The Old South
For many people they think the South is far behind but to true southerners with time everything changes. My Aunt Velma, who is 76, has had an amazing life and I have the pleasure of interviewing her. She grew up in a small town in Arkansas were the only friend a person could have was a cow. Arkansas was her home for forty years; she now resides in Muncie Indiana. But the transition did not take away her Southern charm. When I asked her about being my subject for my paper she was speechless. Because everyone knows, elderly people love to talk about the past and their struggles. I know we have heard the story of how they walked barefoot up a hill in ten feet of snow to and from school. I find it interesting how this story has been past down from generation to generation. Just like this, many stories are pasted down in families. In my interview I discovered family values, religion, culture, and foods of the south. All families have there own stories but I have the opportunity to learn about my family’s legacy and how things have changed.
In the beginning of the interview, my Aunt Velma had trouble remembering. But as we continued to speak it was like it was yesterday. The first topic of discussion was religion; she has been going to church since she first opened her eyes. Because she is from the South, this was normal and unheard of not to attend church. This was a touchy topic for her because over her lifetime she has seen how the church and people have changed. In the 1940’s church was apart of everyday life; school was even held at church. As a Southern woman the most important day was on Sunday. She remembered watching her grandmother waking up at four o’clock in the morning to prepare Sunday dinner for the family. While the family was at church her grandmother would cook for hours. The most memorial moment for my aunt was watching her grandma pick the chickens; she would watch while she would ring the chicken’s necks. For those who are not familiar with this process; you twirl the chicken around by the neck until it breaks. After her grandmother would break the chicken’s neck, the chickens would still flop around on the ground: to a young child from the south this was a activity to occupy time. After an all day process of cooking, my Aunt Velma would get to choose the watermelon for after dinner. This was the only time of day she could be alone.
She was the oldest of four siblings, so she as a girl helped raise the children. The daily routine for a young Southern girl was to help get the younger siblings ready and start on daily chores. She remembers taking her brothers and sister to the cotton fields and putting them in a shaded place while she worked. The younger children spent the day playing or in school while my aunt had to choose between helping her family or an education. In that point of time, family was the most important thing in life.
The only day for relaxation was on Sunday, and even then only the men were to relax while the women cooked. Even though she loved helping her family, as a result of working in the fields she developed lung cancer from toxic chemicals. She was thirteen years old when this was discovered. Because she was a small town Southern girl in Arkansas, money was hard to come by. It was not that common to go see the doctor, they were lucky if they went to town once a month. As an example of Southern hospitality the community and church came together and helped her with her needs. She expressed to me that she does not see that anymore today.
Nevertheless she keeps her faith in people and her religion: when she is in church she is amazed at what people pray for. There is a big difference in today’s church from fifty years ago. People today pray for fancy cars, money, and big houses: then people prayed for family, health, and successful crops. As my aunt says “count your blessings, and never ask for more than you can handle”. This is like “be careful what you wish for”. Because she grew up in a different era, things then were more important to people. I guess you can say our generation is “keeping up with the Joneses”.
To change the subject to make it more positive, we discussed Southern food. There are many famous Southern recipes; she wanted to find something different that her mother taught her. As we searched through the recipes, she still had the original recipes from her mother. After time some were lost or forgotten, but she still had about twenty original recipes. I found that amazing because today most people cook straight out of the box and have a complete dinner in ten minutes. I admit this is more helpful for the working women today; not many women can devote a whole day to cooking. To most southern people cooking is all that they know, and elderly women love to cook. As we searched we found a mayonnaise cake recipe. This was different and was one of her mother’s favorite, and the first things she taught her to cook. We decided to cook it just to help her feel like her mother was present. Once the cake was done we cut a slice and continued the interview. It was amazing- I honestly was afraid but it was surprisingly good.
With each child born to the family came less money. She explained to me how the potato sacks were made with different decoration. Because there was little money, her mother would use the sacks to make the children’s clothing. This was the most interesting to me; her mother had two girls including my aunt, so after chores everyday the girls would learn to sew. Showing Southern hospitality her mother would also make clothing for others in the community- this is how she made a living. As time passed my Aunt Velma grew older and older. When she was fifteen she got married-her mother was also fifteen. After just a couple years she had two kids of her own. In these times young marriages were normal, especially for a small town couple. In this part of the interview I was mostly attentive, I wanted to know everything. All it took was four words “love at first sight” and that was all I needed to know.
After spending the day with my Aunt Velma I learned several Southern rules. Family culture has changed in many ways, but what I learned while speaking with my aunt helped me appreciate my own family values. If everyone took time to just talk to someone wise maybe their outlook will change as well. I learned a lot from her during the interview that can help me with teaching my son. Religion, culture, family values, and Southern foods can be passed down from generation to generation if we just took time to listen. Yes times change, looks change, as well as who we are; but if we took the time out to listen, our family beliefs and stories can live on for generations. In the begging my aunt was speechless, but after my interview with her I became the one who was speechless. I now look forward to interviewing more of my family members to learn more about my Southern culture-and to prepare my own to talk about in the future.
Reese,Velma. Personal Interview. 9 September. 2010
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