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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Bynum residents band together to alleviate the effects of Depression-era poverty

Eula Durham remembers some of the strategies Bynum residents used to weather the Great Depression, such as sharing food. She segues into a description of her childhood, one of hand-me-down clothes and few toys, but one she remembers with fondness, especially as she describes the candy she bought with her allowance, taken from her paycheck.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. 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:
We were talking about the depression. What did you do to keep from starving, if wages were that low?
EULA DURHAM:
Well, you had to scrimp and save, just eat anything you could get a-hold of, that you could make a meal off of. Most of them though worked out in the field, you know, for people and farmed, worked in the fields, and most of them had gardens and things like that. They all got along pretty good. But NRA come in. I know one man—he's dead now—that lived over there. He said that weren't such a thing as milk gravy. He said he eat Hoover gravy. He said that finally somebody had a cow and he'd buy a quart of sweet milk a week from them. And he said that he'd eat so much milk gravy till every time he seen a cow he said, hello, lady, how are you? But he said he eat water gravy, and he hoped he'd live long enough to see Hoover eat water gravy.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How did people around here feel about Hoover?
EULA DURHAM:
Well, I don't think they thought too much of him, cause you see, everybody had, you know, just a pretty good living. So he come in and starved everybody to death. I don't think too many people nowhere liked him.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What was the reaction to Roosevelt?
EULA DURHAM:
Oh, they loved him. Boy, he pulled them out of the ditch. They loved him to death. Well, everybody everywhere I've ever heard say anything about him—well, it wasn't only in Bynum neither. It was everywhere. Everybody was in the same ditch everywhere. I know I heard a friend lived down here below Pittsboro down here in Asbury—old woman—and she said that if she hadn't had a good garden and if she hadn't had her own pig and cow that she didn't know what in the world she would have done. She sold milk at ten cents a gallon and butter fifteen cents a cake and she said she had some hens, she sold eggs. I've forgotten now how much she said she sold the eggs for. And said that's the way she dressed her younguns to send them to school, from what she sold.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did people pull together and help each other out?
EULA DURHAM:
Yeah.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What type things would they do?
EULA DURHAM:
Well, if they had a lot to eat or anything, they'd divide with other people. And Bynum's always been good about that. If anybody here ever gets down or sick or disabled to work or anything, they've always been good to chip in and help them out in every way they could, give them money or give them food. Bynum has really been good about that. I've been here about all my life and I don't know of nobody here that ever would have sickness or anything like that but what somebody would chip in and help them out. There was a lot of old people here then, during that depression, that weren't able to work at all. And I've knowed the younguns around to go clean out their yards and help them clean the house, and do things like that, where they didn't have no money to hire somebody to help them out.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Were you ever involved in anything like that?
EULA DURHAM:
Well, no, I went to work at the mill all along then. All I had to do, I had to work. Cause there was twelve of us. I had to work, but I had a sister that did. She done a lot of helping out, you know, around, different people and all. She was younger than I was. But they all been mighty good around here about helping out each other. That depression got everybody. I know my mama, along then I said I didn't know what a new dress was, nor a pair of shoes till I got old enough to go to work. I wore hand-me-downs, cause there was twelve of us, and whenever one would outgrow anything mama would—she could sew, and she'd take that thing and cut it down and fix it so the younger ones could wear it. And when they got where they couldn't wear it and they hadn't wore it out, she'd patch that thing up and fix it up and the one down below you got it. I told everybody I didn't know what a new dress was, or a pair of shoes until I went to work.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you get to keep some of your money when you went to work?
EULA DURHAM:
When I went to work, my daddy give me twenty-five cents payday out of my check. Well, they didn't pay off in checks then, they paid in money. And he'd give me twenty-five cents and I thought I was rich.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What did you do with it?
EULA DURHAM:
Law, this old man live up above us and ran a little old store. When I'd get my quarter on Saturday morning I'd run up there and I'd get me… Then they had, Oh Boy chewing gum, come in a long stick about that long and about as wide as your two fingers. And they was a penny. And Mary Janes, they come in a long thing then, weren't them little short things. Come long, about like that, you know. They was a penny. Well, I'd get me some Oh Boy chewing gum and some Mary Janes, and then he had a three cent copper—a drink that tasted almost like a Dr. Pepper. They called it a three cent copper. And I'd get me one of them. And boy, I thought that was the best pay, and I'd eat it. One time, I never will forget, my sisters watched me, and would get my candy and stuff. Well, we lived in this old house and you could walk up under it, and it weren't underpinned or nothing. It had rafters up under there. Well, I took my candy and chewing gum, put it in a little sack, went under the house and hid it up under there in one of them rafters. [Laughter] I won't never forget that thing as long as I live. And next day I went out there to get a piece of my candy and chewing gum. And went out there and got my sack down and it was just loaded with ants. The ants had found it. I said, Lord-a-mercy, what am I going to do, they've got my candy and my chewing gum. Well, this here old friend of mine lived up there above us, she said, well, I tell you what we'll do. We'll take it down to the branch and wash it. Said, we'll wash it off, wash them ants off. We took it down to the branch and washed the candy and I said, "Well, you eat a piece first." She said, "No, you eat a piece." I said, "No, you eat one. If it's fresh then I'll eat one." Well, we finally throwed it away. We nary one could get nerve enough to eat that candy. And I never did put any more of my candy under the house. [Laughter]
JIM LELOUDIS:
The ants knew your hiding place!
EULA DURHAM:
Yeah, they just eat my candy up, and my Oh Boy chewing gum! Boy, when you got a big piece of candy then, or chewing gum, you was really setting pretty. Got an old doll, one Christmas—the only thing I remember in my life getting as a kid. An old doll, about that high. And along then they didn't make them out of rubber, made them out of some old stuff like pasteboard and painted them. Well, we had a big—it was a Saturday, after dinner, and we'd all go down to the branch. We had a big branch down there in front of the house. And so we was going to have a baptizing. We carried out dolls down there, you know, and banked up some water, baptized the dolls and laid them out. Well, come up a cloud and we run up to the house and forgot our dolls and left them down there. After the cloud was over and some sun come out bright, you know, I went down there and that doll, looked it was ninety years old, it was just cracked all to pieces. I said, "Lord I have ruint the doll!" And this girl had one, had some hair. Hers had hair on it. And every bit of her hair come off. We never did bring our dolls to no more baptizing. Oh, Lord.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you have to buy any of your own clothes with the money that you got?
EULA DURHAM:
No, he bought my clothes—what I got. All I got was that twenty-five cents, and boy, I thought I was rich. And there was a girl that lived up the road here, she worked down there too. Well, her folks kind of thought they was kind of rich, you know. And she would get her whole five dollars on payday. She didn't pay no board or nothing. She got her whole five dollars. Lord, I thought that was the richest woman I ever seen in my life. Her getting five dollars, and me a quarter. But now they was me, and Ruth, and Lance, and Grassie—all of us. There was four of us that worked. And they were getting all we were making. There was about six or eight at home then.
VERNON DURHAM:
Your brother wasn't working then, was he?
EULA DURHAM:
No. And Papa would give Lance—that was my oldest brother—two dollars out of his. And give me and Ruth and Grassie a quarter apiece. Lord, I thought I was rich when I got that quarter. Lord, I was the richest somebody in the world. Reckon what they'd do now if somebody was to take their youngun's paycheck and give them a quarter?
JIM LELOUDIS:
The kid would have a fit.
EULA DURHAM:
No, you wouldn't ever live! But that's the truth. That's what I got out of a paycheck was twenty-five cents every two weeks. But then you could take that twenty-five cents and buy more than you can with five dollars now. Yes sir. Co-colas and things was a nickel, but them there little three cent coppers… You remember when pepsi colas used to be a little old bottle that looked like it was squeezed in the middle? That's the kind of bottle them there little three cent coppers was in. In a thing like that. Law, I never will forget . I just had gone to work down there. And preacher had a revival in Rock Springs. And preacher come down here Sunday. And the old kitchen that we had, there was a window—well, you could stand on the ground and the window come right along here on you. And Papa made all us younguns wait, you know, and all grown folks eat, and the preacher eat. And he was setting at the end of this window. And I was so hungry. And I was standing there watching, and he just kept on eating chicken and kept on eating chicken. I stuck my head in there, I said, "Don't eat it all; save me a piece." Papa heard me. He come out there and I thought he'd kill me! He said, "If you ever do such a stupid thing again…" I said, "Papa, he's done eat two or three pieces!" I said, "He's going to eat every bit and I ain't going to get a bit." Well, I tell you one thing. I never did say it no more. Cause I thought he was going to kill me.