Interview with Betty Day, 2014 July 7

Material Information

Interview with Betty Day, 2014 July 7
Day, Betty ( Interviewee )
Taylor, Jessica ( Interviewer )
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Oral history interview


Subjects / Keywords:
Tidewater Main Street Development Project
Family history
World War II
Rural life
Historic preservation
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Virginia -- Mathews


Betty Day talks about her family’s history and how her grandfather came to Mathews County, Virginia. She discusses her experience growing up in Mathews County during World War II, specifically about dealing with rationing and listening to the radio during the captured soldier reports. She talks about marrying into a fishing family and the importance of both shipbuilders and watermen to the community as a whole as well as the importance of present-day development of Mathews County, and the threat it poses to historical preservation.
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
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TMP 029 Betty Day 7-7-2014 ( SPOHP )


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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 Digital Humanities Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 35 2 846 1983 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 acc ounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 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, S POHP recommends 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. Suggested corrections to transcripts will be reviewed and processed on a case by case basis. Oral history int erview 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 i s written 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 final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and form at 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 abo ut SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. May 2015


TMP 029 Interviewee: Betty Day Interviewer: Jessica Taylor July 7, 2014 T: This is Jessica Taylor interviewing Betty Day on July 7, 2014 in Mathews Courthouse, Virginia at around 10:30 AM. Mrs. Day, can you please state your full name? D: My full name is Betty Wren n Day. T: Okay, and when were you born? D: I was born November 29, 1930. T: Okay. And where were you born? D: In the hospital in Richmond. My parents lived here in Mathews but I was born in the hospital. T: Okay, and what were their names and occupations? D: Mary and Ted Taylor. My dad at that time I really d that time, now that I think about it. But he later became with the Philip Morris Company, was with them. And then when he left there, he was with the government. When he retired, he was with the government. My mother was from Glouc ester; she live d up at Harcum. Her father had a farm. My dad came here with his mother and father in 1907, somewhere around that from Wisconsin. My grandfather had decided that he wanted to get away from the cold winters of Wisconsin, took a covered wagon went all the way to the west coast to decide where he was gonna resettle. While on his trip, there was a way they could communicate because he lost a brother during that trip and they got message


TMP 029; Day; Page 2 to him; however that wa s handled, he got a letter. My gran dm other had been married before and her husband had died. His first wife had died, and they had married and had three sons. But altogether, there were thirteen children. When you put my children, your children, and our children together, there were thirtee n. when Grandpa got back to Wisconsin, he came down here and came however he came down. He had to co me by ferry or boat to get in here to go. Fell in love a farm up on Queens Creek. Was a horse m an: loved horses, raised horses, was a veterinarian. And he built some of the roads here in Mathews when they first began getting the dirt roads worked up got involved because he had all the machinery to do that. Out in Wisconsin, farming was much larger b usiness than it was here in Mathews County, and they had all this big equipment. And he had it all shipped down here. Came in at Williams Wharf because some of the furniture when they pas sed away and the house was sold the tags from Williams Wharf was s till on t he back of those where it was shipped into Williams Wharf. T: Wow. D: Mm hm. T: So how did your Great uncle George decide that he wanted to settle in Mathews?


TMP 029; Day; Page 3 D: uncle; that was my grandfather. T: Oh, okay. D: s father. T: Okay. D: hm. But he bought and came here. T: Okay. D: Yeah. T: So what did your father do for Philip Morris? D: he was manager of some kind factor y that their husbands worked at memories of it. And I have very much I became much in and remember a great deal about it, particularly living in the city. Living in the country, with som e of my friends


TMP 029; Day; Page 4 to them as it was to me. The air raids, the blackouts, all of those things that we here. T: D: Yes, I do! I remember the first time going downtown and seeing a Japanese suicide submarine. They had it on display between Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers, the two most famous department stores in the world. [Laughter] That little sub, I can still see it n ow today. In school, we were very much involved in it. Of course, my mother had an extra bedroom and she would let the servicemen from the U.S.O. they would send them out spend the night. Of course, I fell in rationing books. I remember losing our rationing books. My mother would send me to pick up maybe some bread or something of that sort, and coming h ome. I but anyhow, someone turned them in and we got them back. That was the nicest thing. But I can remember that day; I was so frightened that I had lost those rationing books. And I remember the day that the gas went off of rationing. We had been to Florida; Dad had gotten and this sounds but he would sometimes take an old tire and put it over his other tires and that would wear for a while. You could drive on it. Anyhow, he had gotten enough tickets or rationing coupons to get tires and we went to Florida to visit my aunt and uncle. When we got back to Virginia, we drove up and bought some gasoline without rationing books. It was the first time we ever had bought without rationing books. Kind of some good memories.


TMP 029; Day; Page 5 T: Sure. Did you e ver come back to Mathews during the World War II D: Oh, yes. We always had a home here. We always had a home here. So we were always back and forth, yeah. T: What do you remember about Mathews during World War II? Were they affected? D: I remember we were gone to Yorktown Beach when the announcement came over the radio that the war was over. I was here; we were here that weekend when that happened. [ Interruption in interview ] T: You were at Yorktown Beach when the war was over. D: Okay. But growing up, my cousins were all boys, so I grew up playing with boys all my life. And my first cousin and I, we were here this was during World War II I would listen. In those days, shortwave r you would get Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose. We could listen to them on shortwave. I would write down they would give you Axis Sally in particular would give you ir serial number and their home address. And those that I could write down, I would write to the parents and tell them. And sometimes that was the first they knew about it, because it takes a little while for the War Department to get news to them. It happ ened to us. My cousin and I decided to go to the movies on a Saturday night. That night, his brother, who was on D Day, his plane had been shot down, he was saved. He had been taken a German prisoner. People were doing the


TMP 029; Day; Page 6 same thing that I had been doing, and his mother got these phone calls and then got these letters long before she got word that he had been taken as a prisoner. So, it was interesting, some of the things we would do then during those years. T: What was the reaction to that, when that hap pened? D: I mean, people were so grateful and wrote letters and thanked you for doing this. But when she heard this, of course, she broke down. She was glad he was saved, but to know he was a German prisoner was something else. But finally after it had to be months, we would get some letters from him from German camp. I have one now; I saved one. Things would be cut out of it. And you could write back. After he came home after the war, he said he did get some letters but not many . He managed to surviv e the march that they put him on, and he came back home. Then I had a brother in law . I n the meantime, my sister was married during the war and her husband was in Germany. He was wounded come back. T: Virginia gave a lot during World War II. D: Yes. T: So what are your earliest memories of Mathews? D: Mathews? I just remember growing up in Mathews. I remember first day of school at Cobbs Creek School. I remember riding the school bus. I r emember May Days we used to have, and the maypole dance. I just remember being a probably until I got to become an adult. And I would think, half the people had a lot more


TMP 029; Day; Page 7 than we had. the neighborhood; we played games. We skipped rope. We played cops and robbers. This is something we used to do: we used to stuff an old pocketbook full of paper, put a string on it, an d we would go and put it in the highway. Then hide behind the bushes. And when a car would come along they would stop to pick up that pocketbook. Then But we had one angry person. He stepped on the string and we a nd would I trade. T: For listeners who woul this means, can you explain a May Day in Mathews? D: A May Day. Every school had a May Day back in those days. You elected a queen; you had a queen and her court. And then, usually the P.T.A. had a dinner in the evening, then the children we had a maypo le. You did a maypole dance. Have you ever seen a maypole? Well, the pole is set up and it has lots of well, sometimes they got wound up right and suppos T: Do you have any specific memories of the one in Mathews?


TMP 029; Day; Page 8 D: when I was in the war in Richmond, we never had a maypole dance. This was just here in Mathews. T: Interesting. D: Mm hm. T: Huh. So can you describe what your home was like in Mathews? D: My home was up on Queens Creek two farm. We had a dock and my days of crabbing and being in the boat and paddling because I was not allowed; mother was always watching me, but I enjoyed the wat er. We had the use of the water and playing in the water. If there spots we had a little bit of sand, but kinda muddy Then later on, when we had a than staying in the canoe. Mother and Dad always had a garden; it was my if there were b utterbeans to shell, that was our job. We were supposed to shel l the butterbeans. I remember dad giving me a penny for every potato bug I got off of the potato plants. For a hundred bugs, you got a penny. But that penny, in that day, you could go down here and buy a penny candy, and that was a treat. You could do that. Back when Coca Colas were just five cents, if you got five pennies you could get a Coca Cola. [Laughter] T:


TMP 029; Day; Page 9 D: [Laughter] Yeah. Ev erybody had a good life here growing up. It was . N o y crime. Nothing was ever that. I remember in the wintertime, Dad would pull us on the sleigh. We had a long dirt lane, at that time. Pull us on the sleigh behind the car through the snow. And always made snow cream; that was something we always made, was snow cream . Just a lot of I remember my sister and I used t o get in some fights, I mean really fights. We would take turns washing dishes or drying dishes, whichever one was their night to do it. Evidently one night, we got in an argument in the kitchen. I remember it well, and I threw a cup at her. And I cut her and that something that really upset me. But we remained friends. [Laughter] I remember how glad I was when we came back from Richmond. My dad was hurt during World War II; he fell and broke his knee cap. And he was in the hospit al. O f cours e, penicillin had gone to war; y any penicillin in the hospital. He had infection in his kneecap, and he was in the hospital for months. So, when he was recovering, we came down and stayed here, at the house here. That was when I was a sophomore in high school and I spent half of that year in school here. Then we went back and then he decided to move back here. And I came back as a junior and finished high school here, T: Well, can you talk a little bit about what Cobbs Creek School and [ Mathews ] High School were like?


TMP 029; Day; Page 10 D: Yes. School was fun. You it was fun. I noticed the kids today, I really think they because we see the girls those pr problems. And we the whole class had a good time together. In fact, we still years we had. I was very fortunate in the school: I was the student council president, I was president of the Beta Club. About fifteen years ago, they had a program, history of the Beta Club at the high school. I was the first president, the first Beta Club we ever had, and they invited me to come up and talk. And as I Before the new auditorium was there, this stage just good. T: Did the school in the [19]40s look different than it does now? D: Oh, certainly. T: D: You mean the school building or the school itself? T: Both.


TMP 029; Day; Page 11 D: Both. Well, the building at that time when I was in high school you had a home economics cottage on one side, which was a home with everything in it: the kitchen and bedroom, everything. On the other side of t he building was the shop, and that was where you learned to build. And when you were a freshman, you had to have The boys would take home economics, too. They were supposed to learn to cook and sew. The girls would go over in the shop and they would build little things. T: Was there ever resistance to that? D: No, no, no! Uh uh, uh uh! The boys had fun over in the home ec cottage. resist doing this; it was just something they knew they were supposed to do. So they did it. Mm t have an assistant principal. W e had just one secretary with the princ ipal. And then we would have basically a science, math, English what else would there be? home economics teacher and then the shop teacher. And l ots of these teachers filled in. L ike my English teacher, she directed us in the plays. When we did a play, t hat was her job. And everybody filled in for something else. And of course, when it came to junior senior prom, was a big night for everybody. And one teacher would be the spon sor and they for the prom. You always


TMP 029; Day; Page 12 had a teacher involved. The proms were we always did our own decorating. We thought it was a great time. We just thought it was wonderful, particularly when you beca teacher in this day and time. I would probably be in jail. They would probably put me in jail. I re member our county superintendent, Mr. Morris W e did an interview with him, and he was superintendent here for years. Just before he that order, mm hm, mm hm. T: Okay. What about D: Let me tell you this: I was always taught that if I got a whipping in school, I woul d brought up in school. My dad made me keep grades. He made me keep my grades up, because in Richmond one day coming home, I had a C on my report card and I thought anyhow, all the way home, I changed that C into a B. Well, I thought I had gotten away with it C [Laughter] with all the erasing. And the teac her caught it; she caught it. And of [Laughter] T: Do you remember anythi ng about Cobbs Creek Elementary the building?


TMP 029; Day; Page 13 D: Yes. Mm hm, I do. It was a square, wooden build ing. We had outside toilets, no plumbing. My room was upstairs; Miss Mildred Jones was my first grade teacher. I can remember her well. She taught first and second. Sarah Saddler taught third and fourth grade. Now, Sarah Saddler is related to my grandmothe r on my that was her terms for when she spoke of her. And I remember going I said, should I call her Cousin Sarah? Am I supposed to call her Cousin Sarah? But I d her Miss Saddler This is something interesting: we would have a fruit roll for the teachers. You ever heard of that? Well, we would surprise them. had at home that we could bri ng, and we would get the teacher to write something on the board so she had her back to us. Th any body fruit roll for the teacher. T: D: Mm hm. T: Do you remember anything about the African American schools at the time? D: And when she would come to the house, she and I would now. I see her real often. We would play together. I never had any black people living in our neighborhood, and I just never grew up with knowing anything much about them. When I was living in the city, I used to get


TMP 029; Day; Page 14 real upset because it bothered me that the blacks paid the very same thing I paid to get on that bus or streetcar, and they had to stand if the seats were filled. And ay it is. black people and get reprimanded for it. Get reprimanded for it. But that was my neighborho in high school, we were not integrated then, and it was sort of separate. Still not having any in my T: Yeah. Do you have a sense of how race relations ch anged over time? D: Yes! My children . when my son was born, I had a lady that was working for me, and she became she helped me a great deal with him. If I went to the doctor, she would go with me or when ever I needed her she would go with me. He had grown up just loving her, you know? His first day in school, segregation had begun it was the thing of the time. And I kept wondering what his reaction hard for them. They h ad not had that association with blacks like he had. But the sad part about it is, as he got older, he became . very much like the rest of his reaction was gonna be. But he seemed to make out okay. Of course, he had been with Alice along. My daughter ca he had Alice, too. But it friend, Lois came in. Both of


TMP 029; Day; Page 15 them remained our friends for years. They were both at their weddings and s with, anything with the segregation in the schools at that point. The children, we never had any problems at home or in school. They came along through it fine and had some black friends. T: need to D: T: Okay, all right. Have you ever had any interaction with the watermen, when you were a kid? D: Not a kid, but when I married, I married into the Garrett family, who owned one of the largest seafood places here in Mathews. And yes, then these watermen are still very, very much my friends very much my cohorts and I think the world of each one of them. They are really the salt of the earth; most of them are the salt of the earth. A nd they work hard, some of them play hard as they work. B ut basically they are good people. They are good people and I know them all. I know them all. I know the boats, I know how the fishing is done. In fact, I just interviewed a young man from Mathews who has scallop boats in Newport News. And he was talking about his boats, and I said to him, do these trawlers still the crew gets sixty and the owner gets forty? He looked at me, he says, how do you know tha t? I said, well, I grew up in my adult life wit h that. Yes, I know a lot about the watermen.


TMP 029; Day; Page 16 T: What was it like getting to know them? D: At first it was strange because not so much when I was in high school because the schools had become combined, but you gotta realize the county had a school in New P oint, Lee Jackson, one at Cobbs Creek, one at Gwynns Island. And they were very competitive. I mean, these areas were competitive in sports and everything. And th at thing came along in my era. I t was still there even when the schools consolidated. The comp etition between New Point, Gwynns Island, Mathews, and Cobbs Creek was still a little bit a competition there. So it was something new for me to get to know these watermen, but I did. I got to know them and live there for maybe fifteen years, si xteen years. Uh huh. I saw the fishing industry when I was married was at its peak I was there to see it go down to the bottom, when there was nothing left. T: What were the side effects of that collapse, from peak to bust? D: Oh, I sa w men . T hey had to give up so many things that they had been trawlers and in fishing and in that business. And then he died suddenly. His son was a good worker, but he just drank too much. And business just went down. But his mother never thought there was anything wrong with him, that he was in good shape. [ Interruption in interview ]


TMP 029; Day; Page 17 D: When I l ook and drive through the county, where all the new homes have gone on 198 just up almost to Soles. Ther e i s no Soles post office anymore, but there used to be one there. was a big farmer here. Later, it was airport [inaudible 35:02] taking the old, historic places and selling the waterfront off for money delighted to have people move in, but I just hate to see that land gone. It was once good land there, and now houses and building new houses. I would love to see people restore old ho uses, because my son is just as bad as that. My mother gave him a piece of property on the farm there, and he and his wife put a home up. And it was just at the head of the cre ek, not very much water, but on high tide it was water. After my mother died, he wanted to buy her place. So my sister and I decided to let him have it. When they got ready to build, they had peop le come in to look at the house. A nd what they wanted to bui and wanted to know if he could tear it down. Well, my sister said okay, because she was living in Reedville and had been living ove r there for years. And she says Walter, I just will not watch. If this is what you want and you have it, then this is what you have to do. So, he had the fire


TMP 029; Day; Page 18 department th ey wanted a training lesson on. S was gone A nd by that evening, you could never ha ve told there was a house said goodbye to it, and then it was gone. So that was it. But anyhow, he built himself a new home. So tha t kind of thing I see changing over. Of cour se, during this I hope the waterfront, if you can get something on the waterfront. And the waterfront pro pert y is being taken up just . A anymore, they want just enough that they can take care of. Fortunately, where I live, it was an old home place, and the old home has been remodeled. And they lady that built the house where I live had bought four and a half acres from that original farm. We had kept it like that; none of us would let any of it go. You never top, but I just do hate to see all this land just taken up. T: Do you see a solution to that? D: lanning commission see it kinda work it out for the best for everybody. T: Are there any othe


TMP 029; Day; Page 19 D: No, I just think Mathews is the greatest place anybody wants I introduce friends this, but we still live in a town my keys are in my c ar. I never take them out. If I go to Gloucester our neighbor no. I immediately lock my car and take it out. tell you where it is right now. I would have to go look for it. Normally, when I leave where you feel like you can do that. In fact, I go to the grocery store and people the office? Let me pay you so and eipt. can still do that. [ Interruption in interview ] T: D: Oh! I want to tell you about the skating rink we had here in the county up on the would go on the Saturday afternoons, always open on the Saturday aft on Saturday


TMP 029; Day; Page 20 evening, we would get a chance to ride from the Beach Hill Theater up to the black theater, which was in the Thomas Hunter School. We would take the reels there was a young boy that did the driving, a nd another girl and I would ride with him. And each Saturday night, that was our fun. We would take the first reel after it ran at the Beach Hill Theater up to the black theater, come back, T: Was the boy that drove the car, was he white or black? D: He was white. T: Okay. D : Mm hm. And the daughter of the theater owner was the other girl that was in the T: Okay. [ End of interview ] Transcribed by: Jessica Taylor November 5, 2014 A udit edited by: Austyn Szempruch November 12, 2014 Final edited by: Jessica Taylor