They like to starved th’ pore folks plumb to death

Posted by | October 8, 2013

We were told that her stepson was about twenty-two years old and had worked in the mill for “quite a spell,” ever since Mr. Price had lost his job as night watchman at the mill, and had since then been in such poor health that he had been unable to take another. “Mr. Price’s son” or “the boy” was the only way Miss Lucy ever referred to him, but we gathered that his comfort and well-being were items which claimed much of her time and sincere attention. “Mr. Price and me are plenty thankful th’ boy is here, for if it warn’t that he had work in the mill we couldn’t live here no more, since Mr. Price he had to quit.”

The Converse Mill in Converse, SC, ca. 1930. Located about 2 miles from Clifton Mill Village, it gives an idea of what the area’s textile mills at the time of this oral history looked like. Courtesy Herald-Journal Willis Collection, Spartanburg County Public Libraries.

The Converse Mill in Converse, SC, ca. 1930. Located about 2 miles from Clifton Mill Village, it gives an idea of what the area’s textile mills at the time of this oral history looked like. Courtesy Herald-Journal Willis Collection, Spartanburg County Public Libraries.

Lucy always referred to her husband as “Mister” as though she was in his employ. And it seemed to us after meeting Mr. Price, that he also clung to the idea that his wife was either a liability or an asset, according to her ability to insure his personal comfort. However, having personal knowledge of Miss Lucy’s culinary ability, especially as regards her preparation of rice, chicken dressing, and hot rolls, we are fully convinced that she was lined up as being among the assets.

“Miss Lucy, how have you all been getting along?” we asked.

“Mr. Price, well now, he ain’t been enjoyin’ good health a’tall, you know. He has them spells, you know, an’ he can’t do much, only jest set and smoke. He ain’t really been able to do nothin’ much since he broke his glasses. Hit took me and the boy a right smart spell to save up ‘nough money to get him another pair of specs between us, an’ while he wus waitin’ seems like as if’n he got so much in th’ habit of jest settin’, he ain’t never been able to get out of it.”

We remarked that she was a mighty good wife to work to help buy her husband’s new glasses, to which she replied, “Well, I tries to be, an’ I thinks I is. I don’t ‘spect there’s many as good as me. I done bought and paid fur ev’vy bit o’ coal we’ll likely be a’needin’ this winter too. All with my wages from that there boardin’ house in town. An’ other things too. Why I even bought a new axe, the ole un bein’ that nicked and dull ’twas a heap o’ trouble to split kindlin.”

As Mr. Price was not in sight anywhere, we inquired as to his whereabouts. News of the numerous and varied illnesses of that gentleman had reached our ears at the boarding house in town, and we did not think he would venture far with “cardiac asthma”, “rheumatiz”, “pore eyesight”, and “spells with his heart.”

“He’s done gone to the store over yonder,” replied Lucy, “he’s so hoarse with a cold he can’t hardly talk, but he’s gone over thar to set a spell.”

“Miss Lucy, I suppose he has gone over there to talk politics around the stove. What does he think of things in the country now anyway?”

“Why, now, he don’t worry none much about hit fur’s I know. We gits this here house pretty reasonable, and ‘fore Mr. Price quit work we got along all right, an’ then the boy he started work, an’ we still gits along all right. We ain’t never been on no relief an’ if’n I had to, I reckon as how I could always git me a job cookin’ agin. No. I can’t read none, but when I hears talk about the hard times some people is havin’ I reckon we’s mighty lucky. We allus has plenty to eat an’ hits wholesome.”

Clifton Mill as it appears today. Photo Jason Powell/Flickr.

Clifton Mill as it appears today. Photo Jason Powell/Flickr.

She was apparently absorbed in thought for the moment, something unusual, so we kept our peace. “Er else,” she added, “we’se reasonable. We don’t have no ottermobile ner no radio ner no other sech fineness, but what we got is our’n, an’ we lives comfortable. We can’t expect much mor’n that with jest one workin’ but mebbe next spring I kin cook out some more an’ git enough fur a radio. Hit would be real company if’n I could l’arn to work it. I gits real lonesome settin’ here sometimes makin’ Mr. Price er the boy some shirts er underwear; er darnin'; ‘specially when they ain’t nobody here but me. You know, cookin’ is my long suit but I kin sew as well. Folks ain’t got no bizness talkin’ po’mouth an’ then buyin’ all these store-boughten clothes, when some un in theys family kin sew, an’ ain’t got no bizness much else to ‘tend to.

“I could tell you some tales ’bout money th’owed ‘way right here on this hill by folks that is on relief. But I reckon after all hit’s all right. Th’ money’s got to be spent some way so’s pore folks kin git holt o’ some.”

She paused in her conversation long enough to drop several lumps of coal into the stove, then resumed: “Pears like it goes to most of ‘ems head, though. Now up in Jackson County, in North Ca’lina, where I wus bawn an’ raised, we wuz all agin th’ Democrats, though I didn’t do no votin’, ner no other women folks neither. That wus a man’s job, fur hit wus mostly liquor drinkin’ an’ fightin’. But seems like th’ Republicans let us folks down; least I hears so. An’ Mr. Price and his son says so. ‘Cordin’ to them, th’ hardest times ever had wus when they sold out to th’ rich folks and like to starved th’ pore folks plumb to death. I didn’t know nothin’ ’bout that though.

“I wus lucky. I wus workin’ in th’ boardin’ house then an’ while I didn’t git no money much, jest three dollars a week, I had a place to sleep and allus plenty to eat. No, we don’t mix none much in politics; jest votes like most ev’vy body else round here, – Democrat. I don’t reckon none of ‘ems perfect like they claims but hit do ‘pear like th’ Democrats has anyhow tried to help them as couldn’t git jobs. Course like I said, we ain’t never had to git no help but I knows some real good folks what would have jest natcherly stole or starved if they hadn’t got on relief ’cause they jest couldn’t git jobs. They tried too. But they’s a passel of ‘em gittin’ help that don’t belong to. They’s jest dead-beats and don’t work no regular work an’ wouldn’t take it if’n it wus tho’wed at ‘em.”

 

—South Carolina Writers’ Project, Library of Congress: U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project: Folklore Project, Life Histories, 1936 39

Life History

Title: Miss Lucy

Date of First Writing: December 14th, 1938

Name of Person Interviewed: Mrs. Lucy Price (White)

Address: Clifton Mill Village

Place: Clifton, S. C.

Occupation: Housewife

Name of Writer: D. A. Mathewes

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