Ruby Fleming

Interviewed by: Emili Blevins
Date of Interview: November 19, 2006

Emili Blevins reports:

"Mrs. Fleming is one of the kindest women that I know.  She stays at home and works around her house and entertains her family.  The interview covered a period in Mrs. Fleming's life when she and her husband grew tobacco."

Interviewer: When and where were you born?

Fleming: I was born in Brush Creek, and they call it the "Wildcat Holler."  I was born on January the 24th my birth date, and I was a twin.  My twin sister lived 'til she was two years old.  It snowed a big ice storm, and we was gettin' ice off of the house.  And me, and my little sister, and my brother, Houston, we were getting ice off of the logs in the fire-place.  And my sister, my older sister, Thelma, she was in the kitchen washing the dishes.  My mother had gone to milk.  And we was out there, and we took off our ice and went in the fire place warm, and my little sister had her little dress, and she caught it a fire.  And Thelma, come in cause we was screamin', we was little, but we started screamin'.  And Thelma come and opened the door, and looked, and she, Lord, she got the dish water and threw it over her to put it out, she didn't know no better.  My brother, Houston, went and got Mommy.  And Momma came a runnin', her and Daddy.  And she, my little sister, now she's just two year old, and she told Mommy, she said "Mommy, me not dead yet."  And uh, but she died, she died that evening.  And they laid her out, she died.  I can just barely remember Mommy and them a docterin' her, I can just barely remember it.  I can just barely remember eatin', uh havin' that ice.  That's it. 

Interviewer: Were you raised as a "city" girl or a "farm" girl?

Fleming: Oh, a farm girl, a farm girl all my life.

Interviewer: Were you ever exposed to tobacco farming in your childhood?

Fleming: My daddy did, my daddy, he grew tobacco.

Interviewer: As you grew older, how did you become actively involved in growing tobacco?

Fleming: Well, me and my husband, we bought this place over here where we live now and we decided we would raise us some tobaccer.  So we grew us some.  We were the best baccer growers in Dickenson County.  Everybody says we was the best baccer growers in Dickenson County.

Interviewer: What time of year did the growing season for tobacco begin?

Fleming: Well, about uh, let's see, about March, we'd gets it ready for everything March, April, everything ready for the tobacco beds.

Interviewer: Were there ever any bad years/seasons for growing tobacco?  Is there a certain year that you remember growing tobacco was difficult?

Fleming: No, we always had good luck with our baccer.

Interviewer: What is to be done when there is a bad year?

Fleming: Well, if they's a bad year, we just wouldn't raise it.

Interviewer: How does rainfall affect the growth of tobacco?

Fleming: Rainfall, that make it grow.

Interviewer: What extra materials had to be bought to begin the process of growing tobacco, such as fertilizer and machinery? 

Fleming: No, fertilize. Fertilize, we had fertilize, nitro-sodi--stuff to put over it to make it grow.

Interviewer: Did you put any cow manure on it?

Fleming: No.

Interviewer: Was most of the work done by hand or by machinery?

Fleming: Well, we first done it by hand, but we found us a machinery.  And we set it out with the tractor, behind, and drop it.

Interviewer: That probably made it go faster didn't it?

Fleming: Yeah, it made it go faster.

Interviewer: Did you have a good spot to raise the tobacco?  Did you have to buy extra land?

Fleming: Oh yeah, we had it good.  Yes, it made us, yeah it made us, yeah.

Interviewer: What kind of fertilizer did you use to get the tobacco to grow?

Fleming: Now I guess about the best fertilizer that can be bought.  I don't know the number. 

Interviewer: Describe the preparation process after fertilization and the length of time until the tobacco started growing. 

Fleming: Do you mean seeds of the plant?  We'd plow the ground up.  Then see, you got a piece of equipment that's goes on the back of the tractor; it's got a big water tank on it. And it's got two seats that we'd sit on.  After we'd fertilize, we'd wait about two months, and it growed white flowers on top, and we'd have to go through and pick 'em off.  The plants needed to be healthy, and after that the tobacco would be cut down.  Three tobacco plants would be put on one stick.  We'd put the stick in the ground so that the plants would hang upside down.  After the sticks stayed out for a week or two, we'd take 'em to the tobaccer barn.  Hangin' between the rafters, the tobaccer plants hung for months. 

Interviewer: Did you have a good spot to store the tobacco?  If so, where did you store it?

Fleming: Oh, yeah, the tobaccer barn.  Yeah, it was three-story high.  Hang 'em up, you have to hang 'em up. 

Interviewer: How many hours would it take out of your day to deal with the tobacco?  How did growing tobacco affect your overall lifestyle?

Fleming: It takes us all day long to strip.  I'd say "throw 'er down Holland, throw 'er down, throw 'er down."  He'd throw 'er down, and honey, we'd rip her off 'til five o'clock of the evening. 

Interviewer: Was growing tobacco difficult?

Fleming: Well, not that hard.  If you was smart, it wudn't too hard.  But, it was makin' us money, and we was glad to get at it. [laughs]

Interviewer: What was the procedure in the sale of the tobacco?  Did you have one main source that you sold the tobacco to?

Fleming: Get ready, all we had to do was get the truck and get on the road. We'd have to pack it to get in on the truck to get everything ready you know.  Then we'd, we'd take it out there to Abingdon and when we get ready to go and sell then, when we's ready to sell, why Holland, me and him would go up and watch it sell.  We made good grades, our tobbacer went and done good.  We did, that's the truth.   

Interviewer: How much profit did you make?

Fleming: We made good enough, but I don't have to tell the exact amount, right. 

Interviewer: Did any family members or relatives ever get you to keep tobacco for their own personal use?

Fleming: No, we'd sell it. 

Interviewer: What was the cost to keep the tobacco up?

Fleming: I don't really 'member the exact costs, we'd just have to pay the cost of plants, water came from the pond, fertilizer, and occasionally stuff to keep the plants healthy. 

Interviewer: Did you ever teach anyone else how to grow tobacco?  If so, who?

Fleming: Well, Gary Dingus came over to the tobbacer barn.  He comes usually to visit us, every little bit, he'd come over there.  Holland said "Gary, won't you raise you some tobaccer."  Gary'd spit that tobacca out (did a spitting sound).  And well, he said, "I believe Holl, I believe I will."  Well he let in, he raised him some tobbaccer, him and them boys.  And uh, Gary done good too.  Now Gary done good, too.  Yeah, Gary is a good ol' boy, I think the world of him. 

Interviewer: Did you have any children?  If so, were the children expected to help in the tobacco fields? 

Fleming: Did I have any children?  Yes, I've got Margaret Sue Fleming Grillo and Sammy Dean Fleming.  And my grandchildren, do you want me to tell you about that?  (Interviewer:  Yes).  Well, there is Jason Dean, and Jennifer Brooke, and little Runny [laughs], Jon-Michael, which I love with all my heart, and Anthony Michael.  I love my grandchildren.

Interviewer:  Were your children expected to help in the tobacco fields?

Fleming: Oh yeah, Margaret Sue and Sammy helped us.  Yeah, they did.

Interviewer: Kind of like a chore for them?

Fleming: Yeah.

Interviewer: How many years did you continue growing tobacco?

Fleming: Well, I guess we'd growed it a whole lot 'til we . . . We growed it a long time.  I'd say about 8 year.

Interviewer: What made you get out of growing tobacco?  Was growing tobacco a pleasurable experience for you or was it more of a burden?

Fleming: Well we just got, I don't . . . Holland got sick, he got sick.  And uh, he couldn't, we couldn't grow no more. No, it's a pleasure.

Interviewer: Would you go through the tobacco growing experience again?

Fleming: Well if I was back young, I wouldn't mind it. But I'm old now, and I can't do it.

Emili Blevins adds:

I thanked her, and she asked if that was it.  I told her that was it, and she said, "Now, let's hear it." 
[Editor's Note: Students are required to record interviews.]