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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
INTERVIEWEE: Mary Alice Aaron
INTERVIEWER: Joel Buchanan
June 11, 1986
MARY ALICE AARON
FIFTH AVENUE BLACKS, ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: JOEL BUCHANAN
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA
DATE OF INTERVIEW: JUNE 11, 1986
Mrs. Mary Alice (Porter) Aaron was born in 1909 in Hosford, Florida. Her
parents were Louise and Ben Porter. During her childhood, she lived in several
different places, and she completed seventh grade in Wakulla County. She was
employed with a family in Gainesville, where she learned how to sew. This
became her lifelong occupation. Mrs. Aaron was the daughter-in-law of Jesse
Aaron and the wife of the late Carl Aaron.
Mrs. Aaron discusses her childhood growing up in the country and many of
the agricultural practices of the early century. She explains many of the
techniques used in being a seamstress and describes several of the outfits she
created over the years. She explains what it was like being the daughter-in-
law of Jesse Aaron, a well-known local sculptor, and how she accompanied him
on his excursions to gather materials. She is an avid fisherwoman, and she
details the techniques utilized in catching local varieties of fish.
B: June the eleventh, 1985, ten o'clock a.m. I am Joel Buchanan doing
an interview for the University of Florida Oral History Project.
This morning I am interviewing Mrs. Mary Alice Porter Aaron at her
home, 1606 Northeast Ninth Avenue. Mrs. Aaron has been a resident
of Gainesville, Florida, since 1936, and she has been a seamstress
for fifty-six years. Mrs. Aaron is the daughter-in-law of Jesse
Aaron and the wife of the late Carl Aaron. Good morning Mrs. Aaron.
A: Good morning.
B: Mrs. Aaron, where were you born?
A: In a little place named Hosford, Florida, in Liberty County.
B: What was that near?
A: Near Quincy.
B: And what year were you born, please?
B: Your parents' names?
A: Louise Porter and Ben Porter were my mother and father.
B: Were they born there?
A: No, my daddy was born in Tennessee but mother was born in Liberty
County, in Brooksville, Florida.
B: Did they ever speak to you of how your father came to Florida from
A: No, they never did.
B: What did your mother and father do for an occupation?
A: Well, my daddy worked in the logging business, but ma, she did not
B: She did not?
A: No, not long as he lived. Well, she goes to church.
B: You said he worked in the logging business. What was that?
A: That was cutting trees for lumber.
B: How many children were there in your family?
A: I had three brothers and nine sisters.
B: Nine sisters, so, there were twelve of you all! What number were
B: Now, you said that you lived in Leberty County?
B: Were you reared there your entire life?
B: Tell me about where you lived before you came to Gainesville.
A: I lived in Wakulla County for a while; then I went to Tallahassee
and I lived there for a while. I went back to Wakulla County.
When I left Walkulla County, I came to Levy County. I stayed there
until I came here, Alachua County.
B: Now, you were born in 1909, and you came here in 1936. Why were you
doing all this moving?
A: I just got tired of staying in one place. I have always been that
kind of a person. I stayed here, right after I moved here, I stayed
here until I got tired. I did not have anybody; I was single.
I saved my money, and I took my money and went somewhere else, got
a job, and stayed there and worked as long as I wanted. When I left
here, the first place I went was Lexington, Kentucky. I went there,
and I got a job and worked.
B: You went there by yourself and worked?
A: Yes. It was for a family that I knew. I knew this man because I
had worked for him before. I went to him and I got a job with him.
Well, it started snowing up there and I could not stand that cold,
so I left there, and I went to Tampa. I went there and worked for
Tampa Transit. I stayed there all of forty-four and all of forty-
five, just about. They got tired of me being off from the family,
so Irene and her husband came down there and made me come home.
They got me into debt to hold me. I bought this place. I built a
little house on it, and I worked at the University for the Sigma
Chi Fraternity house. That is where I worked and I have been there
everesince. Right here.
B: Oh really?
A: I moved into this house in 1946.
B: Now you said Irene, who is she?
A: My sister back then.
B: That is when you came back to Gainesville?
B: Let us go back a little bit. You were born in Liberty County.
Where did you go to school?
A: I went to school in Wakulla County.
B: Do you remember the name of the school?
A: Well, it was... no, I do not remember the name of the school. But
I know where it was and my teacher. Her name was Millie Allen. I
went to school under her. When I left there, I went to Tallahassee
and went to Old Lincoln for a little while, but not for long.
B: You said Old Lincoln?
A: It used to be a Lincoln school in Tallahassee, but that was long
before your day. They changed the name of it, but I do not know
what it is now. It may be still there. I went there for a little
while; then momma pulled me from there and carried me back to
Wakulla County. That is where I went to school and finished up what
B: And how far did you go?
A: Seventh grade.
B: Seventh grade. Were you going to school full-time?
A: It could not have been full-time because momma would pull me from
one place to another. It was not like things are today. You could
take a child out of school and put him somewhere else if you wanted,
and let him go to school there for a while. Then if you felt like
you wanted to move him, you could move him. That is the way it was.
We were in the country.
B: Why was your mother moving you so much?
A: Well, maybe somebody, like the lady that partly raised me, wanted
to keep me all the time. When momma got ready to take me home, she
would come and get me and carry me home. I stayed with momma until
she felt like she wanted me to go back. I was always ready because
they were so nice to me, and I had so much fun with their family.
B: Now what family was this? What was the family's name?
B: Was this a black family?
A: White family. All of their boys finished college right out here
at the University.
B: You mean you lived with that family?
A: Yes, I lived here with them when I was fifteen years old. Right
down from the Thomas building. It used to be old Oak Street, but
it is Virginia now.
B: Did you work for them?
B: And lived with them?
A: Yes. I tended to the kids and cooked and she taught me a lot. That
is who taught me how to sew. I did not got to school to learn to
be a seamstress. She taught me herself.
B: She actually would sit down and show you how to sew?
A: Oh, yes. When I put something together wrong, she did not hesitate.
She did not say, "Mary, I am going to make you fix this after a while."
She would say, "Come on Mary, let us do it now." I would take it
all loose and then she would show me how to put it back together.
If I cut anything wrong, she would always show me how to cut it right.
If she told me she was going to do a thing she did it right then.
She did not wait.
B: What was the first thing you remember making or putting together
A: The first thing I remember putting together was... we were in the
country and we had the wash place that was not at the house; it was
down at a spring at the edge of the swamp. Momma had a wash place
down there. That day I did not feel like going to school. I told
her I did not feel like going, but it was not true. I wanted to get
on the machine. She said, "Well, you stay in the house and watch
the food, and I am going to wash." She took the other kids and went
down there to wash. She said, "I am not going to leave them in the
house with you because you worry me." So they all went down there
and they would have a big time playing in that branch that grew
around that spring. They would have a big time, fishing and all those
things. Mother had bought me a piece of material, and I got that
material, laid a dress out on the bed, and looked at the way she
made it. So, I cut that dress out, I make it, and it fit perfectly,
and it looked just as good as the one she made. When she came home
she said, "How do you feel?" I said, "I feel all right." I wanted
to tell her, but I was scared to tell her about the dress because
she would whip me. But, she did not whip me. She looked at the
dress and she said, "Well, I have a seamstress. I will quit sewing
now. I will not have to sew." From then on she stopped sewing
and made me do it all.
B: You started sewing for the other girls?
A: Yes, I started sewing for the other girls. Then this white lady
took an interest in me, too. She taught me the things that I did
not know about sewing.
B: Is there anything that you can not make?
A: Joel, I have not tackled anything yet that I could not handle. I
can bet you any amount of money right now, as old as I am, that I
could go downtown and look at a dress in the window and get it in
me. I will come home, and--I bet you any amount of money--tomorrow
I will make it. You can take it back there and see if they are
alike. I have that talent, and it just does not leave me. Every-
thing I want to make, I look at it and make it. Later on at night
it will come to me, just how it is cut, just how it ought to be put
together. The next day I would get up and finish with all my work,
and I put the material on the table and I make it.
B: Did you do a lot of the sewing for your brothers and sisters?
A: Oh, yes, and for other people too. I have been sewing for other
people for many years, ever since I was seventeen.
B: Let us go back awhile before we talk about your sewing. How long
did you stay with your mother and father?
A: I did not stay away from them more than five or six years, at the
least, growing up. I would say about five or six years.
B: After you finished school at Old Lincoln in Tallahassee, did you
A: I did not finish school there. I finished school in Wakulla County.
B: The school in Wakulla, was that a one room school?
A: Yes, a big, old, one-room schoolhouse.
B: How far did you live from the school?
A: About two miles.
B: And how did you get there?
A: Walked! That was a pleasant run for me. All of the kids and I
would get out of the room, see there were not any streets, there
were just dirt roads. Those children and I would get out there and
run, and we would run and play all the way to the schoolhouse and
be there on time. It was fun.
B: And you came back in the evening?
B: Was there anything about school, early school, that sticks out in
A: I can not remember that well.
B: Is there anything about your childhood that you recall? Birthday
parties, going to church, or being spanked for something that you
did that was wrong...
A: I have been spanked many times for meddling. I was my daddy's pet.
I would meddle the rest of the children, you know, pick at them,
and we would pitch a fight sometimes. Daddy had a big fireplace
that used wood, I. would say, about four-foot long logs in that fire-
place. See, when this house was built there was a fireplace on this
side, and over in the next room there was another fireplace.
B: You mean back to back?
A: Back to back. There was a wall between them. We had a brick wall
in between these, and there was a trap on this side and one on the
other side. But, when it went up, the stacks came together and
went out as one. I got a lot of spankings because daddy would sit
on this side--he and momma had their own fireplace--and all us kids
played on the other side. I would sneak around and get up between
my daddy's legs and my brothers and sisters did not want me in there.
They would say, "You do not have any business in there. You come
around here and stay with us." I would answer, "I am going to stay
up here and sit between my daddy's legs." I would sit up there
between his legs, and they would come and drag me out, and we would
pitch a fight. The next thing you knew it was a whipping.
B; The house that you were raised in, was it a very large house?
A; Oh, it was a large house, a real large house.
B: Did your father build it?
A; No, he bought that house already built. It was an old house that
had a porch that ran all the way around it. I will never forget
the rooms that were in it. I could count the rooms. There was a
kitchen, a dining room and one, two, three, four; four bedrooms.
And this porch, the house just sat in the middle and it had a porch
all the way around. It was not screened in. It was about, I would
say, about three feet off the ground. We had to keep it clean all
the time, We kept it just as clean as the yard.
B: Was the kitchen away from the house or was it part of the house?
A: No, the kitchen was a part of the house. It was just a house. You
do not see houses built like that now. You can still got to west
Florida, back up in the woods, and maybe find one built that way.
But, it was built with this big old porch all the way around it.
My daddy had a horse and buggy, too. That is the way we went to
church. It was a long ways to the church that we attended.
B: When you went to church, did you all get on the wagon, did you all
A: Yes. Momma filled up a little old trunk, something like a foot
locker. She would cook the food, put it in that foot locker, and
put it on the back of the buggy. We had a two seat buggy. Oh,
we were big shots. Daddy had a good horse and two seat black
buggy with red wheels. Momma would put the hood on the back of that.
They had a little tail gate thing back there on it. Daddy would
put the trunk back there, fasten it up, and we would go to church
and stay there all day long. We would get there with enough time
for Sunday school and church, and then we would stay until the
evening. After church in the evening we would come home. We al-
ways got home before dark.
B: So when people say they are having to eat on the ground it means
that people would come to church, they would be there all day, and
A: That is right.
B: What did you do for drinking?
A: Well, they always had a pump on the church yard, and they had plenty
of water, and they would make lemonade, They had lemonade in the
B: Now, your father used to do the driving of the wagon?
A: Yes. Momma did not have so many kids then. There were three of us,
or four of us. There were two boys and two girls then. We would
go to church and stay all day long and come back that night. We
would pull off our little Sunday dresses and put them away. Momma
would do them up the next day and have them ready the next time we
went to church. That is the way we lived, a good life.
B: Did your father do any farming?
A: Yes, he always raised almost everything we ate, All of our vege-
tables and all of our meat. We were just like little boys when he
would go to kill hogs. We would fall right in there and help him,
We scraped the hair off the hogs, and when he would hang them up
we would wash them. We would get a rag and soap and wash that hog
until it was just as pretty and white. There were so many of us you
know, we would be there to do it.
B: Could you do that today? Do you remember how to do that?
A: Yes. I could do it today.
B: Did he ever do any smoking of meat? Curing meat?
A: Yes. He cured all his meat in the smoke house, cured it all in the
B: How do you do that?
A: You salt the meat down and spread it out on pine straw and let it
stay there for so many days until that salt goes through it. Then
you take it out, pack it in a barrel, and let it stay packed in that
barrel, near as I can remember, maybe two or three weeks. Daddy
would take it out; then he filled a pot with water, and he put
red pepper in that water. Then he would dip that meat in that water,
in that warm water, and he would hang it. They did not have wire
or anything like that to hang it on. We would go in the woods and
get something they call bear grass. We would get that, and that
would hold anything. He would tie it, cut a hole through the meat,
tie the bear grass in there, and then he would hang it. He had
poles up in the ,smoke house, and he would hang the meat on those
poles. Then he would get the wood that he was going to smoke it with,
hickory and old pine bark. Anything like that that would make a
good smoke; he would get that. We had to watch that to keep it from
catching afire. If it caught on fire we would just throw sand on
it and put it out. Keeping it smoking, that was our job. Daddy
would raise enough meat to last a whole year 'round.
B: Where he smoked it, did he have a little house, a little room for it?
A: Yes, a smoke house in the back away from the house.
B: The fire, was it inside the house?
A: Inside the house on the ground. It did not have a floor. It had
a hole, a big hole ground out. That is where he built a fire.
He would cover it up and let it just smoke, and you could see smoke
coming out of that house. You could not go in there; the smoke
would run you out.
B: I bet that was some good meat.
A: Oh, it looked so good. One year I remember daddy's meat gave out.
He went to this place--we did not know anything about a commissary--
it was a turpentine place, not far, I would say about two and a
half miles. Daddy went up there and got a whole side of white
bacon and brought it back. He said, "Well, this is what you are
going to have to eat, white bacon, until daddy can get some more
meat. I do not know how I made a slip up, but I did it." We did
not want it. We did not want any white meat and he could not get
us to eat it. He was sitting out laughing to one of his white
friends up there and his friend said, "How you getting along with
your meat, Uncle Ben?" Papa said, "Well, my meat gave out, and I
went and got some white bacon, but my children would not even eat
it. So, I do not know what I am going to do with that meat. I
will just have to cook it and give it to the dogs, I reckon."
His friend said, "No, do not give it to the dogs. Season your
greens and things with it." Papa said, "Well, they will eat the
greens and things like that, but they will not eat that meat."
Then his friend said, "I will tell you what you do. Come home with
me and get some smoked meat for your children. I have plenty of
smoked meat. You have to give them some meat that they can eat."
My daddy went home with him, and when he came back he had a side of
meat, a shoulder, and a ham. We would not eat that white meat.
B: If someone came to you today and asked, "Can you help me smoke
some meat?," could you help them do it?
A: Yes, I could do it. I could clean a hog just as well as anyone
can, because we had to do it. That is something that I learned
and that I will never forget.
B: What about cows?
A: Daddy did not have any cows, but after I married, I learned how
to milk a cow. I always have been afraid of cows and I am still
scared of them. I never had anything to do with a cow.
B: But you could take your hog out.
A: Oh yes, a hog I could take care of.
B: I have heard that people have actually taken a whole pig and used
them to barbeque and they put some kind of seasoning to it to make
it tender. Do you know what that is?
A: No, I do not because I have never barbequed. We have two hogs, that
we killed about three weeks or four weeks ago, that I have packed
down in my freezer for the family reunion.
B: When is the reunion?
A: The eleventh, twelveth, and thirteenth of July.
B: Are you the oldest member of the family?
A: No, some are older than me, up in their nineties.
B: Where will you have your family reunion?
A: It will be right here in Gainesville.
B: Right here. Whereabouts?
B: I would like to know when you have the picnic. I would like to
come to it, because I would like to sit down and talk to two or
three of the elderly members of the family.
A: I have one that I know is old. She must be ninety years old. She
is sick, and I am afraid she is not going to make it, but I am
hoping she can. I have a lot of people coming..
B: Is your family very large?
A: Oh yes. The first big family reunion we held out in Copeland. Of
course we had one before mother died, but this one has been held
since then. The number of families that were registered in the
Porter family was 381.
B: 381, in the Porter family, and these are all relatives of your
mother and father!
A: Yes, they are relatives of my mother and father.
B: When did Mary Alice first get married? Did she ever get married?
A: Mary Alice?
A: Oh yes! I got married on the twenty-third day of January in 1927.
B: How do you remember so well?
A: I do not know, I just remember. I remember things way back then,
but I can not remember something that happened yesterday. You can
ask me something about what happened the first of the week, and I
could not tell you to save my life. But go way back there, you
know, when I was a child, and I can tell you. I remember something
when I was three years just as well as if I set my eyes and saw it
B: Well, tell me what that is.
A: Well, I had a sister who was one of the older girls. She came to
momma's house one day and I was under the house. I was bad about
playing under the house, building play houses underneath the house.
She was much older than I was, and she was married. I was under
the house playing and she would always call me Pie. She stooped
down, looked under the house, and said, "What you doing under the
house?" I said, "Making a play house." I never will forget that.
She said, "Here I have something for you." She had a big brown
marble with one blue dot on it, and she rolled it under the house,
and I caught it. I played and played with that marble. In 1947,
or 1948, my sister's house caught afire and the marble got lost.
B: You mean to tell me you had that marble from that point until then?
A: And that is the way it got lost,
B; And that is how it got lost.
A: I still have my present my momma gave me when I was twenty-one years
B: You do? What was it?
A; A set of dishes, a little glass dessert set, It has the bowls and
the little dessert things. I was twenty-one years old, and that
is what she gave me for my birthday present,
B; Now you had gotten married before this time, right? How long were
you with him?
A: Three months and two weeks,
B; Three months and two weeks. Now at the time that you were married,
did you live away from home?
A: Yes, I was living away from home, about twelve miles away from home.
He was so mean that I could not stay with him. I said, "Shoot, I
am going back to my momma," and I went back home. He had gotten
burned, and they took him to Bainbridge, Georgia, to put him in
the hospital. I would not go with him, because I figured that was
a good way for me to get rid of him.
B: So you went back home,
A: Yes, I went back home,
B: I see, In these years of your moving, what kind of work did you
A; Well,I did not do anything but seamstress work, That is all I ever
did after I came to Gainesville, Before I came here, I worked in
Tampa cleaning buckets. I worked at a care place in Kentucky. You
know, I have been here for a long time, and I have worked ever since
I have been here. But, I do not care where I went, I always did
B: Tell me, how did you get to Gainesville?
A: I left by car, and came here and stayed with 'Rene. I lived right
near your grandmamma's and came to be her friend, and with Lizzie,
Gussie, Odessa, all of them. We were just like brothers and sisters
together. That is the way we came up. I was working; working for
0.P, Wells up here,
B: Who now?
A: Old man Wells. (U.P. Wells.) You know, that hatress, chicken man,
you know. You do not know. I would work there and I would come
back home. I stayed next-door, in that house next-door to Lizzie.
I would come over there and Lizzie and I would sit on the floor and
play around and talk, talk. I would lay down and go to sleep, and
you grandma, Miss Daisy, had to wake me up almost every night and
make me go home and go to bed. I was not married.
B: So you did a lot traveling?
A: Oh yes, I did a lot of traveling.
B: Was Gainesville a good place to live twenty, thirty, or forty years
A: I think it was. I did well here for what it was. You did not make
any money. Everybody knows you did not make any money, but you
could take what you made and live. I paid my rent, bought a bed-
room suite, took care of my clothing, and everything. You would
not want to believe what I was working for when I came here. Two
dollars and a half a week.
B: Two dollars and a half a week?
A: Two dollars anda half a week, and I lived on it.
B: You must have been only paying about a dime for rent.
A: Rent? Fifty cents.
B: Fifty cents for what?
A: For a room, and I paid a dollar on the bedroom suite.
B: You said that you were working in one of the fraternity houses on
A: Yes. I worked at the Sigma Chi fraternity house. That was in 1946.
B: How did people know about your sewing?
A: Well, maybe, it is just like this. If I made you something, and
someone said, "Oh, Joel, I like that. Who made it?" You would
tell them, "Pie made it." "Where does she live? Do you think that
she could do something for me?" "Yes, go try her." People would
come to me just like that. I never had to advertise. I never had
to hang a sign out.
B: And you stayed busy with it. Do you have enough work?
A: Oh, yes. Plenty. They are still out now, except I do not know
what their name was.
B: Have you been a seamstress for both males and females?
A: Some male.
B: Most of your clothing is for females.
A: I made your brother a suit.
B: Which brother?
A: I do not know. I made him a yellow suit.
B: That is right. For the choir. Have you done much sewing for whites?
A: Yes, quite a bit, but I stay filled up with blacks so much that I
do not have time to take the whites. I made an evening gown. That
was the biggest job that I had for a long time. I got a bridal book,
and this dress was in the bridal book. It had to have a long train
behind it with lace, curls and everything on it. I went to the
store with the girl, this Bowens girl, and we gathered everything
that I needed for this dress. I looked at that dress and made that
girl's evening gown, and nobody wanted to believe that I made it.
When she put on that gown and went to marry, when she went into the
church, everyone wanted to know where you could buy such a lovely
dress. She said, "I did not buy it. Miss Pie made it." They
said, "Oh, no she did not. She did not make this." Several people
said that. I had people call me and ask me if I made that dress.
I said, "Yes." "Well, I do not believe it." I said, "Well, come
by and I will show you. I will show you the scraps from it. I
will show you the picture I made." It has this long train behind
it. I cut it and did not have any pattern to do it.
B: You mean to tell me you cut it with out a pattern.
A: I did not have any pattern. I looked at the dress and made it.
It had cuffs that came up along here, the sleeves had a drop, this
was all lace, and up in here it had lace and tucks.
B: This is in the neckline.
A: Yes. And pearls on it and all those little rhinestones. I put all
that in there. I put them in there with these fingers.
B: You did it by hand.
A: By hand.
B: How long did it take you to make something like that?
A: It took me over three weeks to do because I was working at the
time. I came home and worked on that dress a little while. I
would get aggravated if somebody called me. Sometimes somebody
would come to visit me when I wanted to work on the dress. I
would tell them, "I have got to go back to work." Carl was work-
ing, but he said, "Do not worry about the food now. Do not worry
about anything until you get your dress done." I would gather
up all my sewing and go back to where I worked. There was nobody
there. This white lady told me, "When you get balled up and feel
like you do not want to be bothered, come here and sew." I would
take my machine, and I would go back there. I would go back there
and sit in that house and work. I did not have a phone to ring
and nobody to bother me.
B: That is what you would do?
A: Yes. I worked until I finished that dress.
B: Did you take pictures of it?
A: No I did not, but they did.
B: You should keep pictures of the things that you have made.
A: I will tell you about another pretty wedding that I did the sewing
for. It was a December wedding, a Christmas wedding. I never saw
anybody except the girl who got married. She brought some red vel-
vet and white fake fur for me to sew. I did not make her gown,
but I made eleven bridesmaids' dresses, two of the dresses for the
mothers, and two little flower girls' dresses. I made them of the
beautiful red velvet and finished them with white fake fur. They
all lived in Valdosta. I told her to take the measurements. I
said, "Take them correctly." I showed her-how to do it, and she
did it. She put everybody's name and their measurements on a card
that she brought it to me. She also brought me a bolt of material
and the fake fur. The fake fur was about that wide. I took my
time and I made all of the dresses and sent them back to Valdosta.
She said every one fit perfectly except one that she brought back
to me for hemming. It was about an inch and one half too long.
All the rest of them were perfect. Two years later I was sitting
here on the porch and the same girl drove up with a man. I did
not recognize her. When I first looked at her I said, "That looks
like the girl that I did the sewing for." She brought her bride
book and she came in there and showed me her pictures. That is the
way I got a chance to see it. Beautiful!
B: Where do you think your talent came from or did you learn it?
A: Well, I learned by sitting down and watching the white lady that
I knew. Watching her sew, I saw how she did things, and I got
interested in it. Then she began to teach me. If I did not do
it right, she would show me how to correct my mistakes. It just
came to me,
B: Do you think you could teach someone to do it?
A: Well, I could in my younger days, but I do not have the patience
now. I do not have the patience to teach, although I have taught
many people how to sew. I have a sister in Jacksonville that can
make anything in the world that she wants. She is my baby sister
and she sews just like me. The only thing she can not do is cut
without a pattern like me. But she can make anything. I taught
her how to sew, I have been asked to go out and teach here, but
I just did not do it because my patience is not like it used to be.
People want me to come over there and teach them, but I would rather
be sitting up on the fishing creek somewhere. That is my hobby too.
B: Do you like to fish?
A: I fish everyday. If I did not have to sew, I would be gone today,
but I have some dresses I have to finish. I have about four more
dresses I have to make this week.
B: Normally, from the time you put the fabric on your table and until
you put the last hem in it, how long does it take you to do a very
A: About four hours.
B: Four hours. Now what is a complicated dress? When I say simple,
what would be more difficult to do?
A: Well, a dress with a whole lot of ruffles or drapes. I would say
that is a difficult dress to do.
B: How many hours would that take?
A: I would take at least six hours on that.
B: Six hours. You have been sewing for fifty-six years, always sewing
out of your home, and you never advertised. Did black people do
more sewing years ago than they do now? Did you have more people
actually getting things made twenty or thirty years ago?
A: No, there are more now.
B: You have more now. Why do you think so now?
A: I know it because there are so many people who are buying material
now. People did not buy material back then like they do now.
They see all this beautiful material, they buy it, and they look
in these pattern books and see something that they want. So they
have it made, because it is cheaper to buy the material and have
the dress made than it is to go to the store and buy one. For
example, Miss Adams, Willie Adams' wife, went to the store and got
some material, beautiful material, for a dollar a yard. She had
already bought a dress from Belk Lindsey's, an eighty-dollar dress
--they had it on sale for fifty dollars--because she liked it; she
liked the way it fit. She bought three yards of material for a
dollar a yard, brought it to me, and told me, "I know you can do
it. I want you to make this dress." I said, "Not with out a pat-
tern." She looked at me and said, "I do not believe that because
I know you can do it." She hung this dress up and told me, "Just
make the same size as that and it will fit. As soon as you get
through with it call me," and she walked on out and left. It was
complicated up here because it has this kind of round yoke and
needed tucks in it so this big blouse fell around the hips and
came down and bloused in with the wide skirt. I took it and laid
it on the table and looked at it. Then I put it away. A few days
later I went back and got it, and I cut it out, and I made it. I
worked at it all that day off and on, but I finished it. I called
her, and she came and picked it up. I said, "If you find anything
wrong with this dress you bring it back. Let me correct it." She
said, "I will not find anything wrong with it." And she went home.
Sunday she wore the dress to church; she belongs to Mt. Pleasant.
She put that dress on and I wish you could have seen her with it
on. She looked like I made it on her. She paid fifty dollars for
the dress she had and the material did not look nearly as good,
but she got the other dress for three dollars and fifteen dollars
B: So she bought a fifty-dollar dress, but she had a better looking
dress for eighteen dollars.
A: That is right. That is why people will not buy these high priced
clothes they see in the store, not when they find somebody that
can make them. You can get your clothes somewhere cheaper.
B: Yes, and you get the color you want and actually the style.
A: The color you want; the style you want; everything. You can get
it any length you want it, just as large as you want it, and made
like you want it.
B: Do you have many people that come to you wanting things let out or
taken in, or....
A: No. I do not like that.
B: You start from scratch then.
A: Yes, I start from scratch. If I make anything, I will tell you
right now, if I put that tape measure on and cut it to make it, you
better bet it is going to fit. Very seldom do I have to let some-
thing out or take something up.
B: Would you work full time now as a seamstress now if you had to do
A: At home I would. Well, I am doing it now. That is all I do.
A: Well, it is the truth. That is all I do. That is all I have to do.
B: Just sew and fish.
A: Sew and fish. That is all. I do not want to do anything else.
I have two machines. I have one sitting up out here and one in
my sewing room. When I have a dress to make that takes two kinds
of thread, I take one kind and put it on the machine in there, and
the other kind I put out here. When I need to use the other kind
of thread, I just take my clothes and go in there to the other
machine and use that. Then I do not have to unthread or change it
B: For the years that you have been sewing, I am surprised to see
that you have one of these modern machines. Do you not like the
A: Because it is bad for my leg. I have a crippled leg, but that is
what I learned on--pedal. We did not know anything about electric
machines back then. We had an old pedal machine and I enjoyed it
then. But since I have gotten used to the electric, I do not want
to use one of those. Well, I can not now.
B: The pictures that you see in history books show ladies years ago
wearing large, heavy, satin and lace dresses. Is it true that
people twenty or thirty years ago used a lot of satin.
A: It is coming back. Satin is coming back.
B: Have you seen the styles come around?
A: Yes they are coming back also. The same styles that some of the
people are wearing now, I wore when I was fourteen years old. The
same styles, and I made them.
B: That is the dress with the long top.
A: Long waist. That long waist down there with the blouse here, I
wore those things when I was a teenager girl, They are right back,
and people are making so much about them. The rage of the whole
town. It is nothing strange to me.
B: Nothing strange to you yet.
A: No, no. The same old dresses.
B: With the bow, the tie somewhere.
A: Yes, the tie on the hips.
B: And then the hems below the...
A: Yes, yes, that is right.
B: Do you do very much sewing for men?
A: I prefer sewing for women. I would rather make dresses. Some-
times I make a suit. Sometimes somebody wants a suit and I make
it, but I just love to sew dresses. That I do love.
B: Is that you favorite, dresses?
A: Oh, dresses. Anything you want to wear is my favorite; from under
panties on up.
B: Oh really? You make those too.
B: I did not know that. Let me ask you this question, Has anyone
ever said, "Well, I want this dress made. If you go down to 'x'
store, you will see it. Go look at it and come back and tell me
if you can do it." Have you ever had to do that?
A: Oh yes. Plenty of times. I have had many people tell me, "Pie,
there is a dress in Belk Lindsey's window or somewhere." They
tell me. "I want that dress made. I want one made just like it.
When you are out there, look at it and tell me whether you can
make it. I know you can make it, but just tell me about it."
Well, I would come back, maybe call and tell them, "I went and
looked at that dress. When are you going to bring me the material?"
B: Do you ever suggest the kind of material you should use for certain
A: Yes, sometimes.
B: Are the materials better today than they were twenty or thirty years
B: They are not?
B: How do you mean that?
A: Because the material was better. If you got a piece of satin back
then, it did not fade, it was tightly woven, and it did not wrinkle.
Now you buy a piece of satin, and as soon as you sit down in it
and get up, it looks like it has been in the dryer. Material is
not as good.
B: What about the cotton, the natural cotton fabrics?
A: The natural cotton fabric was better then than it is now, and a
whole lot of cotton is coming back. They are wearing a lot of
cotton, and I got a lot of it to make for myself.
B: Are you still sewing for yourself?
A: Oh yes. I need to be working on the machine now for myself. I am
going to make me a beautiful dress to wear to church Sunday. I
saw one I want to make.
B: You saw one?
A: Oh yes. I am going to make it too.
B: You do that. I bet your work makes you feel good.
A: Yes. I know how it is made. I saw it. I could just close my
eyes and see it.
B: Are you going to make it for you to wear to church Sunday?
A: Oh yes.
B: Do you do that a lot, see something you want and make it for your-
A: No. I am going fishing in a little while, Maybe I will cut this
dress tomorrow afternoon and work with it a little bit. But I have
three that I have to finish by twelve o'clock tomorrow. I will
finish those three, and then I am going to start on mine. I will
go fishing for a while and I will come home and rest. I will be
back home around one or two o'clock. The sun gets so hot I can not
stand it. I will come home and rest, and then I will work with
this dress. By Saturday I will have finished it, pressed it, and
matched it with this.
B: I wish I had the skill to sew. You were married to Jesse Aaron's
son, Carl. Mr. Aaron was a sculptor here in Gainesville and be-
came internationally known. Were you ever involved with what he
was doing over at his house?
Al No I was notI
B; What kind of person was he?
A; He was a fine man. He. and T got along very well,
B; When Mr, Aaron, Jesse, started doing his sculpture, did you think
at that time he was going to become as well-known as he did?
A: No, I did not,
B: You did not?
A; No, because Carl and I used to. laugh at him when he would make those
different old things. He would look at it, and he would say, "That
is all right, You are laughing at me now." I would tell him what
it looked like, you know. He said, 'You are laughing at me now,
but wait, You are going to be wanting some of my money," He would
tell me that,
B: Were you surprised when he took off and became so prominent?
A: I was, I sure was,
B; How many years ago did he start his sculpting?
A: Let us see. When did he start? 1953?
B: Was it that early?
A: No, '80? No, it was not then either,
A: Seventy, yes it was in the seventies, I do not know what year it
was because I was in Quincy, and when I came home he was already
doing his work,
B: Do you ever do any traveling, go to any of his exhibits that he
went to? Did you ever go to any of the exhibitions that he had?
A: I went to Jacksonville. I went to Cedar Key, I went to Newberry
with him. And he and I would always plunder together after I mar-
B: What do you mean by plunder?
A: We would plunder out here in these woods and anything he would see,
like a tree or something, he could make something out of it, You
know he would get it.
B: You would be out there plundering with him?
A: I would be right out there in those woods with him. Sometimes he
would carry me to a place, and I would not know where I was.
Reggie just had bought that new little Nova. Jesse and I would
get in that car and we just ride, ride, go all around in the woods.
B: So a lot of the wood he used he collected himself?
A; Yes. He had a hog, that was, he saw this on a tree that the fire
had burnt through the woods down at a river swamp. He went in a
boat with some white lady down to a horse shoe, where he saw this
thing and sawed it off a tree. Daddy brought that thing back there
and it was already burnt over. I do not know what he did to it,
but it was as perfect a hog laying down as you ever saw.
B: It looked like a hog then?
A: Yes, just like one. A man came along and told him, "Jesse, I will
give you one hundred dollars for it." He said, "No, I am not going
to sell it for one hundred dollars." The man told him, "Well, I
sure do want it. If I had more money than that, I would give it
to you." Jesse said, "No, you will not get my hog for that." So
finally a man came along and told him, "I will give you 200 dollars
for it," and he gave him 200 dollars, too.
B: For the hog?
B: And he just saw it in the wood?
A: Yes. That was something that he got from a tree.
B: And it actually looked like a hog?
A: Yes. Sure! It looked just like one lying down. You could walk
along the street and look at it lying under that shadow there, and
it looked just like a black hog lying down. Dad could walk up and
see things nobody else could see on a tree, He would ask me many
times, "Do you see what I see?" I would say, "What?" "On that
tree," It would just be an old knot or something or the other.
He would say, "Look at it good now before you say anything. Tell
me what it looks like." I looked at it and looked at it and I
would picture it for a little while,--I am good at that kind of
thing--I looked at it and said, "Daddy, that looks like a bird."
He said, "That is what it is." I asked Carl one day about some-
thing in the house, My nephew had done some plastering. I said,
"Carl, do you see any pictures in this plastering in the house?"
He said, "No." I said, "Have you ever really looked at it?" He
said, "No." I said, "Well, there is an Indian head up there. I
bet if your dad were here he would see it."
B: So actually the two of you, you and Jesse Aaron, used to discuss
those kind of things.
A: We used to do some things together,
B: You actually see these things with the human eye and then cut
them and put them together.
A: Yes. He would pick any old knot or an old root that he would see,
and he would see something in that root.
B: Where was Mr. Aaron from? Jesse.
A: He was from LaCrosse.
B: LaCrosse? Is that where the family was from?
A: Yes. From LaCrosse.
B: As the daughter-in-law of Jesse, do you happen to have any of his
A: Yes, I have some. Yes, I have some pieces that I kept that I never
let get away from me.
B: And how many years were you married to Carl Aaron?
A: Twenty-two years.
B: Twenty-two years. Have you always lived here in Gainesville and
at this house?
A: Not all the time. I lived in Quincy for a year before I married.
Then I came here, and he and I lived all our life right here in this
B: Right here in this house. Now he passed on recently, when did he
A: The sixteenth of January.
B: I see. How many years did he live after his father?
A: He lived around four years after his father and twenty-one days
after his mother.
B: Did Carl have any of the artistic ability that his father had?
A: Yes, he sure did, for example, like building things or fixing
things. Do you see all the stucco work around my steps and these
gliders on my windows? Carl made those himself, painted them, and
put them on there. Carl had never done any stucco work in his life.
He built those steps and that flower bed, with that black trim.
He did all that work himself, and he had never done anything
like that before. He did some work inside that was something
like what his daddy did. He was just like his daddy. You
will not want to get up so you and I can go fishing.
B: I will get up that early. That will be beautiful. You were
talking about the fan right here, what did you say?
A: Fan. That is a homemade fan back there. You know where that fan
came from? From a heater, and he bought that piece of rod right
there. Do you know what that is on the bottom of it, Joel?
A: That is a flower pot. He took that and filled it with cement,
to make that thing.
B: So he was very handy around the house.
A: Oh yes. I never had to hire anybody to come here and fix anything.
He fixed it himself.
B: It was said that Mr. Aaron was very handy with flowers and vegetables,
that he planted a lot of fruit trees around Gainesville. Did he
ever do any of that for you?
A: He planted flowers for me, but he never planted fruit trees. I
did not have a large enough place. He wanted to put something
out there, but I do not have much land.
B: Being in Gainesville since 1936, and being a black lady and doing
a lot of sewing, I guess you had to buy a lot of fabric?
B: Did you ever have problems purchasing things downtown?
B: Were you ever called into any of the dress shops to do any work
A: Yes. Gilberg tried to get me to work for them.
B: Why did you not do it?
A: Because I just did not want to. I would rather work at home.
B: Now where was Gilberg's located when they asked you to do some work
A: Downtown. On University Avenue.
B: University Avenue. Is there any thing that you have not made that
you would like to make, or that you are going to try to do some-
A: Joel, I do not think so, because I make everything.
A: I just make some of everything, and I do not know anything that I
would like to try that I have not tried. I sure do not.
B: Have you ever made a complete wedding? Bride's dress, mothers'
dresses, bridesmaids', flower girls'?
A: Yes. I have done that.
B: The entire wedding party?
A: Yes. I have done that.
B: Well, I am very pleased to hear that. I was not aware that you
had those kind of skills.
A: Yes. I made Debra Boggin's, I did not make her gown, but I made
the bridesmaids' dresses, I covered the hats and made the gloves.
B: You actually do hats, too?
A: Yes, I covered them with little shells on the hats. It was hard
to do, but I did it. I covered all of them and put on the feathers,
and made their famous gloves.
B: Did you? With a pattern?
A: No. Lay your hand out on something and cut and see. All you have
to do is put your hands on it like this, Just put your hands on
it like this, take your pencil, go up here, up here, come across
here, and come around here, and go around this finger, come up
here and go straight across like that. Then when you get to these
fingers you go straight across, see that, a finglet. You go straight
across, and when you get in here you take your pencil, come up this
way, up this way, and up this way. Then you take your thread and
you tack in each one of these,
B: Now where would the hem be?
A: There is a hem around here. Hem this before you go up into there.
B: So if you just look at something, you can probably do it. You just
use your common sense.
A: Oh yes. You just look at it and use common sense and you can
B: I think I am going to learn how to sew because I think it will be
good to do.
A: It would be good.
B: Because you can always do something yourself.
A: Yes, and you would come to love it. I just love it. Sometimes I
have awakened at night at three o'clock and could not sleep and
gotten on the machine and sewed.
B: You hear so much about children not being able to finish school
and their problems, do you think that if a person took the time to
teach a young person how to be a seamstress, that they would be able
to make a good, decent living?
A: Yes. They sure would. You could make a decent living because, for
example, I get plenty of sewing. If I feel like I do not want to
fish this week because I am going to work, I would sit down and
make maybe a hundred or 150 dollars. If I feel like I want to go
fishing, I get up and go.
B: What is the difference between a seamstress and a tailor?
A: Tailoring is different work, but I can do tailor work, too. It is
similar to being a seamstress. It is just that a tailor works with
suits and tailoring suits, and different designs. For example, if
I make a dress and hem it and sew it up, I would pink the seams...
B: You would do what?
A: Pink the seams. I have pinking shears. I take it and pink it, that
is, cut those little notches along there to keep it from ravel-
ing. Well, instead of doing anything like that, a tailor would
catch a seam and do it like this.
B: Fold it over.
A: Yes, fold it over so it is flat, then come back, and then turn it
back. When you turn it back it comes over like this, that is a
B: I see. So it is a matter of a finished product that determines the
difference between a seamstress and a tailor.
A: Yes. That is it.
B: A lot of the things people are getting done, do they ask to have
A: Some things, especially winter clothes. There is a suit I lined,
I want you to look at this suit before you leave.
B: I have enjoyed talking to you. Is there anything I have not asked
you about Mary Alice Porter Aaron that I should have asked? Earlier
you mentioned that you fished a lot. Where did you learn to fish?
A: I have always known how to fish. When we were kids, we did all of
that. All of the older children fished, and they taught us how to
fish, and momma taught me how to hunt. My momma liked to hunt and
I used to go hunting with her. Daddy only had three boys and one
of them was too small. He took everyone of us out, his girls that
were large enough, and taught us to shoot.
B: Did you learn to shoot a pistol or a shotgun?
A: Shotgun. He taught me how to shoot a pistol, too. I used to go
hunting with mother a lot. I would see her shoot squirrels out of
the tree and I wanted to do it too. I did not hunt until after I
was grown; I think I was about nineteen. I went into the river
swamps by myself, hunting. If I felt like I wanted some squirrels,
I took the dogs, went into the river swamp, and killed my squirrels.
B: You did?
A: Yes, and I trolled home. I fished a lot. I liked to fish. I
went fishing and by myself. I got in a boat and went anywhere in
the river by myself. Then I was not scared of anything, but now
I am just as scared as I can be. Point this thing at me, and I will
B: How do you know what bait to use for a certain fish?
A: You just put your bait on there and put it out there so the fish
can get it.
B: You hear people say that you should use crickets for this, or earth
worms for this, or a fly for this.
A: Oh, that is something that people got here lately fishing for bream.
They use crickets for bream, shrimp for bream, or earth worms. They
fish with the mudworms and wigglers for bream. When I was fishing
in my childhood, we would go out in the field and catch grasshoppers
or a worm from an oak tree called the oak worm. We would get it
and fish with it and catch any kind of fish. Anything that bit
our hook, we caught it. We also would scrub earthworms out of the
ground. That was the main bait that we used, and we would catch
anything with it.
B: What kind of pole do you use? Do you use a liner or do you use
just one of those regular old cane poles?
A: A regular cane pole was all we used. If momma did not want us to
mess with her cane pole, we would go and find straight trees with
limbs that ran straight up. We would cut all those limbs, tie on
a line, and go and catch all the fish we were supposed to catch.
There was a bush that grew around the lake. The call it the pop
ash. We used to go and cut a piece of wood from that pop ash tree,
about the size of your finger, maybe a little bit longer. Daddy
would sit down and make corks out of it and it would float just
like the ones you buy.
B: He would actually make the corks for you?
A: Yes. He would cut the slit in where the line runs down, then tie
it once around, then tie it to a pole out there and fish with it.
B: So actually you did all that.
A: Cork and lines, too.
B: How did you make your lines?
A: Take number eight thread and twist it. You hold one end and twist
this way and I twist that way. When you get it twisted like I want
it, we will hold it tight and rub beeswax all the way up and down
that line. Then we lay it on the ground and turn it loose. It will
roll so far and you have a good line.
B: Where did you get the beeswax from?
A: My daddy always kept bees.
B: Did you get the wax after you got the honey out?
A: Yes. You get your honey out first. We had a machine that extracted
the honey, and the wax was left. We would wash all the honey out
of the wax, and make big balls of it, so when we would get ready
to use it on our lines we had it.
B: Right now if you had to, could you go out and make yourself a fish-
ing line and pole?
A: Oh yes. Sure I can make my fishing line. I tried to buy one. I
tried to buy a black line the other day. I had been hunting, hunt-
ing, hunting, hunting. I said, "Well, I am going to make me one."
I will get some black, number eight thread and get somebody to hold
it for me. They do not even have to hold it; I will tie it to the
side of the house.
B: You can still make it?
A: Oh yes, I can make it alone. I can do all those things.
B: Is it heavy enough to hold that fish?
A: Oh yes. We used to catch come channel cat that long once.
B: You mentioned hunting. What else did you hunt besides squirrels?
A: I have been hunting for birds. I have hunted one time since I have
been here in Gainesville. I do not know whether you ever knew
Charlie Wilber or not. But he and I hunted together and he took
me way out on Hammock.
B: Where now?
A: Out there on Hammock. It is out near Devil's Mill-
hopper. He and I went out there to hunt birds, he ran over a stump
and broke the battery in his car, and it was twelve miles from
here out there. He and I walked from there, and I carried the
B: You all walked from all the way out there back to Gainesville?
A: I got home and the next morning I could not walk a step. I could
not walk a step. I have not hunted a day since then. I quit.
Well, I think I killed one squirrel since then. One day my sister
had tried to shoot a squirrel from a tree, out at Oak hill. She
kept shootingat the squirrels and missing them. I said, "Girl,
do not use all your shells shooting at the squirrel. Give me the
gun and let me kill that squirrel." So she handed me the gun and
I killed that squirrel way up in a tree.
B: You popped it. One shot?
B: You are that good?
A: Yes. I know how to hit. I know how to knock his brains out. Aim
at the back of his neck while he is laying up in a tree. I aim
right at the back of his neck and knock his brains out.
B: I am getting ready to leave and I want to ask you something else.
Because you were raised in the area and being a hunter and a fisher,
you must have some recipes of how people cook things. Have you
ever cooked opposum or...
A: I never cooked opposum because I do not love them, but I cooked a
B: A 'coon?
A: Yes. I cooked 'coon, rabbits, anything. Any kind of wild food,
deer meat. I made some deer meat the other day.
B: Deer meat too? You actually know how to cook all of that?
A: Oh yes. I have yet to see something wild that I can not cook.
B: Is there any certain way you have to do it?
A: Oh yes. There is a certain way you have to do it, and there are
certain things you have to put with it.
B: I have never had rabbit. Is that good meat?
A: Yes. It is good meat. I love rabbit.
B: Do you? Is it a very tender meat?
A: Yes. I cook it tender. I take mine and I salt and pepper it, and
I fry it good and brown, put it in the pan, drain all the fat off
it. I cut onions up on it, put a little water on it, put a lid on
it and let it steam slowly. It gets so tender, boy you got some
B: Did food taste better in years past than it does now?
A: It sure did. I was talking about that the other day, everything.
Take vegetables, they were much better than they are now. Do you
know why? Because they put so many chemicals in the food now to
grow it all fast. The tomatoes are not as good as those ripening
on the vine. Do you know why? Because on these big vegetable
farms they spray the tomatoes with pot ash. I worked on them too,
I know. They spray them with pot ash. If they go in field and
spray on Friday, Wednesday we picked them. Just that quickly.
They swell around the stem, and that is when you know to pick them.
When you can just take them and lift them up and they come off,
then the boss lets you go in there and pick them. Pick them green.
B: Do you have a garden? Do you grow a garden?
A: I have tomatoes out there in the back and greens, and I raised
onions, little onions this year. You know, for me.
B: For you. And you do not use any chemicals?
B: What do you use to fertilize?
A: I do not use anything. I just put them in the ground, I had the
most beautiful mustard greens. They were this wide, from there
back to here. I just pulled them up last Friday, and I picked
B: Did you? So you actually always keep something growing so you
can take them out of the yard.
A: I have enough vegetables growing in my yard that I do not have to
go buy any. When they go and the time comes to plant some more,
I plant some more.
B: That makes sense does it not? So, you grow some vegetables, fish,
shoot meat, and sew your own clothes. So you have it all made do
A: That is right. I have it made.
B: Mrs. Aaron, I call you Pie. Where did that nick-name come from?
A: When I was a kid momma said--now she told me this--she would bake
pies and I would not eat the crust. I would eat all the filling
out of the pie and leave the crust. Daddy got to calling me old
pie crust. That is where my nick-name came from. Pie crust.
B: Pie crust. And it still sticks with you as Pie. But actually,
now do you like pies?
A: I love them.
B: Do you eat the crust now?
A: I eat the crust now. Yes, I eat the crust now.
B: So you do not mind people calling you Pie?
A: No. I hardly know my name, unless somebody calls me that. You
would be down there and yoller, "Mary!", I would not be paying any
attention. You yoller, "Pie!", and I would jump and look around.
B: So you are used to Pie. You have been called Pie all your life?
A: All my life.
B: So now I know what it is. I tell you, I did not know what your
name was until just recently. I have always been told, Pie, and
now I know from the pie crust. Well, I have enjoyed talking to
you this morning, but I am going to leave so you can finish your
A: Yes, I will get on them. They will not take me long.
B: Now do not forget now, I want to go fishing with you one day.
A: I want you to look at this dress.
B: All right. This ends the interview with Pie Aaron. Thank you.