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Black Elders of Portsmouth

HENRY PETTIFORD (1917 -- 1994)

Harry PettifordWell, I got to Portsmouth and I says, "Wait a minute! This is out of the world for me." I'm telling you I'd never seen such a lonesome place. There weren't many of us to go around with when I got to Portsmouth. I was with the white boys. I didn't have anyone else to go around with. Then when I met Clarence I started going out with him. That's how we got together. We used to play ball at Prescott Park until we got old enough to go to the beer joint. We used to go to [the black] church but they were passing them bibles too much! Well, where were you going, anyway? There was nowhere to go. I mean, the church on Sunday was going.

Doris was in college, that's Sarah's sister. Jimmy, Sarah's brother, was teaching college down in Georgia. First time I saw Sarah was on my way to work. Then afterwards, we'd see each other Wednesday nights, no more than an hour was the way Sarah's mother had it. Oh my goodness, she was strict! It was right here in this dining room, too. And her parents would always sit there in the kitchen. Her father was a window washer. Today they call it a janitor. He had his own business, of course.

I bought the house on Hancock Street. Twelve hundred dollars, at that time. Can't get an apartment with that now. But we had the house done over. Had new siding put on. Had a bathroom put in. The bathroom was there but it wasn't a tub in there. And the toilet, you'd pull the chain up here. I had a small garden. I think it was just only string beans and tomato plants. Same as I had here. I bought chickens--had three of them. Rhode Island Reds--they'd go in their little coops at night. That damned dog torn them up, killed one of them and the other two lived for a little while then we got rid of them.

My mother come up to visit. My father, he didn't. My parents were regular farmers out in the country of North Carolina. When I got ready to come up here, my mother felt kind of bad, like I was going somewhere and never coming back.

(c) Valerie Cunningham
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