Miller, Martha S. Tape 1 of 2 12/3/99 OH# 255
By Molly Shaman
This is an interview for the Mississippi Oral History Program. The interview is being recorded with Ms. Martha S. Miller in her residence on December 3, 1999. The interviewer is Molly Shaman.
MS: This is Molly Shaman interviewing Martha Sissan Miller at her home in Cleveland, MS on December 3, 1999. Okay.
MM: My father’s name was John William Sissan.
MS: Okay and your mother’s maiden name?
MM: Mildred Merly Johnson
MS: Okay and do you know of there approximate dates of there birth?
MM: My father’s birth date was July the 10, 1884 or 5.
MM: And my mother’s birth date was September the 25, 19, 1895.
MS: September 25. Okay can you tell me anything about their parents? Your grandparents?
MM: My father’s father was born in Texas. My mother was born in, well out from Mange, MS.
MM: In the country.
MS: How did your grandparents? Did your grandparents come to Mississippi? Was your mother born here?
MM: My mother was born in Mange here in the United States and in Mississippi. (Laughing) And my father in Texas.
MM: And in Mississippi, and in Texas, I don’t know how long he had been here.
MS: So you don’t know what brought him to Mississippi.
MM: I don’t know what brought him to Mississippi.
MS: Okay. Where did your parents go to school?
MM: My mother went to school in Indianola, MS.
MM: And my father, what little schooling he had, was at a little country school out from Itta Bena, MS.
MS: Oh. Did they both complete high school and go beyond?
MM: My mother completed high school, but my father did not. I don’t know how far he went. As long as the teacher (Laughing) teaches in one, teach in the one…
MS: A one-room school.
MM: One teacher, one-room school taught I guess.
MS: Oh that’s, so they probably didn’t keep…
MM: They didn’t keep records…
MS: Grade levels.
MM: Grade levels. They just…
MS: You just went ‘till you…
MM: You just went ‘till you quit.
MS: Oh. Okay you have a… You have a bird?
MM: That is the clock.
MS: Oh it’s the clock.
MM: The bird clock.
MS: It startled me. I though, she’s got geese in the kitchen.
MM: It startled the cat too. (Laughing)
MS: (Laughing) Oh I bet it did. Okay, they married in January of 1915?
MM: Uh, huh. January 14th.
MS: Okay and they married in Greenwood?
MM: In Greenwood. Uh, huh.
MS: My goodness. What, what have they been doing, each been doing before they got married? Do you know?
MM: Well my daddy farmed, and he also had a store. I guess they called it a general store. That’s what we call it now in a little place called Quito that was out from Itta Bena.
MM: And he also had the post office, was also in the store. My mother was just, did not work then, she just enjoyed life I guess. (Laughing)
MS: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
MM: I have a sister, younger than I. She’s had an interesting life. She started to teach. And the war started, and she joined the WACKS. And she was in the WACKS until the war was ver. And she could not go any further, wait a minute, I’ve got it just backwards. She was in the WAVES. When she, when the war was over, she could not go any higher in the WAVES so she joined the WACKS. And when she retired she was Colonel, I believe it was. She…
MS: What was her, what’s her name?
MM: Doris, no, well that’s her…
MS: Real, it’s her legal name…
MM: But that is not her real name. Her legal name is Dossie Gene Sissan Lattle.
MS: I was going to say, so she was a Colonel?
MM: Uh, huh.
MS: Oh my goodness gracious that’s so… Do you have to address her as a Colonel, or?
MM: No, she makes me just call her Gene now.
MS: Okay. So she’s, you’re the oldest in the family?
MS: Because there is only two. Did you grow, I would call, it’s not Quito (Pronounced Keeto) it’s…
MM: Quito (Pronounced Quit – O)
MS: Quito. Did you grow up in Quito? And what was it like?
MM: I grew, I was, daddy left Quito, daddy and mother left Quito when I was about three and half years old. Three I guess.
MM: I can’t remember much about it. The only thing I remember about Quito was that mother was sick and she had malaria. And I had been out in the yard and found a whole bunch of earthworms. I brought them in to show her, and I dumped them out on the pillow. She about had a fit. And so did the woman that was staying with us.
MS: Oh my gosh, I bet they did.
MM: Of course I always liked all sort of varmints.
MS: Curious about them weren’t you?
MM: Curious, curiosity is probably my worst characteristic because I have got into trouble.
MS: Oh, oh. It can also be a very good characteristic. You went from (coughing) excuse me, Quito to?
MM: It was in Sunflower County about ten miles out in the country from Indianola. And that was an interesting experience. That was in the days that there were a lot of bootleggers. A lot of the land that my daddy had was in Virgin Timber. Well one day, the revenuers came by, and they saw this smoke out way in the back where my father and the people on the place were burning the trees that they have deadened. And they wanted to know what that smoke was. Why that smoke was there? Daddy explained why the smoke was there. Well they decided they’d better go see for themselves. And daddy said well now I’ll tell you just take a look at that fellow that’s stretched out there behind the car and be sure you watch where you put your foot. The hands had killed this big old timber rattler…
MM: And brought it up to show daddy. And the thing stretched all across the back of the…
MS: The car.
MM: The car. The, well from one door to the other door of the garage.
MS: Ewe that was a big one.
MM: That was a big one. And I don’t know whether the revenuers went or not. I know they said a few words that weren’t very nice.
MM: This daddy didn’t think so to be mentioned in front of his daughter.
MS: No, but it sounds like they didn’t pursue the investigation either.
MM: I don’t think they did. Another thing I remember about this time, we lived right on the banks of the Sunflower River. It was a deep place in the river there. And the little riverboat came from Vicksburg, and it brought groceries and…
MS: Oh, you are kidding
MM: Things that you needed.
MS: Oh, how marvelous.
MM: You know, and the people would come there to get the groceries and the things for the commenceries on the plantations. And it was quite interesting to watch the men unload the boats. You know and put the groceries in the wagons.
MS: Horse drawn aren’t they?
MM: Mules and oxen at the time. I go way back, see?
MS: Well they would have been more practically in this climate probably.
MM: Yes, well you see there were no gravel roads.
MS: Oh no gravel roads, even,
MS: Oh my gosh.
MM: Just dirt.
MM: And they had built most of the roads at that time on the riverbank because it was sort of sandy.
MS: Oh, were there any of the roads that were like. I have heard of roads out in California in the desert where they were wood, wood slats.
MM: No, we didn’t have any like that. Now in Greenwood they had some brick roads.
MS: Yes they still do. So yours was a gathering place at the store.
MM: It was a gathering place, and people would come there to get the goods that they had ordered from Vicksburg.
MS: Imagine that though. That the well, water was probably an easier way to get around.
MM: Probably because, now in the wintertime when it rained a lot and the people had tried to travel on those mud roads. Even the mules would bog down so that they would have trouble…
MS: Oh okay.
MM: Getting through you know.
MS: Well did that make it more isolated in the winter than?
MM: Very isolated.
MS: Was this in connection with any particular plantation, or you had a general store for the area?
MM: The biggest commencery was on Chinlock. That was a big plantation. Now daddy had a section of land. But most of it was not in cultivation, it was in Virgin Timber.
MS: Oh, okay, but he sold the timber then.
MM: But he sold the timber see? And when he sold the timber, then he put it in cotton.
MS: Well that’s a natural progression then.
MM: And the cotton grew so tall that you couldn’t see a man riding a horse through it.
MS: You are kidding. Oh my gosh.
MM: But now see most of the cotton was down on the bottom. It didn’t produce cotton all the way up to the top. It grew.
MS: It grew but it did not increase.
MM: It grew. But boy, it grew enough because when spring came there was a lot of it that they didn’t get gathered. It would be hard for them to plow.
MM: You know the cotton, the plow pulled by the mule was, it was hard to get it through that cotton that was on the ground.
MS: We are so used to now, with mechanization it’s so much different.
MM: It is so different. I can not believe it.
MS: Did you ever pick cotton, or would have someone else have done it then?
MM: I picked it. Well the cotton got ready to pick about the time we were going to, starting to school.
MM: The cotton then you had, you couldn’t plant it as early then as you can now cause they’ve improved the seed. So I guess my sister and I maybe picked a hundred pounds to make us some spending money.
MS: There you go. Not easy work either. And if it was that tall.
MM: No it was so tall see.
MS: That is remarkable. What was your house like? Do you remember?
MM: I have forgotten what you call that kind of house. It had a, it was square, almost square. And it had a hall all the way through.
MS: Uh, huh.
MM: The roof was wooden shingles. And there was a screen porch all the way across the front.
MS: Practical. Did the wood shingles come from the place, or do you know?
MM: I don’t think so. I think they, somebody probably cut them, sawed them up somewhere else.
MS: What kind of things did you do growing up?
MM: Well I skated a little bit. I had, we, there was no school in that area.
MM: And there were no school busses. And there were no little schools in our area that we could get to. Now there was a little school, a one room school, in the commensary on Chinlock. But we couldn’t get there because it was about five miles away.
MS: That was a long way for you to walk.
MM: And that was a long way when you had to walk or you had to go in the wagon. Of course there were a few days when you could go in the car. But the manager or the owner of Chinlock hired a teacher for several months out of the year. Eventually, they got a gravel road. And then our parents drove us to Indianola to school.
MS: Oh my goodness.
MM: And we thought we’d died and gone to heaven when we got that gravel road.
MS: Oh, well it certainly made a lot of changes. It made it easier to go places.
MM: It really did. It was, well let’s see, I was thinking something else. While we lived on this particular, in this particular spot, we did a lot of fishing. Since we were right on the bank of the river. We could fish. And, I remember that my sister got tired of fishing one day, and she was just pulling the hook with the worm on it back and forth. This big old catfish got on there. It almost pulled her in the river. (Laughing) But mother got there in time to save her.
MS: I was going to say, did somebody grab her.
MM: To save her and to save the fish too. So we had fried catfish for supper.
MS: Saved sister that was good. Well that was a good place. I can see why you would probably played out doors a lot and with what was there.
MM: We played outside. We, I don’t know, always found something to do.
MS: Were there other children.
MM: We, we did have, well there were other children there, but they lived five or six miles away. Oh my best friend at that time was Yellow Gal and Lady. They lived on the farm.
MS: Oh, but they were right there. They were closest probably.
MM: They were close by. I remember one of the people working on the place was named Sara Bell. And when mother went to milk the cows in the afternoon, Sara Bell would be cooking biscuits. Ooh, those were the best darn biscuits. And she would give me one.
MS: Ooh you were lucky.
MM: Mother would always give her some butter you know, so Sara Bell would give me a buttered biscuit.
MS: That was a good trade.
MM: Yeah, I though so. Sara Bell’s biscuits were better than mothers.
MS: Of course you wouldn’t tell her that. (Laughing)
MM: Oh no. (Laughing)
MS: So they had, so there was the timber, and ultimately cotton. And you had cows. Did you have chickens and?
MM: Oh yes, we had chickens, and turkeys, and guineas, and pigs.
MS: Oh my goodness, you had the true farm.
MM: You had the true farm. And in those days you had to raise your own food.
MS: So you had a garden as well?
MM: Oh we had a big garden. And daddy would have the people or he would plant himself vegetables that all the people could gather.
MS: Oh enough for everybody.
MM: Enough for everybody, yeah. So we always had plenty of vegetables, and when the vegetables were gathered if mother canned everything or dried it you know. And the other people if they wanted it would come get some, canned or dried, whatever.
MS: It was very self-sufficient.
MM: Yes and we had peaches, and apples, and grapes, and pears. So we had plenty to eat.
MM: We probably ate better than the people in town.
MS: Well it’s possible because you did have the garden.
MM: We had plenty of space you know.
MM: The animals to farm with.
MM: To grow it with.
MS: That’s neat. Well then I can see where your expertise in the yard comes from.
MM: Now mother always had flowers.
MS: Oh, did she too?
MM: And the thing about all those animals there, there were animals that liked feed on them.
MS: On the flowers?
MM: On the animals.
MS: Oh, okay.
MM: So we had a little dog named Sassy Susie. And very often Sassy Susie would bark and bark and bark. You would get up look at night. You would get up and look, and there would be a possum in the hen house.
MS: Uh, oh.
MM: And sometimes the old possum would have already caught the hen.
MS: Uh, oh.
MM: Then one time mother sent me to get an egg out of the hen nest. Well the old hen was still on the nest. So I put my hand under there. Here was this chicken snake, we called it.
MS: Oh no.
MM: Well, I about had a heart attack. I screamed bloody murder. And then one day I looked out there and here was this snake wrapped around the pole that was supporting the clothesline. He had these lumps in it. It was wrapping itself around the post to break the eggs that it had swallowed.
MS: Oh my word. Isn’t that ingenious? You wouldn’t think they.
MM: You wouldn’t think about them doing anything like that.
MS: No, no that’s incredible. What did you do for fun or social activities?
MM: Well every now and then, we would go to Chinlock to visit Ms. Dansler. And she had two children. We would play dolls or ball. If there were anybody else around we would play red light or may I. Just little things that.
MS: Familiar, children play.
MM: And when there was no one else to play with, we would play, my sister and I would play dolls. Oh and we had goats. We had two goats. And the goats liked to play on the see saw.
MS: Oh, for goodness sake.
MM: They would run up the see saw, and they would go down on the other side. Come back around, and go up and down again.
MM: And one day we had some company, adults. And my sister was showing off. So she was trying to nurse her goat. The goat didn’t want to be nursed and butted her in her nose.
MS: Oh, no.
MM: And I mean her nose bled.
MS: Oh, no.
MM: I was terrified. I thought she was going to die.
MM: ‘Cause I never had seen much blood before.
MS: Ewe and a bloody nose.
MM: And it looked so terrible, you know, it had run down on her dress.
MS: Oh, dear.
MM: I just thought she was in terrible shape.
MS: She probably was.
MM: She probably was.
MS: Being scared.
MM: I know her nose was bruised.
MS: So it hit her hard.
MM: You know it hit her hard to make it bleed that much.
MS: Yeah, yeah goodness gracious. Well then, I think on a farm there’s never a dull moment.
MM: It’s not. We always had animals to watch. And sometimes if daddy was pulling corn he’d let us go ride in the wagon. Ride in the wagon and watch ‘em pull the corn and that kind of thing. And we had a horse at the time and we rode the horse.
MS: There’s always something to do.
MM: There was always something. We really weren’t lonesome. Mother always saw that we had books to read and things like that.
MS: Did, were you sort of, would that have been your early education then, was at home with them?
MM: With them uh, huh. Then when I was five, mother decided it was, well I was really I was four, I would have been five in September, November. But mother decided that I’d better go on and start to school because she wanted me to be sure to finish school before I got married.
MS: She knew the value of.
MM: So, she knew the value of an education, so.
MS: Well that’s wonderful. Let’s see, what do you remember, let’s see you would have been pretty small in W. W. I. What do you remember about W. W. II?
MM: I can’t remember very much about W. W. I., except I remember that my Uncle Dossie was in the army. I remember nanny and mother crying. I couldn’t understand why they were crying. And then I remember nanny my grandmother getting letters from him.
MS: Now this was on your mother’s side?
MM: Uh, huh. Now nobody on my daddy’s side went to the army. My grandfather, Sissan, was in I guess the Spanish-American War.
MS: That’s likely.
MM: Or the Mexican War, which ever, which ever came first. I can’t remember which.
MS: I can’t either. My uncle was in.
MM: But he was in some war. But I can’t remember which one. It was not the civil war.
MS: No ‘cause it would have been, was it the one that was in Mexico or Cuba?
MM: Maybe Cuba.
MS: I don’t know my history that well.
MM: I’ve forgotten. It’s just been too long. Now on my mother’s side, my granddaddy, Johnson, did not go to war. But there was a little skirmish around Mount Piela where they lived. They put up a white flag while Aunt Laura was being born.
MS: A little time out there for.
MM: They had to have a little time out there.
MS: Isn’t that amazing though. So the war stopped for a little while.
MM: So the war stopped for a little while. And I don’t know whether the people, the soldiers left or whether they stuck around so that they could start again or just what happened.
MS: Well maybe it was a good thing. It made a true break in the… Let’s see do you, well you would not have been near the river in ’27 so you wouldn’t.
MM: Oh yes I was.
MS: Okay, okay, good, what do you remember about the river flooding?
MM: Well I was at Indianola going to school.
MM: And as I started school that morning, the fire alarm went off. And I couldn’t figure out what was burning.
MS: Because you couldn’t see smoke.
MM: I couldn’t see any smoke anywhere and Indianola was just a good size village I guess you’d call it. A railroad town really.
MM: And I started back home, back to my grandmother’s house. And she said get on to school. It’s just the levy broke.
MS: Just the levy broke.
MM: So I went on to school. Indianola did not get much water. My grandmother lived on the bank of the Jones Bayou. And we watched the water just slowly rise. And it, her house was on sort of a hill. And the water got, lacked about an inch getting into her yard.
MS: Oh my goodness.
MM: Now on the farm, where my, where we actually my mother and father were. Daddy, everybody said oh the water will not get here. It didn’t get here in 1912 and however many ever years it was in 18 something, it’s not gonna to get here. So he didn’t bother. But he did get some timber that if the water did get up, he could put the things up. Well, he was in the barn shucking corn for the pigs, and he heard this roar. And he looked out and here is this wall of water was coming.
MS: Oh my gosh.
MM: And it was just this wall of water that came rolling down and went into the Sunflower River.
MM: Well it so happened that there was this little ditch, drainage ditch in low spots between the barn and the house. And so when there was a lot of rain, you have to have a, you have to get in the boat to go across this water. So he had the boat tied up there close to the barn. So when the water sort of leveled off, he could get back to the house. But by that time, the water was getting pretty deep. So he got in the house, and began to get what he could up on tables and things like that.
MS: Oh, gosh.
MM: The only thing that kept the house from going into the river they said, was that it had two big stack chimneys and that…
MS: The weight?
MM: The weight of the chimneys held the house in place.
MS: Oh my word isn’t that amazing? So it could have been easily swept into the.
MM: It could have easily been swept into it and some of the sharecropper’s houses were, that were on the banks of the river you know.
MS: Oh, but it was just that quick.
MM: But it was just that quick.
MS: Oh, was the house like attached to the store?
MM: No uh uh, now the store, daddy didn’t have a store on this place.
MS: Oh, okay.
MM: That was in Quito where he had the store.
MS: Oh, okay.
MM: Now it was real strange too because where we were, there was a lot of water. On Chinlock there was not that much water. But they also had Indian mounds on Chinlock. Somehow they got the animals to these Indian mounds.
MS: Oh my word.
MM: Now I don’t know what happened to the chickens. But the cows and mules they got there.
MS: They got to high ground.
MM: But I guess the chickens and guineas and things like that flew up in the
MM: Trees and houses you know.
MS: As long as they weren’t swept away.
MM: As long as they weren’t swept away.
MS: My goodness, because that is quite a distance from the river.
MS: Woe. Who of your family members most influenced you or inspired you?
MM: Probably my grandmother. (Tape cut off.)
MS: Okay this is, I think we can start here. We were talking about your grandmother being, inspiring or influencing you the most.
MM: And she did so many things. She grew flowers, and if she had just had some education, she would have been a great person. She wanted to be a nurse. And grandpa wouldn’t let her be a nurse because she’d see a naked man.
MS: Oh my word.
MM: But she finished she said she finished eighth grade books.
MM: In the one teacher school. And then she taught.
MS: Oh my goodness.
MM: In the one teacher school as much as she knew.
MS: Well she was the educated one in a group.
MM: And she really was the educated one even though she just finished the eighth grade you know. She could sew. Money was scarce. And she would go to town and look at dresses. And come home and cut out a pattern and make what ever it was that she wanted to make. She crocheted, and knitted beautifully. But I didn’t get those talents.
MS: We have a lot of talents beside those.
MM: Now my grandfather was a very gentleperson, quite, very helpful. And I think I got that feeling of being kind to people. And my grandmother was rather abrupt.
MS: But that was just her way.
MM: But that was her way. She really didn’t think she was abrupt you know. (Laughing)
MS: She had things to do.
MM: Yes, but there was things to done, and you better get up and get it done. Now granddaddy was laid back you know and he loved to read his Bible. He loved to go to Sunday school. But now my grandmother didn’t want to do all of that. She got enough of that kind of stuff when she was growing up because all the men went to church. And the girls stayed at home and cooked dinner for all the people that grandpa would bring home to visit.
MS: So that meant work.
MM: That was work. She was tired of that.
MS: What do you think was the most important thing you learned at home, or can you pin point?
MM: If you started something, finish it.
MS: Well that’s good advice. Very good. Okay let’s see, you told me you went to elementary school in Indianola.
MM: Went through high school there too.
MS: Oh okay, what was it like?
MM: It was one of the better schools in the Sunflower County. Well really in the delta. Greenville and Greenwood I guess were the best ones, they were the largest ones. But the city school in Indianola was a good one. We had, now when mother was there, I don’t, it was small. But when I started, there was, they just had the one first grade, one…
MM: And second grade and all, but there were enough for one.
MM: Particular grade.
MS: Oh well that’s.
MM: We were lucky. We had a science lab. They taught general science, and biology, and chemistry, and physics. So it really was.
MS: You had a strong.
MM: It was strong.
MM: Now they did not teach home economics, and vocational things right at first because it was a city school and the city children were not interest in things.
MS: That was a rural thing.
MM: That was a rural thing see.
MM: And back in those days, there were always plenty of blacks who wanted to work see.
MS: So there was not the need.
MM: So there was not the need for the home economics and that sort of thing. And on the farm, you see, the women would almost fight with each other to get to come to the big house to take care of the children, or cook, or wash. Cause they got little special things you know.
MS: So it was a desirable thing.
MM: So it was a desirable thing to do.
MS: Wow. Well that’s…
MM: In fact, when I married, almost everybody had help after the cotton was picked. See in 1938, you still didn’t have any cotton pickers, mechanical.
MS: Oh mechanical ones, yeah.
MM: You see. So the women would all pick cotton. Those that lived here in town would pick cotton until the cotton was out. And then they would come keep the children or.
MS: Oh to tide them over the winter. ‘Til the next season.
MM: Until the cotton got ready to go again see. And the men would come up. The owners of the land would drive by the house, and call or blow their horns. And those that wanted to come pick cotton or chop cotton would come running out to get in the truck to go pick.
MS: Very simple, direct method of getting the job done.
MM: Nothing like it is now.
MS: No, no, not at all. Were any of your teachers especially influential?
MM: My first grade teacher, and my third grade teacher, Ms. Coon. And I guess in high school, probably my History teacher, Martha Legrown.
MS: Huh. And why were they especially did they just inspire you? Or arouse your interest in something particular?
MM: They got me, I was interested in what they had to say. And they had, they seemed to know how to, they seemed to understand children.
MM: That age child that they were working with.
MS: So they weren’t trying to, they could communicate well with them.
MM: Yes and they were sweet to the little county kids.
MM: As well as the banker’s children. And don’t forget, you just remember, I think Indianola was the worst place I ever saw about that class business.
MM: Uh, huh.
MS: So that didn’t carry over into the school though? With certain teachers?
MM: But with certain teachers, now with some it did.
MS: Uh, huh. Well then that would have stood out.
MM: And so that would sort of stood out. And I guess the reason, I remember Ms. Ruth so well, there was a great big boy in the first grade. I think he was probably retarded.
MS: Probably too old.
MM: Well, he was way too old to be in the first grade, and as tall as the teacher was.
MS: Oh my goodness.
MM: That, that kind of thing you know. Which you know, she used him to help her with the little ones and to help them. He helped the little ones sharpen their pencils ‘cause the pencil sharpener was in the window. So we wouldn’t grind the pencil up, you know. But he knew how to sharpen the pencils for us. She made him feel needed. And I remember how kind she was to him.
MS: Uh, huh. Didn’t make him feel.
MM: And the thing oh I was so excited. I invited her to my birthday party, and she came. And bought me a little leather book of, oh foot, not Tennisons Poems, I can’t remember the name.
MS: Let’s see who else, Longfellow?
MM: Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems.
MS: Oh. That would be good, yeah.
MM: And Pricilla has that little book now.
MS: Aw, your daughter.
MM: My daughter.
MS: Oh isn’t that marvelous.
MM: I kept it all these years.
MS: Wouldn’t she be pleased that you had that.
MM: Yes she would. And when I graduated from high school, I sent her an invitation. And she sent me a box of stationary.
MS: No, but that’s you know, I think that’s, you as a teacher to have somebody who remembers you that long.
MM: And another one, I remember was Elizabeth Vardaman from Greenwood.
MM: We had Ms. Riggs teaching English from Greenville. And all these years she had taught first graders. Well she was getting older, and Dr. Gamble thought that the thing for her to do was to teacher older children. He never had taught school. He would have known better. Well bless her heart, she taught, tried to teach us like she did the first graders you know. And I can still see her now. She wrote the word separate on the board, and she said that this is a terrible word to learn how to spell. But I want you to remember, and she divided S, E, P with little letters. And then A was a great big letter. And then R, A, T, E were little letters. She said, “You see, there is a rat in this word.” And you remember that, and you can always spell separate. Well those big old boys, there were about six big football players. And I mean they were big men. They were men. They weren’t freshman.
MS: Uh, huh
MM: They gave her a bad time. In fact, she had a nervous breakdown, and did not come back after for the second semester.
MS: Awe, yeah.
MM: Well Mr. Lockard came in, the superintendent. And he informed what would happen if we gave this one any trouble. Well, Ms. Vardaman had this short hair parted on the side, and it flapped in the breeze. She wore those old lady comfort shoes. Wide…
MS: Lace up?
MM: Kind of lace up, well they were sort of like oxfords. And wide she wore them wide and she wore them long. She was a big person. And she had a lisp. And after Mr. Lockard left, she said, “Open your literature books to page so and so and read and memorize that little poem on there.” Well you know, we said, “ha, ha, ha” you know. We didn’t memorize that little poem. So she said she gave us about five minutes. She said, “Get your pencils and paper out and write that little poem.”
MM: Nobody had written that little poem. She said “you will show up in here at three-fifteen and memorize that little poem”. One of them said “I got to go to football practice.” She said “you will not. You will show up in this room.” He said “Coach Green will be mad.” She said “he can be very angry. I just don’t care.” The next day, we got that poem, a poem memorized.
MS: She made her point.
MM: She made her point. We didn’t give her a nervous breakdown either.
MS: I wouldn’t imagine. It may have been the other way around. What were your favorite subjects in school?
MM: My favorite subjects were reading and literature. I loved science.
MS: Really, what were your extra-curricular activities? Did you participate? Were there any available?
MM: I did not get to participate really. I was supposed to have a heart condition. So really all I got to do was that I played the piano. I could practice. I read a lot. I guess I must have been a sophomore when I just assumed not live if I could not do these things. So I started dancing. I did what ever I wanted to then.
MS: Obviously, it was not bad. You haven’t slowed down since.
MM: I haven’t slowed down since.
MS: Who were your best friends?
MM: Gladys Cockerel and Ally May Bryant were my later friends. My first friends were Robby Scott and Edith Zackerah. Then later they were Gladys Cockerel and Ally May Bryant.
MS: Did you keep up with them? Or were you able to?
MM: I kept up with them up until both of us married. I don’t know after the children came along.
MS: You get busy.
MM: You got busy. You just didn’t keep up.
MS: Well people move.
MM: They move, and your letter comes back.
MS: Did you always know that you were going to college?
MM: No, oh another thing that they let me do. I took expression. Whenever there was a field meet, they always sent me. As I got older, well about from third grade on, I always went to field meet to do the spelling. Then in high school, I did American Literature and English Literature in the field meet. Then my senior year, I was on the debating team.
MS: Wonderful, can you tell us what field meet was like, and what expression was?
MM: I guess you might call it, spoken English.
MS: It was the art of speaking.
MM: It was the art of speaking.
MS: Where were field meets?
MM: The spelling, you had the spelling book. You learned how to spell all the words in that book. You hoped that the words would come out of that book.
MS: Not a surprise.
MM: A teacher would pronounce the words twice. They had this little book that you wrote the word in.
MS: So it wasn’t an oral thing. It was a written thing.
MM: No, it was a written thing.
MS: That is interesting.
MM: Then in the American Lit and the English Lit, it was true-false questions, or who said this. It was identifying quotes.
MS: Would you have competed with other schools, or was it just with in your school?
MM: It was with other schools. Now in the expression, you usually had to compete with somebody else in your school. Sometimes you didn’t. Then first they had the schools in Sunflower County. In the elementary grades, it was just the Sunflower County schools. Then in high school, you went to State district. Then if you placed in district, then you went to State and performed.
MS: That is great.
MM: They would have three or five judges. They would make their selection you see. We though it was something. We though it was something.
MS: It was. It still would be. Why did you decide to go to college? Or did you decide?
MM: Well I always wanted to go. Mother and my grandmother.
MS: Their determination for education.
MM: Yeah, mother, I don’t think daddy was all that interested. It was sort of, he had. I can understand from his standpoint. He had half-brothers and sisters. They had a hard time too. Their mother died in the flu epidemic. They were just little. One of them was just four years old. Grandpa was not equipped to deal with little children. I think he sort of loved his liquor too. Well, I think a lot of men did back in those days. They seemed to think it was the thing to do. He was not very good to them when he had too much to drink. They had a rough time, and daddy had a rough time growing up. I think he thought that was the way you were supposed to do your children. Grandpa Sissan was a high up mason. When Hildred, the oldest of the half sisters, grew up. Somebody evidently wanted her to go to college. She was smart. The mason’s gave her a scholarship for the “W”.
MS: Oh for goodness sake.
MM: She got her education there. Then when Betty Lou graduated, Hildred sent her. She got help to go to college. Betty Lou came to Delta State. That started the family off here.
MS: That started the family off here.
MM: The half sister, then Mickey and I came here.
MS: Oh he went here too.
MM: Our children came here. Their children are here now as well as some of the other Shield’s children.
MS: Well that is a good tradition to carry on.
MM: We are carrying on the tradition.
MS: How and why did you decide to come to Delta State?
MM: It was the cheapest place to go. I went to Sunflower Junior College for two years.
MS: Is that still here, or is it now M. D. C. C.?
MM: It is now M. D. C. C. Oh it is such an improvement from what it was when it was Sunflower Junior college. I learned a lot. I got a good foundation there.
MS: Well in those days when transferring. Well that would have been in the forties?
MM: Well yeah, it was coming out of the great depression. Believe it or not there was a school bus that ran from Indianola to Moorhead.
MS: Oh for goodness sake.
MM: The bus was not full of Junior college students, but there was a gang of them. It started in Indianola, and it picked up elementary and high school students in Berrard, MS. It went all along all the sharecropper houses along the way. They took them to elementary and high school. I can’t remember when the busses started running in the elementary grades. It started out first with cars. There was a little country school, Marie, about ten miles from Indianola. It was between Indianola and Shaw. There were about six kids that came from that school to Indianola. At that time, we have left that place way down out from Indianola. We lived only about two and half miles from Indianola. So mother picked up four kids and my sister and I. She brought us into Indianola to school.
MS: She was a good carpooling mom.
MM: I guess I was in the eighth grade about that time. We were still going through the Great Depression.
MS: What affect did it have? Did it have much of affect?
MM: Yes, so many of the stores in Indianola closed. The dry goods stores closed especially. The grocery stores sort of managed to stay open. Gilmer Grocery Company was the big store there. Gilmer had a chain of stores. There were some in Memphis. There was one in Indianola. I can’t remember if there was one in Greenwood or not. It seemed to me that there were a couple of other stores. It was sort of a chain. Then there were some little dirty grocery stores, but they were the cheapest. To get the groceries that we needed, mother would sell milk, butter, and vegetables to the merchant. We bartered for groceries. In fact there was not much money exchanged, but there were a lot of bartering. The farmers had a terrible time. Daddy had sold his. You see all during the year, they charged the groceries and everything that they bought for the farm. Then when they sold their cotton, then they would go pay the merchant. The banks closed. They couldn’t pay the merchant. They had nothing to live on. Daddy sold his cotton, one-day. He got seventeen dollars and seventy-four cents. Well he got more than that, but he bought some things. When the banks closed the next day, he had seventeen dollars and seventy-four cents for us to live on until the next crop was started. Well the banks were closed. How were you going to get your crops?
MS: Right, because you had to have money to buy the seed to get started on with.
MM: Somehow the government furnished the banks some money so that they could borrow. I guess they put up their animals for security. I remember hearing daddy talk about well he hoped that the bank wouldn’t get Mauld, Molly, and Sally. There were some others, but I forgotten their names.
MS: They wanted something tangible, not something that was intangible like the crop.
MM: They got things going, and he made a pretty good crop the next year. Another thing that was bad, even before the ’27 overflow, there was a bridge across a lake, Bay Lake. The water got up high, and it formed a logjam under the bridge. I guess it was not steel.
MS: Probably not.
MM: I can’t remember what it looked like underneath. Well I don’t think I ever saw it underneath. It was just wood on top. It washed the bridge away. Well it was time to get the cotton out. The cotton was being picked, but they couldn’t get the cotton across the bridge because there was no bridge to get it to the gin.
MS: Oh my gosh.
MM: So all the farmers on the other side of that bridge lost their shirts.
MS: Because it would have too costly or too much to go around. You would have gone a long way.
MM: You would have to go to Inverness. Then you would have to come from Inverness to Indianola.
MS: My goodness.
MM: I think there was a fairy. It was at Chinlock that you might get across.
MS: You probably had to pay something.
MM: Yeah, it was two and a half, I think. That was a lot of money in those days.
MS: Those were some times. Did many of your friends or relatives go to college, or was it considered unusual?
MM: My uncle Dossy went to Mississippi State until his senior year. They fired the president of the college. It was a A&M in those days. The a lot of the boys got mad because they had fired him. They weren’t going to school with this new president. So he didn’t go that last year.
MS: Did he ever finish?
MM: No, pretty soon the war started. He went to the army. He evidently he learned enough to be a pretty good mechanic, because he worked on automobiles. Then he was a maintaince person for laundries and things like that.
MS: Okay he was very mechanical.
MM: My aunt, his wife, graduated at the “W”. It was M. S. C. W. at the time. She was another one that pushed me to go on to school.
MS: So you were definitely encouraged. It sounds if you would wanted to go to.
MM: So I was encouraged. Yeah, I wanted to go to.
MS: What did you hope going to college would do for you?
MM: Well I hoped that I could get a job, and not to live in the country anymore.
MS: Did you want to be a teacher?
MM: I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a nurse. My grandparents about had a fit about that. I had my papers filled out to go to Greenville in training.
MS: They discouraged you.
MM: They discouraged me. They just didn’t want me to go. My uncle said you know I know Will Jarred. He was at the head of the Cooperative Cotton Association. He knew Will real well. He was an infuencial person at Delta State. He also knew Mr. Kethley real well. So I got a job washing dishes at Delta State.
MS: Did you really? You worked your way through college.
MM: You know that was just about the only. They didn’t have scholarships like they have now. You could work in the library if you were real smart after you had just about completed your work. You could be a room teacher in the Dem. School.
MS: Oh over at the Hill School.
MM: Or you could wash dishes.
MS: I worked the switchboard. I think I was lucky, I think.
MM: So I washed dishes until my senior year. I was going to be the head waitress, but I had to get out of a class ten minutes early. Dr. Daughtery would not let me out of class ten minutes early so I could be head waitress. So I was doing my. (Tape cut off.)
MS: Tape 2 of Martha Miller, December 3, 1999. We are talking about her years at Delta State. How a teacher would not let her out of class early to be head waitress. So she could have had a promotion.
MM: So when I told, Ms. Causy, that she would have to get somebody else to keep the class. She wanted to know why, and I told her. So she said, you wait a minute. She told Ms. Doolittle, who was the head of the Dem. School. Ms. Doolittle said, “Don’t you worry, just wait till I get back.” So she spoke to Mr. Kethley. I don’t know what she said to Mr. Kethley, but anyhow she said that I would be room teacher.
MM: So I got to be room teacher, as well as finishing my college career.
MS: As a room teacher, you probably taught about what grade level?
MM: That was on fourth grade level. I had done my first semester teaching was kindergarten.
MS: At the Dem. School?
MM: At the Dem. School.
MS: Oh that is neat. You worked up to fourth grade.
MM: Worked up to fourth grade. I advanced.
MS: Well it was. Was sending you to college a financial hardship for your parents?
MM: Yes, I borrowed money from the Field Cooperative Association.
MS: Oh really
MM: I paid it back after I graduated.
MS: Then worked as you went through. Can you describe your first day on campus as a student, or at Sunflower either one?
MM: Those that were working in the cafeteria came early so that they could feed the football players.
MS: Before the regular term.
MM: Before the regular term. We just got acquainted with the cafeteria. Well it was a dining hall in those days. It was not a cafeteria. Then the first day of school, we had registration and all of that. I just though it was awful. It was just so big.
MM: Oh I though it was huge. There must have been all of fifty or sixty students in the freshman class. I can’t remember how many.
MS: It was a lot in those days.
MM: Of course there were not nearly as many professors you know.
MS: When did you graduate?
MM: I graduated in ’37.
MS: So it was before W. W. II.
MM: Yeah, oh yes.
MS: What was your major? Well your major was elementary education.
MM: It was elementary education.
MS: Why did you choose that?
MM: I think I wanted to be like Ms. Ruth, my first grade teacher.
MS: Well that is a good chose.
MM: I will tell you somebody else that had a lot of influence on me was Emma Smith. While I was doing my practice teaching, we had to go to one of schools. We had to observe one of the teachers on our grade level. She had fourth grade. She had those little boys wrapped around her finger. I watched how she handled them. When I would have a little problem. I would think to myself. I wonder what Ms. Emma would do.
MS: Well that is always good to have something to go by.
MM: I think about what she did, and what she said to that little kid that was showing off.
MS: Did you teach after you graduated at the Hill School?
MM: No, I taught at the Hale School. When I graduated, I started in ’37. It was in September at Hale School. That was an experience too. Hale School was supposed to be the poorest school in Sunflower County. I had the fourth and fifth grades, except for math. I taught six and seventh English while the principle of the school taught fourth and fifth math.
MS: So you swapped.
MM: So we swapped. He couldn’t teach the English, so we swapped.
MS: That was a good arrangement.
MM: Dr. Caylor would drive by a lot of times. When he would go somewhere, and he would pass by the school. He would always stop.
MS: Is that the one that Caylor Hall is named after.
MM: Caylor Hall is named for. I had Science for elementary teachers under him. I always had some kind of frogs or some sort of varmint in the room. Every now and then the frog would get warm in the wintertime, and he would come out and crock.
MS: I bet the kids loved it though.
MM: They loved it. The only library books, there were no library. The only books that the kids have were the old books that I had when I was growing up.
MS: Oh for goodness sake.
MM: The library shelves were orange crates that the principle had nailed up on the wall.
MS: Well he was resourceful.
MM: Yes, he was. He was a graduate from Delta State. Evelyn Conger taught there. She was a graduate from Delta State. Edith Turpin, Ms. Sledge’s mother, taught music and first grades. There were just five of us. Then I taught the fourth and fifth grades. Mr. Edwards taught the sixth and seventh grades.
MS: Fourth and fifth were combined because of why?
MM: Because of the size.
MS: Not enough students.
MM: It was small. There were a lot of students out in the fields, but right there where we were there were not many. The only recreation that we had was after school we walked across the bayou to the Italian’s grocery store. We got a coke, and a piece of candy or a stage plank.
MS: Those great old big things, cookies.
MM: Ms. Fugler had told me, “Martha, you may just as well find you a husband because with that little quite little voice you have you will not be able to teach.”
MS: My, my if she could see you. Did she see how things turned out?
MM: I don’t think she did because she moved away. She married and moved away from Delta State. I thought that fall; there was a gin right across the highway from the school. That old gin ran all of the time. I thought about all of that dust, all those noise, and those kids heard me.
MS: Yes, you didn’t have air conditioning then. You had the windows closed.
MM: No, you didn’t. You had the windows up. You had the rest rooms outside.
MS: The whole bit.
MM: The whole bit.
MS: So you had to have a voice to.
MS: To provided merit.
MM: That was quite an experience.
MS: How long did you teach there?
MM: Just the one year, I married. Then the next year, I taught at the Chinese school. I started in the summer of ’38 teaching the Chinese.
MS: Here in Cleveland?
MM: Yes, here in Cleveland. It was where the old building is about to fall down. We were the first ones to teach in there. Mickey and I taught there that summer.
MS: Both of you.
MM: He taught the upper grades, and I taught the little ones. When fall came, Beth McCain taught the little ones. I had the upper grades.
MS: Did you see, that was like a Hale school. I know sometimes would be working in the fields. So they wouldn’t be in school the whole year.
MM: Those, somehow, they got those kids for there for that. Now, when I started teaching in Junior High here, those country kids would stay out of school until the cotton was out. Then they would get out in early spring when the cotton was big enough to chop. In the seventh grade, I might have seven or eight. If there was a rainy day or when it got cold, you might have thirty or thirty-five. You worked as hard as you could to catch them up. They were real good about studying at home.
MS: They had some way to work with.
MM: If there was somebody that could help them at home. They had pretty good luck. They missed a lot.
MS: But not as much as you think.
MM: But not as much as you think. The fun things they missed.
MS: That is too bad though.
MM: You could see that they got the basics.
MS: That is good.
MM: They probably didn’t get that all that in science.
MM: Reading, and the basic part of math. They got the spelling. They could pretty well good.
MS: Had the Chinese school been there long?
MM: No, see the whites would not let them come to school with them, and the blacks wouldn’t let them come with them. So they were sort of left out on the limb. Somehow the county had to see that they got an education somehow. They hired a teacher. I don’t know where they taught. Maybe they taught in the teacher’s home. They just had these in this particular town.
MS: There weren’t that many.
MM: No, there was a small school in Greenville for the kids there. They probably just had one teacher in Merigold. We taught the whole deal. We taught first grade through the twelfth.
MS: My word. What a responsibility, how did you do it?
MM: I look back now how stupid I was. You know we had a pretty good little library where the state had donated some books. It must have been a hundred or so books. We may have had that second year, forty-five or fifty students come in.
MS: Were the parents supportive? That is a lot.
MM: Oh yes.
MS: I would think.
MM: See I had worked with the Chinese children at the Chinese mission at the Baptist church for two years.
MS: That was your first connection.
MM: That was my first connection with them. I always wanted to be a missionary to China. Well, you see you couldn’t go as a missionary to China because China had closed the doors.
MS: By then, yes.
MM: So they had some trouble with some of the teachers because they didn’t understand Chinese very well. They didn’t understand the children and their culture. So they thought that Mickey and I would understand them a little bit better because both of us had worked with them. He had worked with them for four years in the mission, and I had worked two years. It was quite an experience. If they understand Chinese real well, you didn’t have much trouble getting the English over. We had some that came from South China, and it was a different dialect from what these spoke. You couldn’t understand them. So one day we had a snowstorm. It was snowing. The snow was just coming down in a hurry. This little boy looked out and saw this white stuff falling. He was scared to death. When he said something, I could tell he was scared. The boy, that was such a monkey, said, the sky is falling. That kid ran out of there screaming. See it was a boarding school. He ran upstairs, and he crawled under his bed. He didn’t understand me to well, my English. He didn’t exactly trust me. Well two or three boys and girls tried to talk to him and tell him what it was. He didn’t believe them. I sent for the Chinese teacher. He didn’t understand. He was new to the child. He didn’t trust him. He was crying. You big boys, you move it and take it down. We have got to get him out from under the bed. So they picked up the bed, and they lifted over him. I grabbed him.
MS: You had to be quick, I gather.
MM: After we got him settled. The next day there was enough snow. That we made snow ice cream.
MS: His whole attitude changed.
MM: His whole attitude changed.
MS: It was not to be feared.
MM: It was not to be feared.
MS: Wasn’t that strange. Did you live there as well?
MM: No, they had a matron. One of the Chinese men lived there as well. Then there was an English lady there. She was related to Ms. Eleanor. The one that played the organ at the First Baptist church for so many years. She was matron for couple of years, and then they got somebody else, a Chinese person.
MS: I didn’t realize it was a boarding school.
MM: I think, I read or heard somewhere, that was the only Chinese boarding school either in Mississippi or in the South. I can’t remember which one. The one in Greenville was not a boarding school. The children in this Chinese School here collected more money per capital for saving bonds during the war than in any place in Mississippi. When they were collected cans and scrap iron and everything. They didn’t ask the Chinese to help. Well the big Chinese boys were highly insulted. They wanted to know why they couldn’t collect scrap. Well the situation, being what it was. I talked to Mr. Ramsey the superintendent of education. He said, why don’t they collect out there in that neighborhood. Of course that was in an area that might not have been good either. They took their cars. You see gas was rationed. They just said that we just want go anywhere else. We will keep it here.
MS: Keep it in a small area.
MM: We will walk and use only one car. Then if we run short of gasoline, well we will share. We will just pile in one car and come to school. We had them coming from Duncan and Merigold.
MS: A long way.
MM: Now there were children there from Rosedale that boarded there. There were some from Arkansas and Marks.
MS: Oh my word, all over the delta.
MM: There were some from Drew and Ruleville.
MS: They would have had to have a boarding school or it wouldn’t have worked.
MM: The Chinese collected the money through the help from the Baptist church to build that building.
MS: Is that right. Is it used now?
MM: No, I have been boarded up. We were gone when it closed. It probably closed during the time that Dr. Treadway was here or when he left. I can’t remember who was here after Dr. Treadway, because we have left. We were here for eight years, and then we were away for sixteen years.
MS: Oh for a long time. Do you remember when you were going to college, was there hazing of freshman?
MM: A little bit. They shaved their heads, but that is about here.
MS: When you lived here, did you have a roommate?
MM: Yes, Hertha Catchins was my roommate. We had sweetmates there in Cleveland Hall.
MM: A girl, Julia Birdson from Greenville was one of them. Alta Hood from one of the little hill towns. It was not Maben. It was not Grenada.
MS: It was over that way.
MM: It was over that way.
MS: Were there any rules about conduct or behavior?
MM: Oh yes. When you went to gym you wore a skirt over your green shorts.
MS: So it didn’t appear on campus of anything that revealing.
MM: No way. Now juniors could have one date during the week, and then they could have a date on Friday night. If you date didn’t have enough money to take you to the show, then you stayed in the lobby of the dorm.
MS: Of your dorm.
MM: On Saturday night, you couldn’t get out. You had to stay in the lobby. You could walk home. You could go to church on Sunday night, but you had to come in right after church. You know you kind of stretch out walking from the First Baptist Church out to Delta State. You couldn’t ride, you had to walk.
MS: Oh my goodness.
MM: You walked.
MS: Where the First Baptist Church is where it is now?
MS: That is a pretty good track.
MM: You got used to it. You know.
MS: You were young then.
MM: Yeah, young and spry. There were a number of little rules and regulations.
MS: Were they pretty well accepted? That was just the way things were.
MM: Oh yeah, that was the way it was. You know I got to thinking about it. I am watching my grandkids of mine. I not sure it was pretty good. Your lights had to be out at ten-thirty. You had to be quite. Quite time was from seven to ten.
MS: So you could study.
MM: So you could study. Then from ten to ten-thirty you could laugh and make noise. At ten-thirty your lights were out.
MM: Period. Now, if you had a test coming up, you could get in the bathroom and close the door. The night watchmen couldn’t see you. If it was a big test, you could tell Mr. Hunt that you had a test in so and so tomorrow and you need to study. Well he would check with the professor to see if you had a test.
MS: It had to go through channels.
MM: Yes, it went through channels. There was one car on campus. A girl from near Memphis, up in that direction. She had doctor’s appointment on Saturday. That is when doctors would see patients on Saturday see. So on Sunday afternoon when she came back she would park the car in front of Cleveland hall. The man in charge of maintenance would come get the car and lock it up in the shop until Friday afternoon. Then at three o’clock on Friday afternoon, he would park the car in front of Cleveland Hall, and she would go home.
MS: So virtually there was no cars allowed on campus.
MM: No and you know the professors didn’t have many cars either. Ms. Brunda didn’t have a car. Ms. Harrel did the dean of women. I was trying to think. Ms. Cane didn’t at first, but they got one later.
MS: That seems incredible now of course.
MM: Oh yeah, all students have two out there for the looks of the cars. Of course the women professors lived.
MS: Did they live over by the across from the president in apartments.
MM: No, those apartments weren’t there then. Hardy hall was where they lived.
MS: Teachers that were unmarried.
MM: Most of them were unmarried. Later Jimmy Sieglar built a house next to the house that the Jacobs live in. I can’t think. Where the Gibson-Gunn Building is?
MS: The aviation building.
MM: There were two little houses there, I think there or one.
MS: There was one that had glass brick in it. It was two story.
MM: Yeah, I think so. That was the one that Jimmy Sieglar built. I think there was another one. It was a little white wooden house that Beth McCain lived in.
MS: They were here thirty years ago when we came here. Not for long.
MM: Not for long.
MS: My goodness. Well there wouldn’t have been as many faculty there then.
MM: There were not many faculty. Now Ms. Doolittle had a house out in town. It was kind of close to where the, well the Nowel had it then. I have forgotten just where it was. It was in that area.
MS: What do you remember of the teachers and administrators while you were at Delta State?
MM: I am supposed to care about the teachers that I didn’t care about. I enjoyed Dr. Caylor. He was down to earth. He seemed to enjoy his students. I enjoyed Ms. Brumby.
MS: She seemed like a very lively and interesting woman.
MM: She was. Dr. Tatum, was a lot of fun. She and Ms. Doolittle worked with the Chinese at the Mission. Dr. Tatum worked with the women. She was an interesting person. She taught Geography. She was strictly an old maid. Do you know that she married after she left here.
MS: Oh really, oh for goodness sake.
MM: Ms. Hammit and I enjoyed Ms. Hammit too. I enjoyed here after I came back here. She had retired. We used to go to A. A. U. W. It was about that time that Ms. Tatum married. She said that she called me and said sit down I have something to tell you. Ms. Tatum said that I am going to get married.
MS: If she hadn’t been, she was by then. She surprised everybody.
MM: Surprised everybody. She had left here. She had retired here, I guess. She left here.
MS: She must have met somebody.
MM: Must have met somebody. Now, another one that left, she didn’t teach me. I knew here after we came back through A. A. U. W. She left here and went to North Carolina. The man that she had dated before she started work had lost his wife. They married. She said, when she finished college, her sister was ready to go to college. It was during the great depression. She couldn’t see, not giving her sister the chance. He married somebody else.
MS: What a shame. She stuck to her principles.
MM: She stuck to her principles, and ultimately she married.
MS: So it was meant to be eventually. That is something.
MS: Was Dr. Kethley still?
MM: He was still here. What amused me was he was always moving the trees and the shrubs. We said that he needed to put them on wheels. He really did get this campus looking pretty. He started. He got people interested in it being pretty. It was pretty. When I first came, they had one of those funny looking lawn mower.
MS: It was not like a Yazoo.
MM: Not like a Yazoo, the blade part was in the front. It had a steering wheel and two wheels in the back. I remember Roy somebody, I can’t think of his name now.
MM: No, it was a student. That is the way he earned his way through.
MS: By mowing that lawn.
MM: He really kept it looking pretty. They used to have chrysanthemums growing out there where the laundry is now.
MS: Okay, behind the union.
MM: They would sometimes they would grow a few vegetables. We always had Chrysanthemums. (Tape cut off.)
MS: So it looked quite different then as it does now.
MM: Yes, let’s see there must have been seven students and a professor at the table.
MS: So you ate dining room style.
MM: It was a dining room.
MS: In each dorm, or in the union, or the dining hall?
MM: Dining hall, apart, I can’t remember. I don’t know which part it was, but a part of the union is including of the dining room. Maybe it is in the Stateroom.
MS: That is right, because. I can’t remember. It might be.
MM: But there is a part of it that is there.
MS: Because they didn’t remodel the union until after we came. The campus has changed so much since the last thirty years.
MM: It has changed a lot.
MS: Did you participate in any organizations or extra curricular activities in college?
MM: Well the things that we had in church. We had morning prayer. You could go to a little room, and that was for early morning prayer. We had elementary organizations.
MS: For prospected teachers?
MM: Prospected teachers. Some of them, well I didn’t sing because I was practically a monotone. They did have a chorus. I had forgotten what they called that singing group. We had some intramural sports. I lost a tooth playing soccer. Ms. Cane was the P. E. teacher. She was yelling, “Sisson play your position.” She was yelling. I played my position. The little girl, Evelyn Conger, was a little short girl. I am old tall lanky. Her head hit my mouth under there, and it broke a tooth into four pieces. So I had to have.
MS: A crown. Oh I bet that hurt. Did they pull it?
MM: They pulled it. I didn’t have enough money for them to put in a false tooth. They didn’t even suggest it or offer it.
MS: Did they deaden it?
MM: Yeah, Dr. Butler pulled it. They just used Novocaine. He just stuck the needle in my mouth. Listen I was so glad to get it pulled. I didn’t go right at first to get it pulled. During that week it got in terrible shape.
MS: It must have exposed a nerve.
MM: It was all split, even the roots. He pulled it in four different pieces.
MS: What an experience. That is not good.
MM: I had some unfortunate experiences at Delta State. I was all ready swimming. I swam. I took swimming at Delta State. We always had a pageant in the spring. If you took P. E., if you didn’t take P. E. you performed in the pageant.
MS: You participated in it anyway. Did the times, you would have graduated before W. W. II, but it was still depression years. It was still poor economic times.
MM: It was still poor economic times.
MS: Did that have an influence on people at Delta State, or the way things were?
MM: I expect it did.
MS: You just didn’t see it as much.
MM: I didn’t see as much as I would now. Oh when they got the swimming pool. Oh they were so happy. That was really the first improvement that they had made.
MS: They couldn’t before that.
MM: They couldn’t before then.
MS: The add of the naditorium?
MM: It was an open swimming pool?
MS: Not indoors?
MM: Not indoors. They had some dressing rooms. It was not inside. It was outside. Ms. Cane fussed at Mickey because the boys were supposed to check to see the strength of the chlorine in the water. We were always complaining because we said that the water was burning our eyes.
MS: I bet it did, if it was too much.
MM: It did. There was a lot of stuff too.
MS: They weren’t measuring too carefully then.
MM: Ms. Cane accused him of making it too strong. He said, well if you don’t want it full of all those impurities.
MS: You had to have one or the other. Were there concerts and plays? Did they bring in some things?
MM: They brought in some things. One thing I remember was a ballet dancer. She performed in New York. She performed at Delta State. I can’t remember her name.
MS: Not Maria Tcholchey for somebody like that.
MM: No, she lived. She had a big plantation between Cleveland and.
MS: That wasn’t Bet? Before her, no she was modern dance.
MM: She was before her. I remember Ms. Kethley had a reception for her. I can’t remember why we were invited. We were invited. I can’t remember why we were invited. (Tape cut off.) Shakespearean people came in.
MS: Oh really, a travelling.
MM: A travelling group. I remember Hamlet. I am trying to think. It seems to me there was another one. It seems to me there was one each year that I was here.
MM: Probably, we had people that I remember. They had two grand pianos. They brought their own piano with them. This was a couple. They performed.
MS: I bet that was good too.
MM: They were. They were good.
MS: What was Cleveland like then?
MM: Not friendly with the university like they are now. I don’t know whether it was because it was so small. Delta State was so small then. What it was. Maybe the professors were from different places. They didn’t know how to deal with the delta people.
MS: So there wasn’t much.
MM: There was not.
MM: Communication that was one of the things that surprised me when we came back here. Delta State and the people with in the town were just mixing and mingling.
MS: It was a positive turn around.
MM: I guess one thing was that most of the university people lived in the dorms. They didn’t have much reason.
MS: Oh so they didn’t have much of a reason to.
MM: The only communication that I remember them having was maybe to trade in town a little, or a row of people, women from Delta State, came and sat on a pugh in the First Baptist Church. They usually sat on that very same pugh every Sunday.
MS: Every Sunday.
MM: Then they tried to start a night W. M. U. Most of them were from Delta State.
MS: Well that is interesting. I supposed after the war, many people from here had often been come back.
MM: They often come back. They could mix and mingle more.
MS: You were gone from about?
MM: About 1946 to 1962. Anyhow it was sixteen years in there. I mean it had really changed.
MS: I can see that a lot went on in those years.
MM: Delta State grew so fast because a lot of those men who had been in service came here for school.
MS: The G. I. Bill had a big effect.
MM: It really grew.
MS: Well you met Milford here, didn’t you?
MM: Yeah, he was here.
MS: Did you meet here at college?
MS: Was he from?
MM: He was from Leaksville.
MS: Oh okay.
MM: He came here because, Dr. Evans, the minister of the First Baptist Church, were here. Nancy, Ira’s wife, was Mickey’s sister, older sister. She sort of put the b on them, the two of them. She sort of put the b on them to come to come to school. He had been off working in a rubber plant in Ackerman, Ohio until the depression came. They laid so many of the off so many of them in the rubber plant. So he was back in Leaksville. There is nothing to do in Leaksville. It was about like Boyle or worse. Nancy just sort of insisted that he came. Their children were little, and they wanted to visit a lot. So he could be a baby sitter. It worked out. Then he got a job in the lab under Dr. Caylor. Then they started the N. Y. A., National Youth Administration. That started as a result of the of the depression, to give kids a chance to get to college. See they had jobs like, they found places where there were a lot of fossils. He would go there to dig. There was a place over at Tupelo they were going to put in a car lot. They got in there where they started digging. They found all of these fossils. They sent him over there with the N. Y. A. group to dig for fossils. Dr. Caylor had them to go frog digging. They didn’t dig them, but they got them with the net. Then they preserve them for the lab. They wouldn’t have to go buy them. That saved them a lot of money. The government was paying for the few to do those things. Then they studied over at the Indian mounds all over in the delta. They checked on birds.
MS: All kinds of things.
MM: Yeah, they found out what birds lived in this area. They checked fish, snakes, and all those kinds of things. A lot of stuff they have in the museum, he started that museum with natural history.
MS: In the science department? Yeah, the natural history.
MM: The natural history.
MS: Well that is interesting. That is a very interesting place.
MM: That paid for his schooling.
MS: Did you graduate at the same time?
MM: No, he graduated the year before.
MS: Did you marry then when he graduated?
MM: No, after I graduated. Dr. Caylor kept him on. For some reason, it seemed that they didn’t have anybody that was interested in fooling with that kind of stuff. So they kept him on. They kind of increased it too, so it would have been hard for a student to do it.
MS: What is the greatest contribution of your experience at Delta State to your later life?
MM: I guess, I think probably the understanding of children that I got from Ms. Causy and the kindergarten directors.
MS: And your experiences through the school?
MM: The experiences through them.
MS: What did you do after graduation?
MM: I didn’t have a job that summer. I began trying to collect things that I might use with teaching.
MS: That is good.
MM: Because I wanted a good bit of stuff for my science group. I really wanted to go into Chemistry at Moorhead, but the man who was in charge of Chemistry said that if your I. Q. is not a hundred and twenty-five, you just better not try it.
MS: Oh pugh
MM: I was going into English Lit. I got here at Delta State. Well maybe this was my greatest thing. The registrar, ooh God, another English major when I went to get my schedule fixed. She said, that I am going to put in elementary Ed. She did. Well you out know, I would have raised old Billy heck. Then I though, you don’t argue with an adult. Martha was just so quite. She did exactly what an adult told her to do.
MS: That was part of college.
MM: She didn’t ask me if I could sing, or if I could tumble or do all these things you know. She said I am putting you in there.
MS: So she figured out your schedule as well.
MM: Then she said that you are going to have to come to summer school because you haven’t got a lot of these things for elementary Ed. So don’t you try to fill out this schedule yourself. You come to me, and let me fill it out.
MS: And here you are.
MM: Here I am after forty years of elementary.
MS: How do you see that the delta has changed over the years?
MM: They are more interested in education and cultural things. I don’t know, maybe things were so bad and so poor.
MS: Poor and isolated.
MM: Once they got a little extra money. Maybe it was somebody in the community, or as a whole in the delta, but somebody to really push to get some cultural things going.
MS: That is interesting that they would choose that.
MM: Now like in Indainola, there was a girl that graduated in New York at a voice, Julliaart. She came back to Indianola. She started teaching voice.
MS: Well she wanted some of the things around that she was accustomed to.
MM: Things around that she was accustomed to.
MS: That had a positive effect on everything here. You never had taught at Delta State?
MS: You have taught in this whole area.
MM: I taught one reading class at Delta State.
MS: Oh really.
MM: I can’t remember. I think they had an overflow of teachers. It was a night class. So they called me, and ask me to teach that class. I did.
MS: That must have been fun.
MM: No, wasn’t much fun, because they are paying for that class. You don’t have any problems. They are sitting there listening to what you got to say. The fun is when you got that little devil that says, “I ain’t gonna learn, because I ain’t got no sense.” He says that three times. I said look you don’t tell me you ain’t got no sense because you got sense. I have given you test young man. If you want to see what happens to you if you ever tell me that again you try it. You might be in for surprise. He didn’t try me again. One day, this old tall boy came up and knocked on that door. He said, “Hi, Ms. Miller.” He said, “Don’t you know me?” I said, “You don’t look like you did in first grade.” He said, “I am Dr. so and so.” He said, “You told me, I could do anything I wanted to do if I was willing to work and do my best in this old United States of America, and I got my degree in medicine.”
MS: Isn’t that wonderful. That is what I would think what teaching is a marvelous too have inspired that person.
MM: I was so thrilled. I wasn’t being very nice. I was talking right ugly.
MS: But you made an impact.
MM: I got my point across. I did feel sorry for him. Before he lived over in Oxford way. There was a house dug in the hill. The floor was dirt.
MS: He may not have believed he could do unless he had somebody who believed him.
MM: Well that mean old teacher.
MS: Where else in the delta, here?
MM: I taught in Cleveland. I taught in Rosedale, Clarksdale, and then went to Oxford.
MS: Is that when you were gone all those years, were in Oxford?
MM: Yeah, Clarksdale, was for eight years and Oxford for eight years. I have been here ever since.
MS: Right, and haven’t missed a beat as far as I can tell. You are still going strong with flowers.
MM: I have had a fun life. I look back. Part of it was hard, but it was an exciting life. Sheldon called me, and asked me one night. She said, “Grandma, you got to come over here.” To Columbus that is, and talk. In history we are talking about the Great Depression. My teacher is very young, and she doesn’t know anything about the Great Depression, and I told her that my grandma did. So I went over and talked to them.
MS: Did you talk to his class?
MM: I talked the class. One little girl just cried. I said, honey what is wrong? She said that oh it was just terrible that you all didn’t have a place to go to hang out to get you a hamburger like McDonalds. I said honey we had Lebella’s, we could go buy a hamburger if we had a dime. We could buy a coke, if we had a nickel. We didn’t hang out because we didn’t have a car to drive. Labella’s was a long way to walk. One of the teachers cried, and she said, “How did you all cope? I couldn’t have cope.” I said that you could if you were hungry and your children were hungry. You would find a way.
MS: You are dealing with what the situation is.
MM: You do what you had to do. I got to thinking. You know it would be hard because a lot of them know absolutely nothing about planting gardens.
MS: All the skills you need to.
MM: Well how would they grow their animals? Where would they get their meat? If you got to barter, how would you do it?
MS: Yes, we aren’t very equipped anymore.
MM: We don’t have the space to grow stuff like we did back then.
MS: I think the ice storm in ’94.
MM: That made us think.
MS: Yes, because we had to find ways with dealing with out electricity.
MM: We had to find ways. We did.
MS: It had a nice effect in bringing the community together.
MM: It brought the community together.
MS: Do you think in the depression that might have been an issue?
MM: I think that may have helped.
MS: Everybody was in the same boat. You helped each other.
MM: I know the kids in town loved to come out to our house because we had fried chicken.
MS: Well that was pretty exciting.
MM: I liked to go their house because they had little bought cookies. They had vanilla wafers. I had those cookies. Well daddy grew the wheat. We had the whole wheat. Mother took the whole wheat and the molasses that daddy had made. She made old homemade cookies. We had pecans and she would stir some pecans in there.
MS: It sounds good now. She made due with what she had.
MM: She used what she had. That is what we would do, if we had another situation. I hope to heaven that we don’t ever have one like that.
MS: Me too. That would be a bad thing.
MM: I remember that my grandmother took her old dresses and mother’s old dresses if a place got torn in them or they got to big for them. They made skirts or dresses for my sister and me.
MS: So it didn’t get thrown out.
MM: It didn’t get thrown out. You didn’t throw anything way. I think that is the why I am a packrat now.
MS: Well there is a use for it somewhere.
MM: I think well I might find a use for that. I know when my son used to play marbles. I had a whole gallon of marbles when we moved here. I started to throw them away. I thought no I am going to keep these because I might use some. So help me when I started teaching first grade here. They didn’t have much equipment in those days right at that particular time. Mickey made me some little pegboards. The kids would line them up. I would say put ten marbles down. I would say put ten red marbles down, or five blue marbles. We would play little games like that with them.
MS: Wonderful, you made a wonderful teaching tool with them.
MM: I was so glad that I haven’t thrown my gallon of marbles away.
MS: You did have a use for them. When you were working there. I was in the extension service. You always seemed to have a delightment.
MM: I wanted to learn how to use my hands and do those things that I had not got to do. I wanted to crochet and knit.
MS: Because I have been teaching.
MM: I had been teaching, and I went to school all of those years. I got my masters while I was in Oxford. I had two kids to look after in addition to studying. It had been about fifteen years since I been to school. I couldn’t listen to the professor that long. When I got to Rosedale, they were trying to improve the teachers methods. You couldn’t say you have got to school, and you don’t have too. Everybody went to school. All I lacked was one course getting my specialist degree, and that was a required course. I didn’t get it because of the professor’s attitude toward older women.
MS: That is pitiful.
MM: That was the point. I thought, if you think I am going to take that course and put up with that sarcasm. You got another thought coming. Dr. Jacobs fussed at me. Finally after a while I told him that I wasn’t going back to take that course. You may live to regret it. I said, no. I got only about two or three years more to teach. Why should I worry about that specialist’s degree? I think that is the only thing I ever started that I didn’t really finish. It kinds of bugs me because I didn’t finish it.
MM: If I had a few more years, I probably would have gone on a degree. One of the professors was interested in the same thing that I was. That would have kept me going because I would have pushed. He could have used my research. Delta State hadn’t started with that type of degree. I started my masters. They did have professor to come to come from Ole Miss to teach here just in the summer. The next year we went to it. So I finished then. We were in Clarksdale at that time. Mr. Hogburg didn’t much want me to come down there. I said, Mr.Hopburg I got two children and a husband, and I can not stay gone the entire long. He talked to the principle there. She said, that will be fine for her to go to Delta State. She has to have the basics. That is one of the basic courses. The man has to teach. The man was young. He had been in the army. He had just got that nursing degree. He was so sweet. One day he said, what do you think about a young person teaching you. I said, that is just great because you give me a new idea. Well he did.
MM: A fresher look on teaching.
MS: A stimulus. He was a little bit worried about having to teach a class.
MM: He was a little worried, because this old woman had been teaching all of this years you know.
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