Accessibility Navigation:

Interview with Elaine H. Denton

Denton, Elaine H.
Denton, Cayce
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places; Childhood adventures
Elaine Denton talks about her family and her first kiss
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Cayce Denton interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
CD (Cayce Denton): This is Elaine Denton of Charlotte, North Carolina. Um, first why don't you tell me where you grew up, where you spent most of your life?
ED (Elaine Denton): I spent my life all over the South, but mainly I grew up in Laurinburg, North Carolina.
CD: OK. Where, were you born in Laurinburg?
ED: No, I was born in Wilmington, and, um, my father worked for the telephone company so we traveled around. I lived in Atlanta for a while, I lived in Birmingham, um, lived in Lumberton and then finally, uh, was in Laurinburg during my high school years, and then after I graduated we moved to Charlotte.
CD: OK, where did you attend college?
ED: East Carolina University.
CD: And how long were you there?
ED: About a year. Then I came back to Charlotte, or I came to Charlotte and, uh, because my daddy got transferred and I went to work for BellSouth. I worked there for 28 and a half years and retired. Then I contracted back. That brings us up to today. [Laughs]
CD: So, you grew up mostly in-.
ED: In Laurinburg, North Carolina, while I was in high school I worked in a, uh, drug store, and I met, uh, lot of strange characters. Um, one of them, you want me tell a story?
CD: Yeah.
ED: OK. // [Laughs] //
CD: // Go ahead. //
ED: OK. [Laughs] One of them was this, this old spinster by the name, we called her Miss Mary, I don't even know what her last name was, but anyway, she was, uh, an uneducated woman, uh, she couldn't read although she carried a newspaper tucked under her arm, um, everywhere she went, and, uh, she was on welfare and she, um, she took a lot of medication, and uh, so that's how I got to know her is she would come to the drug store to get her prescriptions refilled and I would have to look at them and see which ones it was time to refill and all that kind of stuff. And uh, she, as I got to know her better, I learned that she never did like men, and I don't exactly know why but, uh, but I knew she didn't, the only man she said was ever any account whatsoever was her daddy. And, um, other than that she had no use of them whatsoever. So one day I was, uh, up at the soda fountain, uh, helping out, uh, up there and, and one of the things I did for her is, is she had no teeth, um, and she couldn't, she couldn't, uh, swallow her pills so I would mash them up using the back of a spoon. And, um, so, anyway, uh, this friend of mine was sitting over there in the booth one day, that same day, reading the newspaper, and, uh, eating a sandwich that I had made him and he was a real good friend and I, I decided I was going to play a little trick on him. So, um, I told Miss Mary while I was crushing up her pills that that was my husband, and I told her that he was extremely jealous of me and that he stood, he sat there day in and day out and watched me wait on men and, to make sure I wasn't cheating on him. So anyway, so, so Miss Mary said, um, um, she thought that was awful and that I ought to leave him, and the next thing I knew she had wadded up that newspaper and had gone over to that booth and started clobbering him. And he didn't even know that I was telling her any such story about him, so he got, you know, he thought it was some mad wild woman and he crawled up under the booth and was screaming and hollering for her to, to quit hitting on him. [Laughs]
CD: So growing up, how many, how many brothers and sisters did you have growing up? Did you have any brothers and sisters?
ED: Yeah I had, I have one brother, who is 11 months older than me and I had three sisters, um, two of which are still living. Uh.
CD: How, how old, how much older are you than your sisters?
ED: Well, hmm, my, my next sister is a year and a half younger than me, and the next one is I'd say around six years younger, I don't really know. [Laughs] I can't remember how old she is. [Laughs]
CD: What about the youngest?
ED: The youngest passed away. Be two years ago January.
CD: So how, how much younger was // she? //
ED: // Oh, // she was 10 years younger than me.
CD: So you were, you were, were you close to her considering how, were you close to your younger sisters considering how old, how much older you were?
ED: Well I was, um, yeah but in a different way, not in a sisterly way, kind of in a motherly way, she, she referred to me as her other mother because, uh, I was 10 years old then and I thought it was cool to take her around with me wherever I went and all that kind of stuff, so, so, anyway, I took care of her a lot. And my middle sister, um, uh, we're, we're close but, um, but, but probably not as close as the one next to me in age. And then of course my brother, who is 11 months older than me, he and me and my sister that's a year and a half younger than me, used to, used to go around together a lot when we were teenagers and we dated together. We double, triple dated, that kind of thing, went to dances and stuff like that.
CD: Did you ever get into any trouble?
ED: They did, I didn't. [Laughs] I had to cover for them all the time. [Laughs] No I didn't, I didn't ever get in any trouble. Uh, they, uh, sometimes they would, uh, they would party too much when we'd go out or something and I'd be, I'd be the, the sane, the responsible designated driver-type person, so, anyway, but we didn't ever really get into any kind of trouble.
CD: Now your dad was, um, prominent in the church when you were growing up, was he not?
ED: Yes, he was a deacon and a Sunday school teacher and my mother, um, sang in the choir and, uh, I forget what else she did, and, yeah, we were all active in the church.
CD: This was a Baptist church?
ED: Uh-huh. Yeah, First Baptist Church Laurinburg. I kissed my, I kissed my first boy in Birmingham Alabama. Uh, we had just moved there and we went to visit one, um, of my daddy's friends and, and his family. And his name was Jimmy and we played spin the bottle, but it was just him and I think he had a sister, and my brother and sisters so the only one fun to kiss was him [laughs], because the rest of them were my sisters and brothers. He was the first guy I ever kissed.
CD: Do you know where Jimmy is today?
ED: No. [Laughs] But he's not with me. [Laughs]
CD: Were your grandparents involved at all in your early childhood that you can remember?
ED: Oh yeah, we used to go see grandma and granddaddy every Sunday, uh, and they lived up in Samson County, uh, North Carolina and granddaddy had a peanut farm and tobacco farm, and, uh, they had, of course my daddy and one other son and we'd go up there every, every weekend, and sometimes we'd spend couple of weeks during the summer and, and learn all about raising chickens and pigs, and possums, and catching possums and eating them and all that stuff, and, uh, my granddaddy was a lay minister in a church, and he uh, when he was real young he had tuberculosis, and, uh, he had graduated from college and, um, moved to Richmond, Virginia to be a banker and then he came down with TB so he, uh, he quit his job and went back home so his mother could help care for him, because back then, you know, TB was, most people that had it died, they didn't have any effective treatments. So, so he went back home and lived and just basically stayed outside as much as he could and, and uh, took the remedies the old folks around there, uh, told him about, and he got well, but he really never left the farm again because he felt like that's the place that saved him and he thought that was the healthiest way to live, and so he just kept farming for the rest of his life.
CD: Do you know, do you know where he went to college?
ED: Um, hmm. [Pause] Might have been Wake Forest, I can't be sure. Might, might have been Brevard, I'm not sure.
CD: Was, was it a large farm, or was it kind of a small, just one-man operation kind of thing?
ED: No, it was a big one, he had tenants, uh, that managed, he had really, uh, a couple of farms, but he owned the land and, and farmed a couple of, and, and, uh, and let the tenants work for, for wages and stuff like that. So yeah, he had, he had quite a bit of land up there.
CD: Did you say, were the tenants, um, primarily white landowners or just black, uh, was it a mixture or do you remember anything about that?
ED: I don't really. I, I think they were white. Now there may have been some black farmhands, I just don't really know. But anyway, and he raised his own chickens and, uh, we ate fresh eggs, and of course we used to watch him catch chickens and dress them, or undress them. [Laughs] Take the feathers off of them. [Laughs] And uh, so, one of them ate my birthstone ring one time and the stone came out and a chicken plucked it up, so, I followed that chicken around for a long time while one of my sisters was supposed to go get my granddaddy, um, but anyway, then that chicken moved in with all the rest of them and I lost which one ate my ring, so I never did get my birthstone back. [Laughs]
CD: Did, um, did your father and uncle go on to college too or did they stay farming, or how did that work out?
ED: Uh, my father went to college, um, and graduated. Uh, my uncle, I don't think he went. He might've gone for a while but he didn't graduate, he, he became an auto mechanic.
CD: What did your father graduate with? What degree did he get and where did he go to school?
ED: I think it was an engineering degree, that's what he did with the telephone company and that's the thing that interested him the most. So.
CD: Do you know where he went to school?
ED: Well I get, uh, I think he went to Brevard and I think granddaddy went to Wake Forest, but I might have them reversed. Anyway, don't tell daddy I don't know. [Laughs]
CD: OK, so that was your father's father?
ED: Right.
CD: What about your other grandfather?
ED: My other granddaddy was, um, he lived in Macon, Georgia, uh, and my grandmother, and he was a judge. He also graduated from college. And uh, // he was. //
CD: // You don't know? //
ED: He was a judge but I don't, I didn't know him very long, because he died when I was about four years old, so I just barely remember him at all, except I remember he was a tall, maybe that's because I was four years old but he looked, he looked, you know, like a big tall man. And my grandmother was a, uh, practical nurse.
CD: So you don't know where that grandfather graduated college? Somewhere in Georgia, probably?
ED: Probably. But I don't know where.
CD: And he was a judge, do you know if he used to practice law or just judge, or what?
ED: Well, uh, I never did hear about it, I just assumed that he was a lawyer before he was a judge, since that's usually, you know, you work your way up to judgeship. [Laugh] Whatever, but anyway, uh, uh, I just know that when he died he was a judge.
CD: This is the end of Elaine Denton interview.