A (Slightly Irreverent) Hog Island Childhood

While we were reviewing some oral histories in the BIC collections recently, we ran across the recording of Mary Frances Phillips Quillin. It was SO GOOD that we had to share some excerpts!

Excerpts from the Oral History of Mary Francis Phillips Quillin, recorded May 14, 2008

My name is Mary Frances Phillips Quillen. I was born on February 28, 1920 in Lewes, Delaware and I went to Hog Island when I was about 6 to 8 months old. My father was in the Coast Guard in Lewes and he wanted to go down back home to Hog Island, so he went in the store business and my mother was a postmaster. Daddy also went back into the Coast Guard. We lived there in the store and we had the post office in the store and we got along great. We served the lighthouse people (the three homes in there), and we served the Coast Guard station. We took care of them all. We even had coal. And Daddy would order a half a beef at a time. He wasn’t no butcher, but honey, he could cut it better than any butcher I ever saw.

Grandmother Phillips was born on Hog Island and my grandfather was born in Wachapreague. They met when they were children down on the island, going back-and-forth by boat. They got married and had my dad and they had a deaf daughter, Sereita. She was, they called them deaf and dumb, but they were deaf mute. Sereita went to the Virginia School for the Deaf and Helen Keller taught her. She could crochet anything you wanted. She could knit or build a house or anything; she was the most talented person I ever knew. And she taught me to sign before I learned to talk.

I used to smoke when I was about five and six and seven years old. I threw it in the toilet out back. We didn’t have an inside toilet. My great-grandmother came ‘round the back of the building, came into the house, she says: “Stanley, Stanley, come quick. The toilet’s on fire!” And it was Sereita and I in there with a cigarette. I was six years old and she was about nineteen or twenty or something like that. I smoked for a long time after that, but I never let nobody know it. I mean, I’d steal them out of the store. That was fun.

What did we do for fun? Well we played out in the road, we played out in the fields, we played in the grass. We had horses, cattle, sheep, all were wild. They would come mornings when they knew school was going to be opening up and they would chew the grass until they’d see us and follow us right up the road to school. In the afternoon, they’d do the same thing and they’d follow us right down the farm. Grandmother had a shucking house down on the end of the island and they had a lot of black children down there. We played with them a lot. But we were busy all the time because I was busy in the store.