Interview With Bernice Johnson


Bernice: What group are you with, doing this?

Chesare: Our senior, our senior, uh, honors English is doing it with, uh, ASU, the college.

Bernice: Oh well, that's good, um-hmm. And you're a senior, huh?

Chesare: Yes, I am.

Bernice: Good for you.

Chesare: Last year

Bernice: Huh?

Chesare: It's my last year.

Bernice: Ya, uh-huh.

Chesare: You taught school, didn't you?

Bernice: Twenty-seven years.

Chesare: Twenty-seven years? (pause) Okay.

Bernice: I taught all of them here in Flippin. I started in my ss..., I was nineteen; I guess.

Chesare: Teaching?

Bernice: Teaching.

Chesare: That's pretty young.
(Bernice laughs) So when, did you get out of school?

Bernice: You mean High School?

Chesare: Ya.

Bernice: In thirty---four, I believe. When I went, you could teach then with two years of college, so I went two years. Then I taught, and got my, the rest of my(Bernice clears her throat), degree on Saturdays and through Sundays. So, it wasn't easy (Bernice kind-of laughs).

Chesare: You enjoyed teaching then?

Bernice: Yes, I liked it. And I never taught anywhere exceprt here.

Chesare: Did you teach elementary or...

Bernice: Second grade.

Chesare: Second grade.(pause)Good grade, I have some brothers in that grade.
(Bernice laughs). How about when you were going to school, how did ya'll get to school?

Bernice: In a, now I, I finfinished in Yellville.

Chesare: Um-hmm.

Bernice: And we lived about, well if we went by car it was about two miles, but if you waltked across it'd be a little more miles, uh, so we walked most of the time. My mother and daddy were both school teachers, and they had the car, ya know.

Chesare: Oh yeah?

Bernice: I walked to school.

Chesare: What did you yousally do when you were at school? Did you guys hav a lot of recesses or...

Bernice: No, not much. And i took music and i had to, you know, make time for that.

Chesare: Did you sing or play an instrument?

Bernice: Played, played the piano.

Chesare: Ya, I heard you...

Bernice: The church...
(Bernice kind-of laughs)

Chesare: The church... Did, were the different grades put together?

Bernice: No, not too much. Now, when I was in my high school, I started high school, they consolidated all the schools in ten counties and um, I went to school back then in Yellville and I think that there was seventy-five in the third grade, and of course, they had to divide us up because there was too many classes. We could only afford six classes; that was a bunch for that time.

Chesare: There's forty-eight of us.

Bernice: Forty-eight? There was forty-six of us and, and they would be four in a family. Ya know when they started in the twenties, there was a lot of them dropped out.
(Long Pause)

Chesare: Uh, what did you guys do for fun out of school?

Bernice: Fun? Just, in high school, of course, we had our friends and things, we just met.

Chesare: Go swimming?

Bernice: Uh yea, we swam.

Chesare: Any particular place you guys liked to swim?

Bernice: Well, we swam at Crooked Creek.

Chesare: Crooked Creek?
(I asked excitedly)

Bernice: Yea (she laughs), that was about the only place there was to swim. We lived on a little creek, but we could only piddle in it, but it was about like this one down here.

Chesare: Yeah? Did you, were you into any kind of sports?

Bernice: I played basketball.

Chesare: Basketball? Did you enjoy it?

Bernice: Yeah, was about all there was, then. In, in a, small town.

Chesare: Do you remember when baseball first came about, when it got, when it became so popular?

Bernice: Uh yes, but I don't think we had much baseball in... school. One year we had a football team.

Chesare: Uh-huh.

Bernice: Can't tell ya well, uh, it was kind of novelty to most people because, we didn't have them around here.

Chesare: Yeah, we don't have one either.

Bernice: Uh, no, but you had one here for a time.

Chesare: We did?

Bernice: Uh-huh, and uh, the school house burned. (pause) Did you know the shcool house burned?

Chesare: Well I, I mean, I'm not sure, but I know the gym had burned. I, I didn't know the school...

Bernice: Well, well, it was kinda all together, it was all one big building. And uh, the school house burned, uh, burned up their uniforms.(pause) They never did have another football, play anymore football.

Chesare: So we had one once. (pause) What about the winter, did you have a lot of snow at any time?

Bernice: Yes, pretty much, we didn't think it was pretty much cause you was walking most of the time. Of course, I was a, when I was in school, at Yellville. I walked nearly all of the time. We didn't have much, except the country route. And I walked a long while by then and we walked, to school, my brother and his friends.

Chesare: Did you guys like, sleigh ride?

Bernice: No.

Chesare: Really? Have a lot of snow fights with your sisters and brothers?

Bernice: I only had one brother and he was seven years older then me. So we didn't have much in common! (she laughs) You could know that, can't ya?

Chesare: Yeah, I'm about twelve years older than my youngest sibling.

Bernice: Uh-huh.(pause) No we didn't have much in common, but he was good about, he drove. Different, when daddy and mamma weren't using the car. And uh, he was good about taking me with him to school. I wouldn't have been going much if he hadn't because we lived about a mile from town, that's about a mile from school. (she mumbles)

Chesare: Uh, did you have a favorite singer or uh, a basketball player or anything?

Bernice: Not that I remember, we didn't have much of, of a telegra..., no television, ya know. I think we had a radio.

Chesare: Do you remember when the first televisi-televisions came out?

Bernice: Yeah, but I couldn't give any sp..., special time.

Chesare: Was it like amazing to people to actually have TV's?

Bernice: Sure, uh huh. You, you'd think that all of them were.

Chesare: I think it's amazing, the way we have progressed over the century.

Bernice: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chesare: What happened to, like a woman, say if she got married, I mean, I mean pregnant before marriage, or something like that?

Bernice: Well, it's kinda like it was now. There was little more shame to it back then, than, than there is now. When they didn't have much s, so much. But they did have, um, ya know, we did have people that uh, well there were.

Chesare: What was dating like back then, was there a certain age or?

Bernice: Well, not really, but it was mostly done in school because we didn't have transportation, ya know.

Chesare: Did you have a high school sweetheart?

Bernice: Yeah, of course (she laughs), everybody had to have one, so, and we went to ball games and stuff like that where we could be together, but when you was sixteen if you had something that there was to do.

Chesare: Did ya'll go to any dances?

Bernice: No.

Chesare: Um, what about a war, some wars?

Bernice: Well, they came along, after I was married and uh, I thought my husband was the, he was postmaster and it's a, it burned a long time ago, but finally it got to the situation where we thought he was gonna, sent to war, but he didn't.(pause) It didn't run too many days.

Chesare: Any of your family or friends die?

Bernice: I'm pretty sure they's, some of them did, but I can't recall who.

Chesare: When did you meet your husband?

Bernice: It was kinda funny about, my husband, we grew up together. I mean, not really grew up together. My dad was schoolteacher and he taught school at Mt. View was just up the railroad track here, and ya know where the cemetery is up there?

Chesare: Yeah.

Bernice: Well, the house across the road from the cemetery, we lived in that and uh, and he lived across the field over in another house, ya know, a mile away from us. And, of course, we were just kids together and when I came down here to teach, he was a, away from home and he came back home and we, we, ya know, became friends again and started dating and married pretty soon.

Chesare: So, how many kids do you have?

Bernice: Two.

Chesare: Two?

Bernice: Hall, and I have a daughter. It's just them.

Chesare: Were they good kids when they were growing up?

Bernice: Yeah, they were good, he was better than she was. (she laughs) I shouldn't say that, but she was always into mischief of some kind, still is. She has two different personalities all together.

Chesare: There any times, like maybe when they were kids that they got into trouble, most a really amazing story?

Bernice: Well, I don't have any amazing stories. I remember, when Hall first started driving, uh, he came one night when we was in bed and almost crying. He said, "I don't want you to let me have the car anymore." And we wanted to know what happened and some boy was following him to close, ya know, when he turned off and hit the back end of him. And he, he thought he was ruined, I reckon! (she laughs) But uh, we never had any trouble with him.

Chesare: That's interesting.

Bernice: They both played ball, ya know, and things like that.

Chesare: Do any fishing when you were...

Bernice: Uh, not me, my husband was a fisherman.

Chesare: He catch some big fish?

Bernice: Yeah, he caught a lot of fish and he liked to go fishing. We had a real good life, it was here most of it, in this house.

Chesare: Really?

Bernice: Yeah, we uh, we first married, we bought the property. It had a little house that set, it was in the road now, it was about where that elm tree is, out there. And when they made the, they did the track and might as well, and then they did the road, and we had to move it or tear it down, so we tore it down and built the first four rooms of this house.

Chesare: About what year did you build, build this one?(long pause)

Bernice: About thirty-eight, I don't know?

Chesare: Hall showed me some uh, some pictures of Flippin in 1940, yesterday.

Bernice: Uh-huh.

Chesare: And I saw where this was and there were a couple of houses here.

Bernice: There was, from here?

Chesare: Yeah, they were...

Bernice: Well see, there was a house up there, and there was a house down here. Ya know where we got the car lot, the road that comes in, the cars?

Chesare: Mm-hmm.

Bernice: There's kind of a drop off there, over by the house. (she mumbles) And the post office used to be up here.

Chesare: Post office?

Bernice: Uh, uh, the old'n, that was before we came.

Chesare: I was wondering, do you remember a time when there was a old depot in Flippin? Cause my uncle Jay, you remember Jay?

Bernice: Mm-hmm.

Chesare: He had made a, hand, hand-made railroad track and he had made the Flippin deopt and I always and I thought, ya know?

Bernice: You know where it's at?

Chesare: No, I don't

Bernice: In, just over, about where those cars are now. It's between here and the road that goes up to shcool, the main road.

Chesare: Did the train come through here a lot, back then?

Bernice: I mean it, most everything was by train, there's a passenger train, then a freight train.

Chesare: I've always wondered what some of the stores were right here.
( I point out the door and across the street) Do you remember?

Bernice: Yes, this one out here...

Chesare: The first one, I mean...

Bernice: Was kind'a shoe store, just a general, a goods store and then the one down where Sanders, and then, uh, there was a garage where this, ya know, where they have this garage thing.

Chesare: Yeah, the old Flippin School bus is there.

Bernice: Yeah, mm-hmm. Yup. And about all of the sides there down to the first block and uh... (a honk from outside) The Post office at that time was in, uh, the same building as uh...

Chesare: The building that is the old pharmacy, has it always been a pharmacy?

Bernice: No, we didn't know what a pharmacy was. (she laughs) It was, I guess a store that carried at, uh...

Chesare: A drug store?

Bernice: We didn't have a drugstore.

Chesare: This town is about twice the size that it was.

Bernice: Uh-huh, It's more than twice the size. Ya know over there where the, uh, the, I don't know, there, you know, where that newspaper place is?

Chesare: Yeah, the, the Mountaineer.

Bernice: Those buildings were just buildings, wooden buildings and uh, after uh, let's see. Glen was in the post office, my husband. Uh, either twenty-one or thirty-one years. I forgot what it was, but anyway, we built the building and moved across the street where, uh, the, Television man...

Chesare: Bob's?

Bernice: Bob's place.

Chesare: Yeah.

Bernice: We built that building there and uh, it was a post office. After he had to quit, he was sick, he had to quit, then they built it, over where it is now, but before then it had been in that big square building, on this side.

Chesare: Do you remember the depression?

Bernice: I'm sure.

Chesare: Was it hard around here or?

Bernice: Yes, it was very hard. It was harder, I guess oh, we thought it was hard on you because Mom and Daddy were teaching school and they didn't, have money to pay the teachers. And the one that lived in the community didn't get as much as the ones that lived out, ya know, out of. And then it was in what we called school march, in awful times you couldn't get money out of them, a year or so, and uh, it was just really hard and I taught through't then, I stayed in Flippin and taught because we didn't have any cars. There wasn't much transportation, and I hoped, I only payed fifteen dollars a month out of the fifty dollars that I got to teach school. (she sort of laughs) So you can imagine what life was like at that time.

Chesare: The people, did they share a lot or try to work together?

Bernice: Everybody was, poor. Everybody was about in the same shape.

Chesare: Did you hear about the way Hoover treated the Bonus Army? They had taken guns and bayonets and driven them away by...

Bernice: I'm not familiar with it.

Chesare: Okay, well, the, the Bonus Army, which were the veterans, he had promised them some money for, because they had fought and they went up to Washington and set up a like camp, like the shanty-towns kind of, and uh, they, he helped them, and then the courts ruled against giving them money that the government had promised. And somehow, the troops stayed and the government came, they shot them and they stabbed them with bayonets, untill they drove them away.

Bernice: Mm-hmm, I'm not familiar with that at all.

Chesare: Well, that was when a lot of people were killed.

Bernice: I was, wasn't that old, yet. And I don't remember anything about it.

Chesare: It was during the depression and it killed a lot of people.

Bernice: Well, it must of been before our depression, of course we always remember the depression because there wasn't any jobs or anything. About all there was, now my husband was in what they called the CC camps, and uh, the civilian camps and he was in them for three years and it took, started to get him in jobs, I reckon.

Chesare: The, oh, the CCC.

Bernice: Uh-huh.

Chesare: The, I konw what you're talking about cause I've read about it.

Bernice: Yeah.

Chesare: Yeah.

Bernice: And my husband, he was in it for three years, be, before we married, but it was just to give people work and get them off of the, town, I reckon, or something to do.

Chesare: Did you have a favorite president or something?

Bernice: No, it was Roosevelt I guess. He was the only Democrat, and we're Scotch Democrats. (she laughs) We were Democrats.

Chesare: Do you remember when uh, when segregation, segregation first came about?
(I mumble)

Bernice: Yeah, but we didn't have to much of that here, ya know, cause there weren't any blacks here. I'd been in school with blacks, in Conway, college, and there were a few of them and of course there was a lot of well, blacks around Conway.

Chesare: I didn't think there would be much around here cause I know there wasn't very much for, very mixed, mixed races.

Bernice: No, more now than there...

Chesare: But ( in between there and ever)

Bernice: ...ever has been.

Chesare: Over in Little Rock, ya know, they had uh, kids where trying to get into the school up there, and they called out the National Guard to Arkansas.

Bernice: Yeah, yeah, that um, happenend. (long pause)

Chesare: Have there been like any major tornadoes that you've been through cause I know Arkansas just recently had some pretty bad tornadoes in Beebe and so.

Bernice: We've not had any that's destroyed houses, I can remember.

Chesare: Any floods or fires?

Bernice: I can't recall any floods. (long pause) I think that on the upper side of the Main Street there where we once kinda moved, that was before I was down here, uh, and the school burned. That was the, a major thing in the town because, it was a hard experience and there was sleet on the ground and, they couldn't get around or anything. We didn't have water back then. We didn't have a fire department. Uh, people would just kinda, it just burned, and the people tried to put it out of course, carrying water, hauling water and things like that. But it all burned except the little building, it's down at the lower side down there?

Chesare: Is it that rock building?

Bernice: Uh-huh.

Chesare: My mom said she was in high school in that building, now it's third grade.
(Bernice laughs)

Bernice: Yeah, and uh, the whole building burned. The gym was in the inside and the classrooms around it. It was used for the auditoruim and things, but it all burned. So, after this we had to have, school in different churches and things like that.

Chesare: What were probably, the basic school rules?
(long pause)

Bernice: Well, I don't remember, I suppose they didn't dance, they don't dance now, do they?

Chesare: Uh, they have some where you go throughout the year and then prom.

Bernice: Mm-hmm. When you're in the time that we were talking about and I was (she laughs), we didn't have much.

Chesare: Was there like a dress code, like we didn't used to be able to wear shorts, like to school.

Bernice: No, well, no-one wore jeans. Girls wore dresses and uh, boys, they'd wear anything they'd want to, I guess.

Chesare: I'd say that uh, fashion, dress has changed quite a bit.

Bernice: Mm-hmm.


Interview and writings by Chesarae Wegener
Put on web by Wade McBee