The Thomas E. Watson Papers Digital Collection
Interview 2, Tape 2
Interview with Georgia Watson Craven by David Moltke-Hanson, part 2
Continuation of the description of the rooms in Hickory Hill, including Thomas E. Watson's study, the bedrooms, the attic, and the wrap-around porch; how life was conducted at table: formalities, how meals were served and by whom, behavior required of children, guests and conversation topics; memories of the Old South including relative isolation and seasonal availabilty of foods; mention of great-grandfather Durham; meat and dairy at Hickory Hill; how all the pets were named after politicians of the day; her grandfather's love of birds; his attitude towards drinking; her grandfather's attitude towards different Christian denominations; Georgia Watson Craven's thoughts on the personal versus political of her grandfather's campaign against Roman Catholicism; the role books played in her life at Hickory Hill including the impact the book "Grandmother's Stories From the Land of Used to Be" of historical stories from the South; books that her grandfather read or gave her. [22 minutes, 36 seconds]
David Moltke-Hanson: Tom Watson—at table, somehow your quintessential memory of him, could you describe what happened at table? How life was lived or conducted at table?
Georgia Watson Craven: I think that there were two components really that I could narrow down to this feeling of why I'm remembering things at table. One was it was a place of gathering with people who were congenial. It was not a formal table in the sense of what was in style or in etiquette books and so on. It was relaxed in that way. The meals were served by a black servant who passed things at the table to people who were seated. By my grandmother's place, there was a small low serving table. It had two shelves that the dishes could be put on between being passed. I have the table right up there upstairs. And the girl or the boy who served, it was very often a young girl whose mother was an invalid or her brother who were really quite young that my grandmother had sort of taken under her wing because their mother was an invalid, and the father worked for her. My cousin and I would give them the job in order to learn what to do at the table. We had to teach Little Janie to put her little starched brothel cap on to wear at the table. She wore a white apron. She would have to be barefooted. She served things. It was all done in a very relaxed, what I wou8ld call Southern home setting.There was nothing formal, nothing copied from the outside world about it at all. It was a table where certain standards were kept, but there were general standards in other homes in Thomson. The children behaved at the table. They didn't make a lot of noise. They didn't talk and carry on conversation unless they were invited to give an opinion or asked to answer a question. We sat at table until the end of the meal unless, for instance, we had finished our dessert and for some reason the adult meal was being prolonged by a conversation. In that case, we kind of whispered to our grandmother—Grandmamma we called her and Grandpapa—"May I be excused?" which we were always excused as far as I can remember. We had to be mannerly, but that was generally true to the South. There was nothing any different in that home from most of the homes that I knew in the South.In terms of-- and the food was typical southern food. In the summertime there was a great array of vegetable at noontime because the gardens were full. In the winter it was sort of another kind of menu for that reason.In terms of seating and having guests there, all of my life I can't remember sitting anywhere except at my grandmother's right, right next to that little table where the dishes were put down between when the little girl was passing them. I can remember one time being near my grandfather on his right and oh, I hated some of these distinguished people that came. They would try to embarrass children. You know, catch them and different things. I remember a man, I remember his name now but I won't mention it, he asked me which was the heaviest—a pound of feathers or a pound of lead, and I thought there was some catch in it and I tried to figure what the catch was. Of course, I exposed myself.I think I said the pound of lead was heavier. Anyway people in that day and time, unless they were sensitive people, didn't mind embarrassing children. But except for a few occasions like that I was always by my grandmother's side. My grandfather at the table, while he dominated, he didn't domineer. But there was this one thing that I remember about the table was the feeling of friendly fathering, the feeling of sharing meals, which is a universal and ancient feeling and theOther one was that a lot of it was over my head. It was a period of stimulation of something from an outside world. A world that was bigger then the world I lived in.Now the guests, I remember a few almost backwoods countrymen who were very sweet people that both of my grandparents made extra gestures toward showing to make them feel at home. At the table that was not a formal table but was a different social set-up from what these people were used to. Same thing would have occurred at any number of homes in Thomson.So that's my feeling of the table. One—that it was a place of warmth and sharing; and two—that it was a place of outside intellectual stimulation.
David Moltke-Hanson: You talk about how typically in other contexts, you said "Old South?"
Georgia Watson Craven: Right.
David Moltke-Hanson: You find in recollection, life on Hickory Hill, you want to amplify on what you mean by that a little bit?
Georgia Watson Craven: Well of course in saying that when I was young I had no measuring rod to know what the Old South was like. I took it for granted. I didn't take it for granted it was Old South, it was just natural and it was in the South, but I think because of the more or less isolation of small towns in those days. The only outlet we had was trains, telephones and telegrams, that life had stayed the same in the South, so I didn't think about old and new and in between and all of that.
David Moltke-Hanson:You don't think that the economic changes that spread after the railroad for instance had a significant impact on the way that people lived their domestic lives?
Georgia Watson Craven: I really don't think so. When I think of the grocery stores and what you could buy in the grocery stores in the wintertime, you could buy apples and oranges and bananas. Cabbages. They never heard of a carrot down there then. They had other vegetables out of the garden when they were in season, but I don't think of it as... that side of it was the here and now of that period. I don't think the larger economic picture of it had anything to do with it until well after the First World War. I guess we could get a head of lettuce in the wintertime, but nobody had a salad on the table. They did for parties and that kind of thing, not in a town like Thomson.
David Moltke-Hanson:My memory, thinking o the history of Charleston agriculture or Charleston area agriculture is that truck farming with refrigerated cars carrying the goods, strawberries in the summer and so on to market, began seriously in the 1890s there, but I suppose that was for urban markets largely and northern markets.
Georgia Watson Craven: Well, Thomson would ship peaches and sometimes they were hard to get. If you wanted, the only other local fruit were watermelons and of course the Watsons had plenty of watermelons because of the Watson watermelon business. The name of the watermelon, you know. But in terms of things like blackberries and dewberries and huckleberries, either you went with the cook or one of the domestic servants for the fun of being with her to pick these after she was finished with the noonday work, or little children in the country picked these kind of berries and came from door to door selling them with their little lard buckets full of ripe fruit. I just don't remember and I'm talking about in my early, before the teenage years now or even teenage to my middle teens, I don't remember much outside stuff coming in, but then Thomson was a very small town. Now I know in Atlanta and probably in Augusta I had probably seen some of these. I can remember once my mother going to Augusta and coming back with a red banana, which she knew from the north. I had never heard of a red banana. I don't know whether we... I just don't think we ever got any tropical fruit but maybe oranges and maybe grapefruits.Now my grandfather used to have sent from someplace, probably Augusta, a crate of celery and he dug that in the earth to keep it fresh because he loved celery. There was something that was kind of outstanding... that particular act of his, I mean. At that age we had a feeling of wonderful appreciation of seasonal fruit. I mean fruits were only seasonal then. You had strawberries that were ripe and then they were gone for another year—the same thing with English peas or with peaches or with any other kind of fruit.
David Moltke-Hanson: You say your grandmother had beautiful gardens.
Georgia Watson Craven: Yes. Of course there was a Negro man that worked them. But her father, who was a doctor in Thomson, and I had his copy of The Origin of the Species.
David Moltke-Hanson: oh really?
Georgia Watson Craven: Which was, oh my can you imagine, I think it had an 1872 date in it and I gave it to Tom. Thomson doesn't seem to be as interested in the Durham's, but I was because of my grandmother. He came from a--
David Moltke-Hanson: This is Tom Watson Brown?
Georgia Watson Craven: Right. He came from a-- Great-grandfather Durham came from a long line of doctors. There is an interesting little book there about the Durham doctors. It's still all over. Oh, and, well I don't want to get off the track--
They killed hogs at least once a year. My grandmother had her own sausage and lard and they made all of the things that you had at that time. My grandfather didn't eat much of this kind of rich stuff, but the rest of us loved it. I don't know where they got their milk. I don't think they had cows for milk much.
Lots of dogs, and as I say they had political names. My pony was Ben Blackburn who was an Atlanta crony of my grandfather. Uncle Ben Blackburn who was fast, such a little dandy, not my grandfather's type at all. We couldn't stand him because he was always kissing us, I hope that's still off?
David Moltke-Hanson: No. [laughter]
And then, you'll be interested in this, there was one little dog called Bleecent. His name was Bleece!
Grandfather knew all the birds and the bird songs. His study as I've said was on the second floor and outside the window, there was a flat roof of a big side porch and he would have put out there in the winter cut pie for the birds to kind of nestle down if they wanted to and cracked pecans—those old-fashioned ones that you couldn't meat get out of them anyway unless you picked for days. So he fed the birds out of there and he couldn't tolerate anybody on the place killing birds just to kill them. He really loved the trees and birds and nature. Strange combination man.
David Moltke-Hanson: What kinds of birds were there in the aviary that you mentioned?
Georgia Watson Craven: Parakeets and canaries—that's the only thing that I can remember I don't ever remember any exotic birds.
David Moltke-Hanson:You mentioned that your grandfather took an occasional small glass of port with dessert or at the time of dessert, even if he himself didn't eat much dessert. Earlier in his life he had made a mark as a temperance speaker. Did he preach temperance at all?
Georgia Watson Craven: I don't ever remember him saying anything; in fact, I had to read that later to know. My father became an alcoholic. He was a great beer drinker and I guess whiskey too. I know that my grandfather didn't like that and had plenty to say about it, but I never heard him say anything against it. I think that he just grew out of the small area and felt a glass of wine had no harm in it, that it was a universal drink and had been for many, many generations, but I don't ever remember him saying anything like that.
He did not like the emotional type of evangelical religion I don't think. He had no part of that all during my lifetime and I know that one or two of his professors or friends at Mercer University would come every now and then to preach at the Baptist Church in Thomson. He would go to hear this man out of courtesy and friendship. I can remember him once saying that when he went it was time for the Sunday school to disband and for the church service to begin. The head of the Sunday school knew that Tom Watson was sitting out there in the carriage or the car waiting to get in and the other man just kept prolonging, prolonging and prolonging the Sunday school. Tom Watson waiting.Now there was a Methodist minister in town who used to come and visit with him. They were kind of cronies. I can't say that I thought he was anti-religious at all, but he certainly wasn't... in terms of organized religion I just couldn't say anything that he was affiliated or interested in it or liked it. Of course, he thought a great many things against foreign missions, Protestant and Catholic I guess. I don't know what he said about the Catholics. He certainly has had his say about foreign issues.
David Moltke-Hanson: We were discussing earlier his campaign against Roman Catholics and you were saying that it was your strong feeling—correct me if I am mistaken—that his campaign was waged not on religious grounds, but on the ground that he thought religion should not be involved in politics, that he was afraid that the Catholic hierarchy was intruding itself on political discourse and life in the country in an inappropriate way.
Georgia Watson Craven: Now I feel that there are two things there. One was that that is the only way that I can remember him speaking of Roman Catholicism. The other is that that is buttressed to a certain extent by what I have read that other people had reported with his point of view, but I don't ever remember him attacking individuals. He believed in personal freedom. It would have never been his way. I feel that he was so much a Scotch-Irish as you say that it was just not anything that he could comprehend. He had never had any exposure to ceremonial. He didn't like it because I think he thought there was a transfer of deep Protestant inner conviction. Don't' forget that he had the Quaker thing behind him. I do not ever remember or have any feeling that I heard him attack it as a religion. He attached to a certain extent outward ceremonies. I don't know whether I can even say that, but my guess is he would attack things like paying to have a mass said for the dead. The main attach was the power of the Church in places like South America and that kind of thing. This is why I label it political. I was not old enough necessarily to label it as that, but that was the impression that was left with in terms of what he said.