When A Little Meant A Lot

September 25, 2012
Mary-Ellen McCarston is 85 years old and started high school the same year World War II began. Mary-Ellen has seen the changes in world that have occurred since 1941, something that as each minute goes by, less can have claim that they have as well.

[R]iley: Growing up in high school while the nation was at war is something that affected everybody, how did that change the way school was?
[M]ary-Ellen: I only went to high school for a couple of years, and I had to walk to school, we didn’t have as many school buses. Back then, there were some, but I had none; we had to walk, me and my sisters. I had two sisters, and when I went to high school though, we had a bus there that took us; it was probably, mmm 8 or 10 miles away to a high school. There was not nearly as many schools near us as there are now. In fact when I went, I went from first to 7th grade and then to high school, no first through 8th and went to high school in 9th through 12th. We didn’t, we just, like, had a homeroom, and no lockers. We just kept our stuff with us. There were not nearly, no computers. No, you just did your work with pencils and papers. And lots, lots of things were rationed then. It was a really poor time; [I] didn’t have lots of clothes, and had a lot of, no had enough of food, but that was because I lived on a farm and raised our own food; didn’t have to go to town to buy much.

[R]iley: You mentioned that you didn’t have as much accessibility to things the average person has now, what were some of those things?
[M]ary-Ellen: We, not very many people had cars. We did not have one. W would go, no, my dad would go to town, which was 5 miles away from where we did. He didn’t go every week, but he would go on Saturday, and he would get the staples that we needed: sugar, flower, things we couldn’t raise ourselves on the farm. But we had our needs, and all that, and sometimes he would let me and my two sisters go to town with him- and that was a big deal. He wouldn’t normally let us be able to go to town. There was once a special merchant he traded with that would give us little penny candies. It was a BIG treat for us, and it would be an all-day thing; we would leave in the morning and come back late after the sun. If he could, there was a little store on the way; it was right on the corner. He would stop and get us an ice cream cone. That was the only way we would get ice cream. But it was out in the country where farms mostly farms. No neighbors close by. Probably the closest neighbor that had children was probably 3 miles away that we would go sometimes to. Our parents would let us go to their house or they would come to our house to play. It’s just a really different time. Um, children, I think, respected their parents more. They didn’t have all the world things that are available now for, for children. But we were happy, and we were a close family.
[R]iley: Have high school classes, rules, and regulations changed a lot since the time you attended?
[M]ary-Ellen: Well, there are children in school now, and they have more access thenwe did back when I was in high school, like all the electronics now. The only thing we had back then was that a few people had a radio; that was the only outside communication what we heard on the radio. All the technology, well, you know what you have now, we didn’t have it then, and I think that too had a difference in the way, the way we grew up. It kept us close knit, and we didn’t have access to some of the things that are an issue now. Drugs were unheard of in those days, and there was no rule against it at my school because it wasn’t something to be done. Well, I never did any drugs or anything like that. Alcohol, alcohol was, but other than that, there was nothing.
[R]iley: Was there any group of people you hung out with, and where did you hang out
[M]ary-Ellen: I had some really close girlfriends when I was in high school. In fact, I had a couple of girlfriends that we became friends when I first started school, and we became close friends all the way through. There were no blacks in school then; everything was segregated. The segregation didn’t affect school life that much, but everything was completely segregated at that time; they made it so it was like there were two different races of people, so there were different places my friends and I would be allowed to hang out. Though we didn’t get to talk to each other often because of the distances we lived away.
I never really had to look for many friends in high school because the community, again, was close knit.
[R]iley: Were there any events during that period that affected your life at home then? Like I heard that nylon wasn’t available and food was rationed for the military.
[M]ary-Ellen: Well, um, back then, the men were prepared because there was a draft at that time and maybe if they’re at 18, maybe, they’re drafted. I think that now, well, all service now is voluntary. Nope, they don’t even have a draft, and that was good to prepare; it was mostly men, but women didn’t go into service right then, just the men. It prepared them though, I think, to carry on, accept responsibility by having that training.
[R]iley: Were any of your high school friends or family drafted?
[M]ary-Ellen: I don’t remember any friends, but I had an older brother, no, actually a half-brother, and he had volunteered to serve in the National Guard; he was drafted, no he had to go to active duty at that time. All the young men, in those days, everyone when they became eighteen had to serve so many years of service.
[R]iley: Dressing modestly is more valued as you go back farther in years. Did you have a dress code to go by?
[M]ary-Ellen: I don’t remember having dress codes like they do today. People just grew up knowing those things and not trying to do something different. Now, teenage girls wear shorts to school, short skirts, and pants. Our type of dress code was skirts and a top or just a dress, and most of mine my mom made. The same went for lots of other people too.
[R]iley: Are there any memories during school that stand out more than others?
[M]ary-Ellen: I remember very vividly about my sister trying to tag along with us during school, but I remember there was a day, well, now it would be like a field trip, but I remember going to Raleigh, it was an all-day trip, and they took several grades of children to Raleigh. I remember going on the bus, and I remember going to the museum, and like a big picnic lunch somewhere, and that’s something I [will] always remember because of how huge the city was and how it was very exciting to be on the ride there. I don’t remember how many people were on the bus, but it was a bus load, and we went there. That’s the one thing I remember more than anything else, but I played basketball a little in high school. At the school that I was [at], we didn’t have a big gym, and I remember playing an’ practicing basketball in the afternoons, outside [chuckles] in the hot sun.
[R]iley: Did you do anything during your freshmen year to help the war effort?
[M]ary-Ellen: I don’t remember any special things that I was able to do besides help grow my gardens; raise some of it as victory gardens to give for the troops. I knew lots of families that worked in plants and things like that, and ladies did that because men were in-service; the ladies did things that the men usually did and some moved off the farms to the cities to help out and get a job. Though I participated in a school dance, which raised money to donate for the men, there were only our younger boys there, and they were only a year or so older than I, but it was great fun to dance watch us all switch dance partners so quickly.

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