drinking water out there, mostly. But we didn't have to tote water for things, but I have worked for neighbors, help them wash clothes and scrub floors for them. We'd go anywhere around anybody wanted to hire us, twenty-five cents a room to scrub a floor. And I mean you had to scrub it and tote the water from way over across the street. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JIM LELOUDIS:
That's really interesting, that you kids would hire yourself out to help neighbors.
MARY THOMPSON:
Oh, yes, sir, we was going to make a dime every way we can. [Laughter] From the time we got big enough to tote buckets of water, some people would hire us —some of them didn't have as much as we did, too, like it is now—to tote their water to wash the clothes. They always washed outside and had tubs of water to wash and rinse, and a pot to boil them. And they'd pay us maybe ten or fifteen cents to tote their water for them. And we'd do that, and then we'd babysit some after we got a little bigger, and scrub floors for people, twenty-five cents a room. I never will forget that. [Laughter] I scrubbed four floors one time, me and my brother; we made a dollar, and we thought we got rich that day. [Laughter] But we did most anything that we could to make a little money.
CARL THOMPSON:
Yes, that dollar would have went farther than five dollars would go now, though.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you have to give that money to your mother, or was that yours?
MARY THOMPSON:
We had to give it to Mama, but the only thing is, she usually bought us some cloth to make us a dress, or the boys would get a shirt out of it or something like that. We'd get cloth; then we'd have to make us a dress. Of course, if we had enough dresses right then, we wasn't allowed to have too many; we couldn't afford them. But then she'd spend the money maybe to buy ice cream for all of us or something like that.
JIM LELOUDIS:
So, in a way, you always got a little of it back in some kind of treat.
MARY THOMPSON:
I got some of it, and we'd have ice cream suppers at our church, and we'd get some of that money to buy us ice cream at the church. And boys and girls would get together and play and sing at different homes, too, and we enjoyed ourself thataway.