Mary Spence

Mary was born in 1912. When she was about 8 years old she moved into a house that her father built. They lived there until about 1922.


INTERVIEWER: Here we are with Miss Mary Spence. And we’re going to be talking about the experience– the black experience– through the eyes of some Carroll County-ans. Miss Spence, could you tell us where you grew up at?

MARY SPENCE: Where I was born at?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, ma’am, where you were born.

MARY SPENCE: I was born down Liberty Road, right above the dam, in 1912. And I grew up– we stayed there until I was, I guess, about eight years old. Then we moved. My father built this house back on the road they called Snowdens Creek Road. And back over there, he built this house, and there’s where we lived. We lived there until– well we lived there until 1920, I guess, ’22, something like that.

But we grew up there and we went to school. The oldest ones of us, we went to school at Johnsville. Johnsville schoolhouse on Schoolhouse Road in Johnsville. And we had to walk from where we lived at Stones Creek Road, all up Liberty Road, and across fields– that’s all built up now– and all across fields as much as we could to cause ourselves of doing a easier route to get to school. So we’d walk to Johnsville, to the school.

And after we’d get there, some of the little boys would have to make the fire in the stove. And we– some would be cold, some wouldn’t. But everybody would have to help them get the school room cleared up. The wood boys was bringing wood. The girls would sweep the floor, get ready for the teacher to come in. And our teacher was Miss Lottie Collins– great old lady.

And after we get to– after we walked from home up there to school, boy, you was tired. Actually, really didn’t feel like no lessons or nothing. But we always had to go through whatever little grade we was in. And she would teach us. And– I don’t know– we– school would let out by 2:30 or 3 o’clock. Here, we’d have to travel back down the road to get home.

And we didn’t have no trouble on the road. In the later years, after got up a little age– maybe nine or ten– going up the road, we would travel. And this poor– this house is setting there the same place where it used to be. But– and it– I look at it every time I pass there– looks like a nice-looking, pretty little white house sitting there. And she– this lady– I knew after that groom, she had a paw parrot. And she put this paw parrot on the porch. Here we would come– whole drove of us. And then the paw– paw parrot– “Here come the niggers. Here come the niggers.”

And one guy named Carl, Carl Sarge Hardge, he was older that what the rest of us was– oh, if I just could kill that bird, y’all– he would tell us before we got there– you all, be quite. Don’t make no noise. But we’d be quiet as we could walking through the stones and things up the road. And here, every morning, here we come. And [INAUDIBLE], paw parrot would holler. Looked like– cause we all got out of sight, you know. Crossed over the fields and on over across up the– Johnsville.

And I say, you wouldn’t even know the place now. [INAUDIBLE] It’s hard to describe what we had to go through. Mm-hmm. We passed a little white school right there on Oklahoma Road and see the white kids gathered there, but that wasn’t no place for us. We have to travel on– on to Johnsville. Them was hard days, cause then after you got back home, you change your clothes. You got the wood to bring in, the water to tote, help mama with the supper, get the oil in the lamps, and then the get your homework done. I mean this– that was– we called– well, it was our life. That’s all we knew to do, and we had to do.

INTERVIEWER: How about church? Could you tell us, uh, anything about church?

MARY SPENCE: Well, about us walking– that’s another thing, the church– we used to come up to Johnsville to the little church they had there in Johnsville. After walking every day through week, home on Saturday, Sunday if– whatever was going on at Johnsville, we had to get out there and walk up there for Sunday school and for church, then walk back home just like we would any other day.

And the only time when we go to West Liberty– our home church– well had been our home church, ’cause it was my grandmother and grandfather’s church, and then my mother’s church, you know. And– but we only could get there certain times, ’cause back in them days, maybe you just had a minister to come one Sunday a month, something like that, maybe to give you your communion. And then you wouldn’t see him no more until the next month.

So, my father had this horse– old horse named Brooks. And he had a buggy, put us in the buggy, and over to– when it was something big day, she– my mother would know would be going on over to Howard County, over to West Liberty Church. We would get in this buggy, a whole bunch of us, early in the morning, and travel over there to church, and stay there. It was all-day service. We’d stay there until everything was over, you know. And then, course we had little old horse, get in that buggy and go on back home. Oh, them was the days. Them was the days. Yes, indeed.

INTERVIEWER: Now, they have camp meeting at church and things like that? Was that like the war– like the social thing for you all to not–

MARY SPENCE: Yeah, they used to have camp meetings, but sometimes, you know we was– but being so far away, and we didn’t have the horse that worked all the week and papa said the horse got to rest, you know, and we wouldn’t go nowhere, like on a Sunday. Mm-hmm.

INTERVIEWER: So you lived in Carroll County all your life?

MARY SPENCE: Off and on. Off and on. I think it was in about ’22 or ’23, my father he, uh, knew some people that lived in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. And he went there and stayed there, I don’t know how long. But, anyway, he got a job and he rented this house. There wasn’t nothing for him to do but come back home and tell mom, well we’re going. We’re going to a place called Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

But then he had this old– old truck, I don’t know what year it was. It was an old Ford truck. And he gathered us up, and packed up, and moved to our Ardmore, Pennsylvania. And I was, I guess, about 13– 12 or 13– when we moved up there. And I said, Lord, have mercy. And from that time, come– we stayed there until, I guess, about ’29 or ’30.

And my father, he got sick, and he says, well, I’m going back home. And Mama, she had a little job, and she was working. Well, here we were. Pop went home and they gave up the little house, and Mom, she moved back home. Well, I stayed there with my sister for a little while. And then Pop got sick, and we all went home– went home to be with Mama and them. And Papa died in ’32.

Well from ’32 until, I guess, about ’35, ’36– something like that– I– I guess I’d call myself grown then– so I went back to Philadelphia. So stayed there for awhile, and there’s where I go married at. So– and ’39, moved back down home, down here in Carroll County. Well, things was a little better than what they had been. But we’d never had no trouble with the– with the race, you know.

The only thing we– I can– under– remember was these old paw parrots when they would holler that we were coming, ya know. But we never had no trouble with, you know, the white folks, with Mama. Mama, she worked [INAUDIBLE] Papa. He had this– we had this little tendered house there in the banks of Carroll County, Liberty Dam. And, uh, it was a nice dirt road, and we walked from– after they built the house back over in– on Snowdens Creek Road– well then we, uh, walked on up that road, and on up to Liberty Road, and cross fields and banks– banks and everything to get to where we had to go.

And store, we never knew how much– I mean, never knew what [INAUDIBLE] go to store, ’cause it was the old– old grocery man that lived down in, uh, in, uh, Harrisonville– down and ’round us– well, Harrisonville. And he used to come every week to this farm house where my mother worked. And when a lady there at that house would put in her order for what she wanted at the store, well, then Mama, whatever she needed, she’d put her order in. And he would bring– if he’d come like on, Monday, well, then he’d come back up, maybe, about on Wednesday, and bring the groceries and things and what they would want to know, you know.

And that was old Mr. Kelly. His name was Kelly. But whatever Mama would need at the store– that we never– we never had to run and go to the store. Didn’t know what it was to go to store until we got grown, tell you the truth. Mm-hmm. So them was the days. And then when he would bring the flour or the sugar, whatever mama need, well, uh, he would bring it, and she would pay him, whatever it was. And then, she’d have to get Papa to get the horse and buggy to bring the stuff back home to her, you know. So–

INTERVIEWER: Now, I hear, uh, people used the word hucksters as far as like, people that would come around and–

MARY SPENCE: Oh, yeah, every once in a while.

INTERVIEWER: –sell things–


INTERVIEWER: –to people.

MARY SPENCE: In the late– people– hucksters would come around when– [INAUDIBLE] corn and supper, we’d never had no trouble to buy nothing like that, because had all this men back there, and Papa raised his own, the vegetables– potatoes, and onion, string beans, peas, lima beans. He did all his garden. And then we got so he used to have so much, he would take it into Bulma at the [INAUDIBLE] market. And I never did know how much he would get for the food he we carry in there to the market for the people to sell. But he carried it to the market. And a man there– whoever was in there, you know, grocery man– would buy the food from him. Mm-hmm. That was way back when. Yes, indeed. Mm-hmm.

INTERVIEWER: As far as, like, when you were growing up, what kind of things that you kids do to play? Did you– like, do you have some memories about that? Some of the things–

MARY SPENCE: Oh, yeah, we used to play, uh, baseball, dodge ball, tag, jump the rope. Yeah, we did all those little things. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah, after we, um, uh, went to school over here in Johnsville, well, you know, they got so they had games, you know– basketball, and dodge ball, you know. We used to have a good time doing that. Yes, indeed.

INTERVIEWER: And as you go older and went to work, did you, uh, have problems as far as finding a job in Carroll County?

MARY SPENCE: Nah, I never had no trouble. No, cause of, uh, after I was married and moved home– my husband, he was sick. And he had to go to the Henderson, to the hospital there, so I got this job down and round this town, the name of the people was Smith. And I worked there for– oh, Lord, I don’t know– 10, 12 years, I guess. [INAUDIBLE] Well, I raised two of the children.

And then would get home, and come back home on the– well the bus would run from [INAUDIBLE] onto Westminster. And it would let us– let me off at the– at the bridge, Stones Creek Road. And get off there and walk home and– and then that was our day. But I worked, and I never had no trouble finding a job. Well, all I did was like house work until I went to Henderson. And I went to Henderson in– in ’42. January of ’42 was my first job in Henderson. Mm-hmm.

INTERVIEWER: So over the years, have you seen changes in Carroll County? I mean–

MARY SPENCE: Oh, my Lord, yes, my God– so much change, so many changes. You can’t even describe– even going down, even from here to Liberty Road anymore. I’m telling you, it’s something else. It’s something else. ‘Cause even after we moved back in here in ’59, well this was all dirt road back in here.

And we had good neighbors next door, the Dotsons. Well, he was the one that– he worked with [INAUDIBLE] at the [INAUDIBLE] as a painter. And this time, we was talking and I said– well we living in state house down there– and I said well, Spence is going to retire, and we gonna have to move from the house down there, and I got to find someplace to go.

So I was just talking to Mr. Dotson and he said, well that place right next to me is going to be sold and they got it up for auction. So maybe you can come and see about that. So, I told Spence about it, and he said, well, wherever you wanna go, it’s all right with me. So in talking, James let me know when the auction was going to be on a Saturday.

So got this old lawyer, and she– oh, what was her name– what was that old girl’s name– I forget her name now. Noah– not, it wasn’t Noah. I forget her name. But anyway, she was my lawyer. She was my– my lawyer and the lawyer for the people that was wanting to sell this ground– that’s, you know, was– was selling the ground.

So, uh– mm– we come up here that Saturday and bidding on the ground, bidding on the ground. So she was [INAUDIBLE] bidding for me– kept on bidding, kept on bidding. And so he said– auctioneer– how about, um, 2,000. And I hollered 2,000. Yet another price. 2,050. Gone. That’s what we paid for seven acres of ground here.

And that was in the– about ’58, I guess it was. And then, uh, a friend of mine at church, she said one Sunday after church– she said, Spence, come on, let’s go to Simonia Fair. He said, girl, I don’t know. Oh yeah, we go over there for a little while. She’s bringing her children and, bring your children and come on. OK. So got my little girls together and over to Simonia Fair we went.

And we got over there and seen this little building, and it says anybody got their own ground can come and see about any house that they want. Pick out a pack that you want for your home, you know, and we’ll come and build it. Well that sounds so good, you know. So I went on in there and signed up, and got these builders, come here and up a, well, put up four rooms– four rooms, yeah. We had the kitchen and dining room– well, we dining room and living room all together and two bedrooms. That was our first beginning here.

So– never had no trouble with– with anybody. So everything went along fine for us, thank the blessed Lord. Mm-hmm. Yes, indeed. So– ain’t been– wasn’t– wasn’t nothing easy, ’cause I worked at Henderson and I didn’t get but so much money, you know, back then.

And the lady where I had been working, she was giving me $7 a week– wash, iron, cook, clean, babysitting, everything– that’s what I’ve got, $7. Well that was it. Well when I told her I was leaving– I don’t know why you’re leaving here, you’re going down that little hospital, she says, and you’ll be all full of TB. I said, oh I ain’t getting no TB. Well, yes you will, ’cause that’s easy thing to catch. I said, well I’m going. Well, I’ll give you a dollar more. I said, no, I’m going.

So I left there and went on back home, and stayed there– well it was back and forth to Henderson, because my husband was there– and then stayed there, and that was end of 1940. And I– I– stayed there and then I got this job at [INAUDIBLE] in 1942, January ’42 when I started down there. When I worked there from ’42 until ’72– ’82– ’72 I guess it was.

Anyway, that was my life there, and after leaving the house from down there– well after we got this built here and moved from Henderson up here– that’s where we been for the last 50 years, I guess. Let’s see no, we come up– we moved here in 1960. So we’ve been right here every since.

INTERVIEWER: So where was one of your favorite places to go in Carroll County? Did you have a favorite place. I know you said you didn’t–

MARY SPENCE: No, we didn’t have no favorite place. We just– uh-uh– up here at the church and back round home, that’s as far as we ever got. Mm-hmm. We come up here at the church, and over into Johnsville church, and school, and back home, and that was it. We didn’t have no– no recreations or nothing like that.

INTERVIEWER: You kind of made your own recreation, huh?

MARY SPENCE: Made our own, yeah. Yeah, yeah. And the neighbors’ children all played together– that’s back over there where my sister lives now, it was the Parks’ and the– the Parks’, and the Williams’, and all of us was back in there together. Mm-hmm. They had four and five children and four or five of us. We’d make our own games and play whatever we had to play. Do whatever we had to do.

Where you going?


Oh, excuse me. So it’s– it ain’t been a hard life. It’s been good life. I thank God for every step of the way. Yes, indeed. Mm-hmm.

INTERVIEWER: What do you see– like, say– the difference between when you were growing up in Carroll County and now. Is there a difference, or is everything still the same?

MARY SPENCE: Oh, no, indeed. It’s nothing the same– nothing the same in Carroll county– not anymore. That’s ’cause years ago, we never had all these, what you call them– these different stores. Mary, what are all these stores out here? We got drugstores– now they– last they– couple– ain’t been a year ago– they put up this Green Wall– great big– what we would call just a little drug store years ago– great big place.

And all the shopping centers we have, we didn’t have nothing like that. We had one store at the corner of– come out at Johnsville road, and there was a store in each corner of the road. And, uh, there’s where– if your mother needed something from the store, there’s where you’d run in. But just this one store that we had to– could go into. And maybe she would need some sugar for tea or something, for that day. You’d go in there and get your little sugar and walk on down the road with it.

But– and there wasn’t no other store until she put her lists in for the grocery man to come when we come up the road. So and now, all the shopping centers where you can go in and pick up whatever you want and put up there and pay for it and come on out. Uh-uh. We didn’t have nothing like that. Hm-mmm. No, indeed. No, indeed. No, indeed. I’m telling you. All– it’s a different world. It’s all together different. Yes, sir.

And even back over in here– when we first come up in here– well, the [INAUDIBLE] has, and the Dotsons, and Mr. Charlie setting up here on the hill. That’s all. [INAUDIBLE] the black folks back into here. Now, we’re all mixed in here. Mm-hmm.

Yeah, and I had– I had– how much here– nine acres of ground, and I sold six of them on that side of the road. And then that left me with the 3 and 1/2 over on this side of March Road. Mm-hmm. But there ain’t nothing even back in here in the last years that we’ve been here. From, say, the sixties up until now, it’s been a great change. Everything’s different. Don’t seem like the same old place. And to tell people about it now– how we lived when we first come up in here– it’s a world of difference. Mm-hmm. Well, it’s been a good life, though. Thank God.