Interviewed by Logan Wilson
July 29, 2013
WILSON: My name is Logan Wilson. Today is the twenty-ninth of July, 2013. I’m interviewing Mr. Milton Phillips at his home. This interview is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is part of the Footprints of Times Past project. Mr. Phillips, we sure appreciate you contributing to this project. And at that, I’m going to turn the recorder over to you. (moves microphone)
PHILLIPS: I’m Milton Phillips. I just wanted to tell everybody that life has been good. It was tough in the early days. I’m at the bottom of nine boys. Actually, back in those days, the older ones helped run—helped take care of the younger ones; the older ones did.
When I was a youngster, I can remember my mom—lots of times we would buy flour, sacks of flour, or meal, sugar, whatever. But lots of times, before we’d get a few dollars—my brothers would, in their pockets from working—she would have me going down to borrow from the neighbors. Sometimes it was just maybe a tablespoon of lard. Anyway, things gradually got better.
School was good to me. I had to, like everybody—like a lot of people, I had to walk to school for a few years, maybe a mile. In fact, my brother walked over to school one time, and the weather was so cold—he always dampened his hair with water. I don’t think we could afford any kind of stuff to hold our hair down. They got tickled at him. He had icicles in his hair. (Wilson laughs)
But the neighbors were very generous. It’s been a great community—Point Enterprise— to be raised in.
My dad was a Primitive Baptist minister. The two churches, Primitive Baptist and regular Missionary Baptist, used to have church over here in the same building. It still stands there today. Finally, in later years when I was a good bit older, the Missionary Baptists were able to build them a new church back toward our house, this way about a half a mile. In other words, it’s a little over a half a mile from where I live here. But when they were having church there together, they got along fine. What they would do, the Primitive Baptists only had theirs at daytime anyway on Sundays. They were so far apart they’d have it every—maybe three times, two times a month. Most of the time, the Missionary Baptists had it every Sunday that the Primitive Baptists didn’t have it. But they would have theirs on Sunday night sometimes, when the Primitive Baptists would have theirs at morning time. But everybody got along fine back in those days.
Back as a youngster, as I got a little bit older—anyway, my mom’s legs weren’t in very good shape. We had a good friend, black friends up here, named Smith. His wife would do our washing for us—of clothes. I would take them up there in kind of a duffel bag of some kind in a little red wagon. It [was] not quite a mile up toward Teague highway, and I’d come back to get them when she’d tell me to come back. Usually it’d be about a day. They were a fine bunch of people. His name was Sip Smith. I imagine Sip was a nickname for something. He was a fine person. There was about as many children in his family—I think he had ten boys, nine boys and one girl, or something like that.
Over here, back over at the church house, in my younger days in school, the community people would make quilts. They’d also occasionally make a mattress. A lot of time, they’d give it to the people of the community that were the poorest. You could tell who might have a few dollars more in the community because you could tell even by the way they wore their overalls—coveralls or overalls, as you call [them]—to school. The ones with striped overalls, they had a little bit more money. Finally, I was lucky enough that my brother got me and two of my brothers a pair of them. That was in later years; I say little bit later in—I was still in grammar school, but a little bit later in the grammar school. People just worked together so well at doing everything that they did. Back in those days we even—I had the privilege of having to dig a few graves for people, as I got old enough. People didn’t have enough money, maybe, to bury their loved ones, and they would do that for the people.
One of the best things that ever happened to me in my life, though, I guess, has to be the REA, Rural Electrification Act, in somewhere around 1936. I was born in ’29, and I can remember it was in my early years of school. It was a great happening. I don’t remember the guys putting the posts in the ground or what, but they weren’t big posts, I’m sure. I was probably too busy playing marbles and having fun. One interesting thing—but the electricity just changed the life around for everybody, and it helped me so much because my eyes were bad. And the kerosene lamp, it drew candle flies to it that would really pester you when you tried to get your lessons at night, and it was quite an ordeal. I didn’t remember how much of a boost it was when the rural electricity come along until we got it. It just changed everything. I guess it changed the world (unintelligible).
WILSON: Before that, before rural electrification, how’d you keep food fresh and cool in the house?
PHILLIPS: With kind of a duffel bag—type—the same type of thing that we covered our ice with when the iceman would come around. That’s the way Mom would keep our milk. Most of the time, we had milk cows, and she would churn—they would churn. My dad died when I was nine years old; but back when Dad was still alive and I was just a few years old, I can remember the churning. There was always butter on the table, and we ate at a long table in there. A lot of afternoons a friend of mine, Marvin Hinchliffe, (laughs) he used to come down and visit us, and he said there was always fanning of flies before we would eat supper. That was—this room over to my right was what we called a back porch. Well, it was a room, and we would fan the flies on out of the house. It was already—and we had a back room back here—a back porch, I’d call it—that we stored things on. The flies would be mended—fanned off where we could eat in peace.
WILSON: That was the butter, maybe the milk. But what about the meat? How’d you keep that cool, or did you?
PHILLIPS: You know, I’m trying to think. I was so young when that part was happening, but I remember us having bacon a good bit for breakfast. But the main thing I remember is we had an iron cookstove, and, oh, we made some mighty good biscuits.
My brother Raymond—one little happening that happened then, when I was still in about second or third grade—Raymond was cooking breakfast one day, and Daddy said, “Son—” it wasn’t quite daylight—said, “Looks like a little too daylight out there. You need to check outside.” And sure enough the house—roof, shingles—had already caught on fire. Mom went out and she began hollering, “Help!” real loud. And luckily—not many people in the community had a telephone—but the people named Williams up there, they live approximately where Schuster’s—or Kantor’s—Schuster’s daughter lives. The woods weren’t quite as tall, and finally Mr. Williams could see the flame. He called the fire trucks, and they got it put out. My brothers wound up with cuts all over their feet. They climbed the tin roof. It was a tin roof—no, never mind. It was a shingle roof. But after this happened, on went a tin roof.
WILSON: And that all started from the woodstove?
PHILLIPS: Yes, Raymond had a good fire. (laughter) The gravy was cooking good. Oh, there was always gravy and biscuits, and I can—my appetite is not like it used to be, of course, but anytime if I had a preference, I could make a meal on gravy and biscuits real easy. As far as having bacon, we had bacon every once in a while, and, of course, we had sausage at certain times of the year. And eggs were always available.
WILSON: Well, a refrigerator sure made that better, didn’t it?
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Actually, I can’t remember exactly when we got a refrigerator with a little more cooling. It might be possible that some of that ice—we might have had some food to put in a little refrigerator, and Mom might, or Dad and them, the brothers, might have kept ice in a certain compartment in there. I’m just not quite sure about that part.
WILSON: A lot of people refer to that just as an icebox. And that’s what it was, wasn’t it.
WILSON: It was an icebox.
PHILLIPS: But the main thing I can remember really looking forward to was the iceman coming around. He had the Poly Pop and, oh, a few extra things. He would come twice a week, and that 150 pounds—we’d get at least 150 pounds of ice, I think. Or maybe—I don’t know whether we could afford it each time or not, but a lot of times we’d get a hundred pounds anyway. That tea was mighty good.
WILSON: That’s the way you preserved the food.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. That’s the way the main things that needed preserving was preserved. And Mom did some canning of fruit. We used to have some plums and a few pear trees, and I think at one time we did have a few peach trees. But time just finally took care of them. We weren’t able to cultivate them.
And one other thing I wanted to tell you, if it’s okay, about Sip Smith, the black man that—you know, he was such a nice guy. My dad—one member of the church or somebody—Dad’s wagon was getting a little bit—it was still in pretty good shape, but it nearly needed a little work on it. But Sip Smith’s wagon—he just didn’t have one. So Dad was able to give him a wagon because the people at church—who was a member of what, I can’t remember now. I was too young. I was still keeping my mind on too much ball, I guess. They were just a good people to be around.
WILSON: What do you recall about your school days here? And this was at Point Enterprise?
PHILLIPS: I’ll tell you one of the most interesting things as a kid. School—and it’d be nice if they’d had it nowadays, I think, but I don’t think kids have an hour off for lunch like we did at school. We had an hour off for lunch, and, actually, I’d sometimes come home. But most the time we’d spend—after we—I’d take my lunch until the—after I was in about the fourth grade. I believe that’s when the school lunch program come around. We had people that come in and cooked for us on a regular basis. I don’t remember it costing very much. In fact, I was the skinniest one in school. The ladies felt for me, and at recess they gave me some of the best things I could ever wish for: a glass of milk and two peanut butter cookies. (both laugh)
WILSON: That’s because you were so skinny, huh? (laughs)
PHILLIPS: Right, because they felt like I was malnourished.
WILSON: How did—what do you remember about the Depression?
PHILLIPS: Oh, that was—let’s see. I know one thing. Things were so bad in the Depression, but like I said, we had good neighbors. A man named L. M. Mabe [Luther M. Mabe] over here, and one of the Holts, I think, one time did the same thing—we didn’t have anything in the barn to feed the cows. We never did hardly have any horses. We had a horse at one time to help pull the little—not the whole cart/cord(??) at one time—but wood up from the branch down here in the woods. But this—hold it just a second. (pauses) Oh yeah, okay. Now I’ll get on with my story. L. M. Mabe—we went somewhere on a visit. I can remember as a kid. It was very early years of school. And when we come back in, the boys said that we had corn in the barn. When we left the house, we didn’t have anything. But L. M. Mabe brought us a load, and it’d be other things, other type feed too. That’s how they—that was during the Depression.
WILSON: So people—one of the ways you got through it is people took care of each other.
PHILLIPS: Yes, they did. You bet. And you knew what—if your neighbor was sick, you knew it. Nowadays, I guess, I need to do more calling and I know what—but back in those days, we didn’t—I was trying to think of what year we got a telephone. We didn’t get a telephone until I was on up about seventeen, something like that.
WILSON: That changed the world too, didn’t it?
PHILLIPS: Oh, you bet. I can remember my mom—the old-time sayings, you know. She enjoyed the telephone so much. She’d get on [there]: “Well, I’ll say,” and, “How are you getting along?” “Oh, just tolerable.” You don’t hear that mentioned much anymore. But the old-time sayings.
WILSON: How do you think—that you recall—World War II changed Point Enterprise?
PHILLIPS: Yes, I think it did, really. I think it made—there was quite a few—I had two brothers that went overseas. My brother Richard was in a lot of battles with the Japanese in those islands over there in the Philippines and New Guinea. But luckily they all made it back. Thurman was in the navy on a LSM ship [Landing Ship Medium], and he and— one real coincidence. When the Germans surrendered and they put all their effort against the Japanese, Thurman got to come over there, close to where Richard was stationed fighting the Japanese. He was just off the shore a little piece, and some way or another, Richard got word, knew what ship he was on—LSM ship, it was a medical ship—and they got to spend the night together and eat like a king. (Wilson laughs) Richard was used to those—what do you call it, K rations?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, K rations.
WILSON: The navy fed better, didn’t they?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, oh, did they! Richard said it was a feast.
WILSON: (laughs) But both of them made it home okay?
PHILLIPS: Oh, you bet. All of them did without any serious injury at all.
WILSON: That’s good. Well, times have sure changed, hadn’t they?
PHILLIPS: Yes, it has.
WILSON: You’ve seen a lot.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. If I had enough sense I could write a book, (both laugh) or if I felt that strongly, you know. I guess as you get a little older, your brain gets a little lazier. (Wilson laughs) Reckon?
WILSON: I don’t know.
PHILLIPS: Sometimes, though, it wises you up and you realize what you really had and didn’t realize it.
WILSON: What’s important, yeah. I always ask the same question at the end of every interview. And so I’m going to ask you the question. Mr. Phillips, if you had one bit of advice for the young people today, what would it be?
PHILLIPS: Well, I would tell them to not try to live life too fast. Personally, I think nowadays—especially the young ladies—I think the family tries to raise them up to be grownups too quick and, maybe in some cases, the boys too, but especially the young ladies. I hate to see that. They want to make teenagers out of them. It’s just so much faster than it was when I was a kid. Everything is rushed up now. Back in my time, you had plenty of time. You could go get a drink of water if you needed one. Nowadays, even in my granddaughters’ school, they can’t go get water and get up and go do that every time. The meals are rushed up. Like I say, we used to have an hour off for lunch. Getting back to that, I just wanted to add one thing. The first thing the teacher would—in our three-room school over here, grammar school at Point Enterprise—first thing the teacher would have us to do after that lunch period, said, “Now, just lay your head down for five minutes on your arm and just relax.” It’d be nice if people could do that now. Wouldn’t it?
WILSON: The world moves pretty fast, doesn’t it?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, it does. But that’s the only thing I could tell youngsters. And to be kind to all people, all races.
WILSON: Be kind to each other.
WILSON: That’s good advice. Well, sir, we appreciate your contribution.
PHILLIPS: Well, I thank you.
WILSON: And I thank you very much for the interview.
PHILLIPS: You’re welcome.
WILSON: Thank you very much, sir.
PHILLIPS: You’re welcome.
end of interview