Henry Collins and Erin Collins

Recorded November 16, 2013 Archived November 16, 2013 33:28 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: atl002101


Erin Collins (32) interviews her father Henry Collins (63) about growing up in Upstate New York, the transition to Albany, Ga. and the many family stories.

Subject Log / Time Code

Henry begins by talking about some of the stories he used to share with Erin and her brother
Henry talks about what growing up on an apple orchard was like and where his parents are from
Henry shares more stories from his grandfather and Uncle Weldon
Henry talks about the African American men who influenced him during childhood
Henry tells the story of his grandmother when she was dying


  • Henry Collins
  • Erin Collins

Recording Locations

Atlanta History Center

Venue / Recording Kit


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00:04 My name is Erin Collins. I am 32 years old today is November.

00:10 16th we are in Atlanta and I will be interviewing my father today.

00:18 My name is Henry Collins. I'm 63 years old today's November 16th, 2013 and my am going to be speaking with my daughter today.

00:32 Well Dad, happy late birthday. I wanted you to I guess the to tell us some of your all those stories that you would tell Patrick and Me growing up because I think that those are some of the best memories that we have and believe it or not when we are with mixed company. We like to repeat some of the parts to our friends. So any of the stories that you have about growing up on the farm or our kooky relatives that got in trouble a lot or does anything else like that that you would care to share with us. I would I would love to hear that again. I think the first one that I can remember was told about how it's about 3 and 1/2 years old and this is why we were still in New York on the dairy farm on the Goodrich farm and Grandpa.

01:32 Rich my grandfather my mother's dad had diabetes and he had gone blind in my earliest memory is that he always called me little buddy and he saves time for me and little buddy to go for a walk but being up North with the snow and stuff would think smelted lots of large mud puddles were created being three and a half years old. I thought they were the most wonderful things in the world and I would take him my blind grandfather and we'd walk through the mud puddles and he'd get all upset with me. Is it out? But that's okay you're going to do it right protected me from the Wrath of the mom because she get real upset, you know stuff. That was that's one of the few memories. I've had it up Grandpa Goodrich. He passed away soon when I was very very young and one of the things I was sleepy. I'm the youngest of three children and

02:32 My brother my cousins who were older than I am kind of trying to push me away. And yeah, they they basically mistreated me. You know, I got hit in the head with a baseball bat and stuff like that during a wrestling match with a cell the way I got back. I would hide around the corner of the house standing on a rain barrel and wait till they came by and I would pee on them.

02:57 I was mountain to climb up on top of in The Hayloft to wait till they showed up and I would pee on them getting back at you. You know that I guess that may be where the turn poed come from. I survived it and I had a great dane drawn up in this this is the dumbest dog on the planet is name is Sarge and he would run around the apple orchards near Chase deer. So because of that he got in trouble cuz they thought he was hunting and he really was a hunting he was playing with the deer and the buck decided to go after him. So they kind of hit heads together and start can a cracked skull for a while, but he got over it. He was even loonier than he was before but he survived.

03:57 Maybe where they were from and have a med and what growing up on the apple orchard was like why know that you guys move but maybe what that was like and then went moving was like it wouldn't you know, it was one of the things I find real interesting would we didn't have indoor plumbing and we lived and not far from this Quest Susquehanna River just north of Pennsylvania. Grandpa's family was from Pennsylvania. It was he he was English German to set up and my grandmother Vivian Elizabeth, which you understand the significance of lifts up is because all the women in my family have Elizabeth in her name. She was from Rochester New York. Originally she was a city girl.

04:49 And her family was all Dutch German Dutch descendants. So it although their backgrounds were similar their little bit different matter of fact with Grandma Goodrich had had dad Vivy which was her youngest child. She had the child by herself on her kitchen table and Vivian way to buy at 11 lb, no one else is around. No one else was right. The kids where my mom went to school to one room School House on the Farm property because they lived in that they wasn't about little farm community outside of a we go New York in the little Crossroads is called Thorn Hollow. What's the name of the farm in the little Crossroads there? How many kids are in the schoolhouse. Dozen or so and they would go there till the 8th grade and then they would walk for 5 miles uphill all the way in.

05:49 Yeah, both ways to go to high school in my mom play basketball in high school. And then right after they graduate as well World War World War II broke out where she met your dad. She met my dad during World War II he was from South Georgia. He was a Navy guy that I don't know how a Navy guy got up and got got to Upstate New York, but they ended up falling in love and getting married. And you're at Waldo. I was born in Norfolk Virginia during the war for a while and Washington near the Potomac River where the testing Grounds was and being a being a young man from South Georgia. Love to have fish fries. So he probably drank a little bit too much the local Spirits East Old a army truck put a 500 pound bomb on the back of it drove it in the middle of the Potomac River.

06:49 Set it off. Now. This is a 500 pound bomb going off. Not that far from Washington DC during the war.

06:58 His purpose was he was fishing. So he had a rowboat. He filled the row boat for fishing him and his unit had a fish fry. He didn't get in any trouble about that only because he shared that happened today. That was one of his.

07:24 The vets that he he seem to take care of you doubt, he would tell that story only after he drank about four or five beers.

07:35 Seems drinking had a lot to do in the Collins family making my grandfather had two brothers that used to like to drink moonshine in the backyard and then it would take dynamite and ride it and throw it up in the air and have it explode all over their heads is it closer? They could get it to the ground the better it what does it mean a lot of Boom?

07:58 So my grandmother didn't appreciate them join us after she didn't yeah, it kind of got a little louder on your other than the dynamite when the women got a hold of the man and kind of straighten them out about that, but they tended to do things like that out of off a lot of occasions my I'm named after my father's father. OK as you know, and one of the stories that he like to talk about he was full of stories and saying he would say things like I don't eat Jell-o because I'm not eating anything is more nervous than I am.

08:33 Or the never ride up yet. He can you ask me what you know, why don't we have motorcycles grandpa or pop is what we call him and he got me riding up and you can't straddle a mud puddle son humfrey. Why's that? He was Tommy is a kid one of his jobs was to take them in your out of that the barn and put it in the bucket and spread it in the garden and one cool South Georgia morning. He was out spreading and he didn't have his gloves on and he hit his head on the side the bucket and without thinking pisses stung because the weather was cold, but he just laughed and he thought that was funny because all the other grandkids will look at him and go through and I just kind of stared at him. Like wow that it tastes good. But yeah, I enjoyed his dry sense of humor.

09:25 Maybe that's where you got yours from he fought in World War. He was in the Georgia National Guard because he was such a rambunctious teenager his dad stuck him in the National Guard. Hoping to call me down and is up having to go to war and he came back and there were times that he would have probably a little bit too much to drink if he was seeing these body French songs to us and my grandmother would get all upset. Of course we can speak French, so we just thought you was just seeing so we can we try to sing along with e

10:02 But my favorite memory of him was we used this was long before the Braves ever move South to Atlanta. We would always watch the Gillette game of the week in baseball on Saturday afternoon. And our favorite teams was with the st. Louis Cardinals in the New York Giants and we got a lot of the National League games in the south in St. Louis was probably the closest baseball team. So we enjoyed watching the baseball games together and that read that brings to mind another story about my uncle welding his brother Uncle Weldon was a was a deputy sheriff either the sheriff or deputy sheriff. I don't know which county and they decided it was almost Georgia and South Georgia and this was in the fifties and Uncle Weldon decided in pop decided they were going to have a barbecue.

11:03 And this year they're going to barbecue a gout so well, this is Henry. You you dig the pit you get everything ready?

11:12 And I'll get the gout so okay, so may I was staying with pop and weak, you know, we took care of it at the pit. I'll get with getting the wood in their ready and everything else and Uncle Elders the sheriff guy so that night we get a phone call or pop gets a phone call cuz my uncle welding in the middle of the night is going Henry come get me talking to my grandpa and it goes well. Where are you? I'm in jail. He sits you're in jail. What are you in jail for Reese's I was getting the gout

11:46 About to go for five bucks for three bucks. And now he decided to go ahead and just kind of borrow one, but he went out of his car and into another kind of got caught so I don't know how that finally resolved itself, but he was still a sheriff. So I guess it was okay and I got was actually pretty good.

12:06 But it's just one of those stories you here are your part of and years and lady just scratch your head going. What was he thinking, you know, but, you know all the family get-togethers always involve a lot of food.

12:20 And then the guns would come out and the in the beer would come out in the liquid, and all the men would sit out there and shoot guns there. They had a little Target right set-up and every kind of gun you think of was out there and

12:37 If the women would just buy some fast and faster, but that six through the kids are always running around crazy and it was that was a time when you didn't know what a pair of shoes was from from May to September because she doesn't wear them and I

12:53 We grew up a lot air conditioning and didn't have indoor plumbing till I was probably six or seven so but it was great times and I will I feel physically we are alive healthier and happier. Although people didn't live as long they live full lives and they live now.

13:15 So it was good stuff. And yeah, I can remember when this little this man would bring up bring a mule up and set it up in the fall or you can take your sugar cane down and he grinded. Yeah, I had a grinding machine and the mule is a blind you little walk in a circle and they would take the stocks of the sugarcane and get the juice out of it then cook it and make syrup for you and he always did it for a cut of the syrup always enjoyed that in one of the things that really probably had a bigger impact on my life than anything else is a young child is a young white male child in the rule South. There was a country store not that far from our home and every Friday if you went there the field hands were generally were African-American would be there for their paycheck said they would be paying their bill cuz that's where they got their groceries.

14:10 And there will always be a bunch of kids around and these guys would take what little change that have left in it by cookies and candy and give to the kids. Now. These kids must have certainly weren't their children that were just kids there and they were giving them a treat a treat that these kids really got and I that made a great impact on my life of a hard-working man.

14:36 Taking care of little cats and giving them a treat and being strong good man doing the right thing for these kids. Now that doesn't mean that some of them just go out and get drunk that night blow their whole paycheck or gambrel whatever but for a moment and time they were taking care of those kids and their worth putting join those kids lives and is a five and six and seven-year-old. I know this that I always just was so pleased to see them do that, you know, because I can go and get it cookie anytime. I wanted to but the for these kids that was real special and I guess a dad or maybe an uncle or a cousin of an older male was doing that for those kids and I just thought that was such a great model for those kids and still do I mean I think about that often and that's why sometimes when you and I I take you out to eat when you were a teenager and we see some of your friends in the restroom. I was kind of pick up there tab secretly.

15:36 Such generosity that I saw I was a child. I think that I'm hearing you tell stories about growing up in the rural South Georgia and the time that you grow up in which was an incredible time of change and volatility. I think that that impacted Patrick and me too and I think influence us in the friends that we chose in the in the way that we choose the way of yah, I appreciate that. I never understood why

16:07 A kid would be my best friend until I was 12 or 13 and then he would be of another race that I wasn't didn't get that school with him that that I never that that frustrates me because I never understood that and I still don't understand that and I can remember my parents were you know, if you know if they had this attitude today, which they're both. They're about to pass away did the attitudes they had then they'll be considered a horrible racist. They weren't bad people. It was just there are very few bad people but their ideas had such a strong influence and it really hurts my heart. I never could understand that is a child, you know, I can actually remember getting in the car and riding downtown Albany.

16:56 When there was marches going on and when Martin Luther King jr. Was thrown in jail and you would literally ride right past the protesters in the Marchers and I'd be almost a riot going on but the riot was being done by the police or Not by the markers and they would take people to beat him up and throw him in jail and stuff and it was fine. Then you get home to see if yo and watch it on TV and TV had such an impact on our lives because what was being shown on TV wasn't what was really happening. It was just a small piece of it because if you were there you saw it happening you saw unprovoked attacks on a very peaceful people may but later on during the Vietnam War when they started bringing when the Tet Offensive was brought into the living rooms of America during dinner time.

17:47 Then things really started changing it open at the world to is that we weren't able to hide from her ugliness anymore. And the the total irony of it is, you know, when it comes to racism and all those in the prejudices existed in the Old South the difference between being a white man in the black man was a very much financially or economically the white people had advantages but there weren't that many advantages to be had, you know and end in the people who persecuted the black people where they were the white people that may have been two steps ahead of them on the on the on the pecking order on the social level and the people who benefited where the people V is at top of the pecking order because if they could be surprised and hold everyone down there that could their economic Advantage was there.

18:41 Interesting how that still happening today, right? It just breaks your heart. You know, I don't understand why people just don't stop and think about this, you know, if I surprise you that doesn't make me any better someone else is benefiting from that the same person who suppressing me is going to bed at 4. I don't benefit for doing that. So I might refuse to do that and I know that's not what we're taught and of course we could go all through the irony of going to church and then how we treat people afterwards our worlds. Are we doing now? And I left that I think that's why I like the religion I pick which is a Methodist. Where do no harm to good father Lord It's that simple and Erin if you it's not simple to live that way.

19:33 Lottery that's true, but we have to understand and live our life don't end at the end of life that we go on and if you live your life as if it is if it is just a step 4 for forever and that we go on that that probably will change your attitude and the way you treat people, you know, I just I really want people to treat people better. You know, I think that we are to treat everyone like they're our long-lost relative that we haven't seen because if you believe in evolution or you believe in Adam and Eve were all related some way somehow someplace so why don't we treat ourselves as I read along on this road too because in fact we are

20:19 How do you think your life would have been different if you hadn't made the big move from South Georgia to the big city are probably would have gotten a lot more trouble. I managed to find that often enough but in New York, I was a farm boy. I was interested in being a farm boy. I wasn't interested in expanding myself because I didn't know you know when I was in New York, but I can't say that I sleep cuz I actually wrote Eisenhower letter when he was president. He wrote me a letter back and switch.

20:56 I can move my brother a mileage from you say you shouldn't let you two should be writing a present. He doesn't have time to read your letters. He thanked me for writing his letter. So I was always the one to Step Beyond that but I think the Cocoon of living up there. I would have been a lot different from the standpoint that it was. It was just a hard-working blue-collar all the was a farm community. I would have I would not have been dissatisfied being a farmer but I'm not as much as I know I could always find time for that. I was when I was in elementary school in the first grade in New York in a 9 month. I had nine different teachers.

21:45 Because I didn't want to be in school. I wasn't interested in school and I let everybody know it.

21:53 I can remember standing on my desk in the first grade.

22:07 The time when I was teaching math and the kid got up from his desk and prayed out loud that Jesus would strike me dead put my marker down and I put my hands up and I just think I looked up at the ceiling and waited for a second.

22:25 But he didn't strike me down as like that not today so down. I probably would have made it to high school because then the value of an education wasn't necessarily if you were a farmer. It wasn't dated. Nobody cared if you had a diploma High School diplomas farmer. You need to know how to read right keep the bucks. But generally the wife did that but you still have to have basic math skills. She had to know what to feed the cows how much acreage to grow how much corn you know, what you had to do to provide and produce for your family.

23:13 But you didn't need algebra to do that. You just needed to be able to read a calendar and you need a simple arithmetic and you didn't need a calculator. You can figure in your had so yeah, but it was more like you work the math instead of working the math on the paper. You actually live the math by what you did. So I'm not saying we're smarter than the people or I'm out for sure. They were smarter than we are. Yeah, they just didn't have the formal education or

23:44 Someone above them saying yeah, you're worth it because you have this piece of paper now they were worthy because they provided for their family they provided for their community and I guess the one thing that one of the things that really impressed me most about the farming Community was

24:01 When it came to farm equipment I might have a tractor you might have a combine Fred down the road may have a manure spreader.

24:10 And we all use them.

24:13 Yeah, we all shared. You know, my Uncle Bill who ran the dairy farm in New York had a big box truck if you'd grown picking up everybody else's milk, cuz everybody was Dairy Farmers and deliver it that was what he did for the community now it was time for Harvest. He might come home from delivering the milk to the dairy and all of his neighbors will be either harvesting is corn or doing the hang for it because it was a community effort and the community effort continued if if if someone needs something it was there, you know, it may not be brand-new. It may not be the best but it was the best they had to give and when they gave you something do you know, they didn't give you

25:03 Second bath they gave you the best of what they had if it was friendship or if it was working in the fields with you or it was milking your cows because you were too sick to get out of bed or if it was taken care of your ears flopping your Hogs or you were feeding your chickens. They gave you the best they had they didn't give you second best. They didn't give you hand me downs.

25:30 I gave you what they had to give you and the main thing that gave you was respect.

25:37 And that's that's what we're missing today. You know now we give each other pieces of paper with the numbers for at 9 to call money and write it just it doesn't mean as much.

25:52 But I love those times. I I think a lot of honorable people with born raised with their lives the sons may or may not have gone off to war but they came back and work the farm to us a very honorable people that it was a hard life. You generally didn't live very long, but you lived and you worked and you toiled you took care of everything you were supposed to take care of you holding eat in these people have no malice towards anyone.

26:21 It was a crime in the reason why there wasn't crying because nobody was taking anything from anyone else. They were giving each other stuff. They weren't taking so the crime wasn't there. Now the crime made that perpetrated by the government or by people who are making money off suppress prices of milk or overcharging for food or whatever you owe for the Commodities the farmers needed for what they were doing with they were just keeping on keeping on there were persevering and they were giving the best they had every day. There's a lesson for all of us to be learned there that we have to give her best.

26:58 If we give our best and they cannot question whether gift was or the value of the gift, and that's what I've tried to teach you and Patrick through the years. I've tried to teach you give your best and it's okay to be crazy because you'll make it through anyway, especially if you look at my email part of my family, I mean, there's some really whacked people there. Yeah, but you know, I know I told you stories about my grandpa, but I can also tell you the story when his first wife was my grandmother.

27:30 Was dying.

27:32 He had three young children. She had a brain tumor. He didn't know she had a brain tumor because he didn't she didn't want to burden him with that. But he did not tell if he would take her from Doctor to doctor to doctor all over the South trying to find a cure why she had these headaches.

27:54 And there were plenty of times pop would get up you put the kids to bed. He would take his wife and later in the backseat of his old car and he would drive that car all night long because towards the end the only tie only way she could rest or sleep was in movement in the car in the harm of the engine would actually put her to sleep and it was plenty of times. He drove his car until I ran out of gas is gas stations weren't open at night. You know, it sundown they were closed then he would literally pick her up and carry her home in his arms for a couple miles. Are you would try to try to plan it where you get back home or get to somewhere he can get gas but he's this is after working all day long to keep taking care of his family. He would drive all night just to give her just to ease her pain.

28:47 And I think it's the first time you've ever told that story.

28:52 It's not an easy one to tell you that out. But yeah, I've heard people say what he's doing. He's a rough sob and he stopped for these mean and all that. And yeah, but this is what he did for the woman and this is what he was doing for the children of the woman. He loved that he was taking care of her the best he could he was desperately in love with his first wife he gave everything he could to that woman and he just asked for a thanks have a quiet not many people even knew we did that until I start seeing his car sitting on side the road out of gas and you know, they finally figured it out and I knew he was a pain and suffering but he did what he could do. Most people do the best I can with what they have. I think we're inclined to do that. But I think because of the rules and the laws and the Norms of society. It makes it tougher to do that now than it used to be there song.

29:52 Does Roblox in front of that sell them?

29:57 It is what it is.

30:01 It's sad that.

30:03 Yapta and persevered to be decent, you know, like what it what would it be? Like if we didn't have to work so hard just to do the right thing, you know, the only way I can figure that we had ever get there as if we eat as it we do it is a corporate everybody do the right thing. If we all did the right thing, you know, it goes back to understand that we're all by members of the same family, you know that we all hear, you know, the Origins of Species either you think it's in the Garden of Eden are you think it was in Africa regardless?

30:39 We're all part of the same family realize that you know, I think that's why when we think about the end of our Lives being the final the end because I think that message. Because all of a sudden we have a deadline, we have a self-imposed deadline. Our deadline isn't death. We have no deadlines because in some shape or form, I believe that we're on forever and because of that, you know, we get more chances. The other week is okay if we screw up

31:12 Because we have a way out because time will heal that so that's the other but it also gives you reason wanting to do a better job and do good while you can do it said of trying to gather stuff unto yourself. You kind of can't take it with you read it out and you let other people enjoy its okay, its okay to give someone else your best his chances. Are they going to give you their best as that being kind of a neat idea the card on, you know, like you and dosey doe I love watching you two together trouble. Yeah Kindred Spirits. We love each other. We love people we like to laugh. Yeah, you do a little people.

32:12 Silly get to someone you didn't tell all your stories and jokes you are sir. She's a sweetie. She's getting girl and they don't get that way by accident takes a good mom to get him there. Yeah, we did first air.

32:41 Bursar

32:43 And maybe we'll hit the jackpot again. I'm sure we will have you down for that.

32:57 Well, then, this was great. Thank you for driving into the city to do an interview Drive below Roswell Road.

33:18 Meet Mom and having kids work for me.