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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Memories of her mother

Barbee describes her mother and shares some memories from her childhood. She also discusses how her family life changed when her mother died.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. 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

So was granddaddy the backbone of the family or was your mother the backbone. I think his first wife was Annie Miller. So who was the backbone?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Of the family—he was. And he was the backbone of the family when he and Janet was living together.
BEVERLY JONES:
That was his second wife.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Janet Mack, yeah, that was his second wife. Yeah, let's get back to momma, that's where I'm going to go back if you don't mind. To my real mother.
BEVERLY JONES:
Annie.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Well, I can vaguely remember some of my childhood with her before we came to Durham. I can remember her cooking little johnnycakes and little colored things. Hanging 'em in a little flour sack behind the door in the kitchen. And somebody came through Manning selling these large bible story books, where you read stories out of it, to children, and had pictures, you know. And the one that answered the most questions—she'd have a question period after she'd read the story. And the one that answered the most questions would get the most cookies. I can remember a whole lot of my childhood with her at that particular time, because she wasn't sick. And it was a very happy childhood, very happy. She was a humble type of person. I've never heard her curse. She'd get angry but the anger that she got, you couldn't tell it because she didn't use any kind of bad words or nothing. And her voice never would get real loud. She was very humble. She was a humble type of person. Very, unusually humble. And she gave us principles to go by which I can remember so well. It was a very deeply religious background. I can remember that. She'd whip us, about telling stories—you know, children tell lies. And that's the worst whipping you could get, by telling lies. And she didn't do too much whipping, he always did it—father. She didn't whip too much. But she would have punishment you know—well you told a lie, you don't get no cookie tonight. Give it to the other person, the other child, a glass of milk and a cookie, but your punishment—you wasn't getting any cookies 'till the next day. That's the way she punished. She wouldn't give you nothing. And in Christmas time, she'd make all our cookies and things, and little johnnycakes. She had something, that you'd cut 'em out. Christmas tree, all that. She's very creative. I can remember her now, in the kitchen making Christmas cookies and different things. And she always kept some cookies for us, the cookies she made, 'cause along then you didn't go to the store and buy your children nothing. And at Christmas time when crops was bad and we would cry and she we couldn't anything, we didn't have no money. But she tried to make our Christmas very happy, as best she could, without the expensive things that children usually get. And we were happy 'cause we didn't know any better. In the summertime we didn't have nothing to play with, Go out there and get grass and pull it up, and the long strands down there—she'd go somewhere and get some old scraps and show us how to tie a ribbon—that was our doll. Tie a ribbon on the doll. And she'd go somewhere—she could sew real well. And she'd make these little doll dresses to put on that grass doll. It wasn't a doll, it was a grass doll. And probably take a cardboard box, put wheels on it, and the dog was our horse. Take that dog and the dog would ride us all over the yard. Now those are the things we played with as children. Homemade things. Just take anything and make something to play with. And I can see that dog now. Put the dog to the cart and one would ride awhile, and the other one would ride awhile. And those are the things we grew up with. We didn't have any storebought things. But she could always find something to make something. We were happy with it. We didn't complain. We didn't know anything about a whole lot of toys like children do now. We didn't know. We were very happy.
BEVERLY JONES:
I know in my interview with granddaddy he mentioned that she graduated from high school in 1911.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
She did.
BEVERLY JONES:
So was she a force in your life that pushed you toward trying to gain a type of knowledge in reference to education?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Oh yes, beyond a reasonable doubt. Oh yes, beyond a reasonable doubt. Oh yeah, she was.
BEVERLY JONES:
Now let me see, her background was what again?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Her mother and father were—well I won't say they were wealthy, 'cause when you say wealthy I don't know how you say whether it consists of how much they own or how rich they were. I'll just say they were well to do. They lived well. And they owned a lot of land then. She didn't know what it was to get out and work like other farmers in the area—their daughters. 'Cause her mother and father had a plenty.
BEVERLY JONES:
Well do you recall any instances of her feeling sort of downtrodden basically, since she was living in a type of, I would say middle class or well to do family, and then she became granddaddy's wife and of course things weren't as good as it was living with her parents. Were there any times in which she really felt very sad, or just felt completely upset because of this movement from …
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Oh, I get the picture now. Because of the environment that she came out of, the one that she went in when she married. I get the picture very clearly. Well by me being so young, it's hard for me to define that. But I do know that she stayed sick a lot, you know, kind of stayed sick a lot. But by me being a child I don't know how deeply rooted it was, or what it came from or nothing. But I do know she kept it hid from us. She was very jolly with us, very happy, seemly so. And when we came to Durham after Polly, my baby sister was born, then she really was sick. She wasn't well at all. She was sick, but she just held up, you know, because of us I imagine.
BEVERLY JONES:
Okay, she seemed to be a very strong and loving mother. How would you describe her?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
We don't have any of that humbleness from her. Some of us don't. Laura may have it. She was a meek and humble person. When I say meek, no outbursts, you know where you just rare up and pitch a fit and go to pieces. We didn't get that from her. Now I'll pitch a fit in a minute. [laughter] I mean, I'll just take so much and then when I take it then I have to let it out, which I reckon is what makes you strong. But she wasn't that type.
BEVERLY JONES:
What about her physical features?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
She was a kind of low brown skinned woman with a round face. I'm trying to think who in the family favors her. Her face is very round, and she was little. Long black hair that hung down her back. She could sit on her hair, and we used to play with it. So I think she'd taken that after her mother—Indian blood. She had some Indian blood in her. Brown skinned. I wouldn't say she was pretty, I wouldn't call her pretty. But her features—she had nice features, you know, her facial features. But I wouldn't call her really sure enough pretty. She was very small and little. She wasn't tall, she wasn't a tall woman at all.