Sybil Freeman

Center for Cultural Preservation


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00:00:00 - Introduction of Sybil Freeman

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Partial Transcript: Sybil Lewis Freeman introduces herself. She came from Mecklenburg County to live in Gerton; she was postmaster there in a one-person post office from 1972 – 2006. She met many residents and their pets and heard many stories. The post office and the church together were the centers of the community. In the early years, mail was brought to the area by mule by two brothers who would meet at their mother’s house and exchange mail then head in opposite directions.
The post office was a gathering place for socializing for women in the afternoon and for men in the mornings, swapping gossip and stories.

Keywords: post office; postmaster

00:03:13 - Modern conveniences are much closer to Gerton now.

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Partial Transcript: Sybil moved to the area at the age of 21 and found it a good place to raise a family due to the availability of outdoor activities. The closest grocery store was 25 miles away whereas now restaurants and grocery stores are much closer and there is much more entertainment available. Modern conveniences are much more accessible now, but children can still enjoy the outdoors if they choose.

Keywords: Grocery stores

00:04:52 - Hard work in mills and lumber industry done by children.

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Partial Transcript: 00:04:53 Sybil’s family came from the Marion area; her mother was born in a simple house in the country. Her father’s sisters worked in the cotton mills, moving there for the work. They had to go to work as their father died and there were 5 children. Her father at that time was around 10 years old and he walked long distances to herd the milk cow to Marion, until at the age of 14 he took a job driving a lumber truck hauling timber.

00:06:47 There were not social support systems to help those who were in need, so the family worked together; all 4 older sisters worked in the mill and eventually the brothers too. She thinks they worked in the Clinchfield Mill.

Keywords: lumber; mills

00:07:28 - Physical effects of mill work and lack of nutrition

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Partial Transcript: 00:07:28 Sybil’s aunts and uncles looked like they did hard physical work as they all had bent backs and very worn hands. They lived in a mill house. Sybil’s father worked in highway construction and her family moved frequently, living in a trailer wherever he was stationed.

00:08:19 When Sybil visited her relatives, her Grandma Louis and the aunts and uncles all lived together in a Mill Village house, which had an indoor bathroom which very much impressed Sybil and her sister. Sybil’s grandmother died when Sybil was young so her memories of her are vague but she does remember that the mountain people did not eat seafood very much and were lacking some nutrients such as iodine so many had had goiters that would grow here under the neck, a big lump, and she remembers that her grandmother had one. In those days younger family members carried flowers from the car to the graveside and she has that memory. On the other side of Sybil’s family, her grandmother also had five children and was widowed around the age of 27 years. Her grandfather Perry Ward was a brakeman on a train and was killed in a train wreck at Union Mills.

Keywords: mills

00:11:06 - The family worked hard to grow their food and depended on family and friends.

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Partial Transcript: 00:11:07 Extended family members helped keep the fields plowed and planted for her grandmother after she was widowed. It was a lifestyle in which family pitched in to help. Sybil’s grandmother had pigs and chickens and grew food and preserved it, filling her basement with quart jars of preserved foods. All family members worked hard and contributed to living as best they could. It was a hard life, but they did find time to play in the creek nearby.

00:14:43 Sybil says life was different for people in those times. Their intelligence was a different type of intelligence. They did attend school, but they learned many practical things about maintaining the food supply and keeping the house up. They learned to depend upon each other and to rely on community in a way that is lacking today. Sybil sees that people miss something by not having a community to rely on or to provide help for neighbors and friend.

Keywords: preserving food; farming

00:17:50 - Women worked as hard as men at home and in the fields

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Keywords: In the past, Sybil explains that the women were as busy and strong and important in family life as the men were. Women’s work in the home was very physical. Older children helped with younger children while both parents would work the fields. Women are not mentioned as often as men in the history books, but they not only kept the household, they worked in the fields, sewed clothes and much more

00:20:35 - The importance of knowing history and how people survived in the past.

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Partial Transcript: Sybil thinks it is important for children to know the heritage and history of the area and to love and care for the land, recognizing what the lands provides for people; she also thinks it is important to love and care for others. Religion plays an important part in her life. She thinks interconnectedness is an important foundation for communities, with an appreciation of how the past allowed people to get where they are now. She thinks back to Alexander Graham Bell when she considers the smart phones that people have now. Progress is due to innovations of people over time.

Keywords: history; heritage

00:25:17 - People should have some knowledge of self-sufficiency, especially as related to their food supplies.

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Partial Transcript: Sybil thinks it would be good for people to know some things about how to be self-sufficient, though it would be a huge learning curve for most people. Sybil remembers her grandmother grabbing chickens from the yard and preparing it for dinner with fresh vegetables. The family members who worked and the mills and visited loved that food because they worked long hours and then ate a lot of canned food.

Keywords: self sufficiency; self reliant

00:28:05 - Children would benefit from having knowledge of the past and the security of an extended family.

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Partial Transcript: Sybil feels children would benefit from having a real understanding of the past and how we have reached where we are today. They should know the history of the founding of the nation and the history of how people lived in colonial days, in the pioneer days on the farm when in an agricultural nation. Sybil is concerned about children today, as many lack the security of a large family and don’t understand how important it is to be able to depend upon others. There are good people and bad people in the world, and she worries children hear more about the bad ones than the good ones. She says her insights come from 35 years of leaning across the post office counter.
She ends by talking about the handmade chair in which she is sitting; it is almost 100 years old. It has a woven seat, and the legs were turned on a lathe. Distant relatives from the Freeman family crafted the chair.

Keywords: family; farming