Interview with Ms. Charlotte Egleston, 16 December 1998, at her apartment in Pennsylvania Bidwell High Rise, Manchester, Pittsburgh, PA.; interview conducted, transcribed and edited by Barry Chad.
Transcribed: 5 January 1999.
Reviewed with Ms. Egleston: 3 February 1999.
Entered online: 12 January 1999.
Updated: 22 May 2003.
Q Are you from Pittsburgh?
A Yes. Born and reared here.
Q Are you from Manchester?
Q What neighborhood are you from originally?
A Upper North Side. Right behind Allegheny General Hospital.
Q How long have you been here at Bidwell?
A A year-and-a-half.
Q You've always lived in Pittsburgh?
A Except for one year. I lived in Columbus, Georgia--1958 or 9.
Q Always on the North Side?
A No, no. We were more like gypsies. We moved here, there, here, there, everywhere. We weren't stationary when I was younger.
Q How did your family make a living?
A My dad worked in the steel mills--Edgar Thompson, Duquesne, Homestead. My grandparents had a grocery store up at Sandusky and Hemlock. And my dad's people, his dad worked in the mills. He drove a dinkey for years.
Q How many children did your parents have?
Q You're an only child.
A I'm an only child. My son's an only child.
Q Where did you go to school?
A I went to Frick and Schenley.
Q Have you worked?
A Forever and a day. I worked thirty-six years at the University of Pittsburgh.
Q Doing what?
A Food Service. I was at a building that, when it was first built, it was built for nurses that were going to school. They lived in those buildings. It was called Nurses' Residence, 190 Lothrop. Right behind Falk Clinic and right in front of Presby. As a matter of fact, they're all connected by tunnels.
You know, I know every football player from Tony Dorsett on. And today I watch every football game that's on because some of my guys are on all these teams and the last one that I saw come out was Curtis Martin. From Tony Dorsett to Curtis Martin, I've known millions and millions of football players. There was the basketball team. The ballplayers. You name it.
The Nurses' Residence--that's where they chose to have their meals because we had basically the best food on campus. And that started the whole thing.
Yeah, Danny Marino, he was my son's bat boy. And look at him now: he's ready to retire. Yeah, I've been through it all.
I'll tell you: the kids would always come and talk to me about all their problems. They called me "Mom" [laughter]. And I was more or less like a counselor to the kids and some were nice but some were...[whistles through her teeth]. I don't know why their parents ever let some of them leave home. They leave home nice, quiet young people. They're in college for six months and they go crazy. And I just...it's beyond me...I just can't understand it. They're not only wasting their parents' money, they're wasting government money and then look what they're doing to themselves. And all they want to do is drink, drink, drink. And the most drastic change that I noticed was when they turned those dorms into co-ed, and that was it...the bull got loose in the china shop.
You had nine-thousand bosses and you had to make sure you knew which one was which so that you know whether to do what you had to do or not do.
For a long while I took tickets. Not only that, but, at the time I did all the desserts, the Jell-O and what have you. But basically I did everything in the food service: I'm cook, I'm salad person, I've done it all, dessert person, counter girl...as necessary the floor-mopper--you know, before we got union. Then it wasn't a picnic, no picnic at all.
Q When did you retire?
A I had to come out for health reasons. I could write you a medical book. And that's been six years.
Q Most of your worklife was spent at the University of Pittsburgh. What other jobs did you have before working there?
A My very first job that I got was at Shadyside Hospital. I stayed there for a while. Then I heard about they were opening a new dining room at the King Edward Apartments and I was the first Black busgirl that they had, but it didn't last too long. The business did good at first but then [making a deflating noise with her breath]. Then I went to Magee Hospital. I stayed there a good while. Then I went to Georgia. I even worked down in Columbus, Georgia. You wait 'til I tell you about this. I go clear to Columbus, Georgia. Somebody told me they were hiring at this hospital so I go to the hospital. The name of the hospital is St. Francis. They're the same nuns from this St. Francis here in Pittsburgh down there and I was totally amazed. So, I only stayed there about a year and back home I came. From the day I came home until six years ago, I was Pitt all the way.
Q Most recently, about a year-and-a-half ago, you moved from your place on the upper North Side to here.
A I moved from Allegheny Center Mall down to here.
Q What's life like here?
A I love it. I love it. We have fun, fun, fun. Although I'm not the oldest. We all intermingle.
Q How have you seen Pittsburgh change over the years?
A I've seen good changes and I've seen bad changes, but I remember the first really rude awakening that I received was when I left Pittsburgh at one Greyhound Station--here--and went to Georgia and on my return trip they said, "This is Pittsburgh," and I looked around and there wasn't any of the bearings that I had seen before and I said, "No, I'm not getting off this bus till you show me this is Pittsburgh." They said, "When did you leave?" So I told them. He said, "We built a new one and it's across another place from the other Greyhound bus station." Oh man, I was delirious about that. I think most of the changes though are for the better, but...I have my doubts about some things. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. And that's it in a nutshell.
Q Are you active in church?
A Yes, as active as I can be.
Q Where's your church?
A New Zion Baptist down on Juniata Street.
Q And the pastor is?
A Reverend Samuel Williams.
Q And how long have you been attending there?
A I've been attending there for about four years and I used to attend Church next door to it which my brother-in-law was the minister there, but see it became so inconvenient--no ramps available and what have you. The other had the ramps and my son's family belong to New Zion so I said I'll go with the family.
Q How do you keep busy?
A Well, I'm a pretty sick lady and I have more doctors and hospital appointments than the law allows; so therefore, if I get a rest from a doctor--say, even a week rest, I'm happy. I don't need to find anything to do with myself because I get on my scooter, I ride the bus with it and I go just about wherever's necessary to go. And I don't have to wait for those ACCESS people. I get on the regular bus. And then, I love Gospel music. You see all these fifty million tapes all over the place. And sometimes, once a month, I give a Gospel tape program downstairs and I love taping them so that's enough to keep you busy.
Q Can you talk a little about your time in Columbus, Georgia?
A My husband was stationed in Fort Benning. I went through quite a few changes down there. See, I wasn't used to all that foolishness that went on down there. My first...not even my first day...I got on the plane...I say about two hours we had to land in Alabama instead of Columbus, Georgia, because the weather was bad. First thing that my little boy said, he wants some water. I said, okay. Well I saw these two fountains. One was a big, pretty stainless steel kind and there was one that was almost lowered to the floor and looked like...who would have thought it. So, I didn't look at the sign.... I just picked him up and gave him some water. Policeman come over and told me, "Hey, you drinkin' off the white water!" And I told him, "White water?" I said, "Where I come from all the water is colorless." He says, "You're a smart-alecky old Northern woman. Well, don't let me see ya do it again." That was the first experience. Then, riding the bus to go downtown into Georgia, almost got arrested then. I mean I just wasn't used to it. My kid gets on the bus and he sits in the front seat. Well that's what we're used to doing here. What a mess!
Q What year was this?
A 1959 - 1960. "You know you supposed to go back to the colored section." "Where's the colored section?" I just couldn't digest it too good. And the whole time I was down there, there was always something happening with the races, you know. So that was my year down in Georgia.
Q Are your parents still alive?
A My dad died in 1969 at 47. My mom died in 1988 at 65. God has been good to me. For all my sicknesses and all the problems that confront me in life, I'll tell you, if it were not for God, I could just forget it...because He is the One that carries you through all these things. You read that thing about the "Footprints?" [A framed motto emphasizing Divine Providence.] That's it.
One more thing to say--you asked me about the changes that I've noticed. Well, ten years ago I moved down here before. They did have a couple stores...down there at Chateau. Do you realize that right in this vicinity there is only one store? [The Family Store.] One store. Do you know what we have to do when we go shopping? [Giant Eagle, Cedar Avenue, North Side.] Now see I feel like this: if they're going to build up a community, why not have the things that go along with it? I mean after you pay your rent and get something to put on your back, hey, you know, food is essential. You walk around to that Family Store 'round there, you're spending twice as much as you would when you go to the other stores. And things are outrageously high at the regular stores. So they're going to have to come up with something. There used to be a time that you could go anywhere in Manchester and find like some kind of cooked foods or what have you. There's nothing.