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Molly Brown

From: More Arkansas

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person Interviewed: Molly Brown
Age: 90 or over Brinkley, Ark.

One morning early I (Irene Robertson) got off the bus and started up
Main Street. I hadn't gone far before I noticed a small form of a woman.
She wore men's heavy shoes, an old dark dress and a large fringed woolen
shawl; the fringe was well gone and the shawl, once black, was now brown
with age. I passed her and looked back into her face. I saw she was a
Negro, dark brown. Her face was small with unusually nice features for a
woman of her race. She carried a slick, knotted, heavy walking stick--a
very nice-looking one. On the other arm was a rectangular split basket
with wires run through for a handle and wrapped with a dirty white rag
to keep the wire from cutting into her hand or arm.

I stopped and said, "Auntie, could you direct me to Molly Brown's

"I'm her," she replied.

"Well, I want to go home with you."

"What you want to go out there for?"

"I want you to tell me about times when you were a girl," I said.

"I'm not going home yet. I got to get somethin' for dinner."

"Well, you go ahead and I'll follow along."

"Very well," she said.

I window shopped outside, and I noticed she had a box of candy, but it
was a 25c box and had been opened, so I thought it may be nearly
anything just put in the box. The next store she went into was a
nice-looking meat market and grocery combined, I followed in behind her.
A nice-looking middle-aged man gave her a bundle that was large enough
to hold a 50c meat roast. It was neatly tied, and the wrapping paper was
white, I observed. She thanked him. She turned to me and said, "Give me
a nickel."

I said, "I don't have one." Then I said teasingly, "Why you think I have
a nickel?"

She said, "You look like it."

I opened my purse and gave her a dime. She went over to the bread and
picked up a loaf or two, feeling it. The same man said, "Let that

The old woman slowly went on out. I was amazed at his scolding. Then he
said to me, "She begs up and down this street every day, cold or hot,
rain or shine, and I have to watch her from the time she enters that
door till she leaves. I give her scrap meat," he added.

"How old is she?"

"She was about fifty years old sixty years ago when she came to
Brinkley. She is close to a hundred years. People say she has been here
since soon after the town started." He remarked, "She won't spend that
dime you gave her."

"Well, I will go tell her what to buy with it," I replied.

I hurried out lest I loose her. She had gained time on me and was
crossing the Cotton Belt Ry. tracks. I caught up with her before she
went into a small country grocery store on #70 highway. She had passed
several Negro stores, restaurants, etc, "I want a nickel's worth of
meal, please, sir."

I said, "Auntie, buy a dime's worth of meal."

"I don't want but a nickel's worth." The man handed it to her to put in
the basket. "Give me a piece candy." The merchant gave her a nice hard
stick. She broke it half in to and offered me a piece.

I said, "No, thank you, Auntie." She really wanted me to have it, but I
refused it.

She blowed her nose on her soiled old white underskirt. She wormed and
went on out.

I asked the merchant "How old is she?"

"Bless her heart, I expect she is ninety years old or more. I give her
some hard candy every time she comes in here. I give her a lot of
things. She spends her money with me."

Then I asked if she drew an Old Age Pension.

He said, "I think she does, but that is about 30c and it runs out before
she gets another one. She begs a great deal."

I lagged behind. The way she made her way across the Broadway of America
made me scringe. I crossed and caught up with her as she turned off to a
path between a garage and blacksmith shop.

I said, "Auntie, let me take your basket." She refused me. I said, "May
I carry your meal or your meat?"

"I don't know you." she said shortly.

A jolly man at the side of the garage heard me. I said, "I'm all right,
am I not" to the man.

He said, "Aunt Molly, let her help you home. She is all right. I'm

I followed the path ahead of her. When we turned off across a grassy
mesa the old woman said, "Here," and handed over her basket. I carried
it. When we got to her house across a section of hay land at least a
mile from town, she said, "Push that door open and go to the fire."

An old Negro man, not her husband and no relation, got a very
respectable rocking chair for me. He had a good fire in the fireplace.
The old woman sat on a tall footstool. She was so cold.

She said, "Bring me some water, please."

A young yellow boy stepped out and gave her a cup of water. She drank it
all. She put the meat bones and scrap meat on the coals in an iron pot
in some water. She had the boy scald the meal, sprinkle salt in it and
add a little cold water to it. He put it in an iron pan and put a heavy
iron lid over it. The kettle was iron. The boy set it aside and put the
bread on hot embers. She sat down and said, "I'm hungry."

I said, "Auntie, what have you in that box?"

She reached to her basket, untied some coins from the corner of the
soiled rag--three pennies and a nickel. She untied her ragged hose--she
wore two pairs--tied above the knee with a string, and slipped the money
to the foot and in her heavy shoes. It looked safe. Then the old Negro
man came in with an armfull of scrub wood and placed it by the fireplace
on the floor.

He said, "The Government sent me here to live and take care of Aunt
Molly. She been sick. I build her fires, and me and that boy wait on

I asked, "Is the boy kin".

He said, "No'm, she's all alone."

He went away and the boy went away. The old woman called them and
offered them candy. She had twelve hard pieces of whitish, stale
chocolate candy in the box. The boy refused and went away, but the old
man took three pieces. I observed it well, when she passed it to me, for
worms. I refused it. It seemed free from bugs though. She ate greedily
and the old man went away.

We were alone and she was warm. She talked freely till the old Negro man
returned at one o'clock for dinner. Notwithstanding the fact the meal
hadn't been sifted and the meat not washed, it looked so brown and nice
in two pones and the meat smelled so good I left hurriedly before I
weakened, for I was getting hungry from the aroma.

"I was born at Edgefield County, South Carolina, and lived there till
after I married."

"Did you have a wedding?"

"I sure did."

"Tell me about it."

"I married at home, at night, had a supper, had a nice dance."

"You did?"

"I did."

"Did a colored man marry you?"

"Colored preacher--Jim Woods."

"Did he say the ceremony?"

"He read it out of a little book."

"Did you have a nice supper?"

"Course I did! White folks helped fix my weddin' supper. Had turkey,
chickens, baked shoat, pies and cake--a table piled up full. Mama helped
cook it. It was all cooked on fireplace.

"How were you dressed?"

"Dressed like folks dressed to marry."

"How was that?"

"I wore three or four starched underskirts trimmed in ruffles and a
white dress over em. I wore a long lacy vail of net."

"Did you go away?"

"I lived close to my ma and always lived close bout her. I was called a
first class lady then."

"You were."

"My parents name Tempy Harris and Albert Harris. She was a cook. He was
a farmer. They had five children. The reason I come to Arkansas was
cause brother Albert and Caroline come here and kept writin' for us to
come. My folks belong to the Harrises. I don't know nothin' bout
em--been too long--and I never fooled round their houses. Some my folks
belong to the Joneses. They kinfolks of the Harrises.

"No, I never saw no one sold nor hung neither.

"Remember grandpa. His daddy was a white man. His wife was a black
woman. Mama was a brown woman like I is.

"I ain't had narry child. My mother died here in this house. Way me an
my husband paid for the house, he farmed for Jim Black and Mr. Gunn. I
cooked for Jim Woodfin. Then I run a roomin' house till four years ago.
Four years ago I went to South Carolina to see my auntie. Her name
Julia. They all had more 'n I had. She'd dead now. All of em dead bout
it. She was a light woman--Julia. Her pa was a white man; her ma a light
woman. Julia considered wealthy.

"I don't know nothin' bout freedom. I seen the soldiers. I seen both
kinds. The white folks was good to us. We stayed on. Then we went to
Albany, Georgia. We lived there a long time--lived in Florida a long
time, then come here.

"The Joneses and Harrises had two or three families all I know. They
didn't have no big sight of land. They was good to us. I picked up
chips, put em in the boxes. Picked em up in my dress, course; I fetched
up water. We had rocked wells and springs, too. We lived with man named
Holman in Georgia. We farmed. I used to be called a smart woman, till I
done got not able. My grandpa was a white man; mama's pa.

"What I been doin' from 1864-1937? What ain't I done! Farmin', I told
you. Buildin' fences was common. Feedin' hogs, milkin' cows, churnin'.
We raised hogs and cows and kept somethin' to eat at home. I knit sox. I
spin. I never weaved. Folks wore clothes then. They don't wear none now.
Pieced quilts. Could I sew? Course I did! Got a machine there now.
(pointed to an old one.)

"I never seen no Ku Klux. I hid if they was about. I sure did hear bout
em. They didn't never come on our place.

"I told you I never knowed when freedom come on.

"I went to school in South Carolina. I went a little four or five years.
I could read, spell, cipher on a slate. Course I learned to write.
Course I got whoopins; got a heap o' whoopins. People tended to childern
then. What kind books did we have? I read and spelled out of the Blue
Back Speller. We had numbers on our slates. The teacher set us copies.
We wrote with soapstone. Some teachers white and some colored.

"Well, course I got a Bible. (disgusted at the question). I go to church
and preachin' every Sunday. Yes. ma'am, now.

"I don't study votin'. I don't vote. (disgusted). I reckon my husband
and pa did vote. I ain't voted.

"Course I go to town. I go to keep from gettin' hungry.

"Me and this old man get demodities and I get some money.

"I told you I don't bother young folks business. I thought I told you I
don't. If I young I could raise somethin' at home that the reason I go
hungry. I give down. I know I do get hungry.

"One thing I didn't tell you. I made tallow candles when I was a young

"I don't know nothin' bout that Civil War."

Next: Peter Brown

Previous: Mattie Brown

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