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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A former farm family wonders if moving to town was a good decision

In September 1929, Norman and her brothers began work at the Linksburg Mill. Norman struggled to tie a weaver's knot, but she eventually mastered the process with help from her boss. Her boss was a terror when he grew angry, but he treated Norman kindly. As Norman's family fought to make ends meet, they wondered if they had made a mistake selling their farm.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. 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

Me and Barney and Dewey went to work Monday morning. That was the twentieth day of September, 1929. Barney and Dewey went to making money right off. They carried me over there to Dewey McBride. He was weighing up yarn. He told Dewey, "I want you to fix a place for this little girl. She's going to learn to wind. Give her two spools of thread and show her how to tie the weaver's knot." If I had knowed that I had to have done that…. You see, Mama was a weaver. If I had knowed I had to work through all that rigmarole learning to tie that knot, my mama could have showed me and I could already know. I sat over on that old box all day long tying old weaver's knot. I thought, I'll never make it. Jim Copland come by and Old Man Smith, they come by and they set down there. Jim says, "How's my little girl doing?" I says, "Mr. Copland, I ain't doing. I can't tie that knot." And he set there and watched me. The more they watched me, the scareder I got. I never could do nothing with nobody looking right at me. Can you?
MARY MURPHY:
No.
ICY NORMAN:
So he had showed me how to tie it. And I sat on that old box two days. When I started home, Dewey MacBride give me two spools of thread with just a little bit of rayon on it. Says, "You take this home, and you practice this tonight." And I said, "Well, I'll take it, but I'll never tie that knot. Why can't you just tie a knot like this?" He says, "You can't do that, Icy. It's got to be a weaver's knot. It can't be no chickenhead knot." Well, I went home and I set down there and I started after supper. I told Mama, "Mama, I've had to do this all day long. I can't tie it." Well, Mama showed me how to tie it. You know, you're supposed to tie a weaver's knot on that middle finger and the thumb, and hold it with this finger. I couldn't do that. Mama would show me. She could just shut her eyes and just tie them just as fast.
MARY MURPHY:
Where had your mother worked?
ICY NORMAN:
My mother worked in the woolen mill after her first husband died. She rolled the sample blankets there at the woolen mill. She was the one that made the samples that the salesmen took out on the road. She set there and she showed me. I said, "Well, that's the way they said I had to do it at the mill, but it won't do for me." So I kept messing. Next day, on the old box I sat. Well, I sat there. The more I studied about that thing, the more I hated that. Oh, I hated that mill. Ooh, how I hated it: And I thought, "Well, if this is all they got for me to do, I don't want it." I went home and I was crying. Mama says, "What are you crying about?" I says, "Because I can't tie that old knot." And she says, "I've told you how to tie it, and I've showed you how to tie it. That's the only way you can tie a weaver's knot." I said, "Mama, there's a way you can tie that knot. I don't care what they say. There's a way that I can tie that knot and it's a weaver's knot, and it's all the same thing." She said, "No, you've got to tie it and make your loop around it, take this finger and hold it, and bring it through." I set down there. She said, "I want you to hush up that crying." I says, "Mama, I wisht I was back in Linksburg. I hate it up there." I says, "I wish I was either in the mill there or back up there at Craddock and Terry's Shoe Factory." I went to work there in Craddock and Terry's Shoe Factory in Linksburg, and I made pretty good there. But Mama, because the cotton mill was running slack…. You see, in the meantime, when we wasn't hunting a job, Dooley Carter had let me work up there in the shoe factory. Dooley was a fixer in the shoe factory there at Elkin, and he let me work when we wasn't on the road hunting a job. I had a good opportunity, but Mama wouldn't let me take it on account of Barney and Dewey. No, mnm-mm. So she says, "Sometimes I think we might have made a mistake. But things are going to work out. It's got to get better." And Mama was a good Christian woman, and she says, "You just forget about it. I have prayed about it, and I've left it in the Lord's hands. And the Lord ain't going to make no mistakes, and the Lord is going to look after us. We might not have the best; we're not promised nothing but bread and water. You read the Bible; it says the Lord promised us bread and water. All the finery and all the fine eating…. The Lord just promised us bread and water. And I'm looking to Him. I don't have no doubts." I couldn't figure it out, and I just cried and I just cried. Well, I went ahead, and you know, one day there on that box, I was doing my best to do like the bossman told me, and that thing would slide out with me every time. So all at once something come to me just like it spoke: Tie it on your forefinger. And I looked down at that forefinger, and I fixed that thread just like I fixed it on you. I put it on there; instead of taking this finger and holding that down like that, I took this finger and held it down. And you know one thing? I'd tie them things as fast as you could wink an eye. And there come Jim Copland and Old Man Smith. And I thought, "Lord, I better not let them see me do that." Well, I went back. Oh, Lordy. I hated it; I hated it so bad. Jim Copland says, "Well, how's my little girl doing? You can tie that knot now, can't you?" I says, "If you'll let me tie it the way I want to tie it, I can tie it." He looked at me, and he said, "What do you mean? It has got to be absolutely a weaver's knot, and it can't be clipped. You've got to leave it a half an inch after you clip it." Well, you know you had your scissors stuck on this finger. You kept your scissors on your hand all the time, never took them scissors off. You run that finger through there, and there you clipped it. And I tried and tried. I says, "I can't tie it." And I says, "Well, let me show you how…. Something told me to tie it like this." He looked at me so funny. He says, "‘Something told you’!" I said, "Yes. Something told me to tie it on my forefinger." He said, "Well, let me see what you're talking about." I'd put that thing down there and I'd just tie them and I'd just tie them, and he looked at that knot, and he said, "Do it slow." I got so I could do it just as fast. And I did. I fixed it on this finger just like I done on that, but I couldn't tie it on that. I fixed it, put it down… [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
ICY NORMAN:
Just hugged his neck. He is just like a daddy to me. Because he has been in our home and went to our table. Sat down and eat whatever we had on the table. He acted like he was just tickled to death with it.
MARY MURPHY:
I heard he was a pretty rough man.
ICY NORMAN:
He was hateful. Now, if he liked you, he liked you. That's the kind of man he was. He was a regular old tyrant if you made him mad. And old man Smith, now he was a fair old scratch. I've seen him pick his hat off. He'd had great big old chewing tobacco that big. Him and old Spivey , too. I've seen them get mad. They'd pull their old hat off, throw it down and spit in it and jump on that hat and stomp it. Yeah, Mr. Copland, he was a bird if he was mad. And boy, he was strict. But he never did say one harm word, what I mean, like he was mad at me or anything.
MARY MURPHY:
What kind of things would get him mad?
ICY NORMAN:
That would make him mad? If you done anything on the job he thought you wasn't supposed to, he would tell you right now what he thought. And it would have to be done right.