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.
T-80-97 FLORIDA FOLKLIFE ARCHIVE
INFORMANT: LUCREATY CLARK, LAMONT, JEFFERSON COUNTY, FLORIDA (L)
COLLECTOR: PEGGY A. BULGER, FLORIDA FOLKLIFE PROGRAM (P)
DORIS J. DYEN, FLORIDA FOLKLIFE PROGRAM (D)
DATE: OCTOBER 28, 1980
SUBJECT: WHITE OAK BASKETS, CORN SHUCK RUGS AND MOPS, MULES CHIMNEY'S, COOKING ON WOOD STOVES AND FIRES.
P: This is, let's see October 28, 1980.
D: It's actually October 29th maybe.
P: Is it, though October 29, 1980 in Lamont, Florida, talking to Lucreaty Clark. Peggy Bulger and Doris Dyen collecting. Some of these question, some of these questions you are going to get so sick of us asking. We have to have them on tape again and again. Uh, it just seems like that we are going to move it a little closer up on you, I think. Um, closer it is to your chin, the better. There, I think it will pick it up better, especially these first questions. What with this new machine it makes everything so much clearer and better sounding, this is what the TV people want us to use. So we got to ask the same questions over and over again. But just go ahead and Just like you always do just answer in your own words and we'll go from there. So don't worry about that.
L: That's right. Now um, now where should I start?
P: Okay, um, now tell me about who the first person was that you know of in your family that made baskets and how basket making got started in your family?
L: Well, the first person I know of them to make them was my mother and father. And, and uh momma told me that grandpa made them, her father made them baskets and that where she learned it from. So after she learned it and she married my daddy, she learned him how to make baskets. So then her and him would make them every cotton season and they would make a lot of them, and they would sell them. And uh, so every year they would make lots of baskets so why they was slaking them so I would be around. We would you know, as children do we would watch them and so I went to wanting to make them too. And uh, so I would pick up the small pieces that they would cut off and threw away, I picked them up and sometime there would be two or three of us picking them up. We would be racing with one another. And uh, we would get enough saved up you know, to start us a little basket, and um then we would get us a little knife, and get us a side and go to trying to get it straighten out. And then sometimes in getting it straighten out we wouldn't know just how to get our splits. We would get them stiff and when we go to trying to lay our
basket and running it around it would tear up. Us couldn't get 'em to bend you know right. So momma would tell us, she say, "Just put it aside awhile and wait and I'll show y’all how to do it." So she would and when she get a little spare
time, she would show us how to put the those baskets together. She would tell us how many splits to put down, and then she would say, "get you a little limber split and run it around sayin' that won't be so much trouble with it jumpin' out." So then we learnt how to make the baskets. And uh, then she'd plait shuck rugs and uh, she learnt us how to do that.
P: What are they made of?
L: Shucks. Corn shucks. She would plait the shucks, plait 16 yards I think, to a good size rug, and then she would take her some of the little oak and cut little fine strips and sharpen the end of it and have it kind of stiff and she would sew that shuck rug, you know with it.
P: What would she sew with it?
L: When, when make the shuck rug see you take a plaiten and take the end and start it round if you want to make it long you start it kind of long like twisting round and sewing it. Sewing it as you go. It's a slow thing to do but finally you get it made if you keep on trying.
P: What would you use those rugs for?
L: To put at your door to clean you feets on when you coming in. I saw two the other Saturday down yonder at the old Whidden house. That was a big old log, double pinned house, and they was showing some of everything they could in there, it looked it so familiar to me, looked it like back days.
P: Well why did your parents make baskets?
L: I don't know why, I don't know what started them, but they must have made them for people using cotton all the time
cause that what my parents made them for I know cause when they was making them for people that has cotton baskets, and corn baskets, that's what they were making them for. Now, the first ones we started I don't know what they were using them for.
P: Did anybody else make the baskets?
L: Well, nobody didn't make them like my parents cause now after I was married back in 25 after I married and came down to Lamont. Uh, I saw a fellow that made some and he brang them to Lamont, and sat 'em by the same old big oak tree, sittin' out yonder. And uh, they was made, the basket part look'ed pretty good, but the rim, he had just like I got that one turn down he take his piece of thang that I takes for the rim and he take one outside and one inside just like I did. But, he take little nails and he'd drive them through all around, and has little nails and it look'ed a it dangerous. And I said, "it would tear a persons hand, there cause the little nails was sharp you know, and if you caught it and missed it and didn't turn it loose straight, it would tear your hands up." But that's the way he did them. And he was the only man I know to make any, you know he soon died he didn't live very long.
P: When your mother and father were making the baskets, what were they living, were they living on a plantation? Where were they living?
L: They was living on the Randall Plantation, when they was makin' them.
P: And what were they doing on the Randall Plantation?
L: They was planting corn, cotton, sweet potatoes, cane, peanuts, they would plant some of everything like that. And they would makes all sizes of baskets you know, we use to have small sizes and like pecks and we gather peanuts and pick peanuts in them, when we was gatherin’ peanuts. And when they was breaking corn, they would use one to load the corn on the wagons, and when they went to gin cotton they would load the cotton with the baskets, and then maybe they would fill two and pack 'em and then they would throw them up on the wagon bottom upwards, turn 'em downwards where they be sure they had the whole bale of cotton. Um yes sir.
P: How did that Randall Plantation work? Um I mean ( ) work?
L: Well, it was just a farmin’ place where the people lived, you know, different ones lived in houses here and yonder and they would have their farms you know, and this one had his farm and they'd raise hogs, and sometimes they have milk cows, all like that but they have to, we'd have to stake them out or either lose them or watch them with a line on. He would sometime go out and take 'em out and let them graze, and watch them to go to gettin' to far out we get 'em back.
D: Didn't people work shares?
L: Not over this town, not in Jefferson County. Now over in Madison County, there sharecropped. But these over this side they never sharecrop.
P: Well, how did that work then? Was anyone in charge?
L: Wasn't no one in charge of the croppers when you made it, you gather it and took you cotton to the gin and sold it. And um, paid your bills, you know, and everything yourself. But now those over in Madison County they would sharecrop, it would be somebody over theys.
P: What about, who owned the land?
L: Well, when fer back as I knows of when my daddy was on the plantation, a Mr. Dillard Clark in Monticello owned it. And Mr. Mills use to be the overseer over it to come out and see about it. Old Man Mills.
P: It might be that the battery in um.
D: It's okay.
P: Though it is, okay.
D: I think we should go on with the tape.
P: Put it up there, yeah, every time I look up there.
D: I know.
P: It's way down. Um, well tell me about your, when you and your
brothers and sisters learnt how to do baskets? Tell me how it was to learn or how did you learn?
L: Well, it was um, pretty tedious to start with but um, after I watch my parents make 'em so, well I learnt that give an idea you know, how to just go ahead and lay 'em and uh, we lay our splits, and we get our little limber splits and run it around and turn it up sometimes we wouldn't turn it up good but we would turn it up. And I run it around and finally we got to making pretty good little baskets. So sometimes we
our daddy would come home and he would say, "Miss so and so says she wants a basket." He say, "if you can make a good one I'll sell it for you." So then we'd be racing to make that money. And uh, we would make that basket. And poppa
would sell it and bring us our change. We would buy us a pretty piece of cloth, and make us a dress and that would keep us racing with one another trying to get, see who could beat doing the best job. Yes sir.
P: Does any of your brothers and sisters still make baskets?
L: Well, my sisters are all gone. It was six of us and all of them are gone but me, and my brother, I got one brother in Naples. He used to could make baskets, I know he ain't forgot it. But he don't do it, but my brother up here in Monticello, he can make a basket, but he say, he would rather buy him one than to make one now.
P: Who is that?
L: My brother, Sam. He say, he rather buy him one than to make one. That's the one that went to where the mule is.
P: Why would he rather buy one?
L: He says that too much trouble for him. He says if he makes one, people sees it they'll go to worrying him to death, and and say he ain't just gonna start it. I say you leave all on me, and so this Saturday when they was going to have a fair in Perry, uh, I told him I wanted me a mop, a shuck mop. He say, "I'll try to make it." So I say, if you can find the one you had just give me that one. I say, I just want something to show. So he, he got it, and uh, he say, he tried to
make me one say but that looks like that the hardest job boring those holes to be showing. He couldn't find nothing soft enough bore the holes through.
P: So, he makes shuck mops?
L: That's right. I've got one in yonder his on that I borrowed from him. Scrubbin’, old time scrubbin’ mops.
P: How did he learn?
L: Uh, I think, I don't whether him or my daddy or mother learned him to how to make that shuck rug mop. It must have been poppa cause he would use the auger and different things like that making axe handles, all like that, he would make 'em.
P: Does Sam still make axe handles?
L: Yeah, he makes axe handles sometime, he makes axe handle and he loves to cut wood, since Jessie told me. He say, he worst about the wood as I am about the oak, say he loves to cut wood. Say she tried to get him to quit the wood and get an electric stove. He say, "well, he got the wood just as well to cut it and burn it." I say, well that is right.
P: So, they still cook on a wood stove?
L: Still cooks on a wood stove.
P: It's not really loud enough.
D: It's not bad, you might want to listen to it and see?
P: For see, you can't really tell till we get to the studio. The speaker is so bad. You just have to make sure. It's better to have it over a lot than under a lot.
D: Well, it's not going over alot. It's doing over maybe third to..
P: Oh, okay.
P: Alright, not much we can do. It's new to us.
P: Well, why do you use white oak?
L: That's the only kind of oak that I've know them to use making baskets.
L: I don't know. And, and I do know too, some of it because when you use white oak you can split it. And um, it won't break. Now weather like this I love to work on them cause I can bend it better. But when it's dry it's mean cause some of it tough to split but now any other kind of wood you try to use it would be all split and broke up, chipped up and every kind of way but that white oak won't. Sure won't. Now that um, beach oak will split but it will always ready to when you be splitting think you fixing to get a nice long split it will run off right there, jump off. But this oak ain't like that, it will hold on.
P: How do you tell a white oak?
L: The bark is um, I ain't got nare a piece in the house. But that white oak laying under that shed out yonder, a whole tree. It's fine looking you know and uh some of it when you're working it and getting it split up you can just take and start it to the top and peel that bark off. It can peel off. Of course the hickory tree will do that too. You can peel the young bark off a hickory tree.
P: Did you ever use the bark of the hickory for anything?
L: Well, my dad use to use it making muzzle for oxens and mules. He skin the little hickories and make the muzzle on the mule, keeping from eating up the corn.
P: Does anyone still do that?
L: I don't think they do cause nobody hardly got a mule except my brother and I know it's a few more people that must be got a mule somewhere but it ain't round here like round cause that man up the road there use to have a mule and he got sick and he got rid of his. And that fellow round there in the trailer is the one that sold my brother his mule. And um, so the mules just got awas. When my husband got sick, he sold his mule. The mule went on up toward Bolin and I don't know what become of him.
P: Well, um, I know, you were saying the leaves are what you could tell white oak from other trees. What do the leaves look like?
L: Uh, they, they are let’s me see if I got any of it in my bag. Cause I carried some with me to Perry. Oh, gracious.
P: Let’s take that off. Actually Lucreaty why don't you sit down. (Laugh)
L: Any, let me sit down.
P: You can say that again. Um, cause it won't do us any good to see the leaves. We got to do this without visuals.
L: Sure won't.
P: Like could you tell me how many points are on it and that kind of thing. What kind of color they are? Let me button this, yeah, there we go.
L: Yeah, it kind of light colored, you know the bark is kind of light looking and sometime it look kinda like green moss is mixed in the bark. And uh, the leaves is green and kind of thin, notchy, this time of year it is kind of red looking in the woods.
P: Okay, well, uh these kind of baskets then have never been made out of anything else?
L: Not as I know. My parents ain't never made them out of nothing else but white oak all the time.
P: And how did the people use the baskets on the plantation?
L: They would use them loading corn, and picking cotton, hauling and putting peanuts in them, picking up sweet potatoes, when they would dig the potatoes they would take a basket and maybe two kids would get to a basket, one on one side and one on the other they would pickin' up and putting them in the basket. Until they get the basket full, they'll emptying and piling in a pile just like that.
P: Are they still used to that?
L: Baskets, they use them but I don't know what they are doing with them these days. But I know what I do them when I got's them, I use them for some of everything. If I got leaves to rake up I'll go out and rake me up a basket full of leaves and bring 'em and put them around my flowers. And uh, you know, if I had go to the washhouse that would be what I would have to have a basket to carry, but I don't go to the washhouse.
P: Uh, so now no one else around makes the basket now but you.
L: No one else in you know it's getting late now.
P: I bet Sam's probably forgotten.
L: I reckon he is, cause he is getting pretty old now. But he ain't forgot, you don't never forget it. That something you don't forget I don't believe cause I, I'd didn't make none a good while after I married but I, I'd remember how to make them, just as good as anything.
P: Well, can you tell me about your brother, Sam? What is he like?
L: Well, he likes to cut wood and um, he saw his wood and loves to build and keep up his little houses around him. And tend to his cows and hogs.
D: What kind of person is he?
L: Oh, what kind of person he is, he seems to be a person kind of like me. (Laugh)
P: In what way?
L: Well, in talking, and um, well I don't reckon me and him is just alike in all ways. But I know we talks alike mostly. And me and him loves to piddle around, he with the wood and I with the oak. And uh, there we go. (Laugh)
P: What was he like growing up, when you were growing up?
L: Well, I was kind of little tomboy girl. I would, now my brother, Sam was younger than me and my sister, Lela was next to him, then my brother Willie was next to her. Well, all them three could follow me and I was the largest and the oldest anyhow. I be the one the head rambler and I bet you I learn them some of everything like cutting down
trees, building little houses, putting up little chimneys, me and him has took and put up a many little chimneys to our little houses. And then we would play in our little houses. And then we would play in our little houses, have our little pots to cook in. (Laugh)
P: What kind of chimneys would you build?
L: We build clay chimneys, we get sticks we have long sticks for the bottom and build to up shoulders with long sticks. Then you kind of come in on it and go up with short sticks. Daub it as you go after you daub this fireplace until you get up a piece then you daub inside and outside, inside and outside as you go till you get up to the top then you got your chimney. (Laugh)
P: Is that the kind of chimney that you had your house?
L: That’s the kind we use to have, when a big rain would come you know, it rains steady you could hear the clay falling off the chimney. And sometimes they would say, "put a fire in that head," so that chimney could stay dry, yes air. Cause it would get soft and go to dropping.
P: Does Sam still build those chimneys?
L: No, he got a brick chimney.
P: Did he build that one?
L: He build that one hisself, he built that house he got and everything around it. And he wouldn't no carpenter but he say, he just had to do something because everything was so high. And he say he had to try to do something hisself. And he built his house very good. When I was
down yonder, it reminds me of it because um, that house I was to is peg with wooden pegs. They say it was built in slavery time. And it's peg with wooden pegs, they got a old kitchen setting out in the front, of from it and the walkway to it, great big old chimney, and the spider, them leg spiders you know, just stood and look at it, table in there and chairs, old milk churn with the dasher stick. I say, well sir I say they got some of everything here.
P: Did it remind you?
L: It sure did remind me of that old home kitchen in back days. Our old kitchen it got burnt down. It remind me of that.
P: Was your kitchen separate from the house?
L: It was good piece from the house. They build the kitchen off from the house then cause they was looking for them to get fired up I reckon. Especially if children go to cooking in them, I remember that night when ours got burnt up um, mamma said uh, when all of them come out, is all the fire out now? and Lester said yeah. She thought it was all out but she had left a piece of wood in and it wretched back and I think it was a long piece some way or other it dot loose and burnt up that kitchen.
P: It happen a lot I guess?
L: Sure does.
P: That's when you learn or what did you cook on back then?
L: On the half just like that sometime you know when you would set your spider in there on the hatch get you a piece of round tin and put it down on the half then set your spider up on
that with the legs and rake you a little coals up under your lid and shut your lid on whatever you was cooking and put you a little fire on it. Like cobs or something that will hold heat a good while and cook. Sometimes now I thinks and wonders how did the people make it but they made it. Cause they would cook some of everything they wanted then.
P: Um, how did Sam learn to make all the buildings that he made do you know?
L: He Just took that up hisself. He just had that good of head you know, if he had a went to school, he would have been very good but um, he just look at people doing these things you know, and take it up and do it just like my son over to Willona, he you know, ain't got no education much but he can do some good carpentry work. Sure can.
P: What are the different buildings on Sam's farm?
L: He got a crib, and a little packing houses for his tobacco for when he was raising tobacco. He had a barn that his tobacco cook in and a his corn crib and his smoke house and they had a little syrup house I think where they put the syrup, and had so many little cute houses around here, I think to store their old clothes, pack them away in it.
P: That's really interesting about your house and the fireplace. Did you ever try to continue cooking on a fireplace?
L: I sure didn't
END OF TAPE
DIALOGUE A - INSERT AT THE BOTTOM OF PAGE 15
L: I sure didn't, nothing but put some sweet potatoes there if I get too hungry. Open them ashes back and throw them in a few sweet potatoes and wrap them up.
P: Do you remember your first wood stove?
L: I remember the first wood stove my mother and them got back, was back the, in uh, I believe in 1917. They got uh a wood stove and us quit cooking in uh ( ), we was so glad of that stove. It was just all right then, didn't think it would ever be anthing no better.
P: What’s good cooked on a wood stove?
L: Well, bread, meat, everything if you know how to cook.