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February 22, 2004

Alabama Roots: Coming To Carolina

The memoirs of Ngnat's Great-Grandmother, Iva Wright

Part 1
Part 2

The trip to Marshallberg, North Carolina, was a very exciting one. We were on the train for a long time and while we were, we saw parts of the country we had never seen before. We were looking forward to seeing the coastal area, because, having always lived in northern Alabama, and on top of a mountain, at that, we knew very little about the coast. We knew little about seafood and we practically nothing about how people lived in that area. There were many things we looked forward to. Our decision to go had been difficult, but now that we were on our way, our spirits rose. Strangely, during the night before we arrived, I was not feeling very well. I had ordered a cup of hot coffee, but when I started drinking it, it just did not taste right at all and I became sick to my stomach. I realized something must be wrong but didn't know what. Only later did I realize that I was pregnant again. We were very excited about it since I had had a miscarriage before.

We were very tired when we finally in at a little North Carolina town called Beaufort. We had thought we would never get to the end of our trip--it was very long and the train kept stopping. We arrived in Beaufort after dark and were met by a young man who was a member of our church in Marshallberg. He had his pickup truck and was ready to take us to our new home. As we were traveling that lonely stretch of road in Carteret County, we crossed over the long North River Bridge and began to smell the salt air. That excited us, but we couldn't see a thing because it was so dark. The only thing we saw were a few lights out on the water. Carl asked the young man, "What are these boats doing out there?" The man said, "They are floundering." Carl was concerned and, revealing his total innocence of coastal jargon asked, "Why doesn't someone go out there and help them?" His idea of floundering was entirely different from theirs. They were fishing for flounder, but he thought they were in dire trouble. That was the first inkling we had that our ideas would often be very different from those we would come across in our new home. When we finally arrived in Marshallberg, we drove up into the parsonage yard and saw a big two-story white house. Every window was lit up. The whole house was full of people who had come to greet us. We had not expected that, but they not only came to greet us, they came to feed us. The kitchen table was full of good food, and dozens of people were standing around waiting for us to go to the table and eat. We were too excited to eat, but we finally did try several dishes just to please them. The people who were there were older people. All the younger people--the teenagers--had gone to the movie that night. The theater had only one movie a week, and of course, all the teenagers wanted to go see the movie. But they also wanted to come see us after the movie was over. So it was very late that night before all the people left and we were able to investigate the rest of the house and get a chance to go to bed.

The next morning we had an opportunity to look around and get an idea of what our new home was like. All the houses in the community were big and two-story. That was a little different from what we had been used to. And all the people were all talking in such a queer way, we had difficulty understanding them. We had never heard the "high tide" brogue before and both amused and baffled. Some of the names were unusual. For example, there was a Mrs. Heel. I called her Mrs. Heel for a long time until I realized she was actually Mrs. Hill. The food was also different. We soon found out that I was going to have difficulty cooking because I was used to plenty of milk and butter. There was none of that to be had--only canned milk Carnation milk and margarine that had to have color put into it--no butter at all.

The people were wonderful to us. They greeted us with open arms and tried to prepare us in every way they could. The next morning bright and early we heard someone in our back yard. It was a young man who had come to cut some wood for us because it was November and cool. We needed a fire, but we only had a stove in the kitchen that burned wood. We had no electricity in the parsonage and no bathroom facilities at all, but we made do with what we had. When we looked out the window of our bedroom, we saw that we had a garden in the back yard full of collards. It was a joy to have our own garden and our own collards. Right then I decided I was going to cook collards for supper that night, but when I got ready to cook them I discovered I didn't have a large enough pot and had to borrow one. The people were very concerned about every aspect of our lives. They wanted everything to be just right.

Back then, in most small Methodist churches, the pastor had no fixed salary. Whatever was in the collection plate on Sunday was what the minister's family lived on through the week. Because of their concern, some of the people started coming around after service and saying, "Well, Preacher, how much did you get?" We hardly knew how to take that, but we knew that they had our best interests at heart. They were always inquiring into our welfare. When they found out we were going to have a baby, all the women became excited. They knew I was going to need a lot of tender, loving care because I was a long way from my mother and I was only twenty years old. One family, in particular, took us under their wing and wanted us to come to their house often. They fed us many a meal.

I remember the nice, big, hot rolls the women in Marshallberg made. They never made cornbread, but they made corn dumplings, which they put around the pot when they cooked their vegetables or when they cooked seafood--anything like that. They called them "boiled dinners" and those corn dumplings or "sinkers" as they called them always make those vegetables and foods so much better. I'm sure it was because I was pregnant that all the food tasted so good. One time we were eating with a family when the woman of the household said, "Iva, you have eaten enough. It is time for you to stop." That denoted how much I enjoyed the food there.

We found out there was a lot of competition in Marshallberg between the Methodists and the Baptists. We first realized that when the women began doing so many things for our baby. They made sure that I had everything that two other new mothers in the community had. Those two women were Baptists. The people who came to see the three new babies compared everything--what they had, what they looked like, everything. We were amused, as we were unaccustomed to that kind of fascination with new babies and that determination to keep up with the Baptists.

After the baby, our daughter Lilla Jo, arrived on July 1, 1936, we had to have someone take us to the doctor. We had no car and no telephone and we lived seventeen miles from Beaufort where the doctor was. However, the doctor's mother and father lived just down the street from our home and he came to see them occasionally. I always tried to find out when he was coming so I could see him. I had plenty of questions to ask. The baby didn't get along well with the milk we were giving her (I had tried without success to breast-feed), and everyone had his own idea about what I ought to do. It was a very confusing time for a young mother who didn't know what she was doing. The women were so good to me. I will never forget them for that.

I was very concerned about the baby and the fact that she was not doing well with her formula. I was also not doing well as I didn't have any appetite and couldn't eat because every time I sat down to a meal, she would start crying. Carl took it upon himself to send a telegram to my mother, which said, "Iva isn't doing very well. Can you please come?" He didn't tell her what the problem was and she was so upset, she quickly threw some things in a suitcase and left town on the first bus in our direction. She had a long, tiring trip, but when she finally arrived and we met on the front porch, she was crying and I was crying. It was an emotional time. Her presence meant so much. It seemed that everything was all right now that Mother was there.

We would liked to have stayed in Marshallberg for a while because there were so many things about that little village that we liked. It was a lovely place to live--right on the coast--and it was an exciting adventure for us, even though we occasionally thought the ocean was going to come and swallow us. A hurricane hit our area while we were there, but we lived through it. We learned to appreciate the people and the way they made their living. They did not have easy lives. We appreciated the way the families cooperated to make their living, the kind of food they ate, and the way they prepared their food. We learned to enjoy all kinds of seafood and were introduced to some we had never eaten before--oysters, for example. We eventually learned to eat steamed oysters, but never could eat them raw. An old man who spent his days out in his skiff scraping the bottom for oysters would come by our house once a week selling his oysters, nice big ones, for a quarter a quart.

We stayed there only one year, however, because of a situation that existed with the former pastor and his wife. They had left Marshallberg in order to be near her mother who was seriously ill, but after her mother died, they asked the Bishop to be allowed to move back to their former appointment. The Bishop agreed to allow them to do that because they had been well liked there. We were young upstarts and could be moved more easily than the older couple, so we were sent to the Troy Circuit. Troy was a town far away in Montgomery County, the western Piedmont region of the state. We were to find it far from Marshallberg in more ways than distance.

Posted by Bigwig at February 22, 2004 04:14 PM | TrackBack
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