Interviewed by Cynthia Pollard
March 18, 2014
[ed. note: Throughout the interview, the sound of a neighbor hitting metal with a hammer can be heard in the background.]
POLLARD: Today is Tuesday, March the eighteenth, and I am in the home of Ray and Linda Forrester. And, actually, Linda could be called the first child of Delia because her dad [Gussie Clarence Bolen] was the unofficial mayor of Delia. We’re here today to talk about her memories of Delia when she was growing up, so let’s start there. Tell me your earliest memories of Delia as a child, what you remember most about growing up here.
FORRESTER: The first thing that I remember: back when I was about three or four years old, my daddy had made me a little platform rocker and put brown plastic covering over it. The community building was just around the corner from our house, and there was a Stanley [Home Products] party going on. And so—
POLLARD: What’s a Stanley party?
FORRESTER: They sold furniture cream, mops, and things like that.
POLLARD: Oh okay, kind of like a Tupperware party.
FORRESTER: Yes, kind of like a Tupperware party but it was put out by Stanley. So they had—anything that was a community get-together was always at the community building. Now, the community building used to be the gym and the auditorium for the Delia school, but that was the only thing that was left out there, was the building, so they used it as a community building.
POLLARD: So was this like 1950-something?
FORRESTER: Oh Lordy. I was born in ’48, and this would—I was about three.
POLLARD: So about ’51, ’52?
FORRESTER: Something like that, yes. But we was getting ready to go to this Stanley party, and my daddy had just finished this rocker. He told me to get over there in it, and I got over there in it. And while he was messing around doing something else, I got up in it on my knees and I squatted down and I bit a hole (laughs) in this plastic and tore a hole about an inch—(laughs). He turned around—and he’d just finished covering this thing. (laughs) Oh gee. That’s my earliest memory.
POLLARD: You got in trouble.
FORRESTER: I got into trouble, yes. But we went to the Stanley party and all the neighbors was there. Elzie Black, which is Butch Black’s daddy, they had—after this Stanley party, they was going to give this prize. They asked for two people in the audience to get out—you know, come up. They handed them two baby bottles and they had milk in them, the smaller baby bottles with nipples on them. The first one that could suck all his milk out of this baby bottle (laughs) won this—it was a knife that had a pronged end on it. Really, really nice knife. And my daddy won it. (laughs) This is my earliest memories of that.
But this community building, they used to have box suppers there all the time. The women would bake cakes and have fried chicken and whatever, and then they would decorate the box, and then they would auction the boxes off. And when you got the box that you won [Forrester note: if you were the highest bidder], then you sat down and you had a meal. I remember that.
POLLARD: Was there one certain person that always had the best box lunch?
FORRESTER: That I don’t remember; I just remember the decorating. You know, they would put flowers on top of it, just any—big bows, whatever they could think of to make their box really attractive and you had to bid on it. Back then, money was not very— (laughs) it was awful back then. Nobody had any money, but they would bid on these boxes, and when you got a box you got to eat what was in it.
I remember Delia had a ball team. It was the grown men in the area, and I have tried my best to find out what this ball team—what the name of the ball team was. Their uniforms was red and trimmed in white. The numbers on the uniforms was white. My mother’s youngest brother played on this ball team.
POLLARD: What was his name?
FORRESTER: J. W. Stipe. He played on this ball team. But I’ve asked different ones in the community, and can’t anybody remember what it was called. But my daddy ran the concessions and he owned the PA system [public-address system], so the soda water man would drive his truck up to our house and unload all of these cases of soda waters. Our hall was always full of soda waters, and Daddy would—and that’s what they were called: soda waters. (laughs)
POLLARD: Oh, I know. But today—
FORRESTER: Not pop or coke or whatever. No, it’s coke now, but it was soda waters. Our whole hall there was always full of cases of soda waters that he would buy for the concessions at the ball game. It had lights; it had the tall lights, you know, and it was always at nighttime. You went and got up in the stands and watched this ball team play. I don’t know who it was that—somebody come in and finally bought the ball lights, and they took the poles and everything down. That’s the furtherest back that I can remember.
POLLARD: So besides the community center, were there any stores or a post office or anything in Delia?
FORRESTER: We had—when I was born in ’48, Daddy and Mama lived in a little red house in behind the gin tank. I was born at Mexia hospital, but that’s where they lived, was in this little red house, and Daddy helped run the gin. The gin was up closer to the highway there, and the gin engine was called Mary, for some reason. He ran that and kept the man that owned the gin. We had a house down on my daddy’s place that he lived in, and his name was Ed Kitt(??). He was a cripple man, and so Daddy took care of him until he died. Then Daddy moved the little ol’ house up next to where Daddy and Mama lived.
The house that we lived in, now, was the old school teacherage. It was set up because back then, usually a schoolteacher wasn’t married—they were single young people—and they lived in this house. Daddy wanted to buy the house and he was going to have to be gone that day, so he got my mother’s brother, Carl Stipe, to come up. It was held on an auction block. Carl went up and bid on the house, and Daddy bought the house for $2,500. They moved in that house when I was six months old, but it was the old school teacherage. So the hallway that I’m speaking of used to be a long hallway, and it had— was full of soda waters. But Daddy rearranged the house and cut half of the hall off and made a bathroom, and the bathroom opened up—he put sliding doors in it and it opened up into my bedroom and into their bedroom.
FORRESTER: Yes. He was a carpenter by trade.
POLLARD: Indoor plumbing in the early fifties.
FORRESTER: Well, this would be around—I think I had already started to school when we finally got the indoor plumbing—that he did this.
POLLARD: Now, you might explain what a gin tank is.
FORRESTER: The gin tank—the gin had to have a tank. It had to have a source of water. It wasn’t a—it was what a Texan always called—(laughs) it was a hole in the ground with water in it. Now, I found out when I moved to Missouri that it was really a pond. (laughs) They said a tank was something that was made out of tin, you know, and that’s what a tank is. It’s always a tank. But we lived down by this, and this was our source of water that—I guess we drank the water. We didn’t have a cistern that I know of in this little old house. I know Daddy said when I was born—I was born January 8, 1948. It was a horrific ice storm and the gin tank was froze over. Froze, period. They couldn’t bring me home out of the hospital because they couldn’t get back to Delia. We was in [General] Mexia Hospital and so we went to Jack and Lula Mae—what?—I have to think of their [name]—Wilson. We went to their house and stayed a night or two before we could get ourselves all the way home. And when we got home, Daddy had to take an axe out to the gin tank to make a hole in the gin tank to get water to wash my baby clothes. (laughs) It was really froze over.
POLLARD: So was there a town in Delia when you were growing up, or was it just a group of houses and a church?
FORRESTER: [Forrester addition: Yes, it was considered a town. It had a store, blacksmith shop, post office, gin, and Baptist church.] The only church that was left— now, there used to be three churches. There used to be a Church of Christ, a Methodist, and the Baptist, but when I was born, the only thing that was there was the Baptist church. We had a post office, we had a store that—as far back as I can remember, the first people that owned it and operated it was the Stevenses(??), and then I don’t know whether they sold it, whether they rented it out, but Des Haught [Desmond L. Haught] and his family run it until it finally closed. Lottie Warren(??) was the postmistress. She lived in the post office and ran the post office there in Delia. You know, I was telling you the other day, I can see this woman driving the mail car, and it was Pearl something. [Forrester note: Pearl Norman.] B Thompson, which lived there beside us, he ran the mail for a while. Then the next one that I know of was James Taliaferro, and he kept the route until it went somewhere—it went to Coolidge then. When we lost our post office there in Delia, it went to Mount Calm because we did have—we was on Route 3, Mount Calm route, but everything through there is Coolidge now. But James drove for Coolidge.
POLLARD: So how many families lived in Delia when you were growing up? Twenty- five, thirty?
FORRESTER: Right in the town of Delia, J. V. Mathis [Forrester note: Virgil and Lola Mathis], which was Paul Matthews’s—that was his mother and daddy. They lived there beside us and then us. Tom Davis and Vernice lived on the other side of us. B Thompson, after they moved out of the house, Tom and Vernice Davis moved into the house. There was C. V. [Charles Vincent] Shilling and his wife [Forrester note: Pearl], Loyd Burleson and Dovie [Forrester note: farmers], Joe Rogers and Rosie [Forrester note: had the blacksmith shop]. Jake and Ava Minze [Forrester note: worked for a ranch] lived up there close to—next to Mr. and Mrs. Shilling, and it was their house that Daddy bought and moved down on his place there. That was where the Huffington house was built. Oh, my grandmother lived about a half a mile down the road there, but she really wasn’t considered in the city limits of Delia. There was some Wards. I can’t remember what his name was, but they lived there for a while before the Burlesons moved into their house. A long, long time ago—now, there was a Mrs. Compton, and her daughter lived up there right before you got to Delia. The daughter’s name was Minnie, and then Mrs. Compton was Joe Ed Compton’s grandmother, is who that was. That’s all that I can remember that ever lived there. J. V. [Joseph Vernon] and Vennie Hardeman, they moved there and lived there for a while.
POLLARD: J. V. and who?
FORRESTER: Vennie. You know the house that Althea McClinton—Althea Hancock and them live in right now? J. V. and Vennie built that house, and when they moved from Delia they moved in that house there. My mother’s brother[s], both of them, which was J. W. Stipe and Carl Stipe, they lived in a little red house in behind my grandmother’s house there. It was on the same property.
POLLARD: So were most of the people farmers and ranchers?
FORRESTER: They were all farmers. Yes, farmers and ranchers.
POLLARD: And raised mostly cotton?
FORRESTER: Cotton, corn, maize. That’s it. Because that’s what my daddy raised and that’s what everybody else raised—and cows. That was their livelihood.
Now, my daddy was a carpenter and he farmed and he carpentered from—he did it on his own there for a long time and then he started working for Mr. Nowlin. He owned the lumberyard there in Coolidge, and so Mr. Nowlin would—somebody come and want something done, well, he would hire Daddy out to do this. And if it wasn’t for Mr. Nowlin, Daddy never would have drawed social security because he started paying in social security for my daddy. And that’s how he got to have social security, which is neat.
POLLARD: So was there one family that was like the family that kind of looked over Delia? Took care of—was the—
FORRESTER: That was my daddy. (laughs)
POLLARD: That was your daddy?
FORRESTER: That was my daddy, yes. There was—Daddy put a pump on the gin tank, and that was the source of running water for all of Delia. Daddy built a little house over it and put electricity to it and put a light in it during the wintertime to keep the pump from freezing up and go down and check on it. If you had water problems, they always called Daddy and he did all this free of charge. Nobody ever got charged for—paying a water bill or anything. Our drinking water, there was a cistern at Tom Davis and them’s house. We had to walk across this little garden area to get to the cistern, but that’s where we got our drinking water from. Rest of our water come from the gin tank, and everybody in town got gin tank water. My grandmother, she lived too far down the road and they had a pump on their tank down there, but everybody else in town, they had gin water tank.
POLLARD: And Delia had phone service?
FORRESTER: Yes, (sighs) and that was—Lord, the little crank phones—and I can’t remember how old I was when we got this phone because we wasn’t one of the first ones to get it. I don’t know who was, but I know I used to go over to J. V. and Vennie’s house and use their phone to call Coolidge and talk to some of my girlfriends and so forth, do that. Their phone was a big old wooden crank. It had a crank on it. I used their phone and that was one of the first phones that we got. They put it in the kitchen, and instead of it ringing at your house, everybody was on the party line. It was according to how many rings you got, or whatever, is whether it was for you or not. You could have two short rings and a long ring and that would be somebody’s, and so it [was] really crazy! (laughs) And a lot of eavesdroppers. (laughs) You couldn’t tell anything on the phone you didn’t want it to get out because somebody—every time the phone would ring, everybody would go pick it up and see—you know, it rang everybody’s house. We had one that was really, really bad. (laughs)
POLLARD: We won’t say any names then.
FORRESTER: No. Well, she’s dead and gone long, long time ago. But every time the phone rang, she was on that phone for sure! (laughs) Oh gee. What else do you need to know?
POLLARD: Did y’all hold socials as a community at the community house, or was it just like the Stanley party?
FORRESTER: Well, yes. But the Stanley parties was what I remember the most because—oh, what do you call the service that the mop people—because Stanley sold mops, floor polish, the stuff to put on your furniture—I can’t remember all of the stuff. But they’d have little booklets, you know, that you went to the Stanley party and, of course, they had their stuff out on a table and show and explain to you. That was the family get-together place of all the community people. That was the large place that they had.
Later on, when I was about, oh, eight, nine years old, the women of the community had a sewing bee, and somebody always had a quilt. In one of the rooms there in the community building, Daddy went out and put a heater in it. They had a butane tank out there so it would be warm, and all of the women of the community would go out and quilt, you know. Lord, you could get a quilt out—every two meetings somebody would have their quilt. But everybody had a quilt that they would bring and put up there, and they would always bring punch and cookies to have refreshments. They all met and did that. I would go up with my granny and Mama used to go, and just a big get-together of all the women in the community.
POLLARD: Why do you think this grant or this—we’re doing this recording for our Footprints of Times Past [project]. Why do you think the community began to disappear? Was it a matter of moving away or passing away?
FORRESTER: It was more passing away than moving away. There was some that I remember that did move, but the majority of them—I don’t know. There was a descending of these people when the store closed, and then we lost the post office and—I don’t know. A lot of them did die, but then there was these that moved away just like Vennie and J. V. There they had lived in this area all their lives and they built this house and moved to Coolidge. Oh, J. V. and Virgil and his wife, they—
POLLARD: Virgil and Granny. That’s—I always knew her as Granny.
FORRESTER: I’d have to—Lola. Her name was Lola. They moved to Coolidge and there they had raised their kids and everything around there, and so I don’t know. Just really don’t know. Something at my age back then, you just didn’t think about it.
But I was telling you the other day, Joe Rogers had the blacksmith shop. There’s a smell to the blacksmith shop that—from the forge, you know, and all. Every time you would pass there, whether he was open or not, this odor was in the air. It had a sound that you could even hear as far down as my granny’s house if you were sitting on the porch and we could hear it at our house. This sound is in my head. (stands up) I want to show— (walks across room and opens door; sound of metal hitting metal fills the room) You hear that?
POLLARD: Uh-huh. I heard it—
FORRESTER: That is Joe Rogers beating on a plow. (laughs) We’ve got two of them and I love to hear it because I’m only missing the smell. (returns to recording area and sits back down) It just—it puts me there. I’ll remember that sound the rest of my life.
POLLARD: Him hitting the iron with his—
FORRESTER: Him hitting the iron, yes.
POLLARD: With his hammer on the anvil.
FORRESTER: Um-hm. And it just—Ray and I make mention of that when the (gets up) wind is blowing and both of them is really banging. We always say, Joe Rogers is really working tonight! (closes door; both laugh) Of course, he didn’t work at night, but the sound takes you there. (sits down) I don’t know whether my mind works like everybody else’s mind or not, but I mean I can move furniture, I can go back in time and just like this odor, I can almost smell this odor. I can go back in my house, and even though it’s about to fall down now, I can see it just as it was, and go from room to room and look around just like I’m a ghost. And I just wondered if everybody can do this or it just me that can do this. And my decorating. I see things the way I want it before I fix it, and I can change it. If I don’t like that, I change it. What have I got to change this with?
POLLARD: I had a question. (clock starts chiming) Why do you think that the—like, why didn’t you move back to Delia? Why didn’t some of your other friends move back to Delia and on the land that their parents had?
FORRESTER: I don’t know, but I—now, Daddy sold his land, but I still own the house and his property. Mr. [Henry B.] Tippie has come in and he’s bought everything, all the way to Mexia and to Mount Calm, but he’ll never get this land. I wouldn’t sell this land for a million dollars and all it is is like an acre and a half.
POLLARD: And is that right in where—in Delia.
FORRESTER: It’s right in Delia. Yes.
POLLARD: And what’s on it now? Your house?
FORRESTER: The house, and it’s just about to fall down. The little Ed Kitt(??) house is already more or less kind of fell in. Daddy put up a television tower. It’s planted in concrete right there beside the house, and it’s still there. And it just—my second marriage—the man that I married that was from Missouri, we lived there two years before we moved to Missouri, and Daddy—of course, he paid insurance on the house all the time. [Us] not knowing that the last time that there was a hailstorm he turned it in to the insurance company and got the money. But he hired Roy Rivers to come up and patch the house. When Daddy was in the nursing home and Dean and I was living there in my homeplace, there was a hailstorm come through and it started—the house started leaking in different little spots. Still paying for the insurance—it was George Stone there in Mart. I got in touch with George and I said, “We’ve had this hail damage and I want to turn this in.” He looked and he come back and he says, “Well, Linda, we’ve already paid for that roof one time and your daddy didn’t replace it, and there’s not anything we can do about it.” (laughs) So—
POLLARD: Sounds like insurance companies are still the same.
FORRESTER: Um-hm. Yep. And, see, I didn’t know that. Daddy should have replaced the roof, but Daddy saved the money and just had it patched.
POLLARD: So other than farming, did your dad have any kind of job?
FORRESTER: Other than—he was a carpenter. He did everybody’s papering, and then when papering went out of style, he did the sheetrock and he would paint the outside or— whatever needed to be done, that’s what he did, and farmed on the side.
POLLARD: And your dad’s name was—
FORRESTER: Gussie Clarence Bolen.
POLLARD: Was it Gus or Gussie?
FORRESTER: Gussie, but he was called Gus.
POLLARD: Gussie Clarence Bolen. And where did Gussie come from? Was that a family name?
FORRESTER: I have no idea where Gussie come from. And I don’t even know where the Clarence comes from. Don’t have—because his daddy’s name was Henry. Don’t have a clue.
POLLARD: And he ended up in Delia because—
FORRESETER: Daddy in his younger years waited on the sick. If you got down sick, he would come to your house. He cooked, he did anything that needed to be done. Back when the epidemic come through and everybody had the flu and was sick, he waited on the sick. Now, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you how many people that he did this for and he never, ever got sick himself. It would be whole families. I mean, husband and wife and all the kids would be just at death’s door, and he would come in and cook for them and feed them and take care of them and shave the men and bathe them and took care of the babies. He just did it all, and have all these people come back and tell you, you know, If it wasn’t for your daddy, we wouldn’t be alive right now. He tells about women having miscarriages and all—and even back when the people was dying of this flu or whatever this was that come through, when you died, he buried you. He dug your grave and buried you. I know he told about women having miscarriages and the fetus be just so small that he would put it in a matchbox and bury it. To have my daddy do the things that he did is just—it’s unreal. But I know for a fact that it happened because too many people have said if it wasn’t for him [Forrester note: they would have died].
And that’s how my mother and daddy met. My mother’s daddy had Bright’s disease, and he got down—of course, he had a house full of grown boys and one grown girl—well, two at the time because my mother was still there. They lived on a farm. Here he’s sick in bed and nobody to take care of him, so they hired my daddy to come and take care of him. He would come in and bathe him and shave him and care for him until he died. Now, that’s how my mother and daddy met because Daddy was there taking care of her daddy, and they went together two years and then they got married. I think my mama was twenty-five and my daddy was thirty-two when they married. Daddy says he always thought he got married too young. (laughs) But I thought that was awful neat, to have my daddy taking care of her daddy and him dying. And if it hadn’t been for Daddy and getting married and taking care of that family—because he would tell the boys—he would go down—they plowed with mules—and he would go down and he would tell them, “Y’all get up in the morning and have the mules fed where we can go to work.” Go down there and everybody’d still be laying up in the bed. Mules hadn’t been fed, nothing. My daddy was an early riser. He would make these boys get out there and get everything fed and their harnesses and everything put on so you could go to the field and plow and so forth. So if it hadn’t been for my daddy, they probably would have all starved to death. (laughs)
POLLARD: Well, he sounded like a good man and was a great asset to Delia.
FORRESTER: Well, not just to Delia but to Coolidge and anybody that knew my daddy. They sang his praises. There wouldn’t be anything that my daddy wouldn’t do for anybody. If you come on his place and you saw something that you wished you had, he’d give it to you (laughs) and he wouldn’t charge you for it. He’d just give it to you. So no, Daddy never met a stranger, and that’s where I get my gab from. He was a talker and he could entertain you all day long by telling you silly stories and jokes. We would go on vacation and before you knew it, he would just have all of these people gathered around him because he was saying something funny and telling stories. They would just stop what they was doing and just follow Daddy because he kept them entertained. That’s the way he did it.
POLLARD: So growing up in Delia was fun.
FORRESTER: Oh yes. I wouldn’t change a thing in this world. Not a thing. Even after I got married—and we went back home every weekend. We was always back at Daddy’s. After my mother got sick, Daddy did the cooking, and I mean he could fry you up a chicken and make gravy and just fix the whole meal himself. You sat down and you ate and then you cleaned the kitchen up, and then he had chairs out in the backyard up underneath the trees out there, and you went and sat in the backyard. You could see people coming down the highway and coming around the front of the house there, and he sat and would tell you about his childhood days and things that happened to him. And he kept you entertained. It wasn’t just like you going, he would keep you entertained. He kept his own kids entertained, and sometimes you would be glad to leave because you had laughed so much it made you tired. (laughs)
POLLARD: Well, I guess his title, the unofficial mayor of Delia, is a good way to—
FORRESTER: Yes, he said he had been the mayor ever since 1927, and he got this out. I mean, he told everybody this. After a while, since the only thing that was left out there was the church, Daddy would have Delia homecomings, and he would write letters to everybody that was from Delia and around that had some connection to Delia. He would plan a date and he would go buy barbecue or whatever kind of meal that he wanted to serve and ask everybody to bring a dish, but he always supplied the meat. He would tell everybody the date, and I’ve got pictures of the two big Delia homecomings, but it was held at the church. He put up tents. He got the tents from the funeral home there in Coolidge and put up tents, and so you went and just had a wonderful time, all because of my daddy.
POLLARD: Well, you just saying that, here’s my last question: why do you think Coolidge grew, or stayed a viable community, and Delia didn’t?
FORRESTER: Mainly because it had a school, it had a post office, it had stores, you know. It was more convenient for people, I think. Other than—once the store was gone and the post office was gone and the gin had burnt down, there wasn’t anything there except for houses. And so if you didn’t own land and a good bit of it, a lot of it went to ranchland and farmland. Well, if you didn’t have too much farmland, you still couldn’t make a living off of it either. Coolidge had two gins that I knew of and all of those stores, had the bank. And, see, when Delia—I don’t know what year it was that Delia lost its school. I don’t have a clue. But they consolidated with Prairie Hill. I think it was just Prairie Hill at the time. Well, my brother started out going to school at the Delia school, which was, say, a good city block from our house. Then, when they lost the school, he started going to Prairie Hill, so I don’t know how many years that he went to Prairie Hill. But when I started to school, I only went to Coolidge.
POLLARD: So it just goes to show how important a post office, a school, and a store is to a community.
FORRESTER: That’s right. Well, the store wasn’t just a store where you went in and bought your groceries; it was the gathering place of the men. They had a domino table at the back, and they had a wood-burning stove, and it was a hangout. You could go in and talk and catch up on all your gossip and visit with your friends. It wasn’t women hanging out there; it was the guys. I remember going in there. I loved Slo-Poke Suckers. I remember going in, you know, and it smelt of the wood from the wood fireplace back there. A pot-bellied stove is what it was, and—I don’t know. Once that left—and I don’t even know what year it left. Just like I said: when you’re little, you don’t think about things. Just everything went.
There wasn’t anything left but just the true ones. Mr. and Mrs. Shilling and Mom and Daddy, Tom and Vernice Davis. Tom died and then Vernice died, and they was our next- door neighbors. The house that Virgil and Lola lived in—of course, they had already moved to Coolidge. Around the corner from our house, the Brookins(??) lived, and I can’t remember what his and her name was but their last names was Brookins(??). But they had henhouses, great big long—had two of them that they raised chickens and sold the chickens. And, see, they left. I don’t know in what time, whether—they didn’t have any kids, and so it wasn’t because of the school. But the post office—anyway, they moved to Mount Calm and left the chicken houses up there. But, see, now Mr. Tippie owns all of that. Owns everything. He owns everything that I know of except for my place and the Spanish people that live there on the corner. Everything else belongs to Mr. Tippie.
POLLARD: Well, thank you for taking us back.
FORRESTER: Certainly. Oh God. To stand here and you see it over there, I couldn’t be any more home than I am right here.
POLLARD: Well, that’s good.
FORRESTER: Because I feel like I’m at home and I can just get out and go over there, but I hate seeing the house the way it is. It makes me cry every time I go.
end of interview