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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clyda Coward and Debra Coward, May 30, 2001. Interview K-0833. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Work and play in a rural childhood

Coward describes work and play on her father's farm in the 1930s. Her father escaped tenancy, but demanded hard work from his family to maintain their independence. Her father tended five acres of tobacco and Coward and her mother picked vegetables to eat. Fun consisted of riding animals, which Coward remembers dying from the heat, and playing with siblings on the long walk to school.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clyda Coward and Debra Coward, May 30, 2001. Interview K-0833. 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

LEDA HARTMAN:
How was it to get on like that? Was it comfortable? Was it hard?
CLYDA COWARD:
Well, we did a lot of hard work, but my father was a resourceful person. My dad always grew everything we eat, really. He grew the corn. When the corn would get dry, we would have to shuck the corn, shell the corn, and then he would take it to a mill that would grind the corn into corn meal. We grew wheat, which made the flour. Well, we had animals that had the milk, hogs for the pork, and eventually my father started just raising all of this stuff by himself for himselfߞyou know, the extra. And he bought a farm like that.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Was that unusual in that day for him to be able to buy a farm?
CLYDA COWARD:
Oh yes, it was. Very. But now, he bought the farm from Mr. Barwick. Mr. Barwick had some land that the road had divided, and he sold my father thirty-three acres of that land. And at that time, my father could tend five acres of tobacco, which would turn out enough money to support us for a year.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Just the tobacco?
CLYDA COWARD:
Just the tobacco.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Then you'd have all the other stuff to eat, and then you'd have the tobacco for the cash? Is that how it was?
CLYDA COWARD:
We would can. My mother did. Well, I can remember we would put in tobacco days. That evening we would go in the garden [to] pick peas and beans. There was no refrigerator. We had an icebox. And so Mama would can the vegetables. We had a big pot-bellied wash pot. I don't know if you've ever seen one. You have? [With a note of surprise in her voice]
LEDA HARTMAN:
Yes.
CLYDA COWARD:
Well, that was what she canned the vegetables inߞin the wash pot.
LEDA HARTMAN:
And she heated the water howߞover a wood stove?
CLYDA COWARD:
Uh huh. Over a woodstove.
LEDA HARTMAN:
And she had to get it good and hot because that's what you have to do for canning, right?
CLYDA COWARD:
Yeah.
LEDA HARTMAN:
That's hot work.
CLYDA COWARD:
Yeah, but we were outdoors anyway. [Laughter] So it really didn't matter.
LEDA HARTMAN:
How about the other families who were on the Barwick's farm. Did y'all play togetherߞthe kidsߞor did the other families help each other when you needed it?
CLYDA COWARD:
We didn't have that much time. My father and mother didn't allow us to have much time for ourselves.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Hard work mostly?
CLYDA COWARD:
A part of Saturday and a part of Sunday after we went to Sunday school and church: then we could have fun until sundown.
LEDA HARTMAN:
It sounds like they were strict.
CLYDA COWARD:
Yeah, very much so.
LEDA HARTMAN:
So when you could have fun, what did you do for fun?
CLYDA COWARD:
Well, I know that you won't believe this, but we had a lady in the neighborhood, and she lived in a converted tobacco barn right back there. The tobacco barns have poles. They call them tier poles that you hang the tobacco on to dry the leaves out. This lady had made stairs. Each one of those polesߞI don't remember how many were in the barn, but I know that she had at least five sections in that one tobacco barn.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Of stairs?
CLYDA COWARD:
Uh huh.
LEDA HARTMAN:
So for fun?
CLYDA COWARD:
Oh, she had room to accommodate other people. She even took in people.
LEDA HARTMAN:
How clever.
CLYDA COWARD:
Yeah, I thought it was neat. [Laughter]
BETTY:
I never heard that. That'd be neat.
LEDA HARTMAN:
So for fun would you go visiting over there?
CLYDA COWARD:
Oh, for fun. [Laughter] Now, our fun didn't always turn out to be really fun.
LEDA HARTMAN:
No?
CLYDA COWARD:
No, it didn't. We would ride the animals until they died, which did not please my father at all.
LEDA HARTMAN:
You would work them?
CLYDA COWARD:
We would ride on them. They would overheat. They'd get too hot, and they'd die. [Sounds of activity in the background] Well, we would play ball. There wasn't very much that you could do. You see, we didn't have any electricity. We only had kerosene lamps. So when it got dark, it got dark. You want to cut that thing off a minute?
LEDA HARTMAN:
This is fine. You were telling me about playing ball. Did you get to play ball?
CLYDA COWARD:
Well, you see weߞ. There was enough of my brothers and sisters to have aߞ. Well, no, not really because my parents had two sets of children.
LEDA HARTMAN:
How's that?
CLYDA COWARD:
My mother had four children. For twelve years she didn't have anymore children; then after twelve years, she had three more children.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Which batch are you in?
CLYDA COWARD:
The first one.
LEDA HARTMAN:
So you have some brothers and sisters who are a lot younger than you?
CLYDA COWARD:
Well, my baby sister was five years older than Debra.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Wow. So did you play with the other kids in the neighborhood?
CLYDA COWARD:
Whenever we could. But you see, we would have to leave homeߞ. The houses are spaced, and basicallyߞ. Now, like, we were living up there, and there was a house over there. Then about a mile back down this road, there was another house. Really, we didn't get to play much with the other people on the farm until we went to school. You see, we had to walk about five miles to go to school. So we got the chance to play plenty.
LEDA HARTMAN:
On your walk?
CLYDA COWARD:
Mm hmm.