Interviewed by Charlotte Wangrin, February 28, 2002, Henry County Senior Center
I came along as a young girl pretty rough in life but I loved school. I always loved to read. You could always find me with a book in my hands. When I was a kid I had brothers and sisters who loved to play outside. They would always ask my mother, “Why doesn’t she come out and play with us?” I enjoyed sitting and reading.
It was nice, I imagine to play in the snow with my brothers and sisters but it was something that really didn’t interest me, I just loved stories. There wasn’t any certain books that I read. It was any book that I could get my hands on. I wasn’t the highest student in my class. I was when I graduated in the upper portion in my class.
CW: Where was this school?
It was called Lima South, which is now a grade school in Lima, Ohio. It was for people who lived south of town. I had sad memories of things that happened to me, but I had a lot of happy memories that happened to me too. As time passed as I got older I understood about life. When I was a child I couldn’t understand why it made such a difference because you happened to be a different color. I thought that all people loved each other. I didn’t understand as a child. I have gotten older and understand more about that. I remember I would get so tired of being called the names they use to call black people. When I would say my prayers at night I would ask God, “I don’t understand why you made me this color if this color is to be punished this way.” I prayed that in the morning when I woke up that I would be white. There are things you don’t understand and that was one of them.
As the years passed I am proud to be an African American Negro. I totally feel blessed. I have accomplished a lot in the last twenty years. We have some of us who are really famous. We have poets, we have some in the business and in the musical world. So we have come a long way.
CW: Yes, you have people like Condoleezza Rice who is a woman in government. She is black and is doing an excellent job.
That is true. You know, as time goes on it is about to change more. There are things that are better than years ago. There are people helping that we can be thankful for. So that is one of the things in my life that I’m so blessed about too. You may not get everything in life that you want, but you get what you really need. God is always there even though sometimes you forget about him. You got to give him thanks for looking out after you. Like I say, I feel totally blessed in the things that have happened in my life – good things, bad things. Now I am totally blessed and have peace of mind and contentment.
Do you remember anything specific that was said or done that hurt your feelings?
I use to hear them say derogatory remarks about Spanish and Mexican people. I would just stand there and my mouth would drop open at some of the remarks they made. Here I thought that the blacks were the only oppressed but we were not. There were other people too, but like I said you get to learn a lot of things you didn’t know as a child. I just hated hearing Nigger all the time. Come along in the dictionary looked it up and it said it was any low class person. Nowadays in the dictionary that is not what they say about it. They definitely say that about us or any black race of people. Years ago that was not what they said in the dictionary. Sometimes they would say, “You are so black.” Just little remarks like that.
I mean they had a way of looking at you and making you feel like nothing. If you walked up and wanted to be friendly they would turn their back. They just have ways that made you feel uncomfortable. Just like a child they do things you don’t understand why. I know about the horrible things that happened in the south. I was never in the south. I was born in the north. I can not understand why it traveled so far north. They didn’t do the same with us up here but still it was bad. Like I said as the years have passed things have changed. They are not perfect but it will never be perfect. I will be dead just as the people behind me who just have it in their mind, different races aren’t good enough. Now I use to think that it was only the blacks but when I went to work at General Motors I discovered that they disliked other people too.
Well, I must tell you about what I call the fifth part of my life. I ended up in the world all on my own. They were hiring at General Motors so I went there and the man looked at me. He was the man doing the hiring. The man said, “I can’t believe you are looking for a job.” I said, “Well, it is a long story, and I do need a job. If you don’t have a place for me today, I understand. I’ll try RCA and see if I could get hired.” He said, “You don’t have to worry. There is only one reason that could keep you out of this job.” “Oh,” I said, “I’m to fat.” “You are not fat. You are built just for this job. All you have to do here is take a physical.” I said, “If I’m sick I don’t know anything about it.” He took me over to the nurses’ station. I was examined and everything was OK. I passed with flying colors. When I came back he was not in his office. A young man sitting there asked me for my papers. I said, “Where is Mr. Thompson?” “He is not in his office.” “Young man I can see that. Is he out of the plant?” “No, he is out in the plant.” Well, I shall sit right here and wait for him to come back.” So in a few minutes Mr. Thompson walks in.
“Oh, Mrs Simmons, what is the story”? “I passed.” He said, “What shift would you like?” “I still have customers in the beauty shop. I would like third. I am so happy you gave me a Job.” “I could stay here right now. I don’t have to leave.” He said, “No I think you don’t want to work in those clothes. That black suit would work but not that fancy blouse — could get caught in something. I am going to take you over to get your glasses and shoes. You can come back at 11:30 tonight.” Well, I collected my things and went home. I wasn’t going to tell my husband. It was nothing that I was afraid to do. I just didn’t want to tell him. I handled this thing and it wasn’t his business. When I got ready to go to work that night he asked me, “Where are you going?” I said, “Oh, we have problems that we can not work out so I decided to get married to General Motors.” He said, “Oh, that is some story you come up with.” I said, “They hired me. What are you going to do about it?” He said, “What about the beauty shop? “You never failed to tell me all the time that it was yours, but I was doing all the work, you say it is your shop.” “How are you going to get there?” “Use one of those cars out in the garage that you don’t permit me to drive. I’m driving one of them. I will take the one that I have to pay you half of the payment. I’m taking that car. He said, “You better not move that car out of the garage.” He was standing in the driveway, I said, “Please do not be in the driveway. I know I’ll do something I shouldn’t do and you will get hit with the car when I come out of the garage so please don’t be there.” So I came down the drive and he wasn’t there. I was so proud to be working for General Motors. I was so proud to be working for these people. I never missed one day of work.
CW: Is that right? How many years did you work for them?
I have thirty years retirement in all. I worked twenty five years. Every five years you put in they give you a year. That was because I worked in the foundry. So when I worked my twenty five years and was ready to retire I had gained five years. That gave me thirty years.
CW: Was it really hot in the summer?
Yeh, it was really hot because it was down there where the melted iron is and everything, and it was smoke. You could be in there say thirty to forty minutes and your blouse would look tattle tale gray. That is how it was. Common sense would tell you they are killing you. You wore protection over your mouth but it didn’t catch everything. You could see black around your mouth so you knew some was getting by. I was so happy to work at General Motors that I thought it doesn’t matter, you got to die some day anyway. But like I said, I was so proud that I had a job there. The only time I was out of the plant was when the plant laid off for some reason or other and I was late once in in my life. I got caught in a snow drift. My foreman called and said, “Could you come in right away?” At that time I had become a molder – the first women molder in the Defiance plant.
CW: What does a molder do?
You make molds that they had to pour the iron unto. That was
the block motor. That is what we made on our line. The foreman said we have enough people here for the second but we don’t have an operator for the molder machine. He said, “Can you come in?” I said, “I’ll be right there.” I jumped up trying to get there quickly. We had a very heavy snow and I went down a side road. One thought told me don’t go down that road but I kept going. I have learned in my lifetime that my first thought is what I should pay attention to, because it is always the right thought. Like I said, I kept on going. Next a snow drift that came up as high as the windows when I hit into it. I couldn’t even get the car door open so I climbed out the window. I was out there trying to get get the car loose with a push. The more I worked it kept sinking down, but I am one of those people who will never give up.
Soon I looked up and I saw a big red flasher light coming down the road. I said, “What is that?” I know a snow plow and when it got to me it was a big piece of farm equipment. There was a man in there and he looked at me and said, “You got yourself in quite a mess.” I said, “YES I did” He said, ” I was standing at my window drinking my coffee, I looked up and saw you going through. I see you go by all the time and we know you live in Holgate.
I went in there and told my wife that girl has got herself caught down there. I’m going to help her.” He hooked a strange thing on the back of my car and with a couple of tugs he had me out of there. Then he looked at me and said me, “Now tell me, which way are you going?” “I’m going back to Holgate. I’m going down to 108 all the way to 281 and I’ll be right at General Motors.” “That is what you should have done in the first place.” “Yes, Sir, I know that now.” How wonderful that was. I used to dislike white people because they were mean to me. He came to help. What a blessing . I mean I have seen that there are some people in the world that are nice. Now I’m not saying the white are bad. We have bad in all races of people good and bad.
CW: Yes, that is right.
Then I went to work and bless his heart, I felt so good. My foreman was upset because I hadn’t got there and he was worried. I said, “Oh, I’m fine. There was a wonderful man who came and pulled me out of the snow drift and I just feel wonderful.” He said, “I’m glad to see you now and we can get the line started.” So that was to me, that was a blessing.
When it came time I discovered I developed arthritis real bad in my legs. It was so hard for me to walk
on the cement. It was so painful. I had my time in and I thought maybe if I got off my legs it would be better. So I decided to retire. I put in as many years as I could. At first people would say, “Oh, you are going to have a wonderful time. These are your Golden Years.”
Oh, I tell that became a joke. Pretty soon I had a house, felt blessed, got it paid for before I retired. There wasn’t anything to do after you did everything, there wasn’t anything left to do. I didn’t have any children or anything, so I was just walking and thinking, “What am I going to do?” Pretty soon it got boring. Where are those Golden Years people kept telling me about? I don’t see any Golden Years. I sit here day in and day out and the phone never rings, nobody knocks at my door so I just look out the window at the birds. Where are the Golden Years? I got so frustrated that I got to feeling bad. One day I thought, “What is wrong with me? I have never been sick. What are these new feelings I’m getting.” I went to the doctor and he discovered high blood pressure, and I never had high blood pressure in my life. The doctor said, “Well, what are your problems?” “I don’t know. I just feel depressed. I feel sad like I’m old and now in this world nobody wants me and there is nothing to do. I don’t have anyone to do anything for. You believe that when I say my prayers to God I told him if you see fit that I am not to open my eyes in the morning, that’s all right if it is what you want but if it is not the thing for me please show me what is there you want me to do in the balance of my life. I’m very happy that I got to live this old. It has been through you that you have have blessed me, but do something for me please. Just show me the way.” When I went to see the doctor, I told him. “You know, I have been so blessed, I got to do something for somebody else. I feel that I just have to.
CW: That is a sure way to make yourself feel better.
Now I want something to do, like helping in a hospital or a nursing home. I don’t want it for the money. I want to give back what God has given to me and that is the way I want to do it.
He said, “Well, what about the Senior Center place?”
“Well, I’m not destitute. I saved for these days. I don’t have to worry . I just want something to do. I don’t need help. I just want to help.”
He said, “That is what you can do.”
I said “I guess I don’t understand what a Senior Center is.”
He said, “Well, it is a place where there are other seniors there. Some of them are cripppled or can’t get around good. Oh, they would find plenty for you to do. You could help other people.”
Maybe that is what I’m looking for, so I went back home and I thought about it. I don’t know if that is really the thing. One morning I woke I was so sad and I was standing in the middle of the room, and I know this may sound stupid, but I could have sworn the walls were moving. They looked like they were coming in on me. I got to get out of here. I started running to my bedroom, got dressed as fast as I could and jumped in my car. Do you know it had to be the help of the Lord – something directed me to come straight to the Center. I looked up and was sitting there out front just looking at it. Now I had been there for a night meal a few times. I just came because they invited me. It was nice of them to invite me. Then I realized I was sitting in front of this building looking at the name up there. I said, “Can I go in there.” Will they treat me nice or they will not want me in there. Old adage came back again my color, right? All of a sudden I thought I’m going in. I’m as good as anyone else. I’m going to go in there.
CW: Well, good for you!
I opened the door and hopped out of the car, and I tell you it was wonderful. Yes, some people looked with kind of a shocked look, but there were more people who looked with that pleasant look in their eyes and a smile on their face. I thought this is the place for me and I said I’m staying right here. I busily got involved in things which I could do to help and I mean this a blessing. I love the Senior Center. I hadn’t planned to come each day and every day but if I don’t get up and go to the senior center I’m lost. I feel I should be there today, there is something I could do. I have made so many friends. There for awhile I didn’t have anybody. No friends, no family, no nothing.
Now, oh boy, I got friends, I look around and think I have a have a lot of children now, all colors, sizes and ages. I love them to death . They are really sweet to me. When I was a little sick and couldn’t get in they called to see how I was.
CW: That was nice of them to do that.
That was the biggest blessing in my life. It is so easy to smile than frown. As we get older we get enough wrinkles. Anyway, no need to frown and make more wrinkles. So I think when I smile that makes me feel good. The person I’m looking at it will make them feel good. I have had people speak to me just because I smiled at them. I love my smile now I’m not a beautiful person but I love to smile.