- An Outside Person (1:28)
- School Memories (5:08)
- Birthdays and Skinny-Leg Jeans (1:55)
- Snakes in the Swimming Hole (2:45)
- How is the World Different Now (2:08)
- The Ruined Easter Dress (1:54)
- Picking Cotton (4:52)
- The Hardest Thing I Ever Had To Do (0:47)
- Nothing But Flowers (5:43)
- There Are No Bad Kids (1:38)
- How Would You Like To Be Remembered? (0:52)
Text of Audio Links
My name is Vera Harris.
I was born 1941.
Where was your childhood home located?
It was in Helena Arkansas.
Did you enjoy living there?
Well, at the time, yes, cause I didn't know nothing else.
What was your favorite thing to do as a child? Did you prefer to do it alone, or with someone else?
Well, when I was a child, my favorite thing to do was just anything I could do out side, I was an outside person. And I mostly did it alone, like climbn' trees, an all the outside chores I had, like feeding my cows, the horses, pigs. I did all the outside work so I enjoyed that.
Before I go to school in the morning I had to do my outside chores and sometimes I would milk the cow or you know feed the animals, and then get ready for school.
How far did you travel to attend elementary school? How did you get there?
I was about two miles. I walked to school every day.
Did you have a parent working at your school? If not, did you want to?
Um no my mother didn't work at school but she was there every day though. Especially when I was in elementary school, she I think at one point she was the president of the PTA and sometimes she would just walk in the school just to see what we were doin' because at the time there was about five of us in school together so she kept quite a big reign on that, so yeah.
How did you feel in your rough times at school?
My rough times at school? (pause) Sometimes I felt kinda awkward because I had a problem of, how can I put this? Dyslexic, because, I be sayn' the word or the letter and I see it a different direction. It could be up or down. And I would try to explain it to the teacher and she, they couldn't get it, you know. I just felt, "well maybe it's just me." But I did get a teacher later on that understood later on what I was seeing and how I was seeing. She taught me different, how to look at things. Told me to slow down. Plus, I had a speech problem and a lot of em' say "what did you say?" you know and I'm just saying "am I talkn' loud enough?" or whatever. But anyway, when I was in fourth grade I found this wonderful teacher and after the fourth grade, my life was different because she understood. So, I know you didn't ask that but (laughs)
How was one of your teachers like? Did you like them or not?
Well, I had a first grade teacher I liked and I stayed in her room two years cause I was scared to go to another class. She was good, but like I said my forth grade teacher, she was the best. And, when I was in the forth grade she treated everybody equal. And instead of so much other stuff, she taught us the regular school stuff, but she taught us how to crochet, knit, and if she felt that if it was a day that we didn't, I don't know, she felt if we didn't do something right or felt that we really wasn't in for that particular day, we would start working with our hands, like crochet, needle work. And then after that, then we'd start with our lesson. I don't know she was just wonder..., Ms. Perigo, that was her name, she was just wonderful.
What did your lunch taste like, back then in school? What was one of your favorites?
Well back then, when I was in grade school, there wasn't a lunch. You brought your own lunch and sometimes I didn't bring a lunch because, I don't know, I didn't have nothn' to bring. Not that I didn't have nothn' to bring, it was just that I was embarrassed cause my mom would cook biscuits, home-made biscuits, and ever body else brought bread, you know, regular, as we call it, "light bread." And I would just think, "ok now if I bring those biscuits in, people be lookn' at me." Finally I got over that. You had to bring lunch we didn't have hot lunch.
What did you do to celebrate birthdays when you were growing up?We would have like, my mother would cook a big cake, and for birthdays, we would just, everybody would come. It doesn't matter what age they were, they would come and we would play games n stuff like that, yeah, we would really celebrate birthdays.
What was one of your favorite hair styles that you can remember?
I always kept my hair short because I didn't like nobody to comb my hair. I was just tenderheaded. If they just combed it it would give me a headache so my mom would just keep it short you know, she would just cut it off and I would just wear short hair all the time and so I still wear short hair.
Describe one of your favorite dress up outfits as a child.
Well, my favorite dress up was pants cause when I was grown' up you wasn't allowed to wear pants to school. You had to wear a dress and on the weekend I would just put on pants and that was my favorite, pants.
What color were they?
Well I liked, at that time, it was levis, had little skinny legs levis (laughs) and that's what I liked, the levis.
Who was your first love?
Oh I don't know, cause I was such a tom boy up until I was 18. I climbed trees up until I was 18. I don't know I wasn't into boys. I don't know.
Tell me about your best childhood friend. Are you still in touch?
No my childhood friend, his name was Wilson Gulsberry. He was a boy. And we did everything together. Like I said, I was an outside person. We would go in the woods and there was a little pool. Stream. Really, it was a stream. And we would get on a bridge hang down from the tree and go over this pond to the other side. And there was these black snakes in this pool and what we would do, we would throw something down in there and they would go all ever where. They would just move and then we would get in the water. (Laughs) It was crazy but I enjoyed it.
What are the things you're most glad you tried?
Swimmin', and I'm glad I did try because I didn't learn to swim till I was old, much older. I was in my 50s. I always was afraid, not of the water, but that I was just gonna drown and so I took swimmin' lessons and now I can swim and so I enjoyed it.
How did you go across the pond if you couldn't swim?
Well, being a child, you just do it. You just get in the water and hope for the best. And you always had a buddy that could swim and if you couldn't make it they'd come back and help you across. And plus, it wasn't that wide. It was maybe 10 ft wide and it wasn't that deep. It might've been 5 or 6 feet deep. If it was that deep. And as being a child, you just do things that now I know don't make sense. But, I enjoyed it. I had a wonderful child life.
What was your family car?
My family didn't have a car. My daddy had horses and a wagon or mules and a wagon. And he would haul stuff. But we didn't have I car. We never owned a car. My parents never owned a car.
When I was growing up there was nine of us. My mom and dad had 6 girls an 3 boys and my dad, he worked at a saw mill and we had a house and I guess about 3 acres around. What we would do, my mom and dad they would plant a big old garden and so we would have to chop, get out the weeds in the garden. My daddy he would work from 7 in the morning to three in the afternoon and after he would come home we would go and work in the garden.
How is the world different now from when you were a child?
Well the world is different. Like when I was growing up, we didn't have a car and there wasn't very many cars. We didn't have a T.V. We didn't have a telephone. We had electric lights and no inside bathroom. We had an outside outhouse and so it has changed. There's more cars, television, computers. We didn't have nothing like that when I was growing up.
My mother, she would make all our clothes. She had six girls. Well there was 5 girls at the time and my sister came later. But anyway, she would make on Easter or Christmas she would make every last one of us a dress. And this one particular dress I remember, I guess I was about 7 years old, it was called organdy, it's a material. It was white, but it was the material that you can see through. And it was, she made us a dress with puff sleeves, short sleeves that come up you know middle way of our arm. And up under it she put another material. What it would do is it was just all out. It looked like the women that do contra dance, you know how those dresses are. So she made them for Easter. And we had white socks, and white shoes or black Patton for one of them. I was going to church and I was walking along. And the next door neighbor they would burn stuff out in front of their house cause we didn't have no garbage and so I stepped in that and when I stepped in it I fell and I cut my leg and I messed up my beautiful dress. That's all I can ever think. It was just... it was so pretty and that was just one of the memories that I remember.
Tell me about your first job.
Oh, my first job, well, I'm trying to think. My first job was, when I was growing up, we would go to fields and we would chop cotton.
What did the cotton feel like when you picked it?
It was soft. And it was in a little brown, they called them "burl," and it's up like this and like each one of them had... it was round and when it opened up, each one of them, let's see, what is it like? It's like a nut. Each one of them like a nut when the peel comes off and all these here, each one of these prongs, it was real sharp. And the cotton is in the middle of it and when you stick your finger in, get it out, and this cotton had, like seeds in them. It was very soft. And what they would do (you didn't ask this but I'm gonna tell you), what they would do, they would get so much cotton in a big container and they would take it to a place called a Gin and this Gin would divide the cotton things from the regular cotton. And they would bale this cotton, put this cotton in bales just like you see hay, but only they were bigger. And the seeds, they would take the seeds and they would make oil from the seeds and they would make something else too. But from the cotton they would make a material. Anything... in a mattress, they would put cotton in a mattress. At that time you could buy cotton,loose cotton, and make your own mattress. And, it was just used for a lot of stuff. Medical stuff: Cotton balls and stuff like that.
Were the seeds big or small?
They were small. I guess they were about this big. And they were brown.
I started when I was about five. And what I would do is, my mom was picking cotton and I would have a little, I can tell you, it's called--back then it was called a crocus sack but now it's called a grass sack--and she would put a string on it and I had it around my waist, put my cotton in it and when it'd get so much it'd be too heavy, then I would empty it into hers and she would have a cotton sack that would fit around, I think it was about six feet long. So I would do that all day long with her. We would start early in the morning and at about four or five o clock we would quit. And I remember my dad, he used to pick cotton and he could pick three or four hundred pounds. My sister too. But I could just barely get a hundred because I'd be looking at the worms, looking at the flowers, looking at the cotton, see how it grow. Just looking at everything because it was just fascinating. I was an outside person and I love worms--right now, I love worms. And whatever. I'm not afraid of spiders or nothing like that. Growing up was kind of rough but I feel that it made me a strong person.
What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?
Oh, the hardest thing, hmm, the hardest thing that, that I had to do. The hardest thing I had to do: I was a waitress, for one day, and that was the hardest thing that I have ever done. I don't know, I just didn't like waiting on people. (laughs) And you know, being told, "I need this and I need that." So that was the hardest thing--being a waitress.
What are your earliest memories of living in this neighborhood?
Ah, I came here in 1973. One of the things that when I got here, it was so different where I had been living before, which was on the east coast. The people was friendly. And all these trees, I just could not believe. It was just trees, trees every where. And when I came here and I moved where I am now, right at Unthank Park. And it was just a beautiful park. And the thing that I liked about it, when I first got here they had a maze and you'd go in this maze and you just come to a dead end. I just thought that was the most wonderful thing that I had ever seen and I enjoyed it. Was that your favorite park?
No, my favorite park is Peninsula, Peninsula Park. The reason I like Peninsula because they got nothing but roses and I love plants, I love flowers. And I just liked to go and just sit and look at the roses and just smell them.
How has this neighborhood changed over time?
Well, number one they have built more houses--taller houses, taller buildings. And in my block alone, most of the older people are dead--all of them really. And so somebody else got the house. And so it's just a new neighborhood. Because when I first got here, you knew everybody in the neighborhood. Now it's not that way. You see somebody and you think, where did they come from? I haven't seen them. So it's just--it's not like it used to be. It's different. It's different. Different time, different people.
What do you like to do when you're not working?
I'm an outside person and I like my flowers, and I garden. I like to just be outside, just enjoying the air, looking at birds, and just you know, mowing the lawn, anything I can do outside.
What does Earth Day mean to you? What do you think Earth Day should celebrate?
Well Earth Day means to me: take care of the trees, take care, you know, of flowers, just everything--greenery. Enjoy the outside. Don't litter the place up. Keep the parks and the streets clean. That's what Earth Day means to me.
Do you think some people should walk on Earth Day or walk or ride their scooter or skate board?
I think you should walk. You can ride a bicycle but you're totally focused on where you're going. But when you walk you can look around and see different things, birds flying, and in the summer time butterflies and different kinds of flowers. Plus you'll be getting exercise if you walk.
Can you tell me about what color your favorite rose is and if a rose isn't your favorite flower, which one is?
Oh, my favorite flowers. Carnations. Carnation is my favorite flower and I cannot grow it. I've tried, but it just... this year I did have one to bloom and it's the first time I've ever had one to bloom. But carnations are my favorite. And another one is, gladiolas. That's one of my favorites too and they grow real good for me. But I like all flowers, all flowers. Right now I have Dahlias still blooming, and chrysanthemums. And so, I just love all flowers, you come to my house and I've just got nothing but flowers.
Do you remember someone saying something to you that had a big impact on how you lived your life?
Yes, It was a lady named Willie Mae Turner. She used to live right next to me, then she moved. Anyway, she had a very big impact because I could talk to her and I think what it was, I liked the way she treated young kids. And she always told me "There's no bad kids, no kids are bad." And one of the things too, I never spanked my kids because I just thought, "Spanking them, they don't get it." But just talk to them, and that was one of the biggest impacts on my life: talking to my kids, talking to other kids instead of yelling or being mean to them.
Do you have any advice for young people?
Yes, whatever you do, there's always a consequence. It can be good or bad. And you need to think, think before you do it, or think before you say something. Because there's always a consequence.
How would you like to be remembered?
Oh, (laughs). I don't know. Because I don't want no big to-do. I just want to be remembered, I hope that I did contribute something to the neighborhood, to my grandkids, to my nieces and my nephews.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you for talking with me.
Okay, thank you.