The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins 241 Pugh Hall Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 352 846 19 83 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 50 + years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 7 ,500 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP rec ommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview t ranscripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript is writte n with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.history.ufl.edu or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. February 201 8
TMP 156 Interviewee: Carl Thomas Interviewer: Lara Alqasem, Jennifer Nicholas Date of Interview: October 20, 2017 A : Hello, it is October 20, 2017. I'm Lara Alqasem. N: I'm Jennifer Nicholas. A: And we're interviewing Mr. Carl Thomas today in Mathews County at the Mathews County Library. So, to start off, Mr. Thomas, can you tell us when and where you were born? T: Ma thews County, 1935. A: And where did you grow up? T: Mostly in Mathews County. A: You said you spent your summers in Mathews County ? T: Spent all my summers in Mathews County. My parents lived in Gloucester but my grandparents lived in Mathews. So, I liked down here and I would come down here in the summertime as much as I could. They got a bunch of kids close by and on the water and what not, that's the reason I wound up down here in the summertime. A: And what kind of activities did you do when you were h ere in the summertime? T: Everything in the world. [Laughter] T: Mostly in the water, you know, crabbing and the beaches and what not. My grandfather was retired and had a farm like everybody did, a small farm. I would think I'm helping him, I was probably getting in his way, and that was fun too, you know.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 2 A: What kind of things did he have on the farm? What kind of things did you help out with? T: As everybody in Mathews County at that time in the 40s, they had hogs in the pen, had to cart and horse o r two to work the crops. Had all kinds of chickens and a big garden. They'd go fishing and put up fish. They just about grew everything that they lived off at that time. N: That's so cool. A: Yeah, that's so cool. T: And they only went to the store for may be flour, sugar, and stuff. Maybe a few canned goods, but they did their own canning. They were self contained. I mean, they just lived off the land, and they had to. This was back in the early 40s. The stores, the country stores were real close. They usually walked to the stores. They had automobiles but gas was hard to get. Didn't everybody have a car, and if they did they didn't use it that much. Went to church on Sunday with it. Didn't go very far. The roads then were . it was a real good trip t o go from here to Gloucester. The roads were crooked, the speed limits were . if I remember right during the war, I think they dropped the speed limit back to thirty five, I'm not sure. I'm not sure of that. But you couldn't go much more than thirty fi ve. [Laughter] If you got up to fifty you'd have to slow down for a turn. The roads were . they were hard surfaced but they were real crooked. Yeah. What about the stores do you want to know?
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 3 A: Well, are there any specific stores that you remember? Li ke, where they were or who owned them, anything like that? T: Oh, yeah. A: Could you tell us about that? T: But you've got to know the lay of the land, the geography really. If you left Mathews Courthouse, the next little town you're gonna come to is Port Haywood. Okay. Now, we're starting down there. We're going down the way I was raised at Onemo. When you get to Port Haywood, you had two stores there one on each side of the road, country stores. And then, you turned left and went down toward Onemo. All right. Before you get to Onemo you would turn right to go down to what we call Potato Neck, which is a prairie. A: Okay. T: There was one country store down there. He mainly specialized in netting, fish netting, and paint for boats. But it was a store too, you could buy your sugar and your flour there. All right. That's when you go down to Potato Neck, that comes to a dead end. Let me show you this little. N: Oh, wonderful. A: Thank you, that's so cool. T: Let me show you just right here. There we're going down to 14. Okay. This is where Port Haywood is. There's two stores there. All right. Now, we're coming like we're going to Onemo and we get here like this. This goes to Potato Neck, dead ends.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 4 A: Uh huh. And that's the one you just told us? T: Yeah, that' s the one I just told you about. And you come back over here and you get on 609, you go down here, and the first one you would come to back in that day and time this store had closed up. But they had a post office in there which was named Sarah, named after my grandfather's sister. A: Could you spell that? T: S A R A H. A: Oh, Sarah. T: Uh huh. Sarah. All right. Then, the next store was open, was Edward Hudgins' store. And he originally had Sarah but he gave up postmastership and a lady Florence Sadle r took it over, and she ran it in this old closed up store here for I don't know how many years. But she ran it. Then, they closed Sarah and went to Onemo. All right. There's Edward Hudgins' store. This right here is in hollering distance. We could stand o n the porch and holler back and forth. A: Oh, wow. Okay, yeah, I was wondering how far. T: This was Edward Hudgins' Going down the road a little bit farther there was a service station and there was Charlie Dam's store. This was a half mile apart. And the n, you go down the road ready to turn this way, Lester Mile was at Beaverlett, another store. But the reason those stores were like that is because the people . most generally walked to them. They drove a horse back in the olden days. During the war, t hey didn't use their
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 5 cars that much, so they still walked around. And you got everything you wanted there. All the stores had a storehouse connected to it and a little loading dock. And they carried feed and fertilizer, feed for the hogs. But they didn't u se very little because they grew it. Everybody would have more eggs than they could use, and they would take them to the store and you'd sell the eggs. He'd give them so much for the eggs and they'd buy something, kind of like barter. They'd buy some flour or what not. If they didn't, he'd give them what's left over. What'd they do with their eggs? He pa ckage d them up and sent them most likely to Baltimore, to a commission merchant And they did it by steamboat up until the war started, and then the governm ent took most of the steamboats going back and forth to Baltimore quit. But they had a few truck lines that were at that time when the steamboats quit, they were going to Baltimore. And they would come around certain days a week and pick up the livestock a nd the eggs and the seafood and carry it to Baltimore. I remember in the 40s my grandmother would send me out to Edward Hudgins' store to get a loaf of bread, fifteen cents. A: My gosh. You said that was in the 40s? T: Yeah, fifteen cents. It was a different time. In fact, I think it was a better time. But I was a kid having fun, I wasn't looking at it through the light of the family. In that area, that's how many stores there were and they were all near about hollering distance. On I think Friday n ight or Saturday night
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 6 was a big night at the store. They'd have a man come in that cut hair and you'd get your hair cut there. A: At every store or just that one? T: Most every one. But I know at Edward Hudgins' store . it was probably the same barber moving around from one to the other. But there wasn't any electric clippers, it was hand cli ppers. And you'd sit there on the stool in the store and get your haircut. And the people would go, that's where they got all their news, the store. They'd go to t he store and there would be a counter down on each side, an old stove in the middle, in the wintertime she'd be red hot. And they'd come into the store and they'd sit down, they had stools there or benches. And they'd sit down on each side like that and th ey'd discuss everything. And then, they'd get their haircut. They probably wouldn't be buying anything because they'd just come out there to socialize. It was really something. And back in that that day and time, they probably had well, I'm sure they had electricity down there. But a lot of the houses didn't have electricity. They had lamplight at nighttime. And Edward Hudgins, I can remember he had electricity there but it wasn't like a light like that. He'd have a lightbulb hanging down on a wire. That was a pretty big operation as the stores go, Edward Hudgins' That was down there in Onemo and everybody came. Charlie Dam's, I don't remember much about that because I didn't go back down there that much. We were close to Edward Hudgins' A: I want you to feel comfortable to chime in whenever you have a chance.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 7 N: Oh, sure. So, I guess besides getting your haircut, were there any other events that would happen at the store? T: No, they'd just socialize. Everything went on there. You know, like, "Hey, I hea rd you got a new horse over there." "Yeah, I got him. I don't think he's farming here in the Onemo area was done by horse or mule. But all I remember everybody down here . yeah, I r emember one fella had a mule. Most of them had a horse. They did all that. I remember right after the war a man by the name of Will Vreeland retired, he was working for a shipping company. And he retired and he bought a brand new tractor a C Farmall, to w ork his crops with. And he'd go around and plow people's gardens and do some things with the tractor. That was a big thing. Everybody else had a horse. That was later on, I think that was after the war that the first tractor I saw down there. But they did it with horse work. And they raised hay for their horse. Am I getting off from the story? A: No, you're fine. You're absolutely fine. T: They raised hay for their horse, the corn for their horse and their hogs. They had a gigantic garden and could grow bee ts that big around and I ain't never been able to do it. I don't know what they put over them. But gigantic garden, and they had these elaborate henhouses. A: Is this the same man with the tractor? T: No, this is everybody. A: Oh, everybody. Okay, sorry.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 8 T : I'm thinking about my grandparents right now. I'm seeing it, you know. But everybody had a chicken house and a horse And they had a cow, a cow or two, and it produced all the butter and milk. And, of course, they would get too much but there's be somebo dy in the neighborhood who didn't have a cow, and they'd come over and buy the butter. A lot of them, like I say didn't have electricity. So, they had a well, get the water out of the well. And on Monday s they washed clothes, and that was a big thing. The y'd have a big iron pot out in the yard and it'd be close to the woodhouse. They'd heat that water and put the clothes in the hot water. And then, they would take them out of that hot water and I think they would scrub them like that. Then, they'd go to an other tub, a rinse bin and they'd put bluing in it. Now, whatever bluing is I don't know. But it was in a little bottle and it turned the water blue. They'd put bluing in it and rinse water and hang them on a line. And everything was clean as a hound's too th. [Laughter] They did everything . in this time of the year they would go to a fish dock and get what we call herring that the fishermen would catch. And they'd bring them home and clean them and salt them and put them up for the winter in log tins w hich was about yay big around, I don't know if they even make them anymore. It was a tin bucket with a top on it. They'd salt those fish down in brine and they knew that the brine was right for to put their fish in when they would float an egg. When that b rine water float an egg it was ready to put the fish in it. And they'd put them in that tin and I don't know exactly how they did it. I know I can see
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 9 them . I think it was brine water in there. And they'd put them fish in there like that. And I rememb er they'd have a board and they put a brick on it to hold them down in that brine water. When the wintertime come, they'd go there with an icepick, something like that, pick those fish out, peck them out like that. And take them in the house and fry them . or boil them. And I can remember this, the herring was a bony fish, and that brine had pulverized the bones you could eat the bones. A: Oh, my gosh. N: Wow. T: You know what I mean? And it was salty as could be [Laughter] But nobody does that anymo re, but they did. They did everything and they didn't have to go to the store much, like I say, except for flour, sugar, toilet paper, something like that. They were just self contained. A: That's so cool. So, I know oh, sorry. Go ahead. T: Another thing you need to check on sometime. When I r ide around the county . everybody had a barn. A: A barn? T: A barn. A: I thought you said yes, go ahead. T: Had a barn. And all the barns were built the same way. Now, why was that? Was the same man in Mathews County building the barns or was it just some plan that they used? N: I think everyone used the same.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 10 T: Me too. Still now, if you ride around Mathews County and you pass by an old place, you'll have an old building sitting back behind close to the house, that'll be one on of those barns. And they were all built the same way. I often wonder was it one man that built all them barns or did they have some plan? They were all built the same way. It was a straight up structure with a roof on it like so, had a lo ft in the top for the hay, big door on the front. Down it would have a small feed room that was up off the ground where you'd keep your feed and steps going to the loft where you threw your hay down. And over here was partitioned off and there was a horse and there was a cow. All built the same way. All built on brick posts sitting up off the ground a little bit. I've often wondered was that one man or was that just some plan they used? A: That's so interesting. Yeah. T: Oh, yeah, I forgot the damn smokehou se. When hog killing time comes, they killed the hogs. And all the neighbors, when hog killing time come, all the neighbors came around and helped one another. And he would go home with some fresh meat for his pay, for pay. A: For helping. T: Yeah. The nex t week or so somebody over there's gonna kill hogs, they'd go over there. Everybody would be five or six, seven men, and the women would come along with them. And the men would kill the hogs, cut them up, and you walking down to the smokehouse and the wo men would be in the smokehouse salting the meat.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 11 A: So, there was one smokehouse, like shared? T: No, everybody has their own. A: Everyone has their own. T: Everybody had a smokehouse. And, if you ride around Mathews County, you can see them still. They ha d a roof on them that . I guess you'd call it an octagon. I'm not drawing it right, but it was sort of so. This was here, here, right on out. It had little things sticking up in the top. And they'd put the meat in there and hang the hams from the ceili ng and there were benches down the side and they'd put the salted meat in there. Very particular about that smokehouse, too. They'd wash it every now and then. What they call skippers could get in your meat. That was, I guess, maybe like a maggot or . I don't think it was a maggot but I think it was carried by flies and probably meat wasn't salted enough or got too hot in the smokehouse. They were always checking for skippers. If a skipper get in your meat that was a big thing. They'd say, "So and so De e he's got skippers in his meat. Oh, Lord. I don't know what he's gonna do." [Laughter] Have to throw it away. A: Yeah. So, was that like a community event, like cooking the hog? T: Killing the hog was a community event. A: But also cooking it in the smok ehouse, or no? T: They didn't cook it, they salted it. A: Oh, they just salted it. I'm sorry.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 12 T: And the women usually did that. The men, they would come to kill the hog and the women would come along, too. It was all over the neighborhood like that. And h og killing day was a rough day, I can tell you. I mean, the first thing they'd do is they'd shoot the hog. They'd have a big pot barrel cut off with water in it, and that had been boiling, and that's boiling water. This is under a tripod. Then, they'd take the big ole hog and hook him up to pulleys, pull him like that, and let him down in that barrel. Because that hot water would loosen the hair on it. Then, they'd put him out and lay him down and everybody would get around him with a knife or a clamshell t o scrape the hair off it. And they'd get him right down to the bald meat. They'd pull him back up again and they'd . I gue ss at that point would gut him. A nd then they would cut his head off and then start cutting . quartering him. Then, taking it to the . men would do that and take it to the smokehouse, which would be close by, and the women would salt it down. That was quite a job, the way you did it back then. N: I can imagine, yeah. A: Were you ever there as a child? Like, growing up, did yo u . .? T: Oh, yeah. Every hog killing day I was going to be there. N: Oh, okay. T: I wasn't old enough to really do anything because I was so small. They'd give you something to do. You know, "Carry this to the smokehouse," if you can carry it. Then, as I got older, I found out what a job it was because my grandparents were still living and I was . oh, probably eighteen
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 13 years old. And I went down there and my grandparents were getting old. I went down there to help them still had hogs and I help ed them kill the hogs. Well, I had a little more to do then because I was older. [Laughter] They'd kill me. It was a job, you know. A: So, I know you mentioned that there weren't that many cars because people didn't use them very much. T: Uh huh. A: But we re there any gas stations as country stores, do you know what I mean? T: The country stores didn't have the gas stations. Now, we're talking in . Edward Hudgins' didn't have a gas station. I don't think Beaverlett did. I know the other store there didn 't have one. Now, right down in Onemo there was one gas station, and that was put up by a fella by the name of George Philpotts. And he ow ned an oil company in Mobjack. And he had a gas station down there. That was down there close to Edward Hudgins' store The next gas station would've been Port Haywood. A: And how far was that? T: From Onemo . two miles. That's right up there on 14 where we turned going to Onemo. Then, there were gas stations at the courthouse. But you got to keep in mind in my time, that we're talking about, was during the war. Gas was hard to get. You had to have stickers on your car to buy your gas. In other words, an E sticker meant that you were just . an A and a B. One of them might've meant you were a farmer and you could
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 14 bu buy much gas. The government wouldn't let you buy but so much. They'd allot it out to you, so many gallons for a period of time. So, they didn't drive the car that much. But they wo uldn't have driven it much anyhow because where'd they have to go? They'd go to the courthouse. That would be kind of rare, you know, maybe go there every two weeks or something or other. Go up there and buy some clothes and what not. The courthouse was li ttle different then than it is now. They had some clothing stores here and it was a big thing to go to the courthouse. They didn't go to Newport News and Norfolk like I'm talking about because it was too much of a trip. A: That makes sense. N: Yeah, it's n ot exactly super close. A: Did you have any questions? N: Not on that note. A: Okay. So, you mentioned some events like the weekly barber or the hog killing, are there any other events that were held at country stores, that you remember? T: No, there wasn' t any events held at the country store. The only events held there was just the conversation and what's going on and this, that, and the other. The biggest event down here would be going to church, most all of them went to church. In the summertime, they h ad what they called a tabernacle meeting, and it'd go on for about two weeks. The tabernacle is still standing down on 611, one of them, a Methodist
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 15 tabernacle. They'd have preachers come in here and it was an open thing just on Route 40. Have you ever see n one? N: Yeah, I have. T: And the preachers would preach and carry on, you know, and everybody would go dress up and sit back and let the mosquitoes bite on them for two weeks. They didn't have any events there like you're thinking about, cookouts where t he women go out. Women didn't go there. They just went there to go in and get something, but they didn't go there and sit back, that was a men thing. Well, if any events that went on it'd probably be at the courthouse. But I'll tell you something else that people don't know anything about. You had a military base at New Point during the war. Did you know that? N: No. A: I didn't know that either. T: Had a military base there, a big thing. And nobody of us seems to mention it. And I think I know why. This th ing was in 19 I could get this wrong now, somebody might correct me. I don't think it lasted over one or two years. And the reason for it was it started out as a coastal artillery training place. And then, they tell me that along about 43 radar got s o good that there wasn't much use for coastal artillery. So, they closed it up. But it was a big thing, they went out in New Point down that beach and they formed a military base and they put bunkers up and down that beach. And they had guns in there and t hey would fire a target plane over that'd pull a
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 16 target. And they would shoot at the target, see how good they were. And that airplane pulling that target used to make a turn right over my grandmother's house. It'd pull that old target a long ways behind a nd that'd really be flapping, the plane going real slow. And give her about a half a minute or a minute to get over New Point Beach and all hell would break loose. Bam, bam, bam. And the roof would rattle. A: Oh, my gosh. T: The soldiers would come up to M athews Courthouse, and that was a big event, I'm sure. But you never hear anybody talk about it. And I think I know the reason why. All these soldiers came in. I mean, it was a pile of them. In Gloucester, when the convoys would come by going to New Point, little kids I lived in Gloucester, see. I'd be home. And little kids would hear the convoy coming and we'd go out on the side of the road and just stand there. And as the trucks would go by and they'd have soldiers in the back, forty convoys got by. One of them was going to force a shell casing and that would buck down the side of the road. And we'd run and get that, we thought we had a goldmine. But you never hear anybody talk about that thing. I sometimes tell somebody that moved in here or some young person and say, "Did you know there was a military base down here?" "No." And I think the reason for it is that when all these soldiers came in, and the young local girls, can you imagine . can't you imagine those young girls going for those guys with uniforms on? Well, I was too young to make any difference to me. But people a little bit older than me,
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 17 you know, I don't imagine they thought much of that. And some of these girls from around here got their husbands from there, from coming in here during the war. So, I figure that the people . the guys a little bit older than me just as soon don't talk about that, because they didn't like it to start with. [Laughter] A: That's such a fun theory. But you might be right. N: I think so, honestly. T: But nobody much knows anything about that military base, and I think it's a shame because it's a part of Mathews County history. I mean, I don't know why they don't bring that up more than they do. Because I'm sure that that thing as a child, six or seven ye ar old child, an eight year old, which I was that really made a big impression on me, probably bigger than it really was. But still, that was a great big thing. And part of it's still bea ch and you'll see a big brick smokestack, that was part of it. And that's over in the woods. You've got to look first to see it. Right there was a main gate. And on a Sunday, they would let you come down there, I don't know whether it was certain Sundays o r every Sunday. Visitors could go down there. I can remember we going down there on a Sunday and you go to the main gate and they'd let you in and they'd say, "You go right in here." And the soldiers and the tents and whatnot were down at the other end. An d he said, "You wait right here and somebody will come pick you up."
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 18 They were so glad to see you. All of a sudden you look in this big old jeep car would come bumping down the beach and they were glad to see you. And everybody would load up in the jeep an d he'd carry you back down there and show you around. A: Was this visiting friends or just to go visit? T: Just to go. They were so glad to see you they'd take you and show you around. Didn't have to know anybody. N: Yeah, it sounds like they really liked being part of the town then. T: Well, they were down there most of them that I saw were living in tents, but they were nice tents. That's the way it was. A: Do you remember any specific memories of times that you visited? Because it seems like this was a n event, yeah. Are there any memories from . .? T: My grandparents and a lot of people down there did it. In the summertime, after they planted the corn, got the corn planted and got the corn all worked. That was midsummer. And there wasn't a whole lot t o do, see. The corn was growing, they got everything planted. What they would do they would take a skiff, a boat, brought it up to Onemo on the water. And the creek was probably five miles from the Chesapeake Bay. Okay. They'd go clamming. He'd get a neigh bor or two and, "Let's go clamming and catch some clams." All right. So, what he would do, he'd put a mast on that skiff and make a sail, my grandmother would make a sail out of feedbags. And the prevailing wind would be coming back just five miles up
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 19 Wint er Harbor, which is the creek we're talking about. So, what he would do, he would scull out to the Chesapeake Bay, he and a neighbor. You know what sculling is? A: Unh uh. N: Uh huh. T: Take a paddle, had sculling posts on the back of the boat, and they'd put the paddle on there and scull the boats. When you stand up in the boat and it had a twist to it. It had a little twist, and that would propel the boat. It wasn't oars. You'd just stand up there and scull that boat like that. And he'd scull out with big clam rakes and a washing tub, take a washing tub, tie a rope to it, and tie that to your belt Get overboard water up to here, pull this clam rake. Okay. Oh, and they'd catch clams. Put them in the washtub, the washtub gets so it would hold more, thro w it in the boat. And then, they'd get all the clams they wanted. And then, they'd get back in the boat and they'd put the sail up and they sailed back. And then, they'd take the clams, what they didn't eat they'd put overboard in the creek. And, come wint ertime, they'd go down there and pick them up and have clam chowder or whatever. And that was a big thing, he'd take us boys, a couple of us boys clamming with him. And, while they were clamming, we would get up on the beach and play up on the beach with a n old board and try to catch a few clams. Mostly play, you know. Another thing is my grandfather was a lighthouse keeper on Wolf Trap Light. And he was retired when I got old enough to go down there. And he was back
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 20 and forth from the lighthouse. He was on Fishing [Battery Lighthouse] he was on Diamond Shoal Light down in Carolina. That kind of work all his life on water. He couldn't swim, he couldn't swim. A: Oh, my gosh. What? T: Clamming in water up to his armpits. And a lot of times he didn't usually p ull a tub. He usually used a bag that they rigged up that goes around his neck and put them in like a kangaroo. He couldn't swim. And I'd say, "Granddaddy, you can't swim?" "No." "Well, why can't you swim?" "I've never had to swim." "Well, why don't you le arn how to swim on the water?" [Inaudible 38:30] I says, "Suppose you fall overboard?" "I ain't gonna fall overboard." Couldn't swim. And I'm sure that a lot of them couldn't. This theory was that he saw a man fall overboard one time, knew he was good swim mer. And he forgot how to swim. And he said he went down, and that was on the Wolf Trap Light. Said he stepped off the boat and he went down and he came up just far enough for him, he reached down and dragged him in the hair and pulled him in. He asked the man, he says, "You're supposed to be a good swimmer. Why didn't you swim?" He says, "I don't know, I just never thought about it." That was one of his stories, the reason he couldn't swim or didn't need to learn to swim. You know, you'll forget if you fal l overboard. [Laughter] A: Oh, my God. N: I can't argue with it.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 21 A: No, I can. You need to learn how to swim. T: I don't need to learn to swim, you'll forget when you fall overboard. N: Apparently. A: Are there any other stories or . like, stories you' ve heard maybe, because I know you were younger, or memories that you have about the stores or . also about Mathews County, but maybe about the country stores more specifically? T: Well, I've got a lot of stories. A: Any of your stories. T: If you're l ooking for stories. A: Yes. T: Well, down in that area, back in that day and t ime, I called it down there the Bible belt. Everybody went to church. And kids, you went to church whether you wanted to go or not. They dressed you up on Sunday. And you stayed there for the whole thing, for Sunday school class through the preaching, the whole works. Well, they had a movie theater up here in the courthouse in later years. Anyhow, us boys . some of us must've seen a cowboy or something or other. And we were si tting in church one Sunday, three of us in the neighborhood. And they said, "We was thinking of going horseback riding after church." And I said, "Yeah, that'd be a good idea." Well, one of the boys had a pony, the youngest one had a pony. That pony was cr azy. [Laughter] "Where are we gonna get the horse from?" And one of the boys said, "Well, we'll get Papa's," which was his
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 22 granddaddy. "We'll get Papa's horse, Old Jim, and he can carry all of us." So, it was three of us that were going to ride Jim, and th e other younger boy was gonna bring his pony. So, we all were gonna meet out in the woods out there in Onemo. So, we went and got Jim, the three of us, and waited for the boy with the pony. Well, I think now that the other boy, which was Jim. But Jim was this great big old workhorse, great Great big stallion. And when he walked his body would be like [inaudible 42:06]. So, we got Jim. No saddle. Nothing but just a bridle with a rope tied to th at for a brace And all three of us on Jim. Went back in the woods and waited for the boy to come with the pony. Well, we were waiting and here he comes with the pony. So, Jim, all of a sudden, he was just docile as could be [inaudible 42:33]. When he saw that pony he took a whole different stance and he straightened up. Heels went up in the air like he was going away. So, we hollered to the boy with the pony, says, "Wait a while, stop right there and let Jim get used to the pony." Well, the pony was crazy anyhow, and the pony was getting funny, too. So, they stood there and looked at one another for a while. We decided everything was all right. We said, "Okay, we think everything's all right. Ease the pony on." Well, the first step the pony took, he stepped on a stump hole, which made him lunge forward. And Jim thought he was on the attack. Jim turned around and took off through the woods like a racehorse. We didn't know where it come from, and everybody was hanging on. But through that woods Jim went.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 23 And w e knew or I knew that through that woods was one hell of a ditch. I mean, like six foot deep. And I said, "What's Jim gonna do when he gets to that ditch?" He's got to stop so we all right. So, we just hunkered down and held on. Jim was right to ward th at ditch and when he got to that ditch he didn't stop. He went in the air like one of the English jumpers Well, when he hit the other side, all of us fell off. [Laughter] One in the ditch, one on the ditch bank, one on the ground, and Jim still going. Or we'd have lost Jim. So, we got to look for Jim. And we go through that woods looking for Jim, hollering for Jim. All through that woods everywhere, and no Jim. So, we came out on the road and started back down a dirt road back to the house. And the boy tha t had got Jim from his I've lost Jim. This is the end, I'm gonna be killed. I've got to tell him that I can't find Jim and I'm gonna be killed." At that point we figured, "Hey, he didn't get permission to use Jim." So, the closer we got to his granddaddy's house the worse he got. "I'm a dead man. I'm a dead man." Well, all of a sudden, we got close to the house, one of these barns like I'm telling you about, when the stable is facin g the road. A: Jim's there? T: Yeah, I heard him say, "Look at that big fat ridge sticking out that barn." It was Jim. Jim had come home. The gate was locked, I mean closed. The fence wasn't torn down. How he got back in there, we'll never know. I can't im agine him jumping that fence. [Laughter] His granddaddy never said
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 24 nothing about it. We never said nothing about it. So, I think back now, he must've saw Jim outside the fence and turned him in. And he had to know that we had him because we had the bridle on him. A: He was just being nice. T: I don't know, maybe just being nice. [Laughter] But, you know, that barn is still there. Every time I ride by there I get a chuckle, Old Jim in that barn and we're looking for him. [Laughter] A: That's a happy story. I t's a good ending. Are there any stories that you might've heard about things that happened at the country stores? Like, maybe interactions that people had or anything like that, that you recall? Or even something you experienced. I'm just thinking since y ou were so young at that time you might not have . T: There was a man that lived down there [laughter] N: This is gonna be a good one. A: Yeah. [Laughter] T: You could buy firecrackers around Christmastime. And I mean they were firecrackers. They had o ne called a cherry bomb, it was a round thing with a fuse on it. And they had . this is bad, this was something we did real bad. [Laughter] There was a man down there that was . he didn't like children. I don't think he liked anybody, and I don't t hink anybody really liked him. And he always had this fancy mailbox that he had on his road,
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 25 right off the road. And we would get these cherry bombs and we'd pop them around every now and then. And we'd look at his mailbox and we'd put them in his mailbox, set the top on, and she'd blast off. And, of course, it would leave a lot of paper in there. You could tell it was a firecracker. It got so that every now and then we'd put a little bigger firecracker in there, until after a while we bulged it a little bi t. Well, he'd come out to the store certain nights and sit down and talk. And he was talking about his mailbox. "Some of these boys around there were putting firecrackers in my mailbox. I'd like to catch them." And one of us would be in the store, we would n't say nothing. Kids, they were seen not hea r d back in that day now. We'd hear him talk about the mailbox. "I'd like to catch them." So, we let it cool down for a while and we'd put another one in there. So, after a while we'd shoot the bulge so much he'd replace his mailbox. So, we'd give it a while and we'd blast again. And he come up to the store . and I'll never forget it. He said, "I'd like to catch them. I'd prosecute them to the full extent of the law." So, we'd bust out giggling. So, one day, w e decided we'd get the old man's mailbox again. So, that night we went there to get his mailbox. And he had built him a mailbox out of oak boards, they were that thick all around. Oak bottom and an oak top. You had to take both hands to raise it up like th at. [Laughter] When we put the firecrackers in it all you could see was light red cracks That was the end of bulging his mailbox. A: Wow. What a good way to get back at you.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 26 T: Another thing that was along about that time, talking about things that happen ed. An airplane crashed in the bay. She killed everybody on her. She was going to Langley Field. It was a B 24. It took me years, I was grown before I found out what it was. It was a B 24. There was a piece in the paper about it, the local paper here, not long ago. She was doing some altitude and something blew up. She came right across . now, the paper had it coming another way, but I've heard people say she came right across . right out of the mouth of Winter Harbor, Winter Harbor and Horn Harbo r. And just before she hit she exploded. Blew to pieces, killed everybody on there. That was a big thing that happened down there. A lot of people saw it, a lot of people got some of the body parts and whatnot. It was a big thing that happened down there. That's about all I can think about now. A: Do you have any other questions? N: No, not really on that topic. A: Do you remember any of the country stores closing down at all? Was that something that happened? T: They gradually closed down. Let's see, what would cause them to close down. Probably what caused them to close down was the people dying out. In my childhood, you could ride down Mathews County and see how all the houses were well kept and a lot of them were immaculate. I mean, painted up. Gingerbo ard what we call ed it, around the ports and all painted up. Real active, a horse in the yard. It was a working farm like,
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 27 you know. Well, as the kids came along, there wasn't anything for them to do in Mathews County. If they got a good job it was gonna b e the shipyard in Newport News. Can you imagine driving from New Point every day to the shipyard? Of course, they got a bus I think that still comes down to the courthouse and brings people back to the shipyard. But the young people left. And these people that had the farms, that they would walk out to the store and carry their eggs and what not, they were there no more. And the people that ran the store died. And transportation got better. Forty six days straight on the roads going to Gloucester. Automobil es got better, roads got better. Gasoline got plentiful. So, they could come up to the courthouse when they wanted to get what they wanted to, and they didn't need these kind of stores. And they could go to Newport News, they could go to Gloucester. So, it just was a dying thing and I think it just happened I t was a different generation that came along. And it's sad because I worked part time for a gas company. I delivered propane all around Mathews County. I see all these places that I remember them as I was a child a nd they're falling down. Which, when I was a child, they were immaculate. The people have died, the children are gone. Some people come in here and once them come in just got a place on the water, they're not interested in these old places. And another thing I can tell because the people, the local people call people that come in here come heres. "Oh, come heres, you're always trying to ruin something." Well, I can tell if
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 28 you're a come here or not by how you talk. Now, if you say . you k now how we were talking about Port Haywood down here? A: Uh huh. T: If you say Port Haywood instead of Port Haywood, I know you're a come here. If you say Hallieford instead of Hallieford, I know you're a come here. [Laughter] A: It's funny, that's somethi ng that always comes up. And I always feel like . [Laughter] A: here. T: You're a come here. A: Yeah. I was curious also, do you have any memories or experiences yourself, you might not, of whether or not White and African American residents were able to both shop at the local country stores? T: Let me see now. African Americans, as they do now, mostly had their community. A: So, they would've had their own country stores as well? T: A lot of them did. But, in Mathews, I think there was a few but I can't be sure. I remember . you know where Southwind? Have you been to Mathews Courthouse? A: Oh, I've been but I don't know where that is.
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 29 T: Southwind's over here on Church Street right there by Richardson's on the street, sells pizzas and wha t not. And big goings on there on Saturday nights, they have a band there. That used to be a store there, Lee Miles. A lot of Colored people did their shopping there a whole lot. But no, they would shop at the local White stores. A: Oh, they would? T: Yeah There wasn't a real race thing down here, you know? A lot of fishermen went out and fished together. A: Really? T: On fish boats and what not. I can't ever remember anything being real racy, race . you know. But, of course, now, you see, you take lik e going down to Onemo, when you turn out of Port Haywood for the first two or three miles, which is called Hamburg Road, was mostly a Colored neighborhood. But no, they went to the courthouse and they went to . I never remember there being a race thing until later on in life. I think that's just something that stirred up later on. It was a better time, I believe. I know I made a big mistake one time of . when I was small. There was a Colored guy in the neighborhood, which Gloucester was very much si milar as Mathews. Of course, in Gloucester they did other things, they worked in the shipyard and what not. It was easier for them to get there. But there still was a lot of local farms just like in Mathews. There was a guy in the neighborhood was a farmer had a farm, and the name was Arthur Emerson I heard a lot of older White guys talking to him calling him Arthur
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 30 and Arthur this and Arthur that. I made the mistake one day of referring to him as Arthur Emerson. And my daddy said, Wait a minute," said, "What do you call," there was another guy close to him, you know, a White guy. "What do you call Mr. Stephen Fields?" I said, "I call him Mr. Fields." He said, "Well, I heard you refer to Arthur Emerson as Arthur. Why don't you call him Mr. Emerson instead of Arthur Emerson?" "Okay. Yeah, yeah." He said, "Why you calling him Mr. Fields and you called him Arthur? I just want to know why." "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." [Laughter] A: Wow, that's interesting. I just have one last question, just for my own curiosity. I remember you mentioned that one of the country stores was called Sarah after your grandfather's sister? T: Yeah. A: Did that country store . was that owned by your family or did you have a relationship? T: This store, the Edward Hudgins' store? A: Uh huh. T: Edward Hudgins married my grandfather's sister. So, he applied for a post office, which most of these stores were post office. [Inaudible 1:00:18]. He applied for the post office and he named it Sarah. Well, he gave up postmastership and somebody else took it over and they moved it up the road a distance. A: And they kept the name?
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 31 T: Kept the name Sarah. But see, Sarah, after he give up Sarah, it didn't last long. The post office did away with Sarah, like they do some post office now. And they wen t to Onemo, which Onemo was farther down the road, and I can't remember just where it was. Most of these stores had a post office in them. It went to d eliver y sometime after they did away with Sarah. Had mailboxes and you didn't have to walk all the way do wn to Onemo. A: Well, I think that's all the questions I have. If there are any other stories that we didn't get to touch on though, I would like to ask you, you know, if there's anything on your mind that you want to talk about before we wrap up the inter view? T: I'll think of a million before . after I leave. I can't think of any right now. Another thing that was big for entertainment, a lot of the older guys foxhunt. Us kids, in the nighttime, this was a big thing for us. Oh, yeah This was a big thi ng for us was to go to opossum hunting. There was a lot of opossums for some other reason in that lower end of Mathews. And we'd take old house dogs, you know, everybody had dogs. And we, all of us, take the three dogs in the nighttime and we'd go they'd let us go in the woods with the dogs and opossum hunt. And we found one man down there that would give us twenty five cents apiece for opossum, and we thought we found a goldmine. Of course, the thing of it was, he couldn't take many. But he'd take one ev ery now and then and he'd give us twenty five cents. And he'd put them in a pen and feed them and let them cleanse themselves. See, all opossums eat dead stuff. And he'd eat them. And we
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 32 thought we had found a gold mine. We would find them, "We can sell th is opossum, he's a nice, fact opossum." Being boys like we were, for entertainment. The people at night during the summertime would go from house to house or they'd give butter beans. Do you know what butter beans are? You hardly see them. A: had butter beans. T: Oh, you've had butter beans. A: I don't think so. N: I'm sure you have. A: Maybe I have, I don't know. N: It's a southern thing. T: [Inaudible 1:03:24] butter beans in the garden. And in the nighttime they'd go to somebody's house, at least my grandparents, would go over to the next house, and they'd sit on the porch and shell the butter beans and talk in the dark. Because they didn't have any electricity. They'd just sit on the porch and shell the butter beans. Well, one of these place s that my grandparents would go to shell butter beans, his porch was all screened in. Not too far over there from the porch was a henhouse. Well, when you were a kid, there's two things you didn't do: you didn't scare the horse and you didn't scare the hen s. I mean, that was a no no. Because if you scare the hens too much they stop laying. If you scare the horse, he'll go and course, we'd do a little bit of it if we could get away with i t. So, anyhow,
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 33 we'd see them shelling butter beans on the porch. And we'd go to the henhouse and one of us would turn one in the henhouse and hold the door, and the hens have a roost where they sat up on. They roost at nighttime. Then, one of us bad boys w ould get up there and [inaudible 1:04:57]. [Laughter] And the hens would squawk in peril Well, the ones at the house shelling the butter beans would think there was a fox or an opossum in the henhouse. So, they would get the hound and everything. And at t hat point, you know, the last minute we'd bu t t on the door and run and hide. And they'd come out with a light looking for the fox or the opossum. "I don't know, I don't know. All the hens are in here. He could've t would last for about two times and then they'd catch us, you know, or figure it out. You had to do some entertainment. A: Yeah. [Laughter] N: Sure. A: That's so funny. Wow. Well, is there anything else you want to add before we wrap it up? T: I think tha t's about all I can think of now. A: Well, thank you so much. All of your stories were fantastic. I'm gonna end it right here. [End of interview]
TMP 156; Thomas ; Page 34 Transcribed by: Patrick Daglaris, April 6, 2018 Audit edited by: Jeff Flanagan, May 23, 2018 Final edited by: Patrick Daglaris, May 24, 2018