Mamie Lee Bridgers
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"(My name is) Mamie Lee Bridgers. I was born in Vance County, in 1923. My father was born in the house on North East Street. 528 North East Street. I always felt very welcome there. I actually moved to Raleigh in ’62. There had been ten children in the family. My father was the youngest. So there were always aunts and uncles there…
The trolley would go beside the house–it was horse-drawn in those days–and take people over to the park. Now one of those times when they were coming back, the cart turned over and people fell out and some of them were unconscious. And daddy said he remembered them bringing those people up and putting them on the back porch and he and uncle Arthur and some of the others had a wonderful time putting water on some of those people’s faces and helping them to come to.
(What was my favorite part of living in Oakwood?) I guess it was the friendships… It was a happy neighborhood. And I know we were all so proud when it became an historic neighborhood. It felt like all the people who had worked so hard to improve things, to bring things back up after the Depression years were being rewarded for their diligence.
(What do I remember about the North-South Expressway?) I remember going up to the library on Fayetteville Street and they had a display of the plans. And I saw that it would go right through Sister’s house. We went to so many meetings. It was a matter of very great concern. I know Sis even got to thinking, ‘Where in the world would we live?’ It was a very thankful day when they decided to not bring up through that block. So many people would have lost their homes completely." – Mamie Bridgers
OAKWOOD ORAL HISTORY PROJECT TRANSCRIPT
Mamie Bridgers, moved into Oakwood in 1962 (though she would often visit her father’s family in Oakwood in the 1920 and 30s)
Interviewed by Ronnie Ellis and Peter Rumsey on October 25, 2012 in her assisted living apartment
Ronnie: It's a good place to be.
Mamie: It is, comfortable and safe. They are good to you. You just feel at home.
Ronnie: Everybody knows you. All the things that you do.
Mamie: (Laughs) I am trying to stay out of trouble.
Ronnie: You are doing a good job.
Peter: I am going to go ahead and get started. This is Peter Rumsey, it is October 25th. I am here with Mamie Bridgers and her dear friend Ronnie Ellis. From whom she shared the Oakwood neighborhood living across the street from each other. Mamie has expressed some concern about her hearing and consequently Ronnie or I, in asking questions may speak quiet loudly. Mamie could you, Let me put his down. What I would like for you to do is just state your name, tell us where you were born and where you lived in Oakwood?
Mamie: I was born over in Vance County in 1923.
Peter: Start over and give us your name please.
Ronnie: Give your name first. Your name. Give your name first.
Mamie: Oh. Mamie Lee Bridgers. I was born in Vance County in 1923 in Henderson. I used to visit in Raleigh as a child. I actually moved to Raleigh in, I think it was 1962. I had visited over hear all my life, in my grandparents home.
Peter: Where was that home located?
Mamie: 528 North east St.
Peter: You say you first visited here as a young girl, tell us about that.
Mamie: Yes, they started letting me come visit when I was so small my mother sent a nurse with me, so Aunt Nanny and Aunt Jenny wouldn't be to responsible for me. My father was born in the house on North East Street. I always felt very welcome there.
Peter: I understand that over the years the house had been moved or shifted and added to. Tell us a little about that.
Mamie: Originally the house had two rooms and then of course a kitchen that was a separate building out back. After some several years grand daddy had those two rooms, that had been facing North East Street, turned to the side to face the side street. He put two more rooms on the front of the lot facing East Street. With a long back porch that was the length of those original two rooms and what had been the front porch had, been another room added. So by then the house had five rooms, plus the outside kitchen.
Peter: Tell us what Oakwood was like when you first came here. What was Oakwood like? What was the neighborhood like when your first moved here? When you first played here as a girl?
Ronnie: How did the neighborhood look back then before it started going into deterioration. You remember how it was when your first came here? Visiting? The neighborhood was real vital and just really having a lot of activity there?
Mamie: the older people seemed to stay busy and they had ten children in the family. My father was the youngest. They were always aunts, uncles, their children coming; it kept a lot of activity in the house. Of course, some of the older children were not living there. They were old enough, that they had established their own homes in other areas of Raleigh and Wade County. The two maiden aunts were still there. They had raised my half sister and then from time to time some of the other children would be there for short spans of time. When my father was planning to marry, he had added three rooms to the house. What had once been the long back porch now became a central hall in the house.
Peter: What was the neighborhood like itself? What went on in the neighborhood? What were your first memories as a girl playing in the neighborhood?
Ronnie: What do you remember about the neighborhood itself? How active the neighbors were?
Peter: Who did you play with?
Mamie: We sat on the front porch and watched the neighbors. One house across the street had a large family and they always had extra children in playing with their family. It just seemed to be a lot of activity all up and down the block. Of course as a child, I wasn't permitted to go much beyond the block or two in each direction. Except when we would get on the street car and go to ride that way. I always had to have an adult to take me out of the immediate block. They always seemed to be neighbors getting together. They would have meals together, picnics. I would hear the children talk about games they would play in different places. There was a park not to far away. The street would, the trolley would go beside the house, it was horse drawn in those days. It would take people over to a park. They would make several trips and one of those times when they were coming back. The cart turned over and people fell out and some were unconscious. Daddy said, he remembered them bringing those people up and putting them up on the back porch. He and Uncle Arthur and probably some of the others had a wonderful time putting water on those people’s faces, helping them to come to. There was just a lot of activity, apparently that I wasn't included in. Things I used to see them do.
Peter: What do you remember about the Great Depression years?
Ronnie: The Depression Years. What do you remember about those?
Peter: And Oakwood.
Ronnie: Depression, in Oakwood.
Mamie: Oh, so many homes were converted into apartments. Particularly the larger homes, the more expensive ones. Ours was a very small home. The larger homes were all converted into apartments and petitions were put up in them. I remember in later years, when they were taking some of those petitions out, is when they would discover beautiful windows and things that had been closed in from, for a long time. Many of the homes were sold and it was quiet sometime, I think, before the younger people began to move into the neighborhood, began buying those older homes and repairing them and bringing them up to date and making them very lovely again.
Peter: Mamie, who were some of the, name some of the people who lived there by you. Like Lillian Hunter, can you remember the names of different people around ya’lls; Juanita and Joe Harris were there. Joe Harris mother was there.
Mamie: yes, I remember them; I remember all of the Harris. Lillian and all of her family.
Peter: What about Mrs.; Parker. Mr. and Mrs. Parker?
Mamie: Yes, I recall them too.
Ronnie: Now he worked at Sir Walter Hotel. Years ago.
Mamie: Everything from there was just considered fine to be associated with the hotel.
Ronnie: Do you remember Tina raspberry Roach? Mrs. Tinny lived next door to me.
Mamie: Yes indeed. She was a lovely lady.
Ronnie: What about Ms. Effie Milner. The ones who husband owned Piggly Wiggly. I guess it was Piggly Wiggly. The one I bought my house from.
Mamie: I didn't know them as well. I think that was because you bought your house not to long after I moved up here I think,
Mamie: At that time, of course sister was working and I didn't get to, Aunt Annie and Aunt Jenny had passed away by then. I didn't see as many of the neighbor’s right at that time, as I was able to in later years.
Peter: When did you first meet Ronnie Ellis?
Mamie: Soon after he moved over.
Ronnie: Forty years ago.
Mamie: he became one of our wonderful friends. Met his mother, after she came over, she and my sister became friends, which made it mighty nice. Ronnie began to have things, and invited all of us into his home. We enjoyed that so much. Particularly around Christmas time. Things would be so pretty. I think his Christmas decorations, were probably among the first that I remember. We all enjoyed those so much.
Ronnie: That’s a compliment, because you being a floral designer and all the beautiful things you have at your house and things you did, especially with the garden club. You were so active with the garden club and Valley Henderson, all the lunches you would have.
Mamie: Well we were florist in a little country town, so I always loved the flowers and I always enjoyed them. We had greenhouses, but things were very different back in those days to what they are now. People’s ideas about decoration have certainly improved and goodness knows you have helped me so many times. Come Christmas I think of Ronnie, first thing.
Ronnie: Yeah we talk about today being the 25th. Christmas is going to be two months away, so Mamie and I have to get her tree up, in about another month, I reckon. We will have that.
Mamie: Enjoy this Christmas again.
Ronnie: Mamie, what do you think was your most enjoying fault of living in Oakwood. What did you like most living in Oakwood?
Mamie: I guess it was the friendship of the people. Everybody was always so kind, so nice. I never thought about there being any trouble in the neighborhood until, there one time, we began to have some trouble from people away from our neighborhood. Everyone seemed to be happy to include you, in whatever might be taking place. Weather it was an outdoor picnic or, then of course when the Christmas tour would come around. There was six months excitement in getting ready for that. We always loved that. The parade that the children would have at different seasons of the year, at the park down on the corner for the children. We would go over to the park where they played ball and the garden club would furnish people to run the little snack bar that was there. We would have cold drinks, and cookies, and candy, and things of that sort for the people who were enjoying the games. There was just a lot of things going on. Of course the garden club always had something interesting taking place. Valley Henderson was such a lever in that. I didn't belong to any of the social groups, other than just the garden club and the society fro the neighborhood. It was just a wonderful place to live. It was a happy neighborhood. We were all so proud when we became a historic neighborhood. it felt like all of the young people who had worked so hard to improve things, to bring things back up to date, after the depression years, were being rewarded for all of their diligence.
Peter: The proposal to build a North South Highway. The North South Expressway. They were going to build the road that would have taken out Ronnie's house. What do you remember about that?
Ronnie: You remember the expressway? They were putting in? They were going to come down the center of East, where my house was, and yours across the street. That whole block was to be demolished. What were your feelings at the time about that?
Mamie: Oh yes. I remember going to, I believe it was the library on federal St. that had a display showing the different entrances to that proposed street. Sister’s house was right in the way of one of the access streets up to that one. Her house would have surely just been gone. I know we went to so many meetings while the neighbors were trying to determine what was the better way to approach the public officials that had charge of that. I know it was a matter of great concern. I know sis even got o the point that she was trying to figure out where we would move to live. We were investigating places and some of the places she could have lived I wasn't quiet old enough to move in. It was a very thankful day we had found out they decided not to being up through that block. SO many people would have just been, just lost their homes completely. We were so very thankful when that was over.
Peter: tell us where you live today and where that is near Oakwood and any more you can tell us about what you like about your present home.
Ronnie: You living now at Parkview on Blunt Street. Which is about two blocks from Oakwood. You have been here, what about 8 years?
Mamie: It’s wonderful to be this close to Oakwood. I still feel like I am a part of it. The fact that they continue to send me the newsletter is just a lovely thing. I enjoy that so very much. I appreciate it and its just amazing the things that are taking place in the neighborhood now. The interest they have in all of the changes in the new areas of the neighborhood. The things that are taking place in the street development. There is new big apartments on Person St. and the new businesses that are being developed. It is just great to know these things are taking place now. We miss some of the old businesses, but it is just wonderful to have these new things coming in. Where did you and Ronnie have lunch?
Ronnie: Where did we have lunch today? The Pieberg. It’s a new place
Mamie: It was wonderful. It was the first time I had heard about that. I can’t read a lot of the news anymore. I have to just read the headlines. I really wasn't aware of it, until you told me about it. I just enjoyed going there so much. The food was delicious.
Ronnie: I am glad you enjoyed it. We will do it again.
Mamie: That was mighty kind of you.
Peter: My final question is. Is there anything else that comes to mind that you want to talk about? Oakwood or your experience in Oakwood or any people you knew in Oakwood?
Ronnie: Is there anything else you want to express about Oakwood, where you are now at Parkview, how much you have enjoyed being here at Parkview, and how the people are so kind to you?
Mamie: the people are lovely here. Sonya Anderson is just as nice as can be. She and all of her maintenance group really look out for us. You feel safe here. The building is beautifully cared for. They just look out for us in every way. I was so thankful that I had an opportunity to live this close to Oakwood. I think the city of Raleigh should be commended for providing places like this that we can afford to go to. It is just wonderful to be able to live here. I hope I won’t have to move for any health reasons. I am trying to live up to the things they have us do here. We are getting ready for our annual check up of the building. We got a notice yesterday that the annual inspection would take place. That means we are going to have a few days of activity to be sure everything is as it should be. I am very thankful for the opportunity of living here.
Ronnie: Put everything in the closet and under the bed and stack it on the corner or something, you have to do. Stack some things up to get it out of the way.
Mamie: Lot of things that need to be moved out and I have already made arrangements to have somebody come in and help me move things to the storage area. I have been giving things away. The things that were family history and I want to be sure that anything, anyone in the family would enjoy having that they have them. I am already giving them those, before I moved over here all of the furniture in the old house was giving to family members and many other things at that time. What is here I want to go, I am ready to continue sending things out.
Peter: Mamie, do you have a picture of sister or of your father, or of your grandfather that you lived at in Oakwood?
Ronnie: You got any pictures of sister?
Mamie: yes, this.
Ronnie: That is Julia.
Mamie: That is my mother. I have lots of pictures of the older generation. In fact there are several boxes of pictures and letters and things that the older people wrote and several albums full of snapshots.
Ronnie: We have had a good time going through those old trunks, the reminiscing, and the baby shoes.
Mamie: I have a trunk that has all of sisters’ things in it. She was born in 1906. There are just lots of things still here.
Ronnie: One of your family members. Were they a Taylor? A clothing store down town. Remember there was a coat rack we found that had your family name on it. You remember whose that was.
Mamie: I am not hearing I am afraid.
Ronnie: remember the coat rack we found. Wasn't it your family that had a shop, clothing shop? What was it?
Mamie: Oh the tailoring business.
Ronnie: The tailoring business?
Mamie: My father and one of the older boys had a tailoring business on Federal Street for many years. Back in the early 1900's, they ran that business for many years. Aunt Jenny used to do a lot of hand sewing for them. They had a display room on a building on the first floor, on Federal Street and there was another area, a second floor, but it was in a different building. It was where they did the actual manufacturing of the clothes. They did that for quiet sometime.
Ronnie: You and sister used to do a lot of hand crafts, needle point, didn't y'all do a lot of needle point and hand crafts?
Mamie: yes, we enjoyed that. Needle point was my favorite. She did all kinds of crochet work and knitting. I have several things I have saved that she did, that I am too old to wear now. I still keep them, because she made them. She used to make sweaters, and dresses, whole outfits, afghans and she was just quiet good at all of those things. Nanny and Aunt Jenny used to sew. They would make quilts. Of course, Aunt Jenny worked in the tailoring business too. They did lots of things in that area.
Mamie: When I was little they would have the quilting frames set u p and three or four ladies would be quilting on a frame and I would be playing dolls underneath. They would, that was when I was too little to go to school. They would just; they would let you play with whatever they were doing. Aunt Nanny would sit on the front porch and look at the clouds in the sky and make up stories about them, just tell you some wonderful things about the clouds.
Peter: how did you begin to arrange flowers? Floral decorations?
Ronnie: You started in the floral business because of your mother and daddy having the floral place there. You just automatically started working with them.
Mamie: yes, daddy had left Raleigh and moved to Norfolk, while he was still in the tailoring business. I felt like he would be earning more there. Then, for some reason, he decided he wanted to come back near Raleigh. He settled in Henderson and met my mother. At that time sister was 13 and after several years my mother and father were married. She wanted to open a florist. She had been selling flowers for one of the greenhouse here in Raleigh. They would ship them to her. She taught a business school in Henderson. They opened the greenhouse sand built a home there. We eventually had seven greenhouses. We enjoyed a nice business. It stayed in operation until mother’s health and daddy’s health had begun to give them both problems. Mother had had a series of strokes so they closed the business in the early 1950's. At that time I went to work for another flower shop there in Henderson. I worked for two different shops for the next ten years. After daddy's death I came to Raleigh and I was advised to not work in a flower shop because the flowers were so long. They said it would be better to get a job where I work near the same hours as she did. She worked for the state. I was very lucky BB&T gave me a job and I worked for them for twenty some years. They were just lovely to me and they still are. I have been very, very fortunate that they would take someone who had never had any business training and give them a job. I will always be grateful to them.