Lucreaty Clark described white oak basketry in great detail in several interviews conducted by the Florida Folklife Program in 1979 and 1980. She also discussed her life, talking about games she played as a child, food she ate growing up, her family, and her religious beliefs. Florida folklorist Peggy Bulger served as the interviewer and photographer. Folklife Program staff compiled photographs and selections from these interviews to create a slide-tape show called It'll Be Gone When I'm Gone.
Listen to the recording.
(1) Lucreaty Clark was born in 1904, in Jefferson County, Florida. She still lives in that county, where she learned to make white-oak baskets from her parents, who had learned from their parents. Originally, these sturdy baskets were used to hold cotton and carry vegetables from the plantation fields in north Florida. The plantations are gone now, but Lucreaty Clark continues to fashion her baskets as they have been fashioned for generations in her family. She shares with us the unique folklore and heritage of her life as she demonstrates the complete process of her basket-making.
(2) I'll take my ax and me and y’all will go down the road here and I'll show you the white oak. Best oak grows in the swamps. You know, in the woods, the low-lying woods. Yeah, you sure have to watch out for snakes. Yeah, I always tells them, 'When you go in the woods, son, always look down 'fore you look up for oak, look down.' Them other boys, they just kept me laughing yesterday evening. One of 'em say “I believe I know what kinda oak to get you Miss Creaty.” They saying there's another tree that'll make good baskets I believe. I say, “What kinda tree is that?” He say, “Dogwood,” I say, “No gracious, don't bring no dogwood towards me!!!” I say, “You couldn't even split a dogwood.” Nothing else but white oak.
In the river swamp woods, 'cause the hogs rides them down and gets them acorns. I see them be full of acorns sometimes. The hog just walks, straddling them and rides them down and he takes them all off. I says “Well, the Lord sures fixes things for hogs.” Well, I've seen lots of changes, you know, from like it was when I was growing up. 'Cause I reckon I sees too many changes, but I sees so many changes from like it was when I was growing up, till it has me just on a wonder sometimes.
(3) (Hammer Sounds) The Bible says that the world will grow weaker and wiser. I says, so the people is wiser now. And I says, so you can't look for no more than that, I say, when we was coming 'long, we, I reckon was dumb. We didn't know nothing much! Didn't!
This is my axe and my maul. But I need this here when I get to busting 'um. This is what I use to bust'um with. I got a little old John Henry, but it ain't heavy enough, so I use that.
(4) (Hammer Sounds) Now, I get that, see how easy it is to split? It done cracked already. Just split it up like this and scrape it off and lay it down, it'll be seasoned. Just like you split it up today and lay it down there while you're splitting up, it's drying out. That little water goes out of it right now.
Way I dos'um, I get out splits all day and then I throws'um on the grass in the night, let'um stay out there. Then in the morning early I get up and I lay two or three and run'um around and turn'um up, turn'um bottom up, lay'um aside, go home and rest and get out me some more splits.
(5) Along this time of year is a pretty good time, 'cause the oak don't dry as fast as it do in the real hot summertime. When it's real hot, when the sun rises and the wind blows it gets dry in a little while, I love to work when it's kinda raining and do it. That's when I love to work at'um. When I am doing a heap of work. Nice weather to work on a basket.
Now you takes the bark off of this piece here and split it down so far, then you peel the bark off it. And when it's dry it's kinda hard to peel off, but when it's green it'll peel right off. I just take my knife and start it, and then all you got to do is to bend it. If you were strong enough to bend your oak like that, it'll pop off.
My father and mother was raised up mostly on the same plantation. But they was all raised on the Randall Plantation. They growed corn, cotton, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and peas, and different things like that. Now loan me my knock-hammer. That's what I calls it, just a little short name.
(6) (Knocking Sounds) I sometimes now wonders, how did the people survive? But they did survive, 'cause now all the people got all kinda different jobs, and in them days it wasn't nothing you could do, the farmers. But now 'long in this time of year all the hoeing was over. And cotton 'long now is cotton picking time, the fields would be full of white cotton 'long now and everybody'd be picking cotton. Be plenty of white cotton, yes sir. And after picking cotton, then the mens would go to breaking corn. And they would break corn with their hands, they didn't have no corn-breakers or nothing like that. They went through all them rattlesnakes and I don't know where them rattlesnakes was! (Laugh) I don't know why, but ever since the war, the last war up to this last one, the second war, but cotton, you know, they went to misplacing good, nice cotton goods. They said they weren't making cotton, you couldn't find it and you just couldn't find stuff like that and you used to could go to the stores in back days and you'd see bolts of homespun, to make homespun dresses out of. All kinds of different checks, it was so pretty. But you don't see nothing like that now.
Yes, sir it was 16 head of us, sure was. I was one of the youngest ones. Well, when I was small I was kinda lazy, I didn't like to pick cotton (Laugh) and when my other sisters would be picking cotton, I'd go out there sometimes, you know, I liked the pretty white cotton patch. And I'd go out there and they'd go to wanting me to work, you know, they'd go to wanting me to get a sack. So, I'd pick a little while and then it'd get hot. So, I tell'um I want some water. So, they say, “Well, go home and get your water now and come back, here.” I say all right. I'd go home, I wouldn't come back no more. (Laugh)
(7) But we had happy times. We'd play “Palm-a-needle.” It'd be a big ring of us, we'd get a ring, a whole ring, and then we'd get a stick and give it to one. And you hold it down in your hand, down behind your back. And then when this ring get all settled up good like that, one would get in there and he'd get to hunting the Palm-a-needle. And you'd hear him holler, “Palm-a-needle” …the others would say, “Palm-a-needle is running, Palm-a-needle, that needle is running, catch the Palm-a-needle, Palm-a-needle is running, Palm-a-needle is running” and, and then that be going round doing that just this-a-way to everyone. Mama used to, you know, teach us little plays. She'd play, get out and play with us till she learnt it to us. And there we'd be.
Now it takes me all day long to get that oak out, like this, to split the oak, then I set down maybe get out some of that oak today, then I finish it tomorrow. Then I take them splits and carry'um in the house and lay my basket. That's the first one laying on the floor, the first split you lay down. It's a split-split. You split the first one you lay down, you split it straight up the middle, halfway. And then you lay eight more, eight with the split-split down there. So they must be the ribs that's like round in here they call them the ribs. So that's the ribs. Have a good bottom and a good strong rib.
(8) I'm running the bottom of the basket round. I used to cook pepper grass. It's grass growing in the field in the spring. I don't see it now, but when my children were little and growing up and I wanted some greens long in the spring and weren't no greens plentiful, I'd just get me a pan and go down in a bottom. They growed in a bottom, and they grow about that high. And they was, had a fine-looking kinda leaves and they'd be so tender. And you'd break'um, umm, smell like a mustard, that's what they'd call'um, wild mustards. I'd pick'um and pick me a pan full and go home and put on me a shoulder bone or a ham bone and put it in that pot and then I'd get me some meal and dip me some of that liquor out that pot and pour in that meal, help mix it up, make me some dumplings. And wouldn't we eat then!
(9) And now, you know, but the Lord is good. The Lord knows 'long in then, times was hard. That was 'long in Hoover days and that grass was in the fields, plenty of it. And now you can't find a sprig no time of year. I looks for it, in walking you know, I just, slightly, I say, “Well sir, you don't see that pepper grass that you used to see!”
But things was so cheap 'long in then. You could go the store with 25 dollars and get much groceries you wanted. Go to the store, take a quarter and get a paper bag of flour 'bout that high. And look like things eat better ‘long in then, than they do now. We used to smoke chittlins, in long back days, we'd when we'd kill hogs we'd wash the chittlins, you know, and let'um sit a little salt brine water kinda. And then take'um out and hang'um all on sticks and then put'um hang'um in the smokehouse and build a little smoke down there and smoke'um till they turn nice and yellow and they dry up so pretty. Get hungry for one, you could run in there, pull you down one and throw it on them good coals and cook it and eat it.
(10) I used to love hoppin' john. Man, I loved it. (Interviewer:“How do you make that?”)
You put on your peas and cook your peas first and then you get some rice and wash it good and you have right smart a little water in your peas, so it won't stick right down. And put your rice in there, don't put in too much rice in your pot, and put your rice in there and then it'll cook. That'll be hoppin' john.
(11) Mama said Papa named me. I used to be grumbling about my name. I'd say “Mama, why did y’all name me Lucreaty?” Said, “That's the ugliest name to be sure!!” Mama said, “Papa named you,” I say, “Well I don't know where he found that for me, nobody else name it.” That's what Mama told me, it was from the Bible, I been trying to look and find it in there. That's like when you're worried or something-or-other and you's wanting to read a true verse and you just open the Bible but won't look for what chapter or nothing, you just open…hold that Bible a while and open it, and then open and there's a chapter to read and it'll suit your…what you was wanting to read.
(12) Thompson Valley, that was our church. It was a Methodist church, that's right. Sure was, we got three members we baptized the first Sunday, in Aucilla River. We have'um every year if we can get some members. That's right, if any get religion, we'll baptize'um. I guess it's like in the time when Peter was baptized. You know it's very sad. Y'know a baptism is a sad kind of thing and, you know if you're feeling very spiritual and happy you feels like you could go in the water again. It used to be in times, they would have to keep a lot of 'um out of that water! (Laugh) It is a happy time and it looks sad because the way they be dressed you know, it looks sad. They're all dressed in white, the mothers in white and they got on the white caps and they going down to the water singing.
(13) We mostly, when we're going down to baptize we mostly sing that song about “I Love Jesus.” “I love Jesus, I love Jesus, I love Jesus, Yes, I do,” I got a little grandson. I told him, he ought to try to learn this. Ain't found nobody that does these baskets, but me. I've tried to get some children to learn, but it don't seem like, you know, they got their mind on it enough. I think their time is too far spent and they ain't got time to learn it. I said, well, it'll be gone when I'm gone. I said, but the people ought to have enough of my baskets around to last'um. SINGING