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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, July 28, 1976. Interview G-0056-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Responsibilities within the family while growing up

Simkins describes her role within the family hierarchy while she was growing up, primarily in Columbia, South Carolina, during the early twentieth century. Simkins was the eldest of several children, and as a result, she was responsible for helping her mother around the house and taking care of the younger children. Simkins recalls that she grew up quickly and learned about financial responsibility early on. Ironically, perhaps, she also asserts that despite her role in caring for the children, she knew very little about childbirth until she herself became a mother.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, July 28, 1976. Interview G-0056-2. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
As the oldest child, did you have any special role in the family? What kind of relationship did you have with your brothers and sisters?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They were supposed to listen to me just as they would to my mother. My mother had the idea that somehow or other her health wasn't so good. I didn't know as much about babies and having babies as children know now as an everyday thing. But it was during her childbearing period that she wasn't very well—I guess just conditions incidental to childbearing. And she had the idea that she might not live until her children grew up, and she'd always have them obey me in various situations. She'd say, "Now I don't know whether I'll be with you all the time. You've got to listen to somebody." And they listen to me even until this day.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That must have made you grow up very fast.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, in a way. By my father being out of town and my mother bearing children, sometimes I'd have to get in the road and get to the carline, and come downtown and look after whatever little business there was to look after. I learned early how to take care of some little family business, and go down and carry messages to my aunt that lived far on the other end of town. While we lived beyond the other end of town and out in the country, I knew how to get the streetcar and go down to their place, or purchase certain things, or maybe pay… I don't remember any bills we had to pay, except sometimes we had a furniture bill. If there were farm implements my father took care of such payments as that. But there may have been furniture bills. The only thing I can remember bills maybe where we bought some furniture, especially after our home was destroyed by fire. And I can remember having to do that, because my father never allowed us to run charge accounts. I don't run them today. We never, we never ran charge accounts, so it wasn't that type of thing—although we could have. You know, like people used to get groceries and pay for them at a certain time and all like that, but we never had that. I can remember my mother saying on one occasion (as she said on other occasions), "Now this is all we owe the man now. This is the last I have to pay, so you tell him to mark on that ‘Paid In Full’. And you see that he puts ‘Paid In Full’ on that when he gives you that receipt. And," she said, "always when you have a bill, when you pay the last of it you have him mark on it ‘Paid In Full.’ And then if you've lost some of the other receipts you'll have that one." See, they didn't have checking accounts, so they just paid. And now I've known children over there that have said to me, "I paid all this"—happened at Allen's several years. "I know I paid all my bill. They told me I paid up. When I got ready to graduate they told me I owed some more money." I said, "Well, if they told you it's paid off, why didn't you get it ‘Paid In Full’? That's what my Ma always taught me, you know." I've never forgotten that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your mother have her babies at home?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
With a midwife or with a doctor?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, midwife.
JACQUELYN HALL:
With a midwife?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Somebody that lived around there?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you remember that? What did you kids do when your mother…
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I remember it. They always sent us to a friend's home.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know what was going on?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, didn't know anything about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you learn about the birthing of babies?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know, but I was grown enough to be a mother myself before I knew [laughter].
JACQUELYN HALL:
Really? [laughter]
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, they kept us close to cloistered on that type of thing.