This interview was conducted by Robert Kalina on November 27, 2003 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Fall 2003 class.
Charles Edward Miller, my grandfather, was born March 3, 1936 to Frank Alvin Miller and Josephine Miller (nee Arias). He has four siblings Frank, Rosie, Estella, and Maryann. He was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, where he has his lived his entire life. He attended Stephen F. Austin Elementary, Hawthorne Middle School, and Fox Tech High School where he reached the tenth grade. When Charles was a child he picked watermelons, then he moved onto framing houses. At eighteen years of age he dissembled aircraft engines he worked as that for two years. Then the next job he held for forty one years and that was a cement mason, where he started out making a dollar fifty a hour, and ended up making a hundred and twelve dollars a day before he retired. He married Aurora Gonzales in San Antonio, Texas in 1955. They have four children Rozanne, Lynn, Charlie, and my mother Jeanette. Both Aurora and Charles religion is Catholic. They are affiliated politically with Democrats. They are in the middle class economically. Some of Charles hobbies are fishing and hunting, he still loves to fish when he has time. He likes to raise animals such as goats, barbadoes, birds, and especially loves raising chihuahuas. He also likes to garden. The interview took place in my grandparents’ dining room table on a Thursday evening.
What were some of your first jobs? Describe the jobs you remember best. How old were you?
Picking watermelons, it was like a summer job. We would go out twice a week to load this old mans truck up, we would go to devine. He’d pick the watermelons and we’d have to load em. I would mostly help stack them in the truck, cause I was smaller then the rest of them. Oh heck I guess about twelve years old. And then after that, oh later when I got older I had a job it was twenty five cents an hour We was building…framing houses and that was over there off of Pleasanton road, where south side Sears use to be. We’d try putting out two houses a day…framing two houses a day. We was getting twenty five cents an hour there, we were big shots. (laughing)
How many hours would you usually work on a typical day?
We’d leave right at day break and we’d get home at just before it would get dark (laughing).
Did you like any job in particular? Why?
I liked that, framing houses. Just cause you’re outside, your not tied up, you was in the open all day long.
What were the working conditions of your first job?
(laughing) We’d get breaks. It was just all of us in the neighborhood there, and we’d all stick together, and the ones who hung around all day long, played. He would furnish us lunch.
How much did you get paid for your first job? A Day?
Two dollars. Uh huh two dollarsa day, and all the watermelons you could eat. (laughing)
How much was minimum wage when you started your first job?
(Paused) There wasn’t no minimum wage. Whatever you could get, man you was happy with it.
Was it usual not to finish school? Was it common?
It was hard. Oh it was common. Everybody quit school so they could go
to work to get money. You didnt have to have no education to get no kind of job, I mean they’d hire
anybody. It’s rough though. If you was a good worker they’d hire you, all you gotta do is learn that ruler
and know how to drive a nail.
What were somethings you did for leisure time? What kind of toys did u have?
Just like every other kid. We’d make our own kites. We had scooters and we had our wagons. But then we had to make something. But, heck alot of times you’d have an old car tire, everybody walking down the street pushing a car tire. Some guys would even have their names on the side of the tire so nobody would steal it. They were from the Old Model-T cars and they would roll easy. (laughing)
Do you consider that time to be the good old days?
It was nice in those days really, I mean there wasn’t all the crime that’s going on now, none, but I mean you could walk down the street and be safe. You could walk down the street and you didn’t have to worry about anybody bothering you, unless you’d get in some area in a different town where they had gangs then they would wanna know what your doing in their territory.
When did you get your first television? Was it a big deal?
We use to go stand on the corner and watch TV in the show window, you know the store where they sell em at, they’d have them tv’s on at night-time, we’d have to walk mmmm ten blocks from the house, walk up there and just sit but we could see it. You’d see alot of people out there going over there looking at the tv
I can’t remember when we got the first tv, middle fifty’s, something like that. Oh yeah man, if you had a tv you was high class. (laughing)
How often did you listen to the radio?
Well the radios were on everyday there at the house, but the only time
we would.. really to listen to anything would be on Saturday nights.
What did you listen to on the radio
We use to sit down at the house on Saturday nights to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on radio. Every Saturday it would come on at nine o’clock. Mom would hollar Grand Ole Opry’s coming on, everybody’s running in the house and just sit there and listen to it. All them old timers was on there. Then they had all them old, just like the soap operas on tv, they had soap operas like that. The girls would be listening to the soap opera.(laughing) I cant remember the names, there use to be one Stella Dallas. And then another one, what
Wild Wild Bill.
What was your main source of transportation to school? How far of a walk? You never drove? What kind of car?
Walk. Sometimes id get a ride, it was about 6 blocks away. Oh yeah when I was about seven years old id get out and drive that car. I’d tell daddy, lemme drive to school! I was in elementary driving to school in a 1936 Chevrolet (laughing).
Did you have
Well, not really, a fishing trip that was it, that would be the vacation.You wouldn’t get to go no place. We’d go to the road side park on San Pedro, right now that’s where Bitters Road and 281 North is, and man when you would get to that road-side park you was way out in the country (Laughing).
When you were a child, how long would a pair of shoes have to last you?
Oh man you’d keep those shoes till the tops would get bad, if the soles had holes in em the tops still look good you still wore em. (Laughing) Oh we would get a new pair shoes to start at school, but then you get home from school you take them off and use the ones you was using last year to play or either run around bare footed. And them shoes would have to last you for a year.
How far would a nickel go when you were a kid?
Oh a nickel would go a long ways, heck, cause you’d get a candy bar, Baby Ruth or Snickers, a big one for a nickel, you could go to the movies, a nickel to get into the movies, a nickel for a big ol’ bag of popcorn, a nickel for a drink, and uh you’d have a nickel to ride the bus to town, and a nickel to come back. So if you walked, to the movies and walked back home you had a dime left.(Laughing) And your soda waters they use to be the hippos, a big ol’ soda water. A nickel would go a long ways buying stuff.
Would you ever go to the movies?
Yeah, the state theatre, if you was with your parents a kid goes in free, so heck, we saved a nickel we’d get up there and we’d see a couple going in and try talking to them, can I go in the movies, alright if I
walk in with you. But you could go in free, if you was with a couple, that was a free movie for you, that was a big deal.
What was your favorite childhood memory?
I think, when we use to go out to that roadside park I was telling you about, because there was like a hill behind it, we’d always try having a piece of cardboard with us get up on that hill and sit up there and slide on down with that cardboard. Mom would pack uh basket with sandwiches and soda waters, we’d spend the whole afternoon out there.
- I learned about how simple life was back then, and that it didn’t take much
to entertain and please people.
- I learned how well my Grandfather’s memory is, to just know these dates and times off the top of his head was incredible.
- I look upon the topic differently by how fast jobs can disappear.
- Some of the benefits of learning the past through the interview, is that you get to hear it directly, no one gets to edit it but yourself, plus you learn a lot of things that you rarely or even never get to read about in books.
- Some of the drawbacks about interviewing, is that you may ask the wrong question or bring back a bad memory, or may remind the person you are interviewing, something they have forgot about it and don’t want to remember.
- I believe this is an effective way to learn about the past. Basically because all of this information you cant find in school books.