Berta Elder’s Interview on 92 Years of Change

Berta Elder's Interview on 92 Years of Change 1

In 1977, the Oconee Enterprise interviewed Berta Elder (my great-grandmother, aka, “Granny”). She was born in 1901 and died in 1993. She lived through some insane times.

And to me, her life was part of a “Great Span” or “human wormhole” – people whose lives chain together with another generation to span across otherwise distant historical periods. The past can feel like it was a long time ago, but in terms of generations, the past was not that long ago (the most extreme example is that President John Tyler’s grandsons were living in 2020).

Despite living in the rural American South, she graduated high school and went to college. She married and moved to the Reynoldstown neighborhood of Atlanta during the booming 1920s.

When the Great Depression hit, she was part of a “back-to-the-farm” trend. She and her husband and kids moved back to rural Georgia. They started over again on some abused, worn out farmland with no electricity, water, or amenities.

She passed away the year the World Wide Web started and the Olympics were coming to Atlanta. She lived through a lot and managed much more deep change than anyone now in the US will have to manage.

In the spirit of making personal history more accessible (print newspaper archives are not user-friendly), I’ve reproduced the interview here. I’ve omitted the section on children due to privacy considerations. And I’ve make small formatting errors. Otherwise, it’s exactly as she gave it…



I have lived in only two houses since I married. We were both working at the time we were married. We boarded for a while but decided we would put the money we were paying for board in a house.

After looking around for a while we found a nearly new five room house on a good size lot in a nice neighborhood at 1126 Boulevard Drive in Atlanta, Georgia for $3800. We traded for it and moved to it in April 1925. We paid for it in a few years.

The lot was large enough for a garden, some fruit trees, and a strawberry patch. We lived there 9 years and enjoyed it very much. We hated to leave our friends and good neighbors. But since we both grew up in the country and public jobs were so scarce we decided to come back to the country.

We were lucky to find a farm of about 125 acres that we could trade our house for. It was run down and growed up very badIy. The house was about 100 years old and needed a lot of repairs on it such as covering, painting inside and out, putting in new windows, and locks on the doors.

We were lucky that my husband could do most of the work. It had two rooms it, upstairs and four and a hall downstair and basement. We finally got it livable and moved in April 1934 and have been here ever since (43 years).

In later years we took in part of the big back porch and made a small bedroom and put in a bathroom which was a good investment especially in cold wea~her and on rainy days. The day we moved from Atlanta the van came real early on a Friday morning.

They got everything loaded on the van and left out. We stayed around for a few last minutes checkups and closing doors and bidding our neighbors farewell. We got in our car to leave and bless to goodness we didn’t have a car key.

My husband had left them in a coat pocket he had worn the day before and it was in the van miles down the road so we had to call a locksmith from town and get him to come out and make a key to fit the car before we could get on our way.

A few more words about the house that we moved to in 1934. It was at least a hundred years old then and was badly in need of repair. It had been Iived in by renters and unoccupied a great deal of the time and hadn’t been taken care of.

It was built of the best material that could be had at that time (heart of pine). It is put together with square nails and in some places pegs. Overhead in the four rooms and hall downstairs have wide hand planed planks also the floors are of similar planks, 2 rooms and hall have wainscoating about 2 feet from floor and plastered up to ceiling which was in very bad condition.

The dining room, and kitchen walls were of rough planks and had paper glued on them. (Mostly newspaper.) The wood cook stove sit in the middle of the kitchen floor.

The whole house has 8 fireplaces – 2 upstairs, 4 downstairs and 2 in basement. Not a door in the house would fasten and a lot of the window lights were broken out.

Outside of the house had weatherboard which needed painting very badly. The roof had hand split shingles which was in very bad condition so we covered it with tin. We painted outside house white and done it over inside.

For water, it was drawn from an outside well and brought in the house in buckets. We got electricity in 1940 put a pump in the well and had running water in the house and gradually added other electric appliances and bathroom. It had a good size front porch and a real large back porch.


Hope is a word we use a lot in a lifetime. We all have high hopes even when we are small. We hope to grow up one day and have a lot of things other people have.

We had hopes of getting married some day and raising a family like our parents and grandparents did. Of course we know all our hopes could not possibly come true.

I used to hope it would rain so I wouldn’t have to pick cotton or any other hard work I didn’t like to do. I really had hopes and it came true that when I got engaged to the man I wanted to marry that another girl wouldn’t come along and take him away from me.

When we got married we had hopes together of raising a family and that they would be good citizens. We raised four children all are still living and have more than repaid me for all I ever done for them.

I have eight grandchiIdren and three great grandchiIdren. I hope to see them grow up as good citizens. My one hope is that I won’t ever be a burden to any of them and won’t ever have to interfere in any of their lives by having to be waited on. I hope I can live as long as I can wait on myself and do things for other people.


My Mother and Daddy had a good sense of humor and as long as I knew them I don’t remember ever hearing them speak a harsh word to each other. They seldom ever raised their voice at us kids.

When they told us to do anything we knew to move. It seemed everything went smooth with them but I know from experience they had problems they didn’t bother to tell us about.

They always told us to look on the bright side of everything. I remember we wanted a pump organ so bad. One or two others in the neighborhood had one. The only kind they had back then.

One day Daddy told us not to open any of his mail. We had to go about a mile to get the mail and we were the ones to go get it. We thought it strange him telling us that but we did what he said.

He had ordered us an organ from Sears Roebuck and was expecting a notice that it had come. A card came saying it was in Athens ready to be picked up but we didn’t read the card (we were that dumb).

One day when we got home from school the organ was sitting in our front room (we called it then). He had gone to Athens in a wagon (about seven miles) and got it. We were tickled to death when we saw it. had a school teacher one time when I was in the fourth grade that was too good as the saying goes for his own good.

All the kids respected him and minded him as if he was a ruler of all. He would take money out of his own pocket on Fridays and send to the store and get candy enough for everyone to have some. That was really a treat in those days. He loved his church and could make anybody laugh with his jolly way of telling jokes.


In the earlier days I think young people were more shy than they are now. We were not allowed to date until we were 16 or 17 and had to double date most of the time then.

There were not as many places to go then as there are now. We would have little get togethers on Saturday nights and play rook or have home made ice cream and sometimes play games.

Sundays we went to church and Sunday School. We lived close to two churches Attica Baptist Church and Prospect Methodist Church. They only had preaching once a month at each.

We would go to Sunday School Sunday morning at Prospect and to Attica Sunday afternoon. A lot of time we would walk. My father was a Methodist and mother was a Baptist.

We got our first car in 1917. It was a T-Model Ford and believe it or not I learned to drive and have been driving some ever since. Very few people had cars then. You were lucky if you had a boy friend that had a car.

One Sunday afternoon the first Sunday in November 1921 two boys came to our house in a buggy. One I knew the other I didn’t. It didn’t dawn on me exactly 3 years from that day I would get married to the one I didn’t know. We started dating and dated off and on for 3 years. We had little disagreements during the time but was able to patch them up and get over them.

We got married November 2, 1924 at the preachers house in Bishop by Rev. E. D.Kelley and were married nearly fifty years, until we were separated by death in February 10, 1974.


I guess the holiday we looked forward to and celebrated the most was Christmas. We usually had a program at the end of school and a picnic.

Mama would cook most of the week before Christmas so she wouldn’t have to cook much during Christmas week-cakes and pies and most of the time we would have fresh killed hog meat sausage and press meat and Iiver pudding and always boiled ham.

We had no turkeys back then. We would go down in the woods and get holly and mistletoe to decorate with. We didn’t have a Christmas tree until I was nearly grown. It was a holly tree instead of cedar.

On the night before Christmas we would hang up our stockings and had to wash our feet before we went to bed if we wanted Santa Claus to come. He would bring us a doll and a toy or two and fruits, nuts, and candy, sometimes a few fire works.

Our toys didn’t compare with what kids get now. People would do a lot of visiting Christmas week. We’d go serenading and end up at some ones house for a party nearly every night for a week where we would play games, pop popcorn, parch peanuts and pull candy.

We didn’t celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving as much as they do now. We never went trick or treating. At Easter we would have an egg hunt at school and usually some one in the neighborhood would have one.

In later years reunions were something to look forward too. You would see a lot of cousins and kinfolks you didn’t get to see any other time.


I think the depression started after; the boll weevil hit in the early twenties. They ate the cotton crops up until people began to poison for them. That was a lot of hard work.

At first they did it by hand using a liquid poison made of molasses and arsenic. Put it on with a rag on the end of a stick going over the field mopping every stalk.

Finally they had a machine pulled by a mule that would take two rows at a time. Later they did by airplane using a poison in powder form. Cotton went from 40 to 45 cents a pound down to 5 and 6 cents. It was trying times during the depression.

People had no money. Everything was cheap but no money to buy with. Folks who lived in town without a Job had to Join the soup line. Many of the banks closed and some lost all their savings.

You could buy good land as low as ten or twelve dollars an acre if you had the money. A lot of people lost their farms and homes and…everything they had. You could get people to work for you for fifty cents a day or for just something to eat.

We had a little home in Atlanta and had it paid for and swapped it for the farm we are now living on so we could grow things to eat such as corn meal and wheat to make flour, fruits and vegetables.

We also grew our own hogs which supplied us with all the ham, sausage and lard we needed. We would also kill a beef once in a while and can or sell what we couldn’t use.

We made a lot of our clothes out of flour sacks and feed sacks. When world war two started times hadn’t got much better. Sugar was rationed so many pounds per person.

If you lived in the country, you would get some extra for canning and jelly making. Gas was also rationed. Farmers who had trucks and used them mostly for farm use got extra gas for them.

Automobile tires were a hard to get item. It was nothing unusual to see a car going down the road and hear something like a gun shot that was what a blowout sounded like. We had patched up tires and tubes until we were afraid to go very far or very fast on them. You couldn’t buy silk stockings because they were so scarce.


Some of the superstitious things people use to believe in went like this: if you walk under a ladder it woud bring you bad luck or a black cat crossed the road in front of you was bad luck unless you turned around and went back or turn your hat around.

The first twelve days after the New Year indicate what each month of the next year will be like. Friday was always the fairest or the foulest day of the week.

If you opened an umbrella in the house and held it over you it was a sign you would be an old maid. A long hot summer meant a long cold winter.

The hotter the summer the colder the winter. You killed hogs on the full moon to have a lot of lard-on the new moon you wouldn’t have much lard. If a terrapin got close enough to bite you he wouldn’t turn you loose until it thundered.


Times have changed a Iot since the olden days. We had no electricity and had to draw all the water used and sometimes draw for the cows and horses if there were no creeks or branches in the pasture.

We would take a bath in a tin tub. Some would build their house near a spring to save digging a well and drawing water. Usually they would have a shed or small house built over the spring called the spring house.

In there they would keep their milk and butter and other things they wanted to keep cool. They didn’t know about canning back then so. They made pickle beans and sauerkraut and kept it in the spring house.

We had no cars, radios, televisions, or refrigerators. Maybe we would get a newspaper once or twice a week. By the time we would get it the news would be old.

I remember the first airplane I saw. We heard it was coming to Athens. My Daddy put us in a two seated buggy (surrey) and carried us to see it land. Everytime it would fly over us we would jump up in the buggy so if it fell we thought it wouldn’t hurt us. It was quite a show to us.

The first movie I ever saw was about CharIie Chaplin. It did not talk like they do. now but I, thought it was funny. We always Iooked forward to the circus coming to town in the fall.

We would have to work real hard to get caught up with our cotton picking and other work so we could go to the circus. They always had a parade and alI kinds of animals you didn’t see, anywhere else.

We did have a telephone at one time. Everybody in the community was on the same line. Each had a different ring. When you wanted to talk to anyone on the line you rang their ring but if you wanted to. Call any outside the line you would ring one short for the operator and she would get the party for you.

Some other changes that have taken place is the tractor and farm equipment. The tractor can do more in one hour than a mule could do in a week. The combine was a labor saver too.

After electricity came on the farm the washing machine was a back saver. First the wringer type then the automatic, just press a button and go take a nap. The radios and televisions kept you from doing a lot of work that needed to be done.

The refrigerators was an improvement over the old fashion ice box, and the deep freeze saved a lot of hard work freezing fruits and vegetables. Instead of standing over a hot stove and canning them.

When we killed hogs we would freeze the sausage, backbones, and ribs and a lot of the other meat except the hams and some of the bacon which we would cure out. That was really good eating.


In days gone by we use to have to stay out of school to help Mother wash. First thing to do was draw water from a well and fill the big black pot with ‘water and build a fire around it.

When the water got hot we would put it in a tub and scrub the clothes on a scrub board with lye soap and put them in the pot and boil them to get the rest of the dirt out of them and to kill the germs. If that didn’t get all the dirt out we had a stick we called the battling stick.

We would take the clothes out of the pot with the stick and put them on a block made for the purpose and beat the rest of the dirt out. We could tell when it was wash day with the neighbors hearing them battle their clothes.

After battling the clothes we would rinse them through 3 tubs of water which we had drawed and put in the tubs. After the third water wringing by hand they were ready to hang on the line to dry with the exception of the ones to be starched which included our dresses, shirts, scarfs and centerpieces, etc.

Starch was made by dissolving flour in water and pouring boiling water in it dipping the pieces to be starched in one at a time. When they got dry we would sprinkle them and roll in a towel for a while then they were ready to be ironed. We used a sad iron to iron them with which we had to heat on the wood stove or on the fireplace in the winter time.


I don’t think people in olden days had as many health problems as they do now. At least, they didn’t run to a doctor every time they had an ache or a pain. One reason there were very few doctors then. They didn’t have shots for diseases like they do now. If you caught a disease you had to tough it out.

They used to say when you had whooping cough if you didn’t whoop you would have it again. Honey and lemon was good for a cough. If you came down with a cold it was a dose of castor oil and for a sore throat a flannel cloth with lard, turpentine, Vicks and maybe a few other things were a sure cure.

I remember sticking a nail in my foot one time. They put a little turpentine on it and tied it up. It was mighty sore for a while but it got well. Tetanus shots had never been heard of then. We wore asafoetida tied up in a rag around our neck to keep us well and from taking diseases.

You could smell it a half a mile it smelled so bad. If you were ever sick enough for a doctor to come to see you, he always brought the medicine with him. I use to wonder how he knew what kind of medicine to bring.

Black draught was a good liver medicine and everybody kept Watkins Liniment for aches and pains. It was also good for the toothache and it would burn so you would forget about your tooth hurting.

Camphor was good for bruises and hurts. For insects stings such as bees or wasps you put tobacco juice on it or made a paste of soda and water and rubbed on it.

Everybody had to have a dose of Calomel in the spring. My Daddy was building a new barn one time and had it about finished all but he didn’t have all the floor in the upstairs. My twin brothers (Elbert and Ed) were playing in it climbing up and down and Elbert fell through a hole to the ground and was knocked unconscious.

Ed came running down behind the barn where we were picking cotton saying Ebb’s dead, Ebb’s dead. When we got up there he was laying there lifeless. My Daddy had to go to Athens to get a doctor.

When the doctor came he had a brain injury and said to keep ice on his head day and night so he had to go back to town to get the ice. After a day or two he began to rally up and finally got we 11.

He was turned down in service in World War Two on account of that lick he got on his head. My Daddy had to drive to town about every other day to get ice to put on his head. Didn’t anybody think he would live but he lived to be 54 years old and died with a heart attack. He was my baby to look after when he was little and Ed his twin brother was Chessie’s.


If you want a full book about a very famous “human wormhole” from this time, read Jimmy Carter’s An Hour Before Daylight.

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