Alberta Singletary Dail Best was born in 1900 in Kinston but lived most of her life in Tarboro. She describes her girlhood home “in the woods” in a small house with no electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water. Some of the 13 children would sleep in the house, others on the front porch with their goat, and the hogs would sleep under the house. They were almost entirely self-sufficient with the crops her father’s raised on one acre and with their chickens (they would kill five at a time to feed such a large family). Alberta’s mother, a good seamstress, would go shopping twice a year with what cash they’d accumulated, buying basic necessities including homespun to make clothing, sheets, and towels. Alberta describes the process of soaking homespun in lye multiple times to make it white. They would buy feed in 50-pound sacks, onions and other things they didn’t raise, and 100 pounds of green coffee (which they parched and ground themselves), as well as fruits and 50 pounds of cheese (to supplement the clabber they made). The only medicine she recalls their ever buying was castor oil. She says that when someone fell ill her mother would make home remedies from roots and bark she collected in the woods. She describes her mother washing everyone’s clothes with the washboard, two wash pots, and lye. She says they would buy Octagon soap in long bars and her parents would cut it up so everyone had his or her own, which they’d have to take care of and use for their own bathing – when it ran out they’d have to bathe with lye soap. Once a year their father would get a pack of stick candy and distribute it to the children. She describes their getting one inexpensive toy each at Christmas. They moved to Hugo where her father took care of the church property next door, and when the church got gas lights so did they. “We felt like rich folks, to have lights.” She was glad because one of her chores had been to clean out the lantern chimneys every day when they just had kerosene for lighting. A weekly diversion, she says, was watching a neighbor named Smith crank up his car and drive it down the street. There was a school on the other side of their house (though the one they attended was a mile away), and they kept all three buildings’ bare front yards swept. She describes how the community responded when her grandmother died – laying her out, building a coffin, holding an old-fashioned procession to the churchyard. All in all, she describes her childhood and growing-up years as very happy, and in retrospect approves of the severe discipline children were given in those days (her father sometimes beat her with his fiddle bow). Specific things she also describes include: how they made lard and sausages; how they celebrated Christmas; how they got together weekly to listen to a neighbor’s gramophone; how her husband, Leo Dail, courted her; how they saw swamp fire when they rode buggies through the swamp; how she was baptized, and how she was saved years later; how they enjoyed their first radio; how she was forced to learn piano and play at the church though she hated it; how they’d go to the beach for a day and take along a jellyroll to eat; and how, when she’d done something bad as a child, she’d put on a pair of her father’s drawers under her own clothes so the beating she knew she’d get wasn’t too bad.





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