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Interview with Heather Sawyers

Sawyers, Heather
Anderson, Dawn
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places
Heather Sawyers tells about her family's relationship with their community and her brother's influence on her education.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Dawn Anderson interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
DA (Dawn Anderson): This is Heather Sawyers.
HS (Heather Sawyers): OK. One of the things I probably remember most about my childhood is growing up in a very, very small town, um, probably about a 1,000 people in the town that I grew up in. It's really more like a community than a town because we don't have any stoplights, still don't have any stoplights, um, had one elementary school. No high school in my town. It's like five neighboring towns all collectively have one high school, so they're all within the same county. And so I went to [cough] elementary school in my little town. We didn't have a middle school, um, everybody really kind of knew each other. So, one of the things that, um, I'd say I remember most is just always knowing everybody and everybody knowing your parents and everything that you did got back to your parents before you got home to tell it. [Cough] Um, I feel really fortunate for growing up in a small town because, nothing against being from the north or being from the city, but I think a lot of my values and my common sense, ideals and that kind of thing I gained [cough] from my family and just the way they were raised. My entire family lives in that area, um, that's where my parents were raised, my grandparents, um, all the way back to I guess, he would be my great-great-grandfather who was a freed slave. [Cough] And [cough] when he came to that area ever since then my family as far back as three or four generations, has been in that area so [cough] so I have to say like that it holds a lot of, you know, like sentimental value and sentimental feeling. I was raised in the same church so I knew all the same people and a lot of them were my relatives and distant cousins and that kind of thing. Um, so like in my town we have like a little, a monument to my grandfather, my great-great-grandfather who was, when he was freed. They have the area where he lived and that was where his house was. They have like a little monument there now. And it's actually on part of the land that my church is now on. So he used to live on the land that the church that I go to, my parents still go to church there, um, that the church is there now. So, and now the cemetery that borders the church is in the area where his, his house used to be. So whenever I go home it's always kind a that whole feeling of, you know tied to your roots and you know kind of that constant remembrance of that time period even though you, you know I wasn't born to see it but just the stories that you hear from your family about how things were when they grew up and you know, how your grandparents, how that, those kind a things were. Um, so I still feel like, even though I'm from a different generation and now we're so fortunate because we have a lot of materialistic things and you know, we don't have to worry. It's, it's easy because if we want an education, an education is free. We don't have to worry about you know, "I'm the oldest child and, you know, we've got all these kids so I've got to drop out of school," and this kind of thing because a lot of the people in the town that I live in that are my parents' generation 'cause my, both my parents are in their early sixties, um, they, you know, weren't as fortunate as, as people my age are now to be able to say, "Hey I want to get an education. Here's a opportunity before me," because at that point it was kind of like if your family needed you, you had to do whatever you had to do that meant drop out a school, that meant, you know, stay home and take care things in the house so your parents could go work, whatever the case may be. So there are a lot of older people, um, in my town that, you know, I kind a hear their stories and it just makes me really thankful and makes me feel really blessed that I've, I've had as many opportunities and so much support from them. Because even now when I go back, I try to go home at least once a month, um, even now when I go back, it's always like such a big deal that I, you know, that I come back and that I, I'm still, I still do things at my church and still do things in my community and the people remember me and know me and want know what I'm doing now. 'Cause even with high school, there weren't a lot of people, and I graduated high school, from high school in 1994, there weren't a lot of people from my high school and I think there were about 180 people in my graduating class, I would say maybe 15 went to a four year college or university, maybe 20 went to a technical school or community college, and everybody else just kind of you know, got a job or got married or went to the military or maybe something like that. So, you know, when I got into college and, you know, got a scholarship to go to college and it was such a big deal, you know, for, for me and for just a lot of people that knew me because, you know, that was like I, seeing somebody that you know have opportunities that you didn't have when you were a child 'cause, you know, you lived in a different time period and, you know, they've been very, very supportive and I mean, I credit that with, you know, me being where I am today. And now here I am, you know, not one degree but two and, you know, I, I just am very thankful to them for all the things that they've done in support, you know, in terms of, even if it were just somebody that knew me saying, you know, "I'm so proud of you," or "I think it's just wonderful that you know, that you, you're going to college and I wish you the best," or just people sending me cards or letters or just constant encouragement. And, and so I feel like I have a lot of extended family outside of my immediate family, you know, my parents and my three brothers. Um, you know, even though I'm very, very close to them, outside of them, I have so many other people that when I go back I just feel like if I ever need anything they're just always there for me. Um, besides growing up in a small town, um, [long pause] growing up in Ararat, which is a little town in Virginia I, I failed to mention, um, I spoke about how everybody is, you know, very, takes a interest in what's going on in the lives of other people, and one of the things that I remember most is there was a lady who was very, very close to me and her name is Lilly. Um, and she passed a long time ago but she used to, when I was younger, when I did things, she would sew my little dress for the pageant or, um, one time in high school I had to be, um, the Nun Priestess from The Canterbury Tales so she made my nun's habit and the whole kind of thing and, um, she was like the seamstress in the town that did a lot a stuff for my family, you know, whenever there was a special event or special occasion. Um, shortly after she passed, which I guess was around '97 or '98, um, her home, her husband who's still living, um, their home was destroyed. So one of the things in the town was like all the people that went to my church and the people that lived in their, you know, area of, um, our community everybody pitched in and was, donated money and bought clothes because, you know, he lost everything and this was a little while after she had passed so, um, everybody in the town takes a really active interest in the lives of other people. And uh, one of the things I remember most is she was such a wonderful giving person so even after she passed you know people still remembered her, you know, and her husband, you know, when he was going through this when the house burned down and everybody was, I remember everybody in the town just pitching in and that, that's one a the things I recall most about growing up is how everybody looked out for each other. Um, [cough] when the, the tornadoes hit in the Madison area there was a lot of people that sent money and, you know, donated clothes and, and food items and everything and we took them there because I guess it's the feeling of you never know when it could be you, you know someone else in a small town that needs you and it was so close by. So people have always seemed to take an interest in the lives of other people where I grew up. Um, and one of the people that I think is probably, that I, you know, that I, outside of my parents and, you know, really aspire to be like, is probably my brother because my brother is kind of, now he's 31 and, um, he's kind of at the forefront of like a lot of things that I see going on still in the, still in terms of helping people he's taken a really, um, strong interest in the community. So he kind of is the one that's kind a like, you know, "So and so had been, so you know, we need to do this and we need to do that." So he keeps me up on what's going on at home and, you know, he's, he's very grounded and rooted in terms of how fortunate we have been and so I, I kind of look to him for a lot of stuff. He gives me good advice, you know, and helps me remember, you know, where I should be in life and the things that, the kind of things that I need to be doing. So I, he's wonderful because we were actually, he was actually the first person, um, in our family, in my immediate family as well as, you know, my other cousins and aunts and uncles, he was actually the first person in our family to go to college. And then I was the second. So being from a big family you know it's been kind of a big deal. So I kind of, he's like the person that I look up to most outside of my parents because he's, you know, been a strong support to me and I'm his little sister so he always looks out for me. And I remember even growing up, from the time I was like three years old, he was trying to be the teacher and I was the little student because we're seven, six and a half years apart in age so he's like nine or 10 and I'm like three and my mom would tell me and recall stories of how when I would get out of school from preschool and he'd come home, you know, he'd get out of school and he'd have the books teaching me my ABC's and teaching me just different words. So he's been like my tutor from like the youngest age that I can remember. I remember times when we would come home it'd be the summer time probably about, about the time I was about maybe five or six years old and I had just gotten out of kindergarten, first grade years and in the summer when we'd get out a school, my mom would think, "Oh you know it's time for rest. Have fun, go outside and play and do this and that." And my brother would, you know, we'd do that kind of thing but then there'd be the time in the day when my brother would say, you know, "Come in the house and you're going to, you know, going to have your cookies and playtime inside 'cause you've been outside too long." He'd get a book and it'd be like, "You've got to sit down and read this to me. You need to practice. You need to do this and you need to do that." So he was like my own little personal tutor my whole life, even now. So, um, it was like that pretty much through grade school he would always say, "Have you done your homework?" You know, he checked up on me and was like you know, "What are your assignments?" you know, "When is this due? Are you, are you doing all the things that you should?" So by the time I got to high school he was just, he had just finished high school. So by that time everybody knew who I was and they'd say, "Oh you're Calvin's little sister aren't you?" It's just like, "Oh I've heard so much about you." Or, you know, I, "I know that you must be just as smart as he is." So that's, you know, because he was really disciplined and always took an active interest in education. So he decided to go to college and paid his way through school. So he inspires me in terms of doing the right thing and not allowing yourself to get in your head that you can't do anything because of circumstances. You can't say, "I don't have the money," or you know, "I don't have the ability," or, "Nobody's there to support me." He was one of those people that was just like, "I believe in you. I know that you can do it. I knew that I could do it. And I did it for myself. You can do it for yourself." And that is probably part of the main reason I am so confident today, that I never think, "I can't do anything." You know, my parents were always like, "Baby we want you to do your best and when you do your best we know that you can be whatever you want to be." My parents never discouraged me from thinking I could do anything. Um, they never made me feel like any dream was too far fetched. And he was the same way, you know. And I, I saw him out there doing these things and being, you know, all that he could be and you know working hard. Not to say that they ever made me think it was easy because I, I think one of my most important values, that things worth having, you have to work for it. You know, you have to do your part. But if you do your part, in the end you will be rewarded for that. So that kind of upbringing has been a wonderful thing for me and he, like I said, he's probably like my biggest inspiration, you know, in terms of growing up in a supportive environment and having somebody there you know that cares and that pushes you, beyond where you want be. 'Cause we, you know, as children, we have a tendency to be lazy and we just want kind of do what we have to do to get by. But he instilled in me that desire to be my best and I think that carries over into my life even today that there, that I, I say, "Oh I know I can do that, you know. I know it's not going to be easy but if I put my mind to it things are going to be OK." So those are probably the things that I remember most about my childhood or the people in the town and, you know, the relationship that I have with my family because we are so close. And, um, I think that's what's helped become the person that I am today.