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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ethelene McCabe Allen, May 21, 2006. Interview C-0316. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Courtship and marriage of parents

Allen discusses her parents' courtship and marriage. Allen's mother was only sixteen years old when she married Allen's father. After explaining why her parents found one another appealing, Allen argues that their marriage was cooperative despite the fact that she believed her mother to be overly dependent on her father. Finally, Allen discusses how financial issues were usually the source of any tension in her parents' marriage.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ethelene McCabe Allen, May 21, 2006. Interview C-0316. 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

BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Well, look, let's get back to her. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: She couldn't take a lot of responsibilities and she just panicked.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Okay, go ahead, tell me then how she reacted after he died. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: She had to have somebody to look after her. Daddy had looked after her. She depended on him. She married him when she was sixteen and she depended on him.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
She was sixteen, not fifteen? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: She was sixteen. She was sixteen in December and they married in January, so she was just barely sixteen and he was I believe twenty-two. Or maybe he was twenty-one and turned 22 in March. Maybe he got married just before he was twenty-two.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
How did they meet? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Oh they were neighborhood – not far away. Probably – I don't know if they went to the same church or not. I think though daddy went to St. Mary's Grove Church back then. They lived right close to St. Mary's Grove. But then it was not far either to Hickory Grove. And I don't know – he might. I don't know. People met one another. He went with other girls before her. She might have been in a group somewhere when he was going to see somebody else. I don't know. She never explained how they met.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
What do you think might have attracted them to one another? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: For one thing, they were both orphans, what you might say. Daddy's mama was still living but he didn't ever see her. And her parents had died. They were both orphans. And he thought she was just a – such a good little girl and the kind of woman he wanted for his wife. He wanted a good little girl for his wife.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
What did she look like when she was younger? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Well, he thought she was beautiful. But he had dark eyes and black hair and she had reddish colored hair at that time. He loved her red hair and blue eyes. But it turned brown later on. She had red eyebrows and her eyebrows stayed red right on.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
She was pale too, wasn't she? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: She was very, very light-skinned. He just liked her. She had a good figure too, now. He liked her figure. She was a little petite woman but well filled out.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
She was about five feet tall, or four feet eleven. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: No she was five feet one, somewhere along there.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
How tall was he? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Only about five, now he might have been five eight or nine. I believe he – but now he got shorter in his later years. He probably was not more than five feet six by the time he died.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Do you know how long they dated before they got married? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Oh they had known each other more than a year, I don't know. They had gone together. He would go to see her.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
So she was 14 when they started dating. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Well, maybe close to 15. She might have been 15, I don't know. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: He would go to see her when she was 15 and he was 20.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Did she need anybody's permission to get married at 16 or could she go ahead and make her own decision? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: I think it was legal to get married at 16 then. You didn't have to have anybody sign for you. You could get married at 16.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Did she ever tell you about how they got married, the wedding, or who was there? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: No, they didn't have a wedding, they just went to a justice of the peace and he married them, probably in Four Oaks or Smithfield, I don't know which. I don't recall.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
What would say were the best things about their relationship? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Well now they cooperated on the farm work and everything. I – They didn't – They got along good. They cooperated so far as raising children, discipline, things like that. They cooperated. I don't know.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Did they show affection to one another in front of the children? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Very little. Once in a while I might see them kiss on the cheek, but that was as far as they went around the children. They didn't show anything around children.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Did they have conversations about things other than farm work? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Oh, they probably did. They probably gossiped about neighbors and whatever, I don't know, talked about ethics and how people behaved and how they misbehaved and things like that.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
What were the worse things about their relationship? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Oh, when mama would nag him and he would get angry. [Laughter] When he heard enough of it and didn't want to hear it any more.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
She would nag him when he drank, but that wasn't often. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: No, that was probably once a year, but there were other little things too. She wanted things and she wanted more money and she wanted, I don't know. She didn't like for him to borrow money. He sometimes had to borrow money and have debts. She hated debts and it worried her when they owed money. She would just go on and on about it and he didn't want to hear it. Because he – in order to farm sometimes his money ran out and he had to borrow money. By the spring he had to borrow money to buy fertilizer, get it on credit, something like that. And she didn't like it.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
That was pretty typical of tenant farming. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Oh, yeah, it was. But she didn't like him borrowing money. Debts worried her.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Why did debts worry her? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: I don't know. She might have seen people who couldn't pay their debts and they had problems, I don't know. I don't see that they could have lost anything [Laughter] because they didn't have anything to lose.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Well, they could always lose, no, tenant farmers couldn't lose land. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: No. They might could have lost their self-respect and that's what she – I mean, she and he both valued the respectability. They had pride. They valued respectability and responsibility.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Did she – so she would have nagged him when he had to take out debts, loans and that would be at a certain time of year often. Were there any other things that she nagged him about? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: Oh lots of little things, I don't know, I can't remember specifics, but about if the grass got too big, she was nagging because he hadn't plowed it already. He was too slow getting around to it sometimes, and we had to work too hard chopping if he didn't get it plowed in time.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
Was there ever any violence between them that you witnessed? ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: No, they were not violent people.
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
I had to ask. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: No, if he got angry at her he might pick up her cook pot and throw it out the door but he wouldn't throw her out the door [Laughter]
BARBARA C. ALLEN:
He wouldn't throw anything against the wall or hit the wall or anything. ETHELENE McCABE ALLEN: No, he didn't damage furniture, walls, and things. No, that was somebody else's property. He wouldn't damage somebody's property. No, he was nonviolent.