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Interview with James Kallam

Kallam, James
Griffith, Connie
Stories and Storytellers
James Kallam talks about being read to by his mother and books with animals, storytellers in the family, Great gradnmother in the Civil War
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Connie Griffith interviewed Charlotte, NC residents to collect various stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
CG (Connie Griffith): Hello Dr. Kallam. I have some questions for you about stories in this area.
JK (Jim Kallam): OK.
CG: But first let me ask you what stories or books do you remember reading as a child? Was there a favorite? Think of the color, the smells, anything about the situation about reading those books.
JK: I remember a series of books on animals, one was Kai Coyote I think or some such story as that. But I remember, uh, my mother loved to read and she saw that I had some of these children's books. I remember reading those. And then there were the Big Little Books. People don't know about Big Little Books. They were little books about, uh, four inches square but very thick and I had a large collection of those at one time. The only one left is, uh, one of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. But, uh, they were quite the rage when I was a child.
CG: Um, do you remember what books somebody read to you?
JK: Well I do remember it was my ( ), my mother would read Bible stories to me and , uh, those were primary things that I can remember having read to me, those were the Bible stories.
CG: Is there any kind of situation usually you were in when she was reading those stories?
JK: [Sigh] It would be near bedtime usually, uh, and when I was growing up, uh, my father was out of town, uh, as a salesman from Monday to Friday so it was just my mother and my brother and myself. So she had a busy schedule. But, uh, at night time, she would read to me.
CG: OK. Uh, do you remember stories that family members told? Was there a certain time or an association with certain events if you can remember?
JK: Well, I do remember, I guess some stories impress you more than others, my great grandmother who was a little tiny lady, I don't think she was five feet tall and she would just travel by bus from one family to the other, she would come to our house and she was living during the Civil War and she told about how she took her sheep and her cows up in the top of the mountain and hid and slept with them overnight so that the Union soldiers wouldn't get her, uh, cattle and, uh, and eat them. [Laugh]
CG: Oh my goodness. [Laugh]
JK: ( ) It was some stories like that, I guess I think // I remember most. //
CG: // Uh-huh. // Do you remember a certain, anybody in your family that was a good storyteller and what made them a good storyteller?
JK: I really don't, uh, as I think back, uh, as I try and think back about it, uh, I don't remember, uh, I guess a lot of, particularly the men in the family were very non-talkative. But, uh, no I do not remember, uh, any one person who was an outstanding tor-, storyteller. My uncle was a great joke teller.
CG: Um-hm.
JK: But, uh, jokes and stories are a lot different.
CG: Yeah. Do you know any, uh, stories that could pass on some history from this area?
JK: [Sigh] Well, um, about the area itself, of course at one time, this was the, um, gold center for gold all over the country before they found gold in California and, uh, when I was growing up my brother and I would crawl into caves near our house where people had mined for gold at one time, there were, there was not a big mining operation where we went, just little tiny caves you could barely get into and they opened out. But, uh, the whole area of, uh, southwest Charlotte I guess it would be, uh, was loaded with, uh, gold mines.
CG: Oh my.
JK: And uh, I do remember we got into some of those. I do remember that occationaly somebody's basement would fall through into a big tunnel-.
CG: Uh-huh.
JK: -Where they had tunneled under their house. That's one of the thing I remember about the Charlotte area.
CG: They would actually tunnel under homes?
JK: Yeah they tunneled, I don't know whether the tunnels existed before the homes were built or they had tunneled under afterward, but, uh, I know up off of, uh, what was the Mint Street area, uh, there was a home or two that, uh, the basement fell into a tunnel. // [Laugh] //
CG: // [Laugh] // Um, let's see. What stories do you tell yourself to keep yourself going through hard times?
JK: Well I would generally fall back on, uh, Bible stories. Uh, men of faith who went through difficult times and, uh, how they, uh, persevered, uh, in the midst of all that. Maybe with my age now Caleb becomes a choice story. // [Laugh] //
CG: // [Laugh] //
JK: Yeah.
CG: Is there anything in particular Caleb that is?
JK: Well, ah, the fact that, uh, even as he was older he still had the vision of, uh, getting things done. "Give me this mountain." You know. His desire, uh, to keep going, uh, and not quit.
CG: That's very characteristic of you just starting a new job here.
JK: Well I guess so. // [Laugh] //
CG: // [Laugh] //
JK: I hope I make it over this mountain. [Laughter]
CG: Thank you very much for this interview.
JK: Well, you're welcome. [Break in recording] That's fine, uh. Uh, we, I grew up on West Boulevard here in Charlotte and, uh, before West Boulevard extended all the way it did, it ended, uh, down at where Wilmore School is, and beyond that there were these little caves. I, I supposed it must have been one or two men operations trying to find gold. The larger goldmines were further in toward town along Mint Street, and uh, so we used to get in there and we never found any gold.
CG: [Laugh]
JK: But for kids it was fun to crawl up // in those caves-. //
CG: // [Laugh] //
JK: -And look around. See what we could find.
CG: Do you have one sibling?
JK: Yes, an older brother who managed to keep me in trouble a lot of the time. [Laughter]
CG: Do you remember any antics you and your brother did?
JK: [Laugh] Well, yes. Uh, there are a lot of them but I remember one time he bought and old, uh, motorcycle and before he invested in a new body he wanted a battery, he wanted to see if it would run, so we took a car battery and I sat on the back fender holding the battery in my lap while he // [laugh]-. //
CG: // [Laugh] //
JK: -Got the thing running. [Laugh] It ran around the yard and // he couldn't stop it. //
CG: // [Laugh] //
JK: Till he finally ran it into a tree so. [Laugh] [Laughter] We had a lot of, uh, adventures. [Laughter]
CG: That's great.
JK: See if there are any more. Well, at the moment, that's the one I remember
CG: That's great. Thank you.
JK: Uh-huh.