Georganna Williams Berry

Interviewed by: Callie Mellinger
Date of Interview: March 19, 2011
Interview Location: Fairview, Virginia

Callie Mellinger reports:

"Georganna Berry, know by most as Mama Gan, is a resident of Fairview, Virginia in Scott County. She is married to Paul Berry (Papaw), and they have 3 children, 13 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. She grows a large garden that holds green beans, peas, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, eggplant, radishes, onions, cabbage, lettuce, and lots of other vegetables. She is a good Christian woman who takes pride in her home, heritage, and family. She is an extraordinary grandmother, and always has something good to eat on the table."

Interviewer: Where and when were you born?

Berry: In Bunker, August 30th, 1939.  Bunker’s a valley between Duffield and Fairview.

Interviewer: When you were growing up what was your house like?

Berry: My daddy was a sharecropper at first. For several years, he raised crops on other people’s land, and they would have little houses that we lived in. Then Daddy built a house on his Dad’s place, and after he was in the Navy, no le’s see before he was in the Navy, they bought six acres from O.E Berry in Purchase community on the Kingdom road.  Now, lemme tell you about the down payment on the land, Mother said she couldn’t remember what she paid for it, but the down payment was a ten dollar pig and fifteen dollars worth of chickens.  Her brother had give her the pig cause it was the runt of the litter.  And Daddy tore that house down and moved it out there.  It was a four roomed house, we didn’t have a bathroom, uhhh I can’t remember when we didn’t have running water. We had cisterns.

Interviewer: What’s a cistern?

Berry: It’s a hole in the ground that’s been plastered inside, and you run your guttering into it, catch your rain water. And uhhh, and store it for later use.  While he was building that house we lived in an ole house, bout a mile from it there, that had cracks in the floor, it was very cold.  All I remember bout it is that somebody came through and gave me and my sisters a little tiny flag, and I lost my flag down the crack (laughing). But Mother, I was very small, Mother went to where my grandfather and I think O.E. Berry was building our house. And they had the kitchen done, and for heat they had a barrel sit on a frame with wood in it burnin’, and it was so warm. Mother said “when Lee gets home from work, I’m moving up here, he can go get my stove and two beds, and we’re a stayin’ in this kitchen. A course, over the years he kept addin’ to it.  He raised the roof, and put an upstairs, and we had a pretty good sized house, we had 4 bedrooms.  Before Daddy went to the Navy, he got on at Mead, the factory, and got drafted into military service in the Second World War.  His paycheck was 26 dollars and he got payed every two weeks.  And O.E. got every other paycheck.  And the work at Mead Paper, where he started out was very hard, and he had to work in acid which just about eat his clothes off of him.  His brother in law, and some different relatives started there, but they didn’t last.  But Daddy always stayed because he cared about his family very much. Anyway, after he got outta the Navy, Mother had saved his allotment, his military allotment, and they bought land across the road. So that was where I was raised.

Interviewer: What were your parents like?

Berry:  Daddy was a quiet man, hardworking, a very good man.  And mother was a short woman, a very good mother, hardworking, she worked outside, kept her house spotless. She was a very good mother, always had enough to eat.

Interviewer: Did your parents always get along?

Berry:  Yes, they got along very well. They had little spats, but they got along very well.  He’d say “now sis,” he called her sis [laughs].  He’d say that when he couldn’t make her understand something he wanted her to.  She probably wasn’t as intelligent as Daddy was. He was a very smart man, he could have been an engineer if he’d had the schooling.  He was a Jack of all trades.  He did everything in the community, any chore they needed, working on cars, cuttin’ hair, carpentry, electrician, just anything anybody needed doin’, I never saw him up against anything he couldn’t do.

Interviewer: What was something Mother Williams said or did that had the most impact on you?

Berry:  She taught us to be thrifty and she always quoted Aunt Mag, that was her aunt that she lived with a lot when she was young. And Aunt Mag would say “never waste, never want” and “a woman can throw more out the back door than a man can bring in the front door”.  So that was two of her sayings, so she taught us to be thrifty.

Interviewer:  What was something your father said or did that had the most impact on you?

Berry:  Daddy was very conservative with his daughters, I had three sisters, and I had a brother that was born dead.  But he was very protective of his girls.

Interviewer: What were some of your mother’s superstitions?

Berry:  She didn’t hang a calendar before the first of the year.  She said she hung a calendar before our little brother was born, he was born on the 12th of January and he died.  She didn’t let us come out a different door than the one we came in, or put an umbrella up in the house.  We wasn’t supposed to do laundry or take out ashes on Christmas Day [laughs].  She said if it thundered in February it would frost on that date in May or if it didn’t frost it would be a cold spell.  When a woman was pregnant she was very careful, she was afraid you would mark the baby.  My sister Jewel had one ear that was bigger than the other one, and she said when she was pregnant, Hoover Pleasant come to their house, and she said I didn’t wanna hear him and I sat with my hand on that ear, and that’s why Jewel’s ear was bigger than the other one (laughs). She was afraid Mariann would be cross eyed because we went to a fair and they had that barrel that went real fast and the people would hang to the wall. And when the bottom would fall out, Ked’s eyes would go together, and I laughed like something crazy watching Ked, and Mother would say “don’t pay attention to that, you’ll mark your baby.”

Interviewer: What are your sisters’ names?

Berry:  Margaret, Jewel, and Theresa

Interviewer:  What was your school like?

Berry: I went to Pattonsville Elementary School and Fairview High School.  Most schools had potbellied stoves, and we wore our coats all day in the winter. I made very good grades. When I was in elementary school, I had to wait for the bus to come to Duffield from Fairview and so it was a while you know, and the first day of school I would run to my teacher to see if I could sweep the floor.  We didn’t have janitors, and one student would build the fires, and other students would sweep the floors.  So my best friend, Nell Fritz and I would sweep our classroom every day after school, and we’d get paid two dollars each a month.  If we were lucky enough to get the room that had the stage, we got two dollars and a half, and that just thrilled me to death.  I took that money and saved it too.

Interviewer:  How’d you get to school?

Berry:  School Bus

Interviewer: Where did you go to church?

Berry: I went to Purchase Church, and we would have revivals, and all at once the preacher would be preachin’ and the boys of the community would start throwin’ rocks on the top of the church [laughing hard].  And some of the people would start runnin’ out you know, and they’d have fights.  They’d scare us to death when they’d do that.

Interviewer: What were your daily chores as a child?

Berry:  I had to do all the dishes and mop the floors.  On Saturdays I mopped the floors, and cleaned windows, and cleaned blinds, but every night I had to do the dishes.  My sister, Margaret, helped cook.  I didn’t learn to cook til I got married.  And Jewel had to fasten up the chickens [laughing hard], we had a chicken coop you know, and we’d have a hen with the little chickens.  Well Daddy and Mother had to get up at 3:30, and cook breakfast on that wooden stove, because he had to go to work real early, and they’d go to bed before dark.  And the chickens wouldn’t go in til dark, and Jewel would be a sneakin’ around tryin’ to fasten the door, because they’d go in but they’d run back out.  And I’d say “Jewel would you like to have a sandwich of chiiiiiick?” and it would make the chickens all run back out [laughing hysterically].  That would make her so mad.

Interviewer:  What were your favorite past times as a child?

Berry:  Well when we got off the school bus we would just fly tryin’ to beat each other to get the comics, we always got the newspaper.  And when Daddy had a day off work, he’d take us to Gate City to a movie.  But you know, most kids in that day and time didn’t get to see movies [smiling].  We fared a little better than most.  Daddy liked movies, he like westerns.  Mother worried about it, she was afraid it was a sin to go to a movie [laughing].

Interviewer: What was your favorite childhood memory?

Berry:  They’s all good.

Interviewer:  What was your wedding like?

Berry:  Oh lord, don’t ask me that.  We got married in the jury room at the courthouse.

Interviewer:  What was it like being married at 16?

Berry:  It was hard work, and living with my in-laws wasn’t too pleasant, but its been a pretty good life.

Interviewer: How long have you been married?

Berry:  55 years.

Interviewer: What jobs have you had and which one was your favorite?

Berry:  My first job, I worked at the Hob Knob, it was a restaurant.  I worked there about six months, then I went to the Eastman and worked there about three years.  I was a mechanic helper, and then I worked at a fast food place, I liked them all.

Interviewer:  What were some of the things your children did that worried you the most?

Berry:  I don’t know, maybe I worried needlessly.

Interviewer:  What’s the story behind the name Mama Gan? [the name her grandchildren call her]

Berry:  When Kedric married Tonya and she had Olivia, Tonya asked what I wanted her to call me cause she had a Granny and a Grandmother, and I said just let her call me Mama Gan because the Berrys all called me Gan (pronounced Jan), and the other grandchildren just picked it up.

Interviewer:  What are your favorite things to cook?

Berry:  Beans and taters, fried corn, fried pies, everything’s fried ain’t it Tucker? [Interviewer comments: Tucker is the husband of one of her grandchildren, who was sitting at the table eating one of her fried peach pies.]

Interviewer:  What’s your daily routine?

Berry:  Cook breakfast, wash the dishes, then start on dinner [laughs].

Interviewer:  What are your current hobbies?

Berry:   Quilting, scrapbooking, gardening, doing crossword puzzles

Interviewer: What is the most helpful modern appliance, that you didn’t have growing up, that you now use on an everyday basis?

Berry:  Electric stove or an automatic washer.

Interviewer:  What are some of your favorite books and why are they so special?

Berry:  I like historical fiction or just fiction…any good book with a good moral.

Interviewer: Is there anything that you haven’t done that you wish you would have?

Berry:  Get a better education.

Interviewer:  If there was one thing that you could tell your children and grandchildren that they would never forget what would it be?

Berry:  Live a good life, and trust in God.