ORAL HISTORY: Questions for David Mitchell
April 14, 2014
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cape Charles Historical Society has for more than a decade been recording oral histories of the area’s earlier days. A grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities enabled 15 interviews to be transcribed, and the Historical Society has made this one available for readers of the Wave. All the transcriptions may be read at the Cape Charles Museum.)
David Mitchell speaks April 12, 2001
[Audience]: “What are you doing now?”
I do odd jobs. I cut grass. Mrs. Restine was the first person I cut grass for and I did it up until she died. In fact, I bought my first lawn mower in 1959 and I’ve been cutting grass ever since then. I don’t go out and look for work, it’s just a few people I do it for. As I told the man the other day, I don’t want to go out and them tell me I need to get a license. It’s a charitable thing mostly. This young fellow [indicates Clarence Smaw] over there, he helps me out at church. He’s retired from the railroad. He said he noticed at the church anytime they needed somebody to do something, they always called on me. He said, when I retire, I’m going to help him. So he’s been 100%. This other young man [indicating James Braxton], he’s at the church, we’ve been pals for many, many years.
We used to go out once or twice a year for a day, just the three of us. The driver was the only one who knew where they were going. Sometimes you could change your mind, but nobody would know because you were the only one who knew where you were going. Like what happened to him, he was going to work on a Monday morning and we were out on a Sunday run. He said, isn’t it something, I’ve got to come right back up the road tomorrow and go to work. He worked up in Delaware. Well, I was heading up that way, so when I got in Delaware, I turned and changed my plan and went to Baltimore. I didn’t want to go over the same route he was going to go over! We would just have a lot of fun riding, talking, and stopping with no particular place to go and no time to get there. We used to do it quite often, but after my son got sick and my wife’s mother got up in age, she had to look after her. We haven’t been out, but we hope someday soon we will be.
I had a fun experience with Herb Lovitt. He and I used to have a little talk about different things and I would disagree just to get him wound up. He got a little upset one night, got a little rough. I was riding with him — one night I would drive carrying us to work and he would drive the next — I said to him, “You wait until we get home and I’m going to tell you something.” He was very quiet all the way home and he didn’t know what was going to happen. So I got out of the car and just said, “So long, Herb, have a nice day!” And he was shocked.
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I had some beautiful people that I have met taking tolls and working at the ferries. I still stay in contact with some of the people. I love people, I love being around them.
[Jan Neville]: David, do you have any good Boy Scout stories to tell?
Jan and I used to deal with the Boy Scouts here and he and I worked together for a while. He was an amazing man and I was his assistant. We had a lot of fun. In fact, I think I enjoyed being in the Scouts more than the kids did! We took them on a bicycle ride down to Oyster and I remember this kid’s dog came galloping across the field to come after us. I stayed back to keep the dog from getting them. We had fun and we had campouts. I love the outdoors and I still do.
[Jan Neville]: We had Cliff Lewis and Frank Fitzhugh and Rev. Davis. We would go camping and one time we went camping and we forgot our cooking gear and we couldn’t let the kids know!
[Woman asks how big the dairy herd was.]
There were about 30 to 35 cows that we hand milked every day. I was talking to Vivian the other night and was trying to tell her how to milk one! The milk machines came in later before the dairy closed down. But the majority of the time, I did the milking by hand. Like I said, we had to do it twice a day. Something else about the cows, when we put them out to pasture after they had eaten, they would lie down and relax in the shade and chew the cud, you know. I could just go out and whistle and I would see their heads pop up. “Come on now,” I would holler. One by one, you would see them getting up and moving toward you slowly. They were almost like people, they understood when it was time to go to work. I would say, “Give the milk.” They had stalls in the barn and each one would go in the same stall, they knew which stall to go in. They were trained. There were 24 or 26 stalls and each one went in the same stall each time they would go out and come back in. It’s amazing.
Do you remember the prices of the milk at that time?
I really can’t remember. It was really low prices. [Woman says she remembers the cream on top of the milk.] Yes, the cream was always on top. After they started pasteurizing and homogenizing, you don’t see the cream anymore. It used to get old, he wouldn’t sell it as fresh milk, so when it got old we would bring it home. My aunt used to put it in a container and we would shake it and make butter.
For working there, Mr. Gladstone gave me three pigs to raise. I used to ride a bicycle and get scraps off the ferries. I could put a barrel up on the bicycle and ride it. I carried bread crumbs, whatever, to my pigs. My uncle had one and I had three. He built a smoke house on the back hill. He killed the pigs, the hogs at least, hung them up in the yard and cut them out and put them in the smoke house and preserved them so we had meat for the winter. We gave some of it away and we ate most of it.
I used to deliver papers also door to door — the Virginian-Pilot. Mr. Eli Cole, he used to work at the bank. He delivered papers and I would help him out at times. There was a gossip sheet that we used to have in town, called the Telegram. That came out of New Jersey; I used to sell that. That was the cause of me getting my first automobile. I got a 1941 Plymouth in the year of 1946. And I paid $895 for it and I worked for it and I paid for it!
Let me tell you about the school. I was at the school over the hump here and they were weighing the students and measuring them for their height. As I said, I always liked to have my own money. So I always kept a few pennies on me, not a lot, but I always had money. When they were coming into our classroom, you had to take your shoes off and get on the scales to be weighed. I remember that day I had on a pair of socks that had a hole in it. I knew they would laugh me right out of the classroom. They stopped weighing just before we left for lunch. When we went out for lunch, I left that school running and came over here to the Five and Ten and bought myself a pair of socks and ran back over to school. Went down to the lavatory there and put those socks on. I threw them over the back there, where there were woods, and they got hung up in a tree there. I wasn’t going to go get them, so I went on into school. So they weighed everybody, got to me and I pulled off my shoes and I felt good, because I was in bad shape before. When we went out for the 15-minute break, the guys were down there laughing and I went down to see what it was all about. They were laughing at these ragged socks up the tree. I started laughing at them! They didn’t know what it was all about!
I said that to say this: I worked; I didn’t mind working and I still don’t mind, to have money to do with what I wanted. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had money to go to the store and get those socks that day. But I did have money and I did get them.