Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grandpa's Interview

I was going through old drawers getting ready to move and I found the interview I did with Grandpa for my college Western Civilization class. Since there are quite a few of his descendants on here, I thought I'd post it for you guys.

Oral History Interview
Kathryn Pearce
Western Civilization to 1660
Dr. Smith
November 8, 2002

I sat down on Sunday afternoon to play cards with my grandfather, Gilbert Earl Culwell. I also asked him a few questions about his life. He was born on October 24, 1923 in West Helena, Arkansas in Phillips County. He is the third of nine children. He has four brothers and four sisters. One brother was killed in World War II, and one sister died just six days after she was born. He was married on January 26, 1950 to my grandmother, Beverly Carol Munson.

I asked my grandfather where he grew up. He said he grew up all over the countryside, mostly in Arkansas. He was born in West Memphis, and they moved to wherever his father could get work. They would stay for a few months, and then go back to West Helena. Not long after they moved back to West Helena they moved to Star Mountain in Searcy Count up in the mountains. They lived there for a while and went back to West Helena. From there they moved back up there and bought one hundred and sixty acres, maybe only eighty though. He couldn't remember. They bought a farm and built a log house, lived there happily ever after until they ran out of money, and then they moved back to West Helena. They then moved to Cypurt for a while. They moved around a lot. His daddy had a real good job in West Helena and every time they would run out of money they would go back and his dad would save up his money so they could go someplace else. They would sharecrop and plant a couple of vegetables and if the crop failed they would move to another farm. He went to a birthday party once for kids his age and they had the same number of boys and girls there. The girls made aprons out of sackcloth or whatever else they could find and the boys would hem the girls' aprons for them. He said that must have been exciting. He played baseball for his school, and one time they played Marvel which was their biggest school rival. He remembered that their team had uniforms and gloves. He played third base and got three outs for his team, which was very unusual in those days. two of them were pop-ups that came to him and the other was someone thrown out. From there they went to Dyess, Arkansas. He had two siblings born there in Mississippi County. He had just finished eighth grade when they left Dyess and he said that his parents had decided that he had done all he needed to do and he needed to quit school and get a job. They moved to Hector and went to the Civilian Conservation Corps for a coupld of years and after that he went into the army for a coupld of years. He got out of the army and his folks still lived in Hector. He got a job at the coal mine in Hiawatha for three years. He met his future wife, Beverly Carol Munson and she proposed to him and they hopped into a 1939 Ford and went up into the mountain passes in Russelville and got married. They moved back to Hector and lived there for a while and then moved to Little Rock, then to North Little Rock, then to Chicago for a year. He went back to school and worked in a machine shop. He became a heating and air conditioning expert, but not too expert, he guesses though. They moved back to North Little Rock and they lived happily ever after there and in Little Rock for the rest of their lives. They had three children, Carol, Carla, and Alan.

I asked him when he saw and rode in his first automobile, and he said that he and Bevvy bought a car before they got married, then he remembered that his father had had a pickup truck. He bought a car, but he didn't get it until they got away. he said that when they were moving around from Searcy County back to West Helena they moved in a Model T Ford.
I asked him when he saw his first airplane and he said that they didn't have airplanes back in those days, but when he lived in Dyess President Roosevelt's wife came to town and flew in on an airplane. His first airplane ride was in 1984 to California to visit my family and to go to Disneyland. He didn't describe the flight to me though.
I asked him when he heard his first radio, what influence it had on his community, and what the most popular programs were. He said that the first one they owned was up at Hector, a batter-operated one. He can remember when the battery would be weak his father would be listening to the Lone Ranger and everybody would have to be quiet. He said that the influence didn't matter. He lived out in the country outside of Hector and the population was only a little more than three hundred people. The popular programs were mostly comedians like George Burns and Gracie Allen. For his dad he guesses it was the Lone Ranger. "Who was that masked man? Of that was the Lone Ranger!" He said that Ma Perkins, the Shadow, Hit Parade, there was a lot of 'em. They also had serial type stuff on there, like the soap operas today. He said he couldn't stand to listen to them.

I asked him what his social life was like when he was my age and he said that it was real exciting. Before that time there were CCC activities. They went to the movies a lot. Every Saturday there would be another chapter. They'd have a cartoon and a new reel and a serial like a cliffhanger and then a movie. Westerns were real popular like Roy Rogers.
I asked his what his opinions were of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Hoover, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were and he said that President Roosevelt was real popular with him and his family. He had a short hitch in the NYA and a longer hitch in the CCC and his father worked for the WPA. He could drive all over up in the country were you could see rock bridges and stuff that they had built. He said that he did not even remember President Hoover, but he can remember stories about how some of the farmers didn't like him. They would bite into an apple and start cussing Hoover because there would be a worm in the apple. He said that they liked John F Kennedy. He also said that Martin Luther King, Jr. was famous for some people, but he didn't think too much for him. Some people think he did a lot for the world, but he thinks that George Washington Carver did more for the country than him.

I asked him about his reaction to the events surrounding December 7, 1941 and what effect Pearl Harbor had on his life. He said that he was shocked like everybody was shocked and surprised and stuff and since he was already in uniform he would have a head start on other people not in it yet. He met one fellow in Little Rock, he thinks he was a colonel in the army, and while he was in the CCC's he was an army officer stationed in Little Rock and asked him if he knew Charlie real well and said that he knew him well from the first war.
I asked what he thought when he heard that the first man had walked on the moon, and he said that he thought they just made up that story and that nobody could walk on the moon.
I asked him what influence air-conditioning had on his life and the community and he said "What's air-conditioning?" as a joke. He then said that they got it when they were living in North Little Rock so that his daughter Carla wouldn't barf all over the floor. They even got a tax break on it because it was for medical reasons. He then said that they really got it to keep him cool during the day because he worked at night. He knew a man at his work that used to sleep by the window with a wet cloth on him and a fan blowing on him and that was his air-conditioning. He said that when he was growing up nobody had air-conditioning but the wealthy people.
I asked him what piece of technology most influenced his life and he said the auto. That made it so he and his family could get around better. Back in the old days they had to move by one or two horse power. He remembers one time they were moving in cold weather and the first trip everybody went and took stuff and the second trip it was just him and his daddy. His daddy was walking and he was riding in the cart and he started complaining about how cold it was and his daddy said to get out and walk and it would warm him up. They got to an old wooden bridge and the horse could see cracks in it and didn't want to go over it, so they put a blindfold over its eyes. He was only five or six at the time and he remembers it was a very long move without an auto.

His advice for young people today was that young people should go to school and pay attention so they can choose a good profession. He also said that they should make good friends that inspire you to do good instead of all the cruddy things that are out there today.
I also asked him what the schools were like when he was little. He said that he didn't go very high, but they was kinda like they are now. Country schools are a little different than they was in Dyess. Dyess was pretty modern. They had some cars and sometimes people would trade in a cow for a car. They didn't have bathrooms inside either. They had to take a path out to the outhouses.

I asked him how he celebrated Christmas and he said that he did just like we do now. They normally did not get a Christmas tree unless they was living in an area where they could just go out and chop one down. They mostly received a handful of raisins and an orange, but sometimes when his folks had extra money they would get a shirt or a pair of shoes. Also, they would bake a cake or something for a treat.

He said that the cost of living has gone up a little bit. It costs more to live now than it did in those days. In the old days, around hog-killing time when it got cold enough to keep the meat outside because they didn't have a fridge a couple of families would get together and kill a couple of animals and they would share vegetables and cream and meat.
I asked him when he had his first telephone and he said they did not have one until they lived on Parker Street in North Little Rock in 1955. He thinks that his folks got a telephone in Hector. They didn't get electricity until the 1940s, and didn't have indoor plumbing until much later. They would also skin and eat their fresh meat before it went bad because they didn't have a refrigerator.

He got his first television set when he was living in Chicago when it first came out in 1951 and then they moved back to Little Rock and they didn't get a signal. They didn't have any channels and then when the city did get it they had VHF and the city had UHF so they had to get a converter. My grandfather didn't want to get one so he made a bookcase out of the old television and didn't get another one until they moved into the house he and my grandmother are living in today. He told me a story about how when he was throwing away the picture tube from the old television set he had it in a 55 gallon drum and one of the neighbors came up to him and told him he couldn't throw away the tube like that because it was still good and so after the neighbor left my grandfather took a big pipe and threw it in the barrel and made the tube implode. There was a big "Boom" and the neighbors came running out to see what had happened and my grandfather acted like he didn't know.

My grandfather has had a very interesting life. I am very happy that I was able to interview him and discover all of the events that have happened in his life. I am thankful that my grandfather is still alive so that I will be able to get to know him a little bit better from now on.

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