Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Family dynamics and community relationships in a mill town

Elmore offers some insights into family and community dynamics. His mother ran the household, Elmore recalls, and contributed to the family's income by selling the vegetables she grew. His mother and father shared the job of corporal punishment, however. Although Elmore received a lot of whippings, he does not resent his parents for them. That kind of childrearing practice was normal, as was disdain for textile mill workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. 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:
Who was in charge of making decisions in the house when you were living on the farm as far as, well, whether you would buy clothes or spending money in the family or this kind of thing?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
My mother ran, she had to control everything.
BRENT GLASS:
Why was that? Your father was too busy out?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Yes. And she always grew her garden. Well, from the time I was seven or eight years old my sister and I used to take vegetables to McAdenville. Then I started going into Cramerton and McAdenville a couple of times a week with vegetables. You see, Cramerton and McAdenville wasn't but about a mile apart. We generally went into McAdenville; then if it didn't sell we'd go through to Cramerton. And later I used to go on up into Lowell. A lot of people would take in stuff.
BRENT GLASS:
You would sell them to the mill people?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Yes. We sold a dozen tomatoes for a dime; it was just next to nothing. But then the dollar was worth something.
BRENT GLASS:
Was your mother in charge of discipline, or was your father? It just depended?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Both of them. She carried a switch. I'd be liable to get a couple of lickings from her a day, and one at night when he come in to finish it off.
BRENT GLASS:
They carried a switch?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well they had them handy. And Mother part of the time carried one in her apron [laughter] . She'd always have them handy; she didn't spare the rod.
BRENT GLASS:
What kind of things would you have to do to make her use her switch?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, if she'd tell you to do something and you didn't do it, or if you'd fight with one of the other kids. The thing that I got switched for more one summer was running off to that swimming pool, that mill pond, and not doing any work. She'd hit me at noon and tell me not to go back, and I'd be back there over in the afternoon. I got another thing after supper (it was another round), but I'd be right back the next day. I got two lickings a day for that pond, but you were chicken if you didn't go with your cousins and go down swimming. I got a lot of lickings that I didn't want, but you had to measure up if you were going to stay with the boys. I want to mention that down on there close were two Hanna boys, and two of my cousins; we five were all about the same age, within a year of one another. The Hannas, I don't think they had really ever used any restraint on them; they were good kids, and I don't think they really needed it. But the Elmores and the Forbes were mean devils, and they all the time in trouble. And we fought among ourselves. The Hannas never would fight with them, but we used to play with them and go fishing and swimming a lot.
BRENT GLASS:
You don't seem that you have any bad memories of getting a whipping from your parents.
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Oh no; that was to be expected. I had a teacher once that tried to whip me in school, and I took the hickory away from her. Then I went home, and my father and mother said, "If you don't go back we're going to tan your hide off of you." I wasn't over nine or ten years old. And I went back with two great big rocks in my pocket. And she started on me again, and she did not get me whipped. She might have thought about the rocks. [laughter] And she sat down and went to crying. She was one of them great big gals; she was about nineteen or twenty years old. She'd beat eight and ten kids a day; she kept just bundles of hickories in the corner. But I was determined that she wasn't going to hit me. She whipped everybody on the row; when it came to hit me I crawled up and down the aisle. [laughter]
BRENT GLASS:
Was your mother in charge of, like, bathing you and putting you to sleep at night? Who did that? Whose responsibility was that in the house?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
You had to do it yourself. In other words, with kids coming along every two years you didn't get too much. We washed out of a wash pan most of the time. We had a back porch there (I don't think it was closed in); of course it got to be awful cold. And they'd get the pot and halfway bathe in the pantry.
BRENT GLASS:
Did you have running water or indoor toilets or anything like that on the farm?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
No. Had a well; and I've drawn many a bucket of water. The well was about thirty feet deep.
BRENT GLASS:
You told me that you and your sister would go into McAdenville and Cramerton, and later you went into Lowell. What was your impression of the mill villages? Or what was the talk on the farms about the mills?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, people looked down on millhands, farm people did.
BRENT GLASS:
Why was that?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
I don't know. We had to swallow our pride when we lost three crops; we moved in. And soon nearly everybody in our particular neighborhood there eventually ended up: the Fords and… Some of the families didn't, but the Ford family had a big crowd of them. And they moved into Cramerton. He was a carpenter too.
BRENT GLASS:
So your family looked upon this as a failure, to move into a mill village was not an opportunity to you?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
It was a failure in a way. When you lose three crops in a row what are you going to do? All we had was what little… And of course World War I came along, and my father went to army camp and started making good money.