Interview with Nettie Neagle

Nettie Neagle was interviewed by Lauren Yatko on November 11, 2007.

Nettie Neagle grew up in Vale, North Carolina, on a farm. She was one of 11 children. After losing her mother at a young age and not getting along with her stepmother, she moved in with her older sister in a mill village in Gaston County. Nettie worked in the mills in Gaston County for 40 years, and has worked over sixty years of her life. She is now 85 and lives in Belmont, North Carolina. She has fond memories of her husband and their time on the river nearby. She has lived through the Great Depression, which to a poor farm family did not affect their lives greatly, and World War II, which affected her life and work. Nettie has one daughter and one granddaughter and is now a widow. She is still very active and does all of her own house and yard work. While she recognizes she has had a tough life she has had a full one and even at 85 does not feel old, simply that she has just been here a while.

On Childhood

Nettie talks about her childhood on a farm:

I was one of eleven children, I was next to the youngest, and we lived on a farm. And my mother was sick. When I was five years old, I stood on a stool and made bread and cooked dinner for the rest of them that was working in the fields. Mother would tell me everything to do. We went to church on Sundays and we would go to town every Saturday evening. And my dad would give me a dime for candy [laughs]. And I started school when I was five.

Listen to the audio of Nettie’s response about her childhood.

Mill Village Life

Nettie remembers a scary mill village tradition:  

While I was at Firestone – I’m about to forget this – you know back then if somebody died why they set up all night with them. We had what they called a dope wagon that come around in the mills that you could buy drinks from. Well his mother died, and they asked my niece and I to sit up that night you know. Well we was sitting in the room with the corpse and she raised up in her casket [laughs] and her son went and pushed her back down and my niece and I went in the other room and we looked over at each other and we said, “Let’s go.” And we started to leave and there was railroad track pretty close there and we got out just a little piece and that train come a blowing and we run all the way home not saying a word to each other, scared us nearly to death after seeing that woman [laughs].

Listen to the audio of Nettie’s response about mill village traditions.

Work

Here Nettie talks about her extensive work years:

When I stopped working in the mill I was 62. I didn’t work anywhere for a couple years and I went down to this little store and she was having trouble.  She said she just couldn’t do it all. I said, “Well, I’ll help you.” So she went and I worked eight years there and I worked…  My sister got sick and she was dying and my niece called me – in Florida.  I always got a bonus in July and that was Easter. And I said, “Jim, if I go to Florida can I have my vacation?” And he said yes, but then he wouldn’t pay me. And I quit. And I went uptown and worked a year in a restaurant. I got the job before I quit Jim. I worked a year and he closed. And I went to Winn Dixie and applied for the job and she put me right to work and I worked there for eight years. I worked sixty… I counted it up one time: sixty-something years.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Nettie’s work years.

Age

Nettie’s comments on how age is just a number:

This couple took us – I’m 85 you know – and I’ve always said I wasn’t old; I’ve just been here a long time. And I’ve never felt really old. I really haven’t, because I’ve always been able to do everything. And so they took me out to dinner and we was coming home and we got to talking that we wouldn’t want to go to a nursing home, you know. I said, “Whenever I get old, I hope I don’t have to go.” And the man was driving he just started busting out a laughing saying I was old at 85 [laughs].

Listen to the audio of Nettie’s philosophy of age.

Gender

Nettie talks about being a woman but doing a man’s work:

Well I had never wanted to be a man. I’ve been satisfied being a woman. But I’ve always done men’s work. I plowed. My brother and I after mother died – my sister lived with us for awhile, her and her husband – but one summer there wasn’t nobody there but CJ and I and I was about 14 or 15 maybe, about 15. And he was about 13 and we attended an 80 acre farm. And it rained a lot that time. And when it got dry enough to hoe, CJ would help me hoe. When it got dry enough to plow I plowed with Jay and when it got dry enough to hoe he hoed with me.

Listen to the audio of Nettie’s response about gender.

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