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Accession number 1997.076
Catalog Number 1997.076.001A
Object Name Audiocassette
Date 1997
Title McLelland, Mathilde
Scope & Content Two original tapes. information about Mrs. Mathilde Gatlin McLelland's childhood, Bear Point Plantation, Elm Grove School, relatives and friends.


Interview With Mathilde McLelland

Conducted at her home in East Point, LA, July 15, 1997

Transcription notes: This transcription is as close to the original conversation as possible. The only words omitted were obvious false starts. Very few attempts have been made at phonetic transcription. In the transcription, brackets[ ] indicates additional information or words added for clarity. Parentheses ( ) are used to enclose extraneous information and sounds. Dots (.........) do not indicate that words have been omitted, but that Mrs. McLelland paused or started another train of thought.

Note: In the transcription, the name pronounced "Mah-teel" or "Mar-teel" is spelled "Mathilde".

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 0000: Family History, The Gatlin Home]

I've already told y'all how proud to have you here and I thank you for getting me to do this because I really often thought about the little country girl and what general people think of people who live in the country. And the funny thing was, the other day a lady from California called me and she's coming to visit me, and she's coming in September and she asked me, she used to remember East Point. And here's what she asked me: she asked me, " Will you call me back IF you have a telephone?" (Laughs) I have had hysterics over that. She doesn't know whether I really have a telephone here since I live out in the country, you know? Well, any way I have two or three answers for her!

So let me first introduce myself, getting serious, introduce myself by telling you that my name is Mathilde Gatlin McLelland and that I am the daughter of Thomas Mitchell Gatlin of Keatchie, Louisiana and of Fannie Swindle Gatlin of Plain Dealing, Louisiana. I had two half brothers Thomas Hardy Gatlin and Gordon Hollis Gatlin and one half-sister Hilda Lee Gatlin. My father owned Bear Point Plantation jointly with two brothers Dr. F.C. Gatlin of Keatchie, La. and F.F. Gatlin of Mobile, Alabama. The plantation covered 1200 acres, but 500 of these acres were lost to the cave-in banks of Red River and this happened while I was a child. This land was purchased from the B.W. Marston Estate, our next- door neighbors and my great-grandfather bought it, and the old folks in the family just swear that he paid $30,000 dollars in gold for it. I never heard of that. The main products that were on our plantation were cotton, hay , sugar, sugar cane and corn. And the cattle, we never did raise cattle except had milk cows and mules for the farm work.
And then now just the first person that really did farm this land was my uncle Ferney Gatlin and he was the first one more less {to} take over, he was a great uncle in the family . A newspaper clipping describes the life that he had down in the country, way down there , when the great parties were given all up and down the river from all the plantations, and they had races, and horse races, and a whole bunch of things I didn't ever dreamed that they could have. And he married a lady and they got divorced, and that was the unheard of thing in the Gatlin family. And when Uncle Ferney got the divorce they did this (turns the picture over). This is my good looking Uncle Ferney who took over the plantation. When he got the divorce the Gatlin Family turned this picture to the wall and would never accept it and they just hung their heads in shame. I'll put Uncle Ferney's picture here. Nobody could see Uncle Ferney and I thought to myself what in this world would happen if we had to do that today. There wouldn't be anything on people's walls but backwards pictures.
Now I'll tell you something about the house we lived in. The description of my home would be similar to many located in Red River and South Bossier Parish . It stood about five feet off of the ground, of course that was to keep the water away. And we had sixteen (16ft.) ceilings in that big old house and what it did, it gave you coolness during the summer time. And the porch was almost all the way around it and that was a good place for Daddy to go to look at the weather and see what was going to happen. So this was characteristic of most of the farm houses that were there. But the interior was made up of three great big bedrooms, a large dining room and a kitchen that had a wonderful walk-in pantry that you didn't have to get down on your knees to get a pot or a pan. It was already there up this high. How nice! I wish I had one now. It had a wood-burning fire- stove and this wood stove cooked things with amazing ability. The finest cakes could be cooked in a wood stove with just this kind of heat they had around them. I don't know what {it} was. But then, leading down.... One thing we had close by the kitchen was the most hideous green box you ever saw in your life. That was the ugliest thing. It was a plain old thing, a good size box, and it was lined with a metal lining, and that was our ice box. And once a week the ice man came, and with his tong-like things he would walk up those steps, carry that 100lb. thing of ice and put it down in the old green ugly box . But I will say this about the ugly box: if you put a watermelon in there you never tasted anything any better. It would make them so cold! And the ice that we had tasted better to me than the ice we get today and make it ourselves. And then we go on down and there was a small hall leading down to what we called, I called it the "sittin room" , sitting room was what it really was; it was a parlor. Here went the hall on down....and this separate room was separated by two colonnades, I don't know what you know- they're separate.... things that separate... two big colonnades and then the living room would be in here; the colonnades here [to] separate, and that would be the... like the hall, and that hallway there was my dancing spot. That was my spot and the living room was.... the people that was supposed to be watching me dance and all that stuff. And so, In this special room we had a beautiful rosewood piano that daddy had brought from Keatchie and I played on that, I practiced my music on that piano for seven whole years. And close by we had a old Victrola, have ya'll ever heard of a Victrola? Well, and it had to be wound up around like this with your hands to play the records, but I could hardly reach high enough to insert the needle into the playing arm.
Daddy, as I shall refer to him from now on, was a lover o f music,. He bought all the records and had waltzes and marches and fine classical music that I didn't even know what I was hearing. I just knew it was pretty. It was just fun for me to sing and dance along with all those different tunes. I had no idea... I wasn't realizing even what all that was making an inden[tation] into my life: this impression that I was going to get, that I had of music all the rest of my life. In the sitting room Mother bought what she called an oriental rug. Oh no, how fine! Through the years it survived parties- nice parties, Mother, all kinds of company and my dancing feet. And if you will notice over in the breezeway here, you're looking at the same rug that we danced on and had all those years. Its been in constant use all those years. I use it in my East Point home here.
Now, besides the piano in the sitting room , they had something that was very rare, and my daddy had brought with him from Keatchie what you call some window shades and they were made of Dutch linen - they looked like other shade material only darker . In the middle they had kind of a diagonal looking picture that showed some kind of castles, like in Spain or somewhere. I often wondered where those paintings came from and everybody that would come to my house would wonder about those shades. That triangular scene would make us all wonder. I used to run in and pull it up and down, the shades, I don't see how they stood it. Pull them up and down and play with them and all that kind of thing. So, anyway as the years went by I inherited the shades, and I thought so much of them I went to the best man I could go [to] Fred (?) Piper in Shreveport, and I had him to put a nice thing around them [so] that they would stay for ever and ever and never get hurt. So while the man up at Friend Piper told me that while he was trying to put that pretty siding on the plain, plain, wood that he was making it to, he said people tried to buy those shades from him while he was doing the work on them! And he turned around and said, " You'll play heck getting these! Cause the lady that owns these loves them!" I don't know where my great-grandfather got those shades, living way out there on the other side of Keatchie. But I do know that they are very fine and something wonderful to have and I have given them to my son, William McLelland III, who has a new home in Shreveport and some stairsteps that they just look beautiful going up. And they now get perfect treatment, perfect, with the same kind of heat in them all through the year and all this and the loving care that it gets now. The colors on those shades NEVER FADED ANY! And I used to have them right here in three places. [on her wall]

[ Tape 1, Side A, Index 187: The Opera]
So now [ rustles papers] Now I'll go to another thing. This is "To the Opera." In Shreveport every once in a while they would have in Long days (?) when I was very little they would have an opera. They would have it, like, in the Strand or some big.... well, Daddy came back one day. He said, "I got....I want us to go to the opera." And so Mother said, "Oh, yes!" So she dressed all up and when Mother got out her mesh bag [a silver chain-mesh purse] that meant she was going to dress up. That meant we were going somewhere. So she took her mesh bag down to this place in Shreveport where the opera was. Well, Daddy and Mother was sitting there and I was sitting there on the other side, and the music got sad. And so, what did I always do? I started crying. The music..... and Daddy looked over and said "What's wrong with you, Mathilde?" I said, "The music makes me sad," See what music has done to me? I don't even know why. Mother got so furious, she says," Please don't talk to her even! I'm not going to leave here. I'm going to see this opera now! " Daddy said: " Well Fannie, I just can't stand to see her cry. I'm going to take her on outside. We'll just sit outside. I don't want to see her cry." So I remember all that just as well as if it was yesterday.

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 206: Yard, Smoke-house, Ninock Lake]

Now I'd like to describe something [that] was outside of our house, I've described the inside to you. Although... our house was not special, it was wonderful to me. Maybe it was because Mother selected so many beautiful flowers for our yard. I remember zinnias, larkspur, daisies, violets, roses, cannas, daffodils, phlox, and petunias. And they thrived in that wonderful land. And I would take the teachers a big hands-fulls of long violets with long stems and on the school bus I would ride up there and take them to them. And I remember how good they smelled. Oh, my goodness! And so, adding to the yard's beauty to me was a number of fruit trees. We always had....We had peach trees, apple trees, pear trees, and I had a grape arbor where the grapes just hung down. We also had a nice pecan orchard out in front and we had in the back yard a place to.....called a smoke house. And they would take these...when they would kill the pigs and things...they would smoke these hams out there. And that's where we got our sausage. And its a wonder we're not dead eating all that pork. It was wonderful. It was the best stuff you ever ate in your life.
And about 100 feet down from our house was Ninock ["Knee-knock"] Lake. And Ninock Lake had been named by the Indians when they came through the area many, many, many years ago. And they called it 'Nin-nack' so Nin-nack turned to be 'Knee-knock'. The definition of this name has not been completely understood. Some say that it means 'White Lily' or 'White Flowers' because there were so many of those white lily-likeā€¦ This type of flower grew profusely in ponds and in wet places. The important place that Ninock Lake had in my life will be discussed later. But this is.....Ninock was connected to my life even back through the Marstons when I married into that family.

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 234: The Commissary & the Commissary Table ]

Now before I started to school.... I'll tell you something... about our yard. There was a large commissary out in the.... a good ways south of where we were and that's where Daddy.....that's where the Negroes would come every two months and get their groceries and then Daddy would have to write up what they had spent and so forth like that. And so he had me on the little adding machine. Well, that's where I learned some of my arithmetic: tap, tap, tap, pulling that old handle down that-away. That helped me. I climbed up in the thing and if the Negroes wanted some snuff, I was bare-footed anyway, I'd climb up and get it for Daddy and all this kind of..... He liked to have me out there. And he would enter it....but he had one thing in this big office. This office was not big, but he had a great big tall commissary table in there with a tall legs, big legs and a world of all kinds of places where could put those....you know what ledgers are? Put the ledgers on there and he sat up on a high stool and he would make out all the things the Negroes had spent and I would go in there with him some times but the last thing, way down the line when Bear Point was being sold, I asked them if I could buy that big table and they said "Yes" and so I took it to a German tablemaker in Shreveport and I said "You see" , I had a great piece of the pretty, wide stuff. I said, "I want a table made out of this, for myself." And then he looked at the big legs down there and I said "I want these legs ground down to the size of this little table I want you to make." The poor ol' fellow called me four weeks later and he said, "Lady, please, please can't you let me..." Said," I've ground on these legs and I'll never get 'em down to the size of what you want to go with your table. I've got some pieces out here in the back of walnut or what...Let me just take four of those pieces and make your stuff."
I said, "Keep grinding, keep grinding. I want my table to be completely made out of the big old table. Keep grinding !" He said "Lady, its going to cost you." "Keep grinding" So he ground and ground and ground and as you look in here in this....little table. See how little the legs are. He ground them down and he made that drop-leaf table. That's my drop-leaf table that he made out of the great big old desk. Its all....See the legs? He said, "Lady, I never worked so hard to get great big legs into little legs." And he said "It cost you a fortune. " I said, "I do not care." That's what I wanted.



[Tape 1, Side A, Index 268: Walking on fences and a popular song ]

So the next thing is fences. "Fences" is the name of the next one. Through the years we had three kind of fences around our house. And the first fence had a wide board.....old board fence, you know, on top. The next fence was a picket fence. And the last was a pretty fence with a wiring on it. I learned to walk all around the yard on each one of these fences. The wide board was very easy and since I was always barefooted I liked to play on that. But the picket fence was very difficult and dangerous because to go across on a picket fence you've got to point your toes and hold your arms out to get your good hold on your balance and tip [point your toes] over it like that. But I carefully dodged the pickets because it required a special kind of balance to walk on that fence. But the pretty fence, with the wiring on it, at the end of it it had what we called a gatepost. It was a great big old post you could stand on. You could walk on and stand on it. It was about half the size of that table there as far as width was concerned, and so I used to stand on the large part of that post there and as loud as I could I would think of one of the songs that people were singing on the records and the one that was[very popular? ] was "I'll be loving you always". It was...oh, it was the hit! It said: [Singing]

I'll be loving you....always/With a love that's true....always/When the things you've planned/
need a helping hand, I will understand, always, always.
Days may not be fair....always/ That's when I'll be there, always/ (And then I'd get loud) Not
for just an hour/ Not for just a day/ Not for just a year/ But always....

And there was nobody there to hear the little girl's voice cause I was standing out in nowhere. I sang it on the top of the post.

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 296: Mary Elizabeth Brown Connell, Plantation Workers, Aunt Martha Mitchell Gatlin, and the visiting Fishermen]

Now, names I like to remember. Sometimes when I would be walking the fences I would talk to the workers on the place as they came in to bring the mules in and I can just hear the rattle of those old chains on the mules. And they'd be so tired. I'd go out there and I'd say, "Please don't whip those mules hard! They've been working hard all day. Don't you whip them!" And they'd say "We ain't going to whip them hard!" I knew them all by their first names on the place and some of them I would love to have gone down in history: Oly Pickens, Horace Pickens, Jim Ready, Elison Ready, Frank Monroe, Joe Kimbell, Earl Monroe, Doc Johnson, Spragley Mareston, Leon Monroe, Rody Alford, and Jurden Walker. They were just some of the people that....I knew them all by....
So the next thing that I have here is personalities: One or two personalities that I remember in my lifetime: Mary Elizabeth Brown Connell, lived at Adkins, La. and we had so much fun spending the day. She was the only playmate I ever had in my life. And we would stay at each other's house, cause I lived so far down the road. The little girl in the country....you know nobody would come out down there to visit me. But Mary Elizabeth lived close enough to do that. And she is still my very best friend. We graduated from High School at Elm Grove together and she lives in Shreveport now and is still the best friend I ever had and we call each other sisters.
Now on our place was left the only, the last slave that I believe was in this country. She was old when Daddy brought her from Keatchie as a slave, and her name was Old Aunt Martha Mitchell Gatlin. That's the Gatlin's name. She took the Gatlin name. Aunt Martha Mitchell Gatlin. And she came when she was younger. She was part of our life. She was just part of our life. She had a little house about half-a-mile up from where our house was and here I would go down the dusty dirt road with my bare feet to see Aunt Martha. And I would knock on her door and she would...I would hear her praying. She prayed all the time. It's the first time I ever heard anybody give long prayers, just talk prayers in talking. And I would go in and we'd talk and everything and she'd say "Come out and see my yard," and it would be clean swept just like a floor and out of this plain swept thing would grow cute little... all kinds of little flowers and rosebushes. And then she had peppers growing all in there. And I loved to go through Aunt Martha Mitchell Gatlin's things in her yard. And so she loved me and I loved her for sure. I just loved her to death. So when it came time for her to get her groceries at the commissary every second week this is what happened: Daddy would send for a sled that [had a] chair nailed down on the sled. He would send a young Negro boy with a mule to go up and hitch that sled and let Aunt Martha sit in the chair in the middle in the sled. And the mule would pull her down to where they were at the commissary and everybody was getting their food and everything for the week. And I remember going over there with Daddy so much because he'd want me to work the adding machine for him every other Saturday, and they, the Negroes, all would just [be] laughing and talking and everybody would be laughing. But then, when Aunt Martha showed up, Daddy would say, "Everybody get quiet! Here comes Aunt Martha. Ya'll stop your laughing. Here comes Aunt Martha." And so Aunt Martha, like a queen, would get out of her....and she would come into the commissary. Daddy said, "Aunt Martha, anything you want. Anything you want." She would get rice or flour or snuff or thread or anything in that store was hers. She never did even know what paying for anything was, never. And Daddy said, "Aunt Martha, you got everything you want, now?" "Yes, sir, I sure have," she was so old. And he said, "Y'all take her back." And the mule was put to the sled again and took her back to her home. And that's the way that went on for as long as I knew her.
Now the other personality I wanted to talk to y'all about was the visiting fishermen that came to our house. That was like Santy Claus time! Those men and people from Shreveport thought they owed us a gift to go fishing and they would put any kind of gift on the front porch. They would put books, they gave umbrellas....Japanese umbrellas, books, candies, magazines, anything they could think of to say thank you for letting us.... and we'd drive off [up?] and there'd be a present for me on the thing. One thing I liked better than anything they ever left was a little brown, playing graphophone thing. It was like that and it had a little needle and it would sing these songs like [singing]

Old Mother Hubbard, she went to the cupboard to get her poor doggie a bone,
but when she got there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor doggie had none, had none.
So the poor doggie had none.

That was the way those little Mother Goose rhymes went. The little things [cylinders, records?] were about that big around. I thought that was wonderful! I was so glad I had gotten that.


[Tape 1, Side A, Index 356 Mathilde goes to a Piano Concert by Paterifski ]

So the next thing I'm going to talk about is Paterifski. He was the finest Polish pianist that the world has ever seen, the finest person, the finest. So Daddy got hold of two tickets to see [him], and he said
"I couldn't buy....I couldn't" but said "That thing is filling up to the top with people. I couldn't even get but two tickets," and he came home telling us that. Mother said " Well, I know that counts me out." Because he said "I would love to take Mathilde to see him." And so Mother said "Well, I know what I'll do for her. I'll just make her a royal blue velvet dress to wear, and I'll buy her some white shoes, patent
leather, and some white....and she'll have on some white gloves and a cute little hat. You take her, T.M.. and I'll make the dress for her." So see what love does for you, you see? And so Mother made the cute little dress. Oh! I felt so dressed up.
When we went into the place...into the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium was filled to the very top. I watched that genius...I watched him walk out onto that stage and I knew that he was the greatest of all pianists in the whole world. It just did something to me, and just kind of felt the greatness of him. I could feel how great... He walked and he sat down at that piano and I have never in my life heard such music. I didn't know a human being could play like that. And so, I say, the little country girl says "Thank you, Mother," and "Thank you, Daddy" and "Thank you, Mr. Paterifski. I love your music."

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 375: Radio, Mathilde meets her future husband, electricity, telephone, the Dortch's bell]

And next , we were always having some kind of music again. But this is really going to get you. This is what you call. We had a radio. Daddy got the first one, and it was called a Super-Hetrodine. Have you ever heard of that? It had six boxes that you had to put on a long table. The boxes had knobs all the way down. And at the end was a huge horn that went up big like this from a little bit to a big horn. And that was what the music came out of. Well, people came from far and near all around to hear that thing. They didn't know how.... Mother hated the ugly thing in her living room. She hated that old long table, but couldn't do anything about that. So anyway here one time we had some visitors and they were from down here at East Point and this Mr. and Mrs. McLelland came and they had a little tow-headed boy sitting there. [Mathilde] "Do I have to go out there, Mother?" Mother: "Yes, you have to go out there. You have to be nice." I wouldn't even look at him, that little old tow-headed thing. I grew up and married him! That was Bill McLelland! [Laughing] I grew up and married him.
And then Daddy had things out in his garage that were glass, things that looked like they were making electricity with water bubbles going up into them all. All we had electricity before 'most anybody and then Daddy got Mother a phone, a telephone, and he made about four miles of line out to one of mother's friends. .She would get to want to talk to her friend and she'd r-r-r-r-ing that phone and she'd talk all the time with that old phone and Daddy had made her a private phone. I think he did a whole lot of things like that I remember now.
[Shanna] About what year was that, when he got the phone?
[Mathilde] It was about....I don't know when that would be....about 1925 or 6, I guess. Or somewhere like in there 'cause I was a little old thing. But this was four miles away. He said he did that for her.
Now Daddy was a musician himself; he played a mandolin. And we all played by ear, and we all loved music. And we had a plantation bell that came from..... when that [the Steamer Dortch] sank my Daddy went in when the river got low and that boat went down in the mud. Daddy went down there and he dug up the boiler and the bell out of there. And you see that that boat [the model of the Dortch] has a bell . Daddy used that bell on the plantation for many years. And he used the boiler over in his gin, when he had to do that. But that thing just sank all...that boat is so deep down in the mud now that I ... we don't think ever... But I loved to ring that bell! We loved to ring it.

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 403, carrying over to side B: The Tramp who looked like Jesus]

Do we want to cut now? No? Okay! Now tramps. Have y'all.....I don't know whether you all ever saw a tramp. I spect I don't believe you did. But these tramps, you might have heard of a tramp. These poor wandering men would stop by your house and beg for something to eat and something to wear, maybe and
they wanted food or clothing and so we had a special table on the back porch. It was called the tramp's table and I want to tell you this. We were not afraid of the tramps. At all. I.....
[Side B] ....... cold day. It was the kind of weather that was kind of warm and then all of a sudden this horrible blast of weather came in and it turned so cold that we couldn't believe it. Well, that was when mother looked outside and saw one red rose left out on her bushes and she said, "Let me go get that before it gets frozen tonight." She goes out and she clips that rose and puts it in a vase. And this tramp comes by and knocks on the door and I would watch everything that people do and I saw his hands quivering....I could see his hands quivering and he said, "I'm SO cold. Could y'all help me with a little lunch?" And I said, "I think Mother has some left over, just sit here..." And so Daddy looked out. Mother said she'd fix him something so she got a....and even found an old sweater there she had that Daddy didn't want anymore and gave him that. But that was the coldest man...I...he...Daddy looked out there on that porch. He said "Come on in here." Daddy had a fire going "Come on in here and warm your hands and..." And he walked in and here's the way he looked. He had long blond hair, like these men wear now, wavy like this and he looked exactly like all the pictures in the Bible do. It looked exactly like Jesus. You know, you've seen the pictures of Jesus with the long hair...all [of] you? But he looked just like Jesus! Well anyway, he sat there and Daddy said, " Here warm your hands," I can remember his hands doing this away [shaking]. So finally....Mother brought him something to eat and he ate that, and she gave him the sweater and he said, "I thank you so much. I'll be on my way, now. " And so he turned to go and he said....I saw him looking up there, looking at that rose, he kept on looking at that rose, and I wondered what a tramp was thinking about. Finally, when he left, he says, " Lady, I want you to know, that that rose, that red rose, is the prettiest thing I've ever seen in my whole life. " And with that he turned around to leave and every time I see red roses today, I think of the tramp that looked like Jesus.


[Tape 1, Side B, Index 49 Elm Grove School and the Declamation Contest]
Now we're getting on to Elm Grove up here. We're getting closer to home. Elm Grove was where I got my education. Elm Grove school was where went to church. Elm Grove school was where we had all of our plays and show offs and all this kind of thing, was right up there at that little school. And while I was there I had a school-teacher that had most to do, one of the greatest parts of my life was that woman. She was a mean, red-headed, high-tempered teacher. And [when] she got hold of me, she would....she believed in all these declaration contests and all this stuff and she would help with the end of school stuff. She knew stage props. She knew whether you were looking right or doing right, anything on the stage.
Well she...I didn't ....I went to school at Elm Grove 11 years, and every year they had some big to-do at nighttime for the children to show off and ever....and you couldn't get a parking place around that school, it would be so many people that came. But she started training me. She decided she wanted me to be in a declamation...one of those things....and go against somebody else in the parish to see if Elm Grove could win from some big school in the parish. So we got hold of this sad little story about a teacher that was in a high flood with a little young child, and the child was gotten washed off and you didn't know whether the child was going to live again. And anyway, she had me trained like I was a....I was that teacher.....I was that teacher... I turned into her. She had drilled me that hard to do those things like that. She would laugh at me and make fun of me: [In a high, lilting voice:] " W---ell, I came to hear you speak, Mar-teel. I don't believe, sitting in this back row, I can hear your little, sweet voice. TALK LOUDER! YOU HEAR ME?" [Matilde] "Yes, ma'am, Miss Freeman[?]. I hear you." [Teacher, angry & mocking] 'And don't you ever dare turn your back to the people unless you're Betty Davis. And I don't think you're Betty Davis!." She [Betty Davis] was a fine actress of the day. She made fun...and she made all kind of fun. But I turned into be just a puppet for her.
And anyway, she.....I went to Plain Dealing, back to the place where I was born. And there was a declamation contest up there, parish-wide. And I didn't want to go cause [I was going back] to where my folks were at Plain Dealing. I didn't want to go. And the Plain Dealing school was large then. And I got out... and we all got out on the stage that night, and I looked over and the girl that was going to make a speech against me was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. She looked like a Barbie doll. She had on this long, beautiful dress, and they were trying to get her to go to Hollywood. She was so pretty and good-looking. And here I was in my little crepe de chine dress Mother had made me with the little pleated skirt and the little wide pink sash in the back, and my little shoes and socks on. And I said, " I don't have a.....I'll never have a chance against her." And then when they called out the names from the....her name was Mathilde [Mah-teel] Ogelsby. My name was Mathilde Gatlin. And we were sitting side by side to compete! [Laughing] I said....I started to cry, I said, " I don't know...I'm going to make a fool of myself." But I got up there and I remembered what Miss Freeman had told me: "Draw the audience to you. You make those audiences just as sad as you are, Mathide. Do you hear me? Do you HEAR me?" And, you know. So I got up there, and I thought about the little boy drowning in the story, and as I got toward the end of it, tears started running down my cheeks. I said, "Oh, Bobby, Please, Bobby, come back to me!" I would....and then when the thing was over....all of the said their parts, some boys were there and "THE WINNER IS.... MATHIDE....GATLIN." And there I was, and she lived in Plain Dealing. This girl lived in Plain Dealing. I nearly died. I thought, I said: "This can't have happened to me," I never had won anything in my life. But having won this, it gave me self-strength and I thought a little more of myself after that....I said "I can do that! I can do that!" So I was so proud I didn't know what to do.
And then in this Elm Grove School we have our good Sunday School teacher, a lady that when you go back you'll see a big old white... great big white store up there in Elm Grove. Its W.H. and C.B. Hodges'. Well this lady was in that family and she taught...she made Bible study to us just a wonderful thing. And that's what it did. And we would go over there a buy a 'Black Cow'....at recess. It was a thing on a stick and it was black, and you could lick on it all day, and it cost a nickel. [Laughing]

Now on the sides of that place at Elm Grove as it is now, they had two slides down from the second story. That's where I got all my learning for any kind of plays or anything, right there. And, but you could ride down that slide, but you had to pay a penny. It had a place over there. You could go just as many times as you want, but you've got to pay the penny. So that was the way they were going to pay for the thing, make it do that. Cause they didn't have.....

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 141. Naughty Things ]

Now, the next thing is 'Naughty Things'. I would wrap pretty packages up and put them in the middle of the highway. The tall cotton would completely hide me. I didn't have to wait long before maybe a fine car would come up with a chauffeur in it. Then... all.... they had these open cars then and lots of times packages fell out on the road. It happened to people. I would wait and look. And one time this big shot fellow came and the man that was driving with all the uniform on looked and looked, saw the package down in the middle of the highway. He said something, I was watching in the cotton, hiding, and so the man...here the chauffeur got out, got out of his car and went and picked the package up and looked left and right and then he put the package quickly in the car. They drove off. What they didn't know of it [was that] when they would open [it] they would find that the box was full of sand! I'd do that for fun! [laughing]. That was my meanness!

Now, my playmate Mary Elizabeth Brown Connell and I would love to dart at the old bull who was lying in the shade out there by the barn and we would figure out a safe place to run if he would get after us. We would go and dart at him and if he.. but, we thought that was so much fun to do that. Only one time when we passed by him he stood up, and when he did that we ran so fast we never did fool with that bull again. We were so scared. Never again.
And then, we had a large pipe by the commissary. It was one that Daddy had for draining . It was gray. It was pretty big size. So I went over and I got my graphophone out and I put it at the end of this pipe and when the Negroes would go in to buy their groceries and everything I would say , " Y'all come out here. You got to listen to my graphophone down here." And they'd have to get down on their knees and listen to my graphophone through an iron pipe. I'd say, "You got to pay me a nickel to hear it." So they'd get down on their knees and listen to....[Workers:]"Oh yeah! I hear it!" [Mathilde] "You hear my pretty music down here? " [Workers] "Yeah. We hear you. We hear, Miss Mathilde." They kept going in the store and asking Daddy for nickels, and Daddy started [asking?] ....."What are y'all getting these nickels [for]?" And when Daddy found out what I.....that clipped that! I never did get to do that again!

[Tape 1 Side B, Index 177: Bad Things]

And now, ' Bad Things'.....Bad Things [of this?]. I tried to use a large, round washtub for a boat. The water was about five feet deep in a slough and I grabbed hold of a paddle and got in this round tub and of course the first thing that happened to me when I got in the water was that the tub flipped completely over and down I went into the mud and the slub and the everything like that. And Mary Elizabeth, my dear friend, was standing on the bank screaming with laughter. She had never...[That was] one of the crazy things I thought to do.
And a terrible thing, though, that we did, was to climb up in to the second story of the hay-barn and with us we took a box of matches and also took some grape vines we were going to roll to make cigarettes out of. We were going to make cigarettes out of that grape vine. And if we had lit...we tried it one time and it didn't....the grape vine deal didn't work. If we had gotten one spark...all that hay- barn would have gone straight up and we would all burned....we both would have burned to death before we could have gotten down off that second story.
And then I decided to give all of...when I was little bit smaller than that...I decided to give all of Mother's pretty zinnias a haircut. I used Mother's best scissors. I trimmed every one of those zinnias all until [there were] nothing but nubs there. Now you can understand at that point Mother went and got her peach-tree switch, and she, she handed it to me for doing, for cutting her zinnias. I thought.... I said, "Mother, I was just giving them a haircut. " Cutting all her pretty zinnias up. And so Mother used the peach-tree switch that and another time when I wandered too far up the road. She told me, "Don't you go that far." And Mary Elizabeth and I went. And when we turned around we looked way down the road and we saw Mother standing at the end with her switch. And Mary Elizabeth said, " Is....is Miss Fannie going to. Is she...is she going to whip me, Mathide?" I said, "No, she's not going to whip you, but oh, my goodness, she's going to whip me!" And she did. She whipped me good.


[Tape 1, Side B, Index 206: The Cotton Gin and Driving a Car]

Now, now too much longer. Now, a trip to the cotton gin. This gin was located like a lot of the plantation gins were, right on the railroad track-the LR&N at that time, and they had many.....they had all of them, most everybody had to have one. And so, but it was an adventure for me to go. I was allowed, you wouldn't think so, but I was allowed to wander through that whole gin by myself. 'Course the Negroes were all in there working the different things. But I wondered....I would go by these...I was allowed to walk close by these loud-sounding, hard-working...this machinery that was turned. .... And I was turned loose to go to do what I wanted to. I would watch them, how they would pull these things and make this, put all this loose cotton in and watch that great big pressure come down on it and mash it down to a cotton bale. It was real interesting to see it. But I don't know why I was doing that. But they seemed to trust me with things like that. Like I wouldn't stick my finger in it, that I'd know better than to stick my finger in one of those cut[ting] things....to cut myself to death. But she knew that the workers, Mother did, knew that Oly Pickens, who was there, would watch me every....and so I loved to watch all this to see how the cotton was done. For that reason....and I loved to smell the cotton. I love to smell it to this day. And it would be ready to send off.
At this time, Daddy decided I should drive a car. But, oh, such happiness! However, I had one little thing that was wrong. He said, "Baby, when you gonna go forward on the road here, don't shift backwards." Cause I shifted one time and we went sailing backwards. "Don't do that, baby,"

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 230: Christmas Time]

Now, more nice happenings. At Christmas time we'd put lights on two little bushes we had out in our yard. The lights could be seen far up the road, because there were no other lights shining anywhere else. And they were colored lights. And it was really pretty. And each year I had to fill up brown paper sacks with an apple, an orange, a gift and a lot of hard candy that Daddy would buy up at Elson, Prince and McDade in Shreveport. And we would, and I would put them..... and all who got these presents were the little children on the place that were 10 years old or less. And so they would each be given a sack. And so when they would come down, at about dusk on Christmas, and you could hear them laughing and talking and singing as they were coming down the road. And they [were] laughing and singing and....when I handed those children that sack, that brown paper sack, and I looked at those faces when they got those presents, to them....when we gave it to them, I experienced the true Christmas Spirit that is hard to find today.

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 245 Christmas during the Depression]

Y'all holding on with me? Now what is a depression. A depression is a time when my parents started looking so worried. When it was time when my mother had to make all my clothes. I t was the time when you didn't go on trips. It was a time when people had to work for less, and it was a time when I learned that you could do all your study work and all your spelling and your arithmetic and you could learn it on a poor little cheap blackboard that would stand up with.....you had a little handful of chalk. You can learn that way, too. I learned that my parents, what all they were giving up, the things they were doing to help me. I learned that the old worn-out Mother Goose-that's the Mother Goose book right there- I learned that the old Mother Goose book that Mother had read so many, many hundreds and thousands of times to me was making my reading easier....easy. But I could not believe that when I got to be in the 7th grade at the [?] that my parents at this horrible time could give me a bicycle. That's what I got for Christmas. And I ran.....it was too cold to go outside. I got on the porch....that was my mistake: I tried to ride the bicycle on the porch and I couldn't ride it very well and round the side of the porch I went and flying out into the air and landed in Mother's rose bush. That was what happened.

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 263. Huey Long and Hwy. 71]

And then, this highway [Hwy. 71]. This highway...it was time for the highway to be concreted by our home. And Daddy was one of the few men in South Bossier Parish who ever voted for Huey P. Long. You may have heard of him. But, our relatives didn't even vote for him. Said, 'cause he was a dictator. And so, still Daddy went and voted for him every time. So he never missed one time. So the time came to build that concrete highway down our way. The engineers had planned it way over there by the railroad tracks, close to the woods. And that would cut our place all off from everything. So, Daddy found out about this and we took a trip to Baton Rouge, the farthest I'd ever been away from town. Well, we went on the train, slept on the train that night, and I, I didn't sleep a wink. I thought that was the most wonderful thing in the world. Well, anyway, we arrived in Baton Rouge the next morning and went to the Capitol building and got to the office of the Lt. Governor, his name was O.K. Allen. And so, we walked in there and two nice young men greeted us and asked, he said, "Are you Mr. Thomas Mitchell Gatlin that we're talking with?" And Daddy said, "I'm.....That's who I am," and so he assured them [of] that. So they brought out the hugest map, I remember how big it looked to me as a little girl, great big map. And they laid it down. And then they handed the .....Mother and I wondered and waited what they were fixing to do next, and so, one of them leaned over and handed Daddy a pencil. "Mr. Gatlin, will you please take this pencil and draw the highway where you think it ought to be?" I didn't know....so I watched Daddy make the line. He said "I want it right here going through the Bear Point Place on through the Marston Place, I don't want it way over there in the hills where its going to be down in mud and slu.....This is where I want it." So the engineer said, "Mr. Gatlin, we will put that road EXACTLY where you say you want it" Politics raises its neck...head. Now, here he said, "Is there anything else you would like?" Daddy said, "Well, there is this one thing. (says) There's this tree up there by that road , by the road now, and I planted it when I was a young man and came down here, and we used it to work with the farm equipment under the shade of it. I just think I like that tree too much. I hate to see y'all cut it down when you do the highway. " Daddy said," Could you move the highway over just a little bit so that tree wouldn't have to be cut down?" The tree is standing there today. The highway is still there. You will see it on your way back home [to Bossier]. Its the only tree that stands that close to the highway from
w--a--y from Bossier City and all up, nowhere, and these engineers agreed, "That's fine, Mr. Gatlin, We'll do that, too." So when we came home the highway was soon under construction and Daddy had the last laugh. All the men who had called him crazy for voting for Huey P. Long....and so every time the men would....every time that I go by that tree though, now, I smile to myself. Cause I remember how Daddy's friends used to say things like this," Gatlin, you an educated man. Why in the world would you dare vote for that dictator Long?" Daddy said, "I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why. I see poor little children able to go to school now 'cause the free school-books have been given to them by Long. And I look out there on a road I've never seen anything but gravel and I see wonderful, beautiful concrete coming all down these roads and going all through these farms. And I drive down to the southern part of the state and see these wonderful new bridges he's put across our rivers...That's why I voted for Huey P. Long." And they didn't have much else to say then after that.
Many years after I graduated from Louisiana Tech and was allowed to go on a trip to New York as my graduation present. We had to go in one of those tacky little yellow buses that Tech takes you around in. So we stopped, we had to stop completely in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, all of us Tech children. You couldn't move. There were four or five wide. You couldn't move. We were stopped. And all of a sudden we heard a car from way 'cross the way say, " Hey, there's Huey Long's children!" and pointed over there to us. Way across there...in the middle of the bridge. And we waved at them and said "Hello.....Goodbye".

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 319 Bonnie and Clyde visit Bear Point]
So now, 'Unwanted Visitors to Bear Point". Almost every plantation has something special to tell about happenings there. These things are sworn to be true, and I always really thought this to be true. Frank Monroe, one of our most trusted workers, lived over by the Railroad track down in a large field. There, he was the only family in that area. A little road led to the very end of the place that, where the old bears used to walk. So he...but something happened funny that night that scared that man to death. He said that overnight a strange car came up way over in the field and he said they closed all the shutters on their door and wouldn't even open it 'cause they looked out and they saw a man and a woman, and they had guns everywhere. And they had this open car kind of thing, but guns everywhere. And they were out working on the guns and Frank, he was so scared that the next morning when he came down, he could hardly speak. His voice was trembling so, and he gave this description of this great big old car and so Daddy said, and he said. So two or three days we saw the horrible picture in the Times where these two people were shot to death in Gibsland, La. and the people that had been looking....those folks had been looking for so hard had been freed from the killer thieves because they had gotten rid of .....Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and the girl that accompanied [him]. And a sign is made of stone there today where they were killed. So the old Bear Point had this uninvited guest that turned around and made a little bit of bad history there. The fact that this interesting little road that the bears crossed and that the cotton gin was on and the criminals came and that is interlocked now with Dam Number 5. It runs right into Dam Number 5.

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 343: Horses and Bird Hunting]

And now, one, two more things. Do you want me to continue or not? My daddy and mother owned some horses and they rode around on the place quite often. Mother's horse was named Dixie and Daddy's was named Button. Sometimes Daddy would get on Button and go through the fields just a little while and go hunting and he would take the dogs with him, wouldn't be gone long but in a short while he would come back and he'd have his pockets full of birds. He had seen any number of quail out there and had shot them and the dogs would retrieve the birds, would rear up on the horse's side [and] Daddy would take the quail out of their mouth and put it in his....[pocket]. That's the kind of hunting he did. And I always thought that was mighty fine hunting. But we always had all the quail we could possibly eat.


[Tape 1, Side B, Index 353: Di]

And now I go back to Di. Now I'll tell you who Di was. My parents brought me from Plain Dealing when I was five days old and we went to our home at Bear Point. And as they were taking me out of the car, they were met by a tall Negro. She wore a long dress and she had a long, white apron on and a solid white cap on. And she came forward. My daddy got a picture of this. She came forward toward me and held out her arms and she said, "Here's my baby!" She took me in her arms and I have that picture of that scene still. And I called her Di. Don't ask me....I couldn't even talk. But I called her 'Di', just like the princess Di of England. I don't know where I got that in my mind. I have no idea. But that was what her name was. And she's the only person I've ever known to be named Di except the princess....I don't have any.....of England. Well, now OUR Di was a cook. a nurse, a live-saver and a loving friend. She lived close behind our house and she moved only when she was too old to work. When Mother wanted to go shopping in Shreveport, she would take me, sit in a waiting room all day long with me while Mother shopped.
One day I found some white glass broken on the floor, plain, like a light glass. And I loved ice. And I had reached down to grab it....I had grabbed all that [and[ was putting it in my mouth trying to chew it up and Di saw me and she quickly grabbed me by the...mouth and she, with her dishrag, she wiped all of that glass out of my mouth. And I'm sure it would have killed me if I had gotten any of that glass down me.
And when I was in the 3rd grade I decided that Di should learn to read. And Mother had read so many nursery rhymes to me that I knew them by heart. I thought I could teach Di, so I made a string of A B Cs. And I strung them around the kitchen....in the kitchen where she was. And I said, "Now, Di, while you're cooking I want you to look up here and look these A B C's. You can't read until you learn your A B Cs. Now you try to learn them while you're cooking," And I thought that she might, you know, do that. But that was to no avail. She was.....she said, " Baby, I can't learn that," I said, "Well, Di." So I began going to her house at night. And her husband, Jurden Walker would make a fire on cold nights and I would read parts of the Bible to her, the ones she loved especially, and the special story about the first Thanksgiving that she (was) just loved. And I believe she enjoyed me reading to her better than anything that ever happened to her. Because she just loved all those stories. And Di would pick out little pecans and put them for me on my lap while we would sit there and eat. And her bed had a huge, puffed up feather bed. That thing was just puffed up like ! And was just, it was just spotless. I never understood how she could keep that bed so puffed up and so nice. But she did.
But afterI would be there a while Di would disappear. She would go to the dresser drawer and get a mug out of it, right in a certain spot. She would turn around and she would leave us, she would go back to the back room. And when she came back, she would have a drink in my cup and it was made from....and she called it "Figlum" 'cause it was made from figs, pear hulls, apple hulls, peach hulls, and then she'd add a lot of sugar to it and some water and you'd put it down in a crock and let it stay there about two or three months....the way she'd do it. And after that, what would you have? You would have this wonderful drink. So I drank it all the time with Di over there, but made one bad mistake. I thought it was wonderful, but I made the mistake when I said, "Mother sure does make a good drink over there. " And Mother says, "What are you talking about?" And I said, " Well, she calls it figlum. But it has all kinds of good stuff in it. And Di makes it and its just great tasting. " And we found out that what Di was making was wonderful tasting cider. That's what I was drinking all this time, just loving it. I never have tasted anything better.
Sometimes it would rain while I was over there those hours and she would get her old, dirty, brown coat and put it on top of my head and carry me back to the house. And on the way she'd say, " No rain ain't gettin on you, bless your soul!"
And so she saved me from a high fall from a pecan tree one time when I was hanging like and monkey and drop myself down. I was afraid, and she came running. I called, "Di, Di, come get me!" She came running and finally talked me into falling into her arms. And at some times she would, [she] kinda saved me twice, but sometimes when we didn't have anything to do much ....it would be raining or something, well we would go into the living room and play and sing together on the piano. I could play by ear and she, her precious song was:

Work a day for Jesus/ He will thank you for your labor/ Work a day for Jesus/
Work, Work today/ Here we all are standing......[tape cuts off].


[Tape 2, Side A, Index 0000: Di (continued)]
[Di used a couple of words that Mathilde never could understand.....]
....and the word was 'denuit'. D-E-N-U-I-T If we would dress all up she would say, "Oh, Baby, you look denuit in that! " [Ed. note: may have been a corruption of the French "de nuit" - " of or pertaining to night time. ] And she didn't know and I said.......and I said. And another expression was a description of people who are not working: "They just palarving around." And I believe that word "Palarving" ....I looked it up. I believe it came from a south African....south Africa....because I read that they have palarving places... its.kind of like you'd stop to go to a drug store and talk and drink and talk and its a place when you quit working and they called it 'palariving around". She'd say, "They're just palarving around," that meant they weren't doing any work. I never knew where Di ever learned this word. I wish I knew where she got it.....somewhere from...
Well Di left Bear Point when I went off to college. She was getting too old to work. And I was sad when we parted, and in about a year I decided to go find her in Shreveport. She lived on Looney street in a little old house sitting way up on a high hill, and you would have to walk up the steep steps to get up to her. And I finally got there and I saw her sitting on the porch swing. And I had brought her a great big box of candy. And I started making my way up there and she turned around and looked down those steps and saw me she started screaming and crying and you might guess what she said; Here's what it was: "There's my baby!" [Laughing] And I said.....we talked and we cried together. And I never saw her again. 'cause she died and I didn't know about what time it was or when, but maybe I [will] see her somewhere in the far, far future. Maybe somewhere, sometime. And if I do, I'm sure I'll say, "Hello, Di," and she'll say, " Here's my baby!" I'm sure of that.

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 46: Mathilde's Husband in WWII]
This is "Ninock Lake". Ninock Lake dried up during the sad time of WWII. The levee had broken and caused it to dry up. A big growth of willow trees grew down the middle of the lake, and my husband-to-be had gone off to fight in the South Pacific. And I had gotten a terrible thing from the Red Cross telling me that they had no hope that he would live. He had received the terrible news that he had been shot in the lung, and it was most likely that he would not ever live. And I got this letter, this thing from the Red Cross, I was at Bear Point when I did. And I did the strangest thing I've ever done in my life. I'm just not like that. I walk out of the house.....didn't say anything to anybody....I walk down to the Ninock Lake. I walk out to the middle of the Lake, where the cracked ground was, where the willows were higher than this room. I got down on my knees in that cracked ground and I asked and begged God to please save my husband-to-be. Please. I never have prayed, I'm not that kind of person, ordinarily. I don't remember how....what I was half saying. I was begging God to please save him. Well, in about 3 weeks, I received a letter from that dying man and he said this, he said: "I got too close to the Japs, and got a slug in my lung. But I'm going to make it, and I'm coming back home in about 3 months." He did, and we got married. How about that? So that.....[?].

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 81: Dr. Sax]
Now, this last thing was the one I told you about, 'The Challenge of the Brilliant Mind," You haven't heard it. Do you want me to tell it? A young mind challenging a brilliant mind. I went to La. Tech. We had a....I was lucky enough to have a doctor Sax as my English teacher; everybody loved him. He was the most popular one in the whole place. My sorority had chosen him to be one of the sponsors, and he always....he went to our banquets every year, but something happened that year. Something happened to Dr. Sax, and he said he wasn't going this year. And everybody said, "Why, why? ," And so, he claimed he didn't get an invitation but really what happened [was that] the little girl hadn't mailed all the invitations. This is what happened to Dr. Sax. So he had refused to come and represent us. So I was appointed to go to his office and learn what was happened to that strong man, to that very, very smart man. So I walked into his office and I said, "Dr. Sax, I have come to ask you what in this world is happening to you. Why in this world are you refusing to come to our banquet . What has happened to you?" I assured him that he had gotten [an invitation]; he wouldn't pay any attention to that. "I don't care what I. Y'all didn't send me a, You just didn't send me one." And I said, " What, what in the world are you thinking about. Would you please explain it to me some way? Tell me why you feel this way?" He says, " I'll tell you why. It's because my name is Sax, and its Jewish!" And he came back. And I said....it was the time of this holocaust thing, like they have ever so often, where the Jews, you know, are persecuted. And he had that in his mind. And He had the thing crossed in that brilliant head of his that he didn't get a....he... "They didn't invite me, They didn't invite me 'cause of the holocaust and because my name's Sax. I'm a Jew, I'm Jewish, that's Jewish, so they didn't invite me. So I'm not going to go!" Well now, when I learned that. When I heard him say that, I go so mad that I thought I would die. And I got....I had to use all the things that I knew how to do that Miss, my teacher had taught me how to do what to do if you've got to make somebody believe you. And so I walked...I said, "I do not believe that any man with the intelligence that you have could possibly be that crazy, idiotic. How could your brain do such an idiotic?..." I said, " Do you....What are you doing to the people of our sorority? Saying, or blaming us for doing some idiotic thing that we would never dream of doing." I said, "Dr. Sax is a beloved name. Have you lost your mind, Dr. Sax?" I said. And he said, " I'm not going. I'm not going to go." And then's when I turned it on. I turned on everything. I said, "All right! You don't go! But if you don't go to it, I'm not going!" I started crying "Just don't go, Dr. Sax. But its idiotic the way you're acting. If you don't go to our banquet, I'm not going either. You hear me?" And he looked back at me like that. He said, "Calm down, Gatlin." I said, "I'm trying to calm down. I've never heard of such a ridiculous thing coming out our somebody's intellectual head like you have. I don't believe you!" And I was crying, tears were running down...I was.... so he said, "Gatlin, quit crying. Quit crying, Gatlin. Now calm down." So I kinda calmed down. He said, "I'm coming to the...I'm coming to the banquet." He came, and he never missed another one. His head, an intellectual, a challenge, that mind of his went just berserk when he knew that thing was going on and he got that idea in his head and that's what can happen to a brilliant mind when it gets going in the wrong direction. Just looked like that.

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 147]

Now, all my life, this is the ending. All my life I have lived next to the Marston family, and we shared the love of Ninock Lake and they taught me how to ride on that flying surfboard [a ski-board that was attached to the back of a boat]. After I married Bill McLelland, and he was kin to the Marstons. I was invited to travel with them to various places all over the world, and they didn't have any children and they just wanted somebody to go with them. And boy, I was so happy! They let me go with them, and they took me to see.....I went to 13 countries of the world, 13 countries: Italy, France, everywhere...even went into China. I went to everywhere. So in this I saw the beauty of the world that I never would have seen again in my lifetime. And so, this Miss Abby Marston that came hurrying down.....this shows how they've been in my life.....this old lady came hurrying down when I was born and they were naming [me] Marteal...
M-A-R-T-E-A-L, and she came flying up there and slid to a screeching stop in her Ford car and came running in, "T.M. what in the world do you mean by spelling this child's name the wrong way? You must spell it the French way. That's Mathilde! M-A-T-H-I-L-D-E! Now, the only people who can pronounce my name is after you get past Alexandria [French & Cajun descent], now these people up here. They can't pronounce it. They don't know how to spell it. But you've got to get down [to] South Louisiana....[imitating] "Oh! Mathilde! Oh I know that....we can spell your name." I'm telling you that. So things that....so what I want to say this in the end. What in the world did a little girl, living way, way out in the country all by herself. How did she get along with herself? Was she bored? Was she sad? Was she withdrawn? Or was she happy. Well, I say to this, a thousand times no! She had true....one...two wonderful parents....they did everything possible for her. The main thing was, love was all through our families....we loved each other. And I have this little poem here that was given to Mary Martin, and I'm sure y'all know it. When she was getting ready to walk out on the stage many years ago. She was a famous singer. And she walked out on the stage and this man said this to her...she was kind of nervous and he said this to her. You know it:
A bell is not a bell until you ring it
A song is not a song until you sing it
But love is not love until you give it away.
And that's what he told her when she walked out. And I signed that, and I have a ......

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 190: Bears at Bear Point]

I forgot to tell you why Bear Point was named Bear Point. One day I asked Daddy, "Why, Daddy, why did my great-grandfather name this place Bear Point?" And he said, "Get in the car and I'll show you." We went up there to right there where that famous road[Hwy. 71] is now, going over the dam. And daddy walked out in the middle...in the highway there. Where....you can cross it in the car as you go north.. He held his arms out, East and West. He said, "The beautiful black bears used to make a migration from the country (?), passed over there where the gin, way in the hills. They would come down and cross this road and go right where dam # 5 is now and they would search for food and the river would be low and your great-grandfather used to watch those bears from the porch of his house. He could see them making those trips. And he thought they were so pretty that he named his plantation Bear Point after them. And I said, " Daddy, did my great-granddaddy ever shoot at them and kill them, you know?" He said, "No, they didn't bother him and he didn't bother them." But he thought they were so pretty, and that's why its Bear Point. And that's the end of the Bear Point thing.

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 209 The Steamboat Dortch]

The boat is another deal. It sank across the Lake. Right after the Civil War, boats like that started going around what's East Point Lake now....used to be Red River. And these boats would start...started right after the Civil War, and I think a boat just like that....I think that one...held cotton, and they.... and it came around the bend there kind of, and must have hit a snag up under, that's the only thing, a cypress snag, that's the only thing we can figure out. No people...no body....but it just went DOWN like that! And sank way down into that water, deep under that thing, and that was kind of ..... You could go down the back of our house and look angling off the thing and there it was. You could see where it was. For a while it stuck up so you could see it, then it sank more down into that mud. And now its down there. Guess how I got that? [The model] They....the engineers came through here and took definite notes on all the places. They were looking for Indian artifacts. As they came through...it was several years ago....they found this story of this old captain was writing to get this very boat made. And he couldn't write. He made every kind of mistake. He was writing to a man in Ohio. He wanted him to build that boat for him. And he told him inch by inch what he wanted about it and it was found in the archives in Washington, D.C.! You know, they....you had to turn in your boat and number like you'd have to have a license plate. That boat had a number and a name. And this nice lady in Washington, D.C. looked up that information and found it out....exactly that old fellow how he wanted that boat made. And so I wrote to this smart man over in Arcadia that makes boats, and I said, "Could you possibly make that boat for me?" And he said, "Well, I make them all the time. Yes, Ma'am. And you got this perfect story about this old man, exactly what he had. I can make it to the T." So that's how my boat got made. And Jimmy Marston, the Marston boy, has his made. He had a picture to show the man. But I had the measurements and everything. That's exactly like that boat was when it went down under right after the Civil War.
[Shanna] "So that is the actual boat?" [Mathilde] That's it. That's the actual model of it. Exactly, to the....and we had the measurement of how long the boat was. Well, he took the...he took it and made it that many in replica....inches in relation to it. And he did a marvelous job. Every little detail he's put in that thing. And you can see the wood you throw in the thing. Its unbelievable how he did that. So I'm really proud that I came from Bear Point. And I'll tell you one thing. I may have missed some things in life, but I know I haven't missed many of them.

[Tape2, Side A, Index 247: Conclusion]
And as I grow old, I think I see the things that are happening now and the people. We're so different. We used to....you know....people used to live by sayings. You know. They had the funny little sayings. And you could say, " You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. You know, funny thing's like that." They went by those. Well, you don't hear people saying those things. And they'd say, "He's dumb as a bunny," or "He's nutty as a fruitcake." But people just don't talk like that anymore. But they used to say that. I have a collection of those things, what people have said. "Tell me with whom you associate and I'll tell you who you are." You know, all that kind of....and people kind of lived by those things. But I just thought...you never hear anything like that. So that's about all I have to say....but I tell y'all, and I'll say it again. I thank you for making me do this. I mean, telling me you wanted it done. And I thank all these people I've asked questions and I've looked up all kind of historical things that I can, that I have. And I know that this would please my daddy and my mother so much that they would just....I feel like that they would just enjoy every bit of it. But I do have the memory, because I would say, "Daddy there's your." ...I tried to get as much as anything as I could. And I think I'm almost a little bit too much.
But those shades have been the most outstanding thing we've ever had. And I've never seen.....people ask me and the man said, "That is rare, Lady. You've got something there." So I said...and then, when I got my young son, he's a pilot, he flies 747s for United Airlines. And they stay gone all the time. She flies and he flies. She is from....New York, Long Island. And he's from the cotton patch! Well, they get along together beautifully. They are as happy as a lark! And I said, "Here comes a damn Yankee!" [Laughing] You know what we called them. It would be one word: "He's a damnyankee."
But anyway....she is the dearest, sweetest, most wonderful in-law girl that could be. And she'll take care of those shades with her very life. She can't imagine....and when I gave her all my silver. I'm giving...just giving anything they saw, just take it....and these people said, "You don't mean you gave them the shades?" I said, " Well, I have used those shades all of my life. It came his time to use those shades." And let him.....here's my silver. I said, " You want this sack of silver?" I thought that Yankee girl would die. I thought she was going to faint. She said, " You don't....you don't mean that you're giving us your silver!" I said, "Why not? Here, take it." And I enjoyed giving it. And she...they have parties up at Shreveport....she uses that pretty silver. And it wouldn't do anything just sitting down here. So that's the way I feel about it.

Now, let me get y'all a little ice cream......


















Interview With Mathilde McLelland

Conducted at her home in East Point, LA, July 15, 1997

Transcription notes: This transcription is as close to the original conversation as possible. The only words omitted were obvious false starts. Very few attempts have been made at phonetic transcription. In the transcription, brackets[ ] indicates additional information or words added for clarity. Parentheses ( ) are used to enclose extraneous information and sounds. Dots (.........) do not indicate that words have been omitted, but that Mrs. McLelland paused or started another train of thought.

Note: In the transcription, the name pronounced "Mah-teel" or "Mar-teel" is spelled "Mathilde".

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 0000: Family History, The Gatlin Home]

I've already told you how proud to have you here and I thank you for getting me to do this because I really often thought about the little country girl and what people think of people who live in the country. And the funny thing was, the other day a lady from California called me, and she asked me, " Will you call me back IF you have a telephone?" (Laughs) I have had hysterics over that. She doesn't know whether I really have a telephone here since I live out in the country, you know? Well, any way I have two or three answers for her!

So let me first introduce myself by telling you that my name is Mathilde Gatlin McLelland and that I am the daughter of Thomas Mitchell Gatlin of Keatchie, Louisiana and of Fannie Swindle Gatlin of Plain Dealing, Louisiana. I had two half brothers Thomas Hardy Gatlin and Gordon Hollis Gatlin and one half-sister Hilda Lee Gatlin. My father owned Bear Point Plantation jointly with two brothers Dr. F.C. Gatlin of Keatchie, La. and F.F. Gatlin of Mobile, Alabama. The plantation covered 1200 acres, but 500 of these acres were lost to the cave-in banks of Red River. This happened while I was a child. This land was purchased from the B.W. Marston Estate, our next- door neighbors and my great-grandfather bought it, and the old folks in the family just swear that he paid $30,000 dollars in gold for it. The main products that were on our plantation were cotton, hay , sugar, sugar cane and corn. We never raised cattle except had milk cows and mules for the farm work.
The first person that really farmed this land was my uncle Ferney Gatlin. He was a great uncle in the family . A newspaper clipping describes the life that he had down in the country, when the great parties were given all up and down the river from all the plantations. They had races, and horse races, and a whole bunch of things I didn't ever dreamed that they could have. He married a lady and they got divorced. That was an unheard of thing in the Gatlin family. When Uncle Ferney got the divorce they did this (turns the picture over). This is my good looking Uncle Ferney who took over the plantation. When he got the divorce the Gatlin Family turned this picture to the wall and would never accept it and they just hung their heads in shame. I thought to myself what in this world would happen if we had to do that today. There wouldn't be anything on people's walls but backwards pictures.
Now I'll tell you something about the house we lived in. The description of my home would be similar to many located in Red River and South Bossier Parish . It stood about five feet off of the ground, of course that was to keep the water away. And we had sixteen (16ft.) ceilings which gave you coolness during the summer time. The porch was almost all the way around it, Daddy would go out on it to look at the weather and see what was going to happen. This was characteristic of most of the farm houses that were there. But the interior was made up of three great big bedrooms, a large dining room and a kitchen that had a wonderful walk-in pantry that you didn't have to get down on your knees to get a pot or a pan. It was already there up this high. How nice! I wish I had one now. It had a wood-burning stove which cooked things with amazing ability. The finest cakes could be cooked in a wood stove. One thing we had close by the kitchen was the most hideous green box you ever saw in your life. That was the ugliest thing. It was a plain, good sized box, and it was lined with a metal lining. That was our ice box. And once a week the ice man came, and with his tongs he would walk up the steps, carry that 100lb. blockof ice and put it down in the old green ugly box . But I will say this about the ugly box: if you put a watermelon in there you never tasted anything any better. It would make them so cold! And the ice that we had tasted better to me than the ice we get today and make it ourselves. And then we go on down and there was a small hall leading down to what we called the sitting room. This room was separated from the hall by two colonnades. The hall was my dancing spot, and the living room was where the people were supposed to be watching me dance. In this special room we had a beautiful rosewood piano that daddy had brought from Keatchie. I practiced my music on that piano for seven whole years. And close by we had an old Victrola. It had to be wound up to play the records, but I could hardly reach high enough to insert the needle into the playing arm.
Daddy, as I shall refer to him from now on, was a lover o f music,. He bought all the records and had waltzes and marches and fine classical music. I didn't know what I was hearing, I just knew it was pretty. It was fun for me to sing and dance along with all those different tunes. I had no idea... I wasn't realizing what all that was making an inden[tation] into my life. In the sitting room Mother bought what she called an oriental rug. Through the years it survived parties- nice parties, Mother, all kinds of company and my dancing feet. And if you will notice over in the breezeway here, you're looking at the same rug that we danced on and had all those years. Its been in constant use all those years. I use it in my East Point home here.
Now, besides the piano in the sitting room , they had something else that was very rare: a pair of painted window shades. My daddy had brought them with him from Keatchie. Tthey were made of Dutch linen - they looked like other shade material only darker . In the middle they had pictures of castles. I often wondered where those paintings came from. I used to run in and pull the shades up and down and play with them. I don't see how they stood it.. So, anyway as the years went by I inherited the shades, and I thought so much of them that I took them o the best man I could: Fred (?) Piper in Shreveport. I had him to put a nice edging around them so that they would last longer and be better protected. The man who did the work said that people had tried to buy those shades from him while he was doing the work on them! And he turned around and said, " You'll play heck getting these! Cause the lady that owns these loves them!" I don't know where my great-grandfather got those shades, because he lived way out there on the other side of Keatchie. But I do know that they are very fine and something wonderful to have. I have given them to my son, William McLelland III, who has a new home in Shreveport. The colors on those shades NEVER FADED ANY!

[ Tape 1, Side A, Index 187: The Opera]
When I was a child they would sometimes have an opera n Shreveport at the Strand or a similar place. Daddy came home one day and said, "I want us to go to the opera." And Mother said, "Oh, yes!" So she dressed up, and when Mother got out her mesh bag [a silver chain-mesh purse], that meant she was going to dress up. That meant we were going somewhere. So we went to Shreveport to where the opera was being held. I was sitting beside Daddy and Mother when the music began to get sad. I started crying. Daddy looked over and said "What's wrong with you, Mathilde?" I said, "The music makes me sad," Mother was furious and said," Please don't talk to here! I'm not going to leave here. I'm going to see this opera now! " Then Daddy said: " Well Fannie, I just can't stand to see her cry. I'm going to take her on outside. We'll just sit outside. I don't want to see her cry." So he took me outside.

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 206: Yard, Smoke-house, Ninock Lake]

Now I'd like to describe something [that] was outside of our house. Although... our house was not special, it was wonderful to me. Maybe this was because Mother selected so many beautiful flowers for our yard. I remember zinnias, larkspur, daisies, violets, roses, cannas, daffodils, phlox, and petunias. These flowers thrived in that wonderful land. I would often take my teachers bouquets of violets with long stems. I remember how good they smelled. Adding to the yard's beauty to me was a number of fruit trees. We had peach trees, apple trees, pear trees, and I had a grape arbor. We also had a nice pecan orchard out in front. In the back yard we had a smoke house where they would smoke the hams when we killed a pig. And that's where we got our sausage. The meat was wonderful.
About 100 feet from our house was Ninock ["Knee-knock"] Lake. Ninock Lake was named by the Indians when they came through the area many, many, many years ago. They prounounced it 'Nin-nack'. No one is sure about what this word means. Some say that it means 'White Lily' or 'White Flowers' because there were so many of those white lily-like flowers around. They grew profusely in ponds and in wet places. The important place that Ninock Lake had in my life will be discussed later.

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 234: The Commissary & the Commissary Table ]

There was a large commissary south of our house. That's where the Negroes would come every two months and get their groceries. Daddy had to keep an account of what they had spent, so he let me work the little adding machine for him. That's where I learned some of my arithmetic. I was bare-footed , so I'd often climb up and get items for Daddy off the shelves. He liked to have me out there.
His office was not big, but he had a large commissary table in there with a tall legs and places where the ledgers were kept. He would sit on a high stool and enter what Negroes had spent. When Bear Point was being sold, I asked if I could buy that big table and they said yes. I took the table to a German tablemaker in Shreveport and I said , "I want a table made out of this, for myself and I want these legs ground down." The poor fellow called me four weeks later and he said, "Lady, please, please can't you let me.. I've ground on these legs and I'll never get them down to the size of what you want to go with your table. I've got some pieces out here in the back of walnut. .Let me just take four of those pieces and make the legs."
I said, "Keep grinding, keep grinding. I want my table to be completely made out of the big old table. Keep grinding !" He said "Lady, its going to cost you." "Keep grinding" So he ground the legs down, and here's the little drop-leaf table that he made out of the great big old desk. He said, "Lady, I never worked so hard." And he said "It cost you a fortune. " I said, "I do not care." That's what I wanted.



[Tape 1, Side A, Index 268: Walking on fences and a popular song ]

Through the years we had three kind of fences around our house. The first fence had a wide board on top. The next fence was a picket fence. And the last was a pretty fence with wire on it. I learned to walk all around the yard on each one of these fences. The wide board was very easy and since I was always barefooted I liked to play on that. But the picket fence was very difficult and dangerous. But I carefully dodged the pickets. But the pretty fence, with the wiring on it, had a great big gatepost large enough to stand on. I used to stand on it and I would sing one of the popular songs of the day. One of the most popular at that time was "I'll be loving you always". It went like this......[Singing]

I'll be loving you....always/With a love that's true....always/When the things you've planned/
need a helping hand, I will understand, always, always.
Days may not be fair....always/ That's when I'll be there, always/ (And then I'd get loud) Not
for just an hour/ Not for just a day/ Not for just a year/ But always....

And there was nobody there to hear the little girl's voice because I was standing out in nowhere [Tape 1,

Side A, Index 296: Mary Elizabeth Brown Connell, Plantation Workers, Aunt Martha Mitchell Gatlin, and the visiting Fishermen]

Sometimes when I would be walking on top of the fences I would talk to the workers on the place as they came to bring the mules in. I can just hear the rattle of the chains on the mules. And the mules would be so tired. I'd go out there and tell the men, "Please don't whip those mules hard! They've been working hard all day. Don't you whip them!" And they'd say "We ain't going to whip them hard!" I knew all the workers by their first names: Oly Pickens, Horace Pickens, Jim Ready, Elison Ready, Frank Monroe, Joe Kimbell, Earl Monroe, Doc Johnson, Spragley Mareston, Leon Monroe, Rody Alford, and Jurden Walker.
One person that I remember in my lifetime is Mary Elizabeth Brown Connell. She lived at Adkins, La. and we had fun spending the day together. She was the only playmate I ever had in my life. No one else would come out to visit me because I lived so far in the country. But Mary Elizabeth lived close enough to come. She is still my very best friend. We graduated from High School at Elm Grove together and she lives in Shreveport now. We are so close that we call each other sisters.
I believe that one of the last living ex-slaves in this area lived on our place. She was old when Daddy brought her from Keatchie as a slave. Her name was Old Aunt Martha Mitchell Gatlin. She was part of our life. She had a little house about half-a-mile from where our house was and I would go down the dusty dirt road with my bare feet to see Aunt Martha. I would knock on her door and I would hear her praying. She prayed all the time. That was the first time that I ever heard anyone pray out loud. I would go in, and we'd talk for a while, and them she'd say "Come out and see my yard," . Her yard was clean swept just like a floor, but she grew all kinds of little flowers and rosebushes. She had peppers growing all in there, too. I loved to go through Aunt Martha Mitchell Gatlin's plants in her yard. She loved me and I loved her very much.
When it came time for her to get her groceries at the commissary every second week, Daddy would send for a sled that had a chair nailed onto it. He would send a young Negro boy with a mule hitched to the sled to go and get Aunt Martha. The mule would pull her down to where everyone was at the commissary getting their food for the week. I remember going over there with Daddy because he wanted me to work the adding machine for him every other Saturday. The Negroes would just [be] laughing and talking. But when Aunt Martha showed up, Daddy would say, "Everybody get quiet! Here comes Aunt Martha. Ya'll stop your laughing. Here comes Aunt Martha." And so Aunt Martha, like a queen, would get off of the chair and come into the commissary. Daddy would say, "Aunt Martha, anything you want you can have. Anything you want." She would get rice or flour or snuff or thread or anything in the store. She never had to pay for anything. When she was finished, Daddy would say "Aunt Martha, do you have everything you want, now?" "Yes, sir, I sure have," Then he would say, "Take her back." And the mule was hitched to the sled again and they took her back home
Now the other personality I wanted to talk about was the visiting fishermen that came to our house. When they came it was like Santy Claus time! The people from Shreveport thought they owed us a gift to go fishing , and they would leave things on the front porch. They brought books, .Japanese umbrellas, candies, magazines, anything they could think of to say thank you for letting them fish. We'd drive up and there'd be a present for me on the porch. One thing I liked better than anything they ever left was a little brown graphophone which played nursery rhymes[singing]

Old Mother Hubbard, she went to the cupboard to get her poor doggie a bone,
but when she got there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor doggie had none, had none.
So the poor doggie had none.

I thought the little graphophone was wonderful!


[Tape 1, Side A, Index 356 Mathilde goes to a Piano Concert by Paterifski ]

Once Daddy got hold of two tickets to see Paterrifski, the great Polish pianist. He came home and said
"I couldn't buy but two. The place is filling up to the top with people. I couldn't even get but two tickets," Mother said " Well, I know that counts me out." Because Daddy had said "I would love to take Mathilde to see him." And so Mother said "Well, I know what I'll do for her. I'll make her a royal blue velvet dress to wear, and I'll buy her some white, patent leather shoes and she'll have on some white gloves and a cute little hat. You take her, T.M.. and I'll make the dress for her And so Mother made the cute little dress. I felt very dressed up.
When we went into the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium it was filled to the very top. I watched that genius walk out onto that stage and I knew that he was the greatest pianist in the whole world. I could feel how great he was. He sat down at the piano and began to play. I had never heard such music. I didn't know that a human being could play like that. And so, I say, "Thank you, Mother," and "Thank you, Daddy" and "Thank you, Mr. Paterifski. I love your music."

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 375: Radio, Mathilde meets her future husband, electricity, telephone, the Dortch's bell]

We were always having some kind of music in our home. We had a radio. Daddy got the first one in the area. It was called a Super-Hetrodine. It had six boxes that you had to put on a long table. The boxes had knobs all the way down. At the end was a huge horn speaker. People came from all around to hear our radio. Mother hated the ugly thing in her living room. She hated that old long table, but couldn't do anything about that. One time we had some visitors from here at East Point: Mr. and Mrs. McLelland and their little, little tow-headed boy. [Mathilde] "Do I have to go out there, Mother?" Mother: "Yes, you have to go out there. You have to be nice." I wouldn't even look at him that night, but when I grew up I married him! That boy was Bill McLelland! [Laughing] I grew up and married him.
Daddy also had an electric generator in the garage. We had electricity before almost anyone else in the area, and then Daddy got Mother a phone. He made about four miles of line out to one of mother's friends. When she wanted to talk to her friend she'd r-r-r-r-ing that phone.

[Shanna] About what year was that, when he got the phone?
[Mathilde] I don't know when that would be., .about 1925 or 6, I guess. I was very young.

Now Daddy was a musician himself; he played a mandolin. We all played by ear, and we all loved music. We had a plantation bell that came from the steamer Dortch, which sank. My Daddy went when the river got low. The boat was down in the mud. Daddy went down there and dug up the boiler and the bell. Daddy used that bell on the plantation for many years. He used the boiler over in his gin. But I loved to ring that bell! We all loved to ring it.

[Tape 1, Side A, Index 403, carrying over to side B: The Tramp who looked like Jesus]

I doubt that you have ever seen a tramp, but we often saw them when I was young. These poor wandering men would stop by your house and beg for something to eat and something to wear. We had a special table on the back porch just for them. It was called the tramp's table. We were not afraid of the tramps.

[Side B] This happened on a very cold day. It had been rather warm and then, all of a sudden, this horrible blast of winter weather came in and it turned so cold that we couldn't believe it. Mother looked outside and saw one red rose left out on her bushes, and she said, "Let me go get that before it gets frozen tonight." She went out, clipped the rose, and put it into a vase. Later, a tramp came by and knocked on the door. I could saw his hands quivering. He said, "I'm SO cold. Could y'all help me with a little lunch?" And I said, "I think Mother has some left over, just sit here..." Then Daddy looked out. Mother said she'd fix him something and she even found an old sweater that Daddy didn't want anymore and she gave him that. That was the coldest man I'd ever seen. Daddy looked out there and said "Come on in here and warm your hands." Daddy had a fire going. When the man came in we could see what he looked like. He had long, wavy blond hair and he looked exactly like all the pictures of Jesus in the Bible do. He looked exactly like Jesus. He sat down and Daddy said, " Here warm your hands. Finally....Mother brought him something to eat and then she gave him the sweater. He said, "I thank you so much. I'll be on my way, now. " As he turned to go.I saw him looking up at the rose. I wondered what he was thinking about. Finally, when he left, he said, " Lady, I want you to know, that that red rose, is the prettiest thing I've ever seen in my whole life. " And with that he turned around to leave and every time I see red roses today, I think of the tramp who looked like Jesus.


[Tape 1, Side B, Index 49 Elm Grove School and the Declamation Contest]
Elm Grove was where I got my education, and also where I went to church. At Elm Grove school we had all of our plays. While I was there I had a school-teacher that had a great deal to do with my life. She was a mean, red-headed, high-tempered woman. She believed in all these declaration contests and she would help with the end of school programs. She knew stage props and directions, and she knew whether you were looking right or doing right, when on the stage.
I went to school at Elm Grove 11 years, and every year they had some big to-do at nighttime for the children to show off . It would be so crowded that you couldn't get a parking place around the school. This teacher decided that she wanted me to be in a declamation contest and compete against somebody else in the parish to see if Elm Grove could win. So we got hold of this sad little story about a teacher that was in a high flood with a little young child, and the child was gotten washed off and you didn't know whether the child was going to live again. And anyway, she had me trained like I was a....I was that teacher.....I was that teacher... I turned into her. She had drilled me that hard to do those things like that. She would laugh at me and make fun of me: [In a high, lilting voice:] " W---ell, I came to hear you speak, Mar-teel. I don't believe, sitting in this back row, I can hear your little, sweet voice. TALK LOUDER! YOU HEAR ME?" [Matilde] "Yes, ma'am, Miss Freeman[?]. I hear you." [Teacher, angry & mocking] 'And don't you ever dare turn your back to the people unless you're Betty Davis. And I don't think you're Betty Davis!." She [Betty Davis] was a fine actress of the day. She made fun...and she made all kind of fun. But I turned into be just a puppet for her.
And anyway, she.....I went to Plain Dealing, back to the place where I was born. And there was a declamation contest up there, parish-wide. And I didn't want to go cause [I was going back] to where my folks were at Plain Dealing. I didn't want to go. And the Plain Dealing school was large then. And I got out... and we all got out on the stage that night, and I looked over and the girl that was going to make a speech against me was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. She looked like a Barbie doll. She had on this long, beautiful dress, and they were trying to get her to go to Hollywood. She was so pretty and good-looking. And here I was in my little crepe de chine dress Mother had made me with the little pleated skirt and the little wide pink sash in the back, and my little shoes and socks on. And I said, " I don't have a.....I'll never have a chance against her." And then when they called out the names from the....her name was Mathilde [Mah-teel] Ogelsby. My name was Mathilde Gatlin. And we were sitting side by side to compete! [Laughing] I said....I started to cry, I said, " I don't know...I'm going to make a fool of myself." But I got up there and I remembered what Miss Freeman had told me: "Draw the audience to you. You make those audiences just as sad as you are, Mathide. Do you hear me? Do you HEAR me?" And, you know. So I got up there, and I thought about the little boy drowning in the story, and as I got toward the end of it, tears started running down my cheeks. I said, "Oh, Bobby, Please, Bobby, come back to me!" I would....and then when the thing was over....all of the said their parts, some boys were there and "THE WINNER IS.... MATHIDE....GATLIN." And there I was, and she lived in Plain Dealing. This girl lived in Plain Dealing. I nearly died. I thought, I said: "This can't have happened to me," I never had won anything in my life. But having won this, it gave me self-strength and I thought a little more of myself after that....I said "I can do that! I can do that!" So I was so proud I didn't know what to do.
And then in this Elm Grove School we have our good Sunday School teacher, a lady that when you go back you'll see a big old white... great big white store up there in Elm Grove. Its W.H. and C.B. Hodges'. Well this lady was in that family and she taught...she made Bible study to us just a wonderful thing. And that's what it did. And we would go over there a buy a 'Black Cow'....at recess. It was a thing on a stick and it was black, and you could lick on it all day, and it cost a nickel. [Laughing]

Now on the sides of that place at Elm Grove as it is now, they had two slides down from the second story. That's where I got all my learning for any kind of plays or anything, right there. And, but you could ride down that slide, but you had to pay a penny. It had a place over there. You could go just as many times as you want, but you've got to pay the penny. So that was the way they were going to pay for the thing, make it do that. Cause they didn't have.....

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 141. Naughty Things ]

Now, the next thing is 'Naughty Things'. I would wrap pretty packages up and put them in the middle of the highway. The tall cotton would completely hide me. I didn't have to wait long before maybe a fine car would come up with a chauffeur in it. Then... all.... they had these open cars then and lots of times packages fell out on the road. It happened to people. I would wait and look. And one time this big shot fellow came and the man that was driving with all the uniform on looked and looked, saw the package down in the middle of the highway. He said something, I was watching in the cotton, hiding, and so the man...here the chauffeur got out, got out of his car and went and picked the package up and looked left and right and then he put the package quickly in the car. They drove off. What they didn't know of it [was that] when they would open [it] they would find that the box was full of sand! I'd do that for fun! [laughing]. That was my meanness!

Now, my playmate Mary Elizabeth Brown Connell and I would love to dart at the old bull who was lying in the shade out there by the barn and we would figure out a safe place to run if he would get after us. We would go and dart at him and if he.. but, we thought that was so much fun to do that. Only one time when we passed by him he stood up, and when he did that we ran so fast we never did fool with that bull again. We were so scared. Never again.
And then, we had a large pipe by the commissary. It was one that Daddy had for draining . It was gray. It was pretty big size. So I went over and I got my graphophone out and I put it at the end of this pipe and when the Negroes would go in to buy their groceries and everything I would say , " Y'all come out here. You got to listen to my graphophone down here." And they'd have to get down on their knees and listen to my graphophone through an iron pipe. I'd say, "You got to pay me a nickel to hear it." So they'd get down on their knees and listen to....[Workers:]"Oh yeah! I hear it!" [Mathilde] "You hear my pretty music down here? " [Workers] "Yeah. We hear you. We hear, Miss Mathilde." They kept going in the store and asking Daddy for nickels, and Daddy started [asking?] ....."What are y'all getting these nickels [for]?" And when Daddy found out what I.....that clipped that! I never did get to do that again!

[Tape 1 Side B, Index 177: Bad Things]

And now, ' Bad Things'.....Bad Things [of this?]. I tried to use a large, round washtub for a boat. The water was about five feet deep in a slough and I grabbed hold of a paddle and got in this round tub and of course the first thing that happened to me when I got in the water was that the tub flipped completely over and down I went into the mud and the slub and the everything like that. And Mary Elizabeth, my dear friend, was standing on the bank screaming with laughter. She had never...[That was] one of the crazy things I thought to do.
And a terrible thing, though, that we did, was to climb up in to the second story of the hay-barn and with us we took a box of matches and also took some grape vines we were going to roll to make cigarettes out of. We were going to make cigarettes out of that grape vine. And if we had lit...we tried it one time and it didn't....the grape vine deal didn't work. If we had gotten one spark...all that hay- barn would have gone straight up and we would all burned....we both would have burned to death before we could have gotten down off that second story.
And then I decided to give all of...when I was little bit smaller than that...I decided to give all of Mother's pretty zinnias a haircut. I used Mother's best scissors. I trimmed every one of those zinnias all until [there were] nothing but nubs there. Now you can understand at that point Mother went and got her peach-tree switch, and she, she handed it to me for doing, for cutting her zinnias. I thought.... I said, "Mother, I was just giving them a haircut. " Cutting all her pretty zinnias up. And so Mother used the peach-tree switch that and another time when I wandered too far up the road. She told me, "Don't you go that far." And Mary Elizabeth and I went. And when we turned around we looked way down the road and we saw Mother standing at the end with her switch. And Mary Elizabeth said, " Is....is Miss Fannie going to. Is she...is she going to whip me, Mathide?" I said, "No, she's not going to whip you, but oh, my goodness, she's going to whip me!" And she did. She whipped me good.


[Tape 1, Side B, Index 206: The Cotton Gin and Driving a Car]

Now, now too much longer. Now, a trip to the cotton gin. This gin was located like a lot of the plantation gins were, right on the railroad track-the LR&N at that time, and they had many.....they had all of them, most everybody had to have one. And so, but it was an adventure for me to go. I was allowed, you wouldn't think so, but I was allowed to wander through that whole gin by myself. 'Course the Negroes were all in there working the different things. But I wondered....I would go by these...I was allowed to walk close by these loud-sounding, hard-working...this machinery that was turned. .... And I was turned loose to go to do what I wanted to. I would watch them, how they would pull these things and make this, put all this loose cotton in and watch that great big pressure come down on it and mash it down to a cotton bale. It was real interesting to see it. But I don't know why I was doing that. But they seemed to trust me with things like that. Like I wouldn't stick my finger in it, that I'd know better than to stick my finger in one of those cut[ting] things....to cut myself to death. But she knew that the workers, Mother did, knew that Oly Pickens, who was there, would watch me every....and so I loved to watch all this to see how the cotton was done. For that reason....and I loved to smell the cotton. I love to smell it to this day. And it would be ready to send off.
At this time, Daddy decided I should drive a car. But, oh, such happiness! However, I had one little thing that was wrong. He said, "Baby, when you gonna go forward on the road here, don't shift backwards." Cause I shifted one time and we went sailing backwards. "Don't do that, baby,"

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 230: Christmas Time]

Now, more nice happenings. At Christmas time we'd put lights on two little bushes we had out in our yard. The lights could be seen far up the road, because there were no other lights shining anywhere else. And they were colored lights. And it was really pretty. And each year I had to fill up brown paper sacks with an apple, an orange, a gift and a lot of hard candy that Daddy would buy up at Elson, Prince and McDade in Shreveport. And we would, and I would put them..... and all who got these presents were the little children on the place that were 10 years old or less. And so they would each be given a sack. And so when they would come down, at about dusk on Christmas, and you could hear them laughing and talking and singing as they were coming down the road. And they [were] laughing and singing and....when I handed those children that sack, that brown paper sack, and I looked at those faces when they got those presents, to them....when we gave it to them, I experienced the true Christmas Spirit that is hard to find today.

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 245 Christmas during the Depression]

Y'all holding on with me? Now what is a depression. A depression is a time when my parents started looking so worried. When it was time when my mother had to make all my clothes. I t was the time when you didn't go on trips. It was a time when people had to work for less, and it was a time when I learned that you could do all your study work and all your spelling and your arithmetic and you could learn it on a poor little cheap blackboard that would stand up with.....you had a little handful of chalk. You can learn that way, too. I learned that my parents, what all they were giving up, the things they were doing to help me. I learned that the old worn-out Mother Goose-that's the Mother Goose book right there- I learned that the old Mother Goose book that Mother had read so many, many hundreds and thousands of times to me was making my reading easier....easy. But I could not believe that when I got to be in the 7th grade at the [?] that my parents at this horrible time could give me a bicycle. That's what I got for Christmas. And I ran.....it was too cold to go outside. I got on the porch....that was my mistake: I tried to ride the bicycle on the porch and I couldn't ride it very well and round the side of the porch I went and flying out into the air and landed in Mother's rose bush. That was what happened.

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 263. Huey Long and Hwy. 71]

And then, this highway [Hwy. 71]. This highway...it was time for the highway to be concreted by our home. And Daddy was one of the few men in South Bossier Parish who ever voted for Huey P. Long. You may have heard of him. But, our relatives didn't even vote for him. Said, 'cause he was a dictator. And so, still Daddy went and voted for him every time. So he never missed one time. So the time came to build that concrete highway down our way. The engineers had planned it way over there by the railroad tracks, close to the woods. And that would cut our place all off from everything. So, Daddy found out about this and we took a trip to Baton Rouge, the farthest I'd ever been away from town. Well, we went on the train, slept on the train that night, and I, I didn't sleep a wink. I thought that was the most wonderful thing in the world. Well, anyway, we arrived in Baton Rouge the next morning and went to the Capitol building and got to the office of the Lt. Governor, his name was O.K. Allen. And so, we walked in there and two nice young men greeted us and asked, he said, "Are you Mr. Thomas Mitchell Gatlin that we're talking with?" And Daddy said, "I'm.....That's who I am," and so he assured them [of] that. So they brought out the hugest map, I remember how big it looked to me as a little girl, great big map. And they laid it down. And then they handed the .....Mother and I wondered and waited what they were fixing to do next, and so, one of them leaned over and handed Daddy a pencil. "Mr. Gatlin, will you please take this pencil and draw the highway where you think it ought to be?" I didn't know....so I watched Daddy make the line. He said "I want it right here going through the Bear Point Place on through the Marston Place, I don't want it way over there in the hills where its going to be down in mud and slu.....This is where I want it." So the engineer said, "Mr. Gatlin, we will put that road EXACTLY where you say you want it" Politics raises its neck...head. Now, here he said, "Is there anything else you would like?" Daddy said, "Well, there is this one thing. (says) There's this tree up there by that road , by the road now, and I planted it when I was a young man and came down here, and we used it to work with the farm equipment under the shade of it. I just think I like that tree too much. I hate to see y'all cut it down when you do the highway. " Daddy said," Could you move the highway over just a little bit so that tree wouldn't have to be cut down?" The tree is standing there today. The highway is still there. You will see it on your way back home [to Bossier]. Its the only tree that stands that close to the highway from
w--a--y from Bossier City and all up, nowhere, and these engineers agreed, "That's fine, Mr. Gatlin, We'll do that, too." So when we came home the highway was soon under construction and Daddy had the last laugh. All the men who had called him crazy for voting for Huey P. Long....and so every time the men would....every time that I go by that tree though, now, I smile to myself. Cause I remember how Daddy's friends used to say things like this," Gatlin, you an educated man. Why in the world would you dare vote for that dictator Long?" Daddy said, "I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why. I see poor little children able to go to school now 'cause the free school-books have been given to them by Long. And I look out there on a road I've never seen anything but gravel and I see wonderful, beautiful concrete coming all down these roads and going all through these farms. And I drive down to the southern part of the state and see these wonderful new bridges he's put across our rivers...That's why I voted for Huey P. Long." And they didn't have much else to say then after that.
Many years after I graduated from Louisiana Tech and was allowed to go on a trip to New York as my graduation present. We had to go in one of those tacky little yellow buses that Tech takes you around in. So we stopped, we had to stop completely in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, all of us Tech children. You couldn't move. There were four or five wide. You couldn't move. We were stopped. And all of a sudden we heard a car from way 'cross the way say, " Hey, there's Huey Long's children!" and pointed over there to us. Way across there...in the middle of the bridge. And we waved at them and said "Hello.....Goodbye".

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 319 Bonnie and Clyde visit Bear Point]
So now, 'Unwanted Visitors to Bear Point". Almost every plantation has something special to tell about happenings there. These things are sworn to be true, and I always really thought this to be true. Frank Monroe, one of our most trusted workers, lived over by the Railroad track down in a large field. There, he was the only family in that area. A little road led to the very end of the place that, where the old bears used to walk. So he...but something happened funny that night that scared that man to death. He said that overnight a strange car came up way over in the field and he said they closed all the shutters on their door and wouldn't even open it 'cause they looked out and they saw a man and a woman, and they had guns everywhere. And they had this open car kind of thing, but guns everywhere. And they were out working on the guns and Frank, he was so scared that the next morning when he came down, he could hardly speak. His voice was trembling so, and he gave this description of this great big old car and so Daddy said, and he said. So two or three days we saw the horrible picture in the Times where these two people were shot to death in Gibsland, La. and the people that had been looking....those folks had been looking for so hard had been freed from the killer thieves because they had gotten rid of .....Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and the girl that accompanied [him]. And a sign is made of stone there today where they were killed. So the old Bear Point had this uninvited guest that turned around and made a little bit of bad history there. The fact that this interesting little road that the bears crossed and that the cotton gin was on and the criminals came and that is interlocked now with Dam Number 5. It runs right into Dam Number 5.

[Tape 1, Side B, Index 343: Horses and Bird Hunting]

And now, one, two more things. Do you want me to continue or not? My daddy and mother owned some horses and they rode around on the place quite often. Mother's horse was named Dixie and Daddy's was named Button. Sometimes Daddy would get on Button and go through the fields just a little while and go hunting and he would take the dogs with him, wouldn't be gone long but in a short while he would come back and he'd have his pockets full of birds. He had seen any number of quail out there and had shot them and the dogs would retrieve the birds, would rear up on the horse's side [and] Daddy would take the quail out of their mouth and put it in his....[pocket]. That's the kind of hunting he did. And I always thought that was mighty fine hunting. But we always had all the quail we could possibly eat.


[Tape 1, Side B, Index 353: Di]

And now I go back to Di. Now I'll tell you who Di was. My parents brought me from Plain Dealing when I was five days old and we went to our home at Bear Point. And as they were taking me out of the car, they were met by a tall Negro. She wore a long dress and she had a long, white apron on and a solid white cap on. And she came forward. My daddy got a picture of this. She came forward toward me and held out her arms and she said, "Here's my baby!" She took me in her arms and I have that picture of that scene still. And I called her Di. Don't ask me....I couldn't even talk. But I called her 'Di', just like the princess Di of England. I don't know where I got that in my mind. I have no idea. But that was what her name was. And she's the only person I've ever known to be named Di except the princess....I don't have any.....of England. Well, now OUR Di was a cook. a nurse, a live-saver and a loving friend. She lived close behind our house and she moved only when she was too old to work. When Mother wanted to go shopping in Shreveport, she would take me, sit in a waiting room all day long with me while Mother shopped.
One day I found some white glass broken on the floor, plain, like a light glass. And I loved ice. And I had reached down to grab it....I had grabbed all that [and[ was putting it in my mouth trying to chew it up and Di saw me and she quickly grabbed me by the...mouth and she, with her dishrag, she wiped all of that glass out of my mouth. And I'm sure it would have killed me if I had gotten any of that glass down me.
And when I was in the 3rd grade I decided that Di should learn to read. And Mother had read so many nursery rhymes to me that I knew them by heart. I thought I could teach Di, so I made a string of A B Cs. And I strung them around the kitchen....in the kitchen where she was. And I said, "Now, Di, while you're cooking I want you to look up here and look these A B C's. You can't read until you learn your A B Cs. Now you try to learn them while you're cooking," And I thought that she might, you know, do that. But that was to no avail. She was.....she said, " Baby, I can't learn that," I said, "Well, Di." So I began going to her house at night. And her husband, Jurden Walker would make a fire on cold nights and I would read parts of the Bible to her, the ones she loved especially, and the special story about the first Thanksgiving that she (was) just loved. And I believe she enjoyed me reading to her better than anything that ever happened to her. Because she just loved all those stories. And Di would pick out little pecans and put them for me on my lap while we would sit there and eat. And her bed had a huge, puffed up feather bed. That thing was just puffed up like ! And was just, it was just spotless. I never understood how she could keep that bed so puffed up and so nice. But she did.
But afterI would be there a while Di would disappear. She would go to the dresser drawer and get a mug out of it, right in a certain spot. She would turn around and she would leave us, she would go back to the back room. And when she came back, she would have a drink in my cup and it was made from....and she called it "Figlum" 'cause it was made from figs, pear hulls, apple hulls, peach hulls, and then she'd add a lot of sugar to it and some water and you'd put it down in a crock and let it stay there about two or three months....the way she'd do it. And after that, what would you have? You would have this wonderful drink. So I drank it all the time with Di over there, but made one bad mistake. I thought it was wonderful, but I made the mistake when I said, "Mother sure does make a good drink over there. " And Mother says, "What are you talking about?" And I said, " Well, she calls it figlum. But it has all kinds of good stuff in it. And Di makes it and its just great tasting. " And we found out that what Di was making was wonderful tasting cider. That's what I was drinking all this time, just loving it. I never have tasted anything better.
Sometimes it would rain while I was over there those hours and she would get her old, dirty, brown coat and put it on top of my head and carry me back to the house. And on the way she'd say, " No rain ain't gettin on you, bless your soul!"
And so she saved me from a high fall from a pecan tree one time when I was hanging like and monkey and drop myself down. I was afraid, and she came running. I called, "Di, Di, come get me!" She came running and finally talked me into falling into her arms. And at some times she would, [she] kinda saved me twice, but sometimes when we didn't have anything to do much ....it would be raining or something, well we would go into the living room and play and sing together on the piano. I could play by ear and she, her precious song was:

Work a day for Jesus/ He will thank you for your labor/ Work a day for Jesus/
Work, Work today/ Here we all are standing......[tape cuts off].


[Tape 2, Side A, Index 0000: Di (continued)]
[Di used a couple of words that Mathilde never could understand.....]
....and the word was 'denuit'. D-E-N-U-I-T If we would dress all up she would say, "Oh, Baby, you look denuit in that! " [Ed. note: may have been a corruption of the French "de nuit" - " of or pertaining to night time. ] And she didn't know and I said.......and I said. And another expression was a description of people who are not working: "They just palarving around." And I believe that word "Palarving" ....I looked it up. I believe it came from a south African....south Africa....because I read that they have palarving places... its.kind of like you'd stop to go to a drug store and talk and drink and talk and its a place when you quit working and they called it 'palariving around". She'd say, "They're just palarving around," that meant they weren't doing any work. I never knew where Di ever learned this word. I wish I knew where she got it.....somewhere from...
Well Di left Bear Point when I went off to college. She was getting too old to work. And I was sad when we parted, and in about a year I decided to go find her in Shreveport. She lived on Looney street in a little old house sitting way up on a high hill, and you would have to walk up the steep steps to get up to her. And I finally got there and I saw her sitting on the porch swing. And I had brought her a great big box of candy. And I started making my way up there and she turned around and looked down those steps and saw me she started screaming and crying and you might guess what she said; Here's what it was: "There's my baby!" [Laughing] And I said.....we talked and we cried together. And I never saw her again. 'cause she died and I didn't know about what time it was or when, but maybe I [will] see her somewhere in the far, far future. Maybe somewhere, sometime. And if I do, I'm sure I'll say, "Hello, Di," and she'll say, " Here's my baby!" I'm sure of that.

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 46: Mathilde's Husband in WWII]
This is "Ninock Lake". Ninock Lake dried up during the sad time of WWII. The levee had broken and caused it to dry up. A big growth of willow trees grew down the middle of the lake, and my husband-to-be had gone off to fight in the South Pacific. And I had gotten a terrible thing from the Red Cross telling me that they had no hope that he would live. He had received the terrible news that he had been shot in the lung, and it was most likely that he would not ever live. And I got this letter, this thing from the Red Cross, I was at Bear Point when I did. And I did the strangest thing I've ever done in my life. I'm just not like that. I walk out of the house.....didn't say anything to anybody....I walk down to the Ninock Lake. I walk out to the middle of the Lake, where the cracked ground was, where the willows were higher than this room. I got down on my knees in that cracked ground and I asked and begged God to please save my husband-to-be. Please. I never have prayed, I'm not that kind of person, ordinarily. I don't remember how....what I was half saying. I was begging God to please save him. Well, in about 3 weeks, I received a letter from that dying man and he said this, he said: "I got too close to the Japs, and got a slug in my lung. But I'm going to make it, and I'm coming back home in about 3 months." He did, and we got married. How about that? So that.....[?].

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 81: Dr. Sax]
Now, this last thing was the one I told you about, 'The Challenge of the Brilliant Mind," You haven't heard it. Do you want me to tell it? A young mind challenging a brilliant mind. I went to La. Tech. We had a....I was lucky enough to have a doctor Sax as my English teacher; everybody loved him. He was the most popular one in the whole place. My sorority had chosen him to be one of the sponsors, and he always....he went to our banquets every year, but something happened that year. Something happened to Dr. Sax, and he said he wasn't going this year. And everybody said, "Why, why? ," And so, he claimed he didn't get an invitation but really what happened [was that] the little girl hadn't mailed all the invitations. This is what happened to Dr. Sax. So he had refused to come and represent us. So I was appointed to go to his office and learn what was happened to that strong man, to that very, very smart man. So I walked into his office and I said, "Dr. Sax, I have come to ask you what in this world is happening to you. Why in this world are you refusing to come to our banquet . What has happened to you?" I assured him that he had gotten [an invitation]; he wouldn't pay any attention to that. "I don't care what I. Y'all didn't send me a, You just didn't send me one." And I said, " What, what in the world are you thinking about. Would you please explain it to me some way? Tell me why you feel this way?" He says, " I'll tell you why. It's because my name is Sax, and its Jewish!" And he came back. And I said....it was the time of this holocaust thing, like they have ever so often, where the Jews, you know, are persecuted. And he had that in his mind. And He had the thing crossed in that brilliant head of his that he didn't get a....he... "They didn't invite me, They didn't invite me 'cause of the holocaust and because my name's Sax. I'm a Jew, I'm Jewish, that's Jewish, so they didn't invite me. So I'm not going to go!" Well now, when I learned that. When I heard him say that, I go so mad that I thought I would die. And I got....I had to use all the things that I knew how to do that Miss, my teacher had taught me how to do what to do if you've got to make somebody believe you. And so I walked...I said, "I do not believe that any man with the intelligence that you have could possibly be that crazy, idiotic. How could your brain do such an idiotic?..." I said, " Do you....What are you doing to the people of our sorority? Saying, or blaming us for doing some idiotic thing that we would never dream of doing." I said, "Dr. Sax is a beloved name. Have you lost your mind, Dr. Sax?" I said. And he said, " I'm not going. I'm not going to go." And then's when I turned it on. I turned on everything. I said, "All right! You don't go! But if you don't go to it, I'm not going!" I started crying "Just don't go, Dr. Sax. But its idiotic the way you're acting. If you don't go to our banquet, I'm not going either. You hear me?" And he looked back at me like that. He said, "Calm down, Gatlin." I said, "I'm trying to calm down. I've never heard of such a ridiculous thing coming out our somebody's intellectual head like you have. I don't believe you!" And I was crying, tears were running down...I was.... so he said, "Gatlin, quit crying. Quit crying, Gatlin. Now calm down." So I kinda calmed down. He said, "I'm coming to the...I'm coming to the banquet." He came, and he never missed another one. His head, an intellectual, a challenge, that mind of his went just berserk when he knew that thing was going on and he got that idea in his head and that's what can happen to a brilliant mind when it gets going in the wrong direction. Just looked like that.

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 147]

Now, all my life, this is the ending. All my life I have lived next to the Marston family, and we shared the love of Ninock Lake and they taught me how to ride on that flying surfboard [a ski-board that was attached to the back of a boat]. After I married Bill McLelland, and he was kin to the Marstons. I was invited to travel with them to various places all over the world, and they didn't have any children and they just wanted somebody to go with them. And boy, I was so happy! They let me go with them, and they took me to see.....I went to 13 countries of the world, 13 countries: Italy, France, everywhere...even went into China. I went to everywhere. So in this I saw the beauty of the world that I never would have seen again in my lifetime. And so, this Miss Abby Marston that came hurrying down.....this shows how they've been in my life.....this old lady came hurrying down when I was born and they were naming [me] Marteal...
M-A-R-T-E-A-L, and she came flying up there and slid to a screeching stop in her Ford car and came running in, "T.M. what in the world do you mean by spelling this child's name the wrong way? You must spell it the French way. That's Mathilde! M-A-T-H-I-L-D-E! Now, the only people who can pronounce my name is after you get past Alexandria [French & Cajun descent], now these people up here. They can't pronounce it. They don't know how to spell it. But you've got to get down [to] South Louisiana....[imitating] "Oh! Mathilde! Oh I know that....we can spell your name." I'm telling you that. So things that....so what I want to say this in the end. What in the world did a little girl, living way, way out in the country all by herself. How did she get along with herself? Was she bored? Was she sad? Was she withdrawn? Or was she happy. Well, I say to this, a thousand times no! She had true....one...two wonderful parents....they did everything possible for her. The main thing was, love was all through our families....we loved each other. And I have this little poem here that was given to Mary Martin, and I'm sure y'all know it. When she was getting ready to walk out on the stage many years ago. She was a famous singer. And she walked out on the stage and this man said this to her...she was kind of nervous and he said this to her. You know it:
A bell is not a bell until you ring it
A song is not a song until you sing it
But love is not love until you give it away.
And that's what he told her when she walked out. And I signed that, and I have a ......

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 190: Bears at Bear Point]

I forgot to tell you why Bear Point was named Bear Point. One day I asked Daddy, "Why, Daddy, why did my great-grandfather name this place Bear Point?" And he said, "Get in the car and I'll show you." We went up there to right there where that famous road[Hwy. 71] is now, going over the dam. And daddy walked out in the middle...in the highway there. Where....you can cross it in the car as you go north.. He held his arms out, East and West. He said, "The beautiful black bears used to make a migration from the country (?), passed over there where the gin, way in the hills. They would come down and cross this road and go right where dam # 5 is now and they would search for food and the river would be low and your great-grandfather used to watch those bears from the porch of his house. He could see them making those trips. And he thought they were so pretty that he named his plantation Bear Point after them. And I said, " Daddy, did my great-granddaddy ever shoot at them and kill them, you know?" He said, "No, they didn't bother him and he didn't bother them." But he thought they were so pretty, and that's why its Bear Point. And that's the end of the Bear Point thing.

[Tape 2, Side A, Index 209 The Steamboat Dortch]

The boat is another deal. It sank across the Lake. Right after the Civil War, boats like that started going around what's East Point Lake now....used to be Red River. And these boats would start...started right after the Civil War, and I think a boat just like that....I think that one...held cotton, and they.... and it came around the bend there kind of, and must have hit a snag up under, that's the only thing, a cypress snag, that's the only thing we can figure out. No people...no body....but it just went DOWN like that! And sank way down into that water, deep under that thing, and that was kind of ..... You could go down the back of our house and look angling off the thing and there it was. You could see where it was. For a while it stuck up so you could see it, then it sank more down into that mud. And now its down there. Guess how I got that? [The model] They....the engineers came through here and took definite notes on all the places. They were looking for Indian artifacts. As they came through...it was several years ago....they found this story of this old captain was writing to get this very boat made. And he couldn't write. He made every kind of mistake. He was writing to a man in Ohio. He wanted him to build that boat for him. And he told him inch by inch what he wanted about it and it was found in the archives in Washington, D.C.! You know, they....you had to turn in your boat and number like you'd have to have a license plate. That boat had a number and a name. And this nice lady in Washington, D.C. looked up that information and found it out....exactly that old fellow how he wanted that boat made. And so I wrote to this smart man over in Arcadia that makes boats, and I said, "Could you possibly make that boat for me?" And he said, "Well, I make them all the time. Yes, Ma'am. And you got this perfect story about this old man, exactly what he had. I can make it to the T." So that's how my boat got made. And Jimmy Marston, the Marston boy, has his made. He had a picture to show the man. But I had the measurements and everything. That's exactly like that boat was when it went down under right after the Civil War.
[Shanna] "So that is the actual boat?" [Mathilde] That's it. That's the actual model of it. Exactly, to the....and we had the measurement of how long the boat was. Well, he took the...he took it and made it that many in replica....inches in relation to it. And he did a marvelous job. Every little detail he's put in that thing. And you can see the wood you throw in the thing. Its unbelievable how he did that. So I'm really proud that I came from Bear Point. And I'll tell you one thing. I may have missed some things in life, but I know I haven't missed many of them.

[Tape2, Side A, Index 247: Conclusion]
And as I grow old, I think I see the things that are happening now and the people. We're so different. We used to....you know....people used to live by sayings. You know. They had the funny little sayings. And you could say, " You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. You know, funny thing's like that." They went by those. Well, you don't hear people saying those things. And they'd say, "He's dumb as a bunny," or "He's nutty as a fruitcake." But people just don't talk like that anymore. But they used to say that. I have a collection of those things, what people have said. "Tell me with whom you associate and I'll tell you who you are." You know, all that kind of....and people kind of lived by those things. But I just thought...you never hear anything like that. So that's about all I have to say....but I tell y'all, and I'll say it again. I thank you for making me do this. I mean, telling me you wanted it done. And I thank all these people I've asked questions and I've looked up all kind of historical things that I can, that I have. And I know that this would please my daddy and my mother so much that they would just....I feel like that they would just enjoy every bit of it. But I do have the memory, because I would say, "Daddy there's your." ...I tried to get as much as anything as I could. And I think I'm almost a little bit too much.
But those shades have been the most outstanding thing we've ever had. And I've never seen.....people ask me and the man said, "That is rare, Lady. You've got something there." So I said...and then, when I got my young son, he's a pilot, he flies 747s for United Airlines. And they stay gone all the time. She flies and he flies. She is from....New York, Long Island. And he's from the cotton patch! Well, they get along together beautifully. They are as happy as a lark! And I said, "Here comes a damn Yankee!" [Laughing] You know what we called them. It would be one word: "He's a damnyankee."
But anyway....she is the dearest, sweetest, most wonderful in-law girl that could be. And she'll take care of those shades with her very life. She can't imagine....and when I gave her all my silver. I'm giving...just giving anything they saw, just take it....and these people said, "You don't mean you gave them the shades?" I said, " Well, I have used those shades all of my life. It came his time to use those shades." And let him.....here's my silver. I said, " You want this sack of silver?" I thought that Yankee girl would die. I thought she was going to faint. She said, " You don't....you don't mean that you're giving us your silver!" I said, "Why not? Here, take it." And I enjoyed giving it. And she...they have parties up at Shreveport....she uses that pretty silver. And it wouldn't do anything just sitting down here. So that's the way I feel about it.

Now, let me get y'all a little ice cream......


People McLelland, Mathilde Gatlin
Search Terms Agriculture
Bear Point Plantation
Ninock Lake
Steamer, Nat F. Dortch
Steamboats
Notes 2nd Copy Transcribed Interview with Mathilde McLelland: Archives-Shelf G-4; Box G20
Lexicon category 8: Communication Artifact
Interview date 1997-07-15
Interview place At her home in East Point, La
Recording media Cassette Tape
Lexicon sub-category Documentary Artifact
Inventoried date 2011-08-21