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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A grandson shares his grandparents' tobacco habit

Snipes remembers his grandparents' tobacco habits, and how he surreptitiously cultivated his own.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-1. 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

BRENT GLASS:
Right. Well, how would your grandmother discipline you then?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I don't know if she ever whipped me in my life. I done just as I pleased down there; that's the reason I liked to stay down there. And I stayed down there off and on 'til I married. I stayed down there two winters in 1915 and '16 and went to school. But I stayed there to get in their wood. I'd cut their fireplace and stove wood. When I got home in the evening after school I'd cut up enough wood for that night and the next day, and get up wash water (maybe fill up four or five tubs so Grandma could wash). She was getting old. I'd sort of help them that much, because they were both getting old.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, did your grandmother have any rules about how to behave around the house, or any kind of sayings?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I respected them, and I'd mind. I didn't do anything mean in their sight, [Laughter] but I did it out of their sight.
BRENT GLASS:
[Laughter] Like what? Did you have many chums down there that you…?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Get behind the barn and smoke—wonder I hadn't have burned the barn up. And of course now I know they could smell it on me when I come back in the house. But I'd slip and smoke rabbit tobacco. My grandfather chewed the old homemade tobacco that grows in the field. He'd plant him a row or two and then sun cure it and hang it up. And then long after the sun cured it he'd take in a damp day while it was in the high order. He'd stem it and twist it up in twists, and he'd put it in the closet. And he'd have maybe two or three bushel baskets full of twisted tobacco in there. And he couldn't miss it. I'd get me a twist every once in a while, and then I'd have to carry mine out. I'd just cut me off a piece or break me off a piece and carry the balance of it over to the barn and hide it. But I'd have to get a whole twist at the time. Then later on he got to buying tobacco by the box. Tobacco weren't but about five cents a plug, but it come two plugs side by side. And if I got a plug I had to get two. If my grandfather left it level then I'd have to get two plugs to make it level. If it was one up and one down, if I just got one he would notice it. I'd have to get two plugs, one on each side, to leave it up and down. So I had to outsmart him, and he couldn't tell in this little square box how deep the tobacco was going down. And every time I got one plug I had to get two to leave it exactly in the same shape.
BRENT GLASS:
And where would you get your plugs from?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I'd get it out of his box, and I'd carry it to the barn and hide it. And [Laughter] I've chewed tobacco ever since I was four years old.
BRENT GLASS:
Oh boy! And you think your grandparents wouldn't have approved of that?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, they wouldn't when I was that little. Later on they all used tobacco many years in some form.
BRENT GLASS:
Did your grandmother dip snuff?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir, dipped snuff; my grandfather chewed tobacco. The stronger it was, the better he liked it. And I never smelled anything on my grandfather. He was a big, round man; wasn't very high, maybe 5 feet 6 or 8 inches, not as tall as I am. But he weighed about 230 or 40. And he lived to be eighty-four. But he had an old little brown jug under the stairsteps. Where we went up the stairs there was a little closet under there, a little dark closet. And he had a little brown jug under there, and I'd catch him every once in a while in the morning slipping out off in the hall there to this little closet. He'd keep that little brown jug full of homemade whiskey, old stumper or white lightning. He'd take a swallow or two every morning, I imagine. But I wasn't big enough for a long time to know what he was doing; I realized later what it was. Never smelled him, never heard tell of him being drunk in my life.
BRENT GLASS:
Just got himself started in the morning, I guess, huh?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Just sort of a little tonic to shoot him off [Laughter] every morning, I reckon.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, he must have worked pretty hard on the farm.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
He did, up until he died. Grandmother died in 1921, and my grandfather died in 1924. He lived three years more. Grandpa was eighty-four, and my grandmother was about eighty.