Interviewee: Annie Drake

Interviewer: Linda Godfrey

Date: January 26, 2012

Location: Columbiana, Alabama 

Description: Annie Drake was a school food service manager in Alabama.

Linda Godfrey: Mrs. Drake we are here to talk to you today about your career in child nutrition, what all you’ve done and how you’ve seen things change. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Annie Drake: My name is Annie Drake. I have been here in Columbiana most of my life, fifty-nine years. I am now at Shelby County High School. I started subbing until I got full-time. I started working at the middle school, and then I was hired here by the principal, Mrs. Hall, Beverly Hall, in 1987.

LG: OK. Now I want you to think back about your family. I want you to tell about your childhood and where you went to school.

AD: I was born here in Shelby County. I’ve been here all my life – fifty-nine years.

LG: In Columbiana, did you grow up in Columbiana?

AD: Yes. I grew up here in Columbiana and I went to the Shelby County Training School and that’s where I first started in child nutrition. I started in the tenth grade when they hired me for a couple of hours during the lunch hour, and I was paid out of petty cash. That’s how they got me in, which was very needed by my family. I had one brother and one sister. My brother worked for the county. He finished from Shelby High at eighteen, but he was killed by a tractor turning over on him. But anyway, I went to Shelby County Training School, which was on the Shelby Highway at that time, a little wood school building. We used to have to walk down in the woods to the restroom and back. But they built a new school and got us out of that old school when I was in about the ninth grade. And then we joined together with Harpersville School and they all had to move in with us.

LG: So when you were in school were the schools integrated at that time?

AD: Not until 1970 when they integrated the schools, so I finished my senior year up here.

LG: But before that you were in a segregated school.

AD: Yes. My class was the first black class to come up here, and so I finished here from Shelby High.

LG: Ok. Now when you were in school did you eat in the cafeteria? Did you eat the food there or did you bring your lunch from home? How did you do that?

AD: My family struggled sometimes, but I did eat some in the cafeteria, and as I recall the lunch was about thirty-five cents back then. And when there was something we really smelled cooking all in the halls we’d all gather up and put our nickels and dimes together – in my class – and we’d eat a lot of times in the cafeteria. And I remember back at the training school the variety of food wasn’t that large. But I remember smelling the peanut butter cookies, and we had apple sauce a lot. At the time I don’t know if it was called USDA, but a lot of the food was furnished, so we kind of cooked what we had, but I remember when I came over here the lunch was about thirty-five cents.

LG: What was your favorite food when you were in school? Do you remember that? Most of us can remember something that we really, really liked.

AD: I don’t know – I’m not a person that loves sweets, but I just remember the peanut butter cookies because of the smell, and it would make you hungry. And they would always give us some type of fruit. Most times it was applesauce. And then for dessert you had a cookie and you probably had something like a hamburger occasionally, you didn’t get it a lot, and then you had some type of meat, I’m thinking mostly chicken.

LG: I have to ask you this. Did they make cinnamon rolls?

AD: No. I never had a cinnamon roll, but I created those here, just by playing with the mix. It became pretty big.

LG: So you really got involved in child nutrition in high school right, working in food service?

AD: Right. I think I was about fifteen.

LG: And have you just continued it since then, or how did you get involved in working in the cafeterias?

AD: Well, I graduated in ’70 from here, and then I went to work for a while at the Elastic Corporation, and then I kind of got back into food service a little bit.

LG: Now what brought you back from the Elastic Corporation?

AD: Things got kind of slow there and then I was looking for another job, and Pat Bolger at the time said that they were going to be hiring.

LG: Pat Bolger was the director.

AD: She was the director.

LG: She must have known you then.

AD: She knew my dad, and she knew me through my dad, and they kind of had to put somebody in the cafeteria – integrate things – so I got hired in the school.

LG: When you were hired in the cafeteria were most of the other employees white then?

AD: Yes. The year I was hired there was kind of – the reason – she knew me and they wanted to put somebody that was kind of known and felt like would kind of get along with people, and that is the year they actually had to kind of really get somebody in there, so I subbed a couple of months, and then Beverly Hall came in and told me, “Honey, you’re fast. I’m going to hire you.” So when school opened that fall she hired me.

LG: How did you feel about that?

AD: I was OK with that because I had graduated from up here, but what I was kind of most uneasy with was when I’d done my senior year. We were the first class.

LG: Tell us about that, how it felt.

AD: It was kind of nervous. I’ll tell you one incident that did happen. Mr. Upchurch was the principal. And some of the white kids told us ‘You can go to the Dairy Queen’, and we gathered up in the car and went to the Dairy Queen, and when we got back the principal was waiting on the sidewalk for us and took us off to the office. They had tricked us.

LG: The white students told you you could leave campus when you couldn’t?

AD: Yes. So about seven of us loaded up, as many as could get in the car, and went to the Dairy Queen right down the road, and when we got back he was on the sidewalk waiting for us. And he told us we were not supposed to leave campus. And they’d done it and then laughed at us. But he said, “I’m not going to punish you because I know they did it to you and you didn’t know.” So he was real sweet about it. But our class got along really well. Mrs. Hill didn’t take on any foolishness. We had some problems on the bus, like the only thing that really hurt me was when we got on the bus. Our bus driver made us go to the back. The thing was he already had so many of all of them when he picked up all of them were at the front so we would have to go to the back.

LG: When you say ‘all of them’ you’re talking about all the white students?

AD: Yes. All the white students, and if we kind of made an attempt he let us know that we – first when we got in he said, “I’m not going to have anything out of y’all. I’m not going to take anything. It’s going to be peaceful on here.” And so it was no problem. We just journeyed to the back, close as we could get. And then some of them acted like they didn’t want us to sit with them. We just journeyed back further. So eventually it kind of smoothed out, became peaceful. I do remember when I came up here my senior year my teacher was -Elvin Hill was the superintendent. His wife was the senior class teacher, and she kind of took us under her wing.

LG: Oh really?

AD: Yes, because she was so sweet to us. She knew a lot of us. She knew our parents. But she knew we were going to have it tough. And so we had a couple of them that just kind of took us under their wing. And that being, we kind of bound with the class. We all became close and it worked out.

LG: Now you said that Mrs. Elvin Hill knew you. How did she know you? I know Columbiana is a small town.

AD: My grandmother did cooking for people around town – pound cakes – they’d pay her just to cook. She was a good cook. And then just being a small town, and they knew my grandmother, and then my dad worked at the gas board in Columbiana for about 35-40 years. And then he became superintendent because he was out there so long, and they knew him through that. That’s how they got to know me. And so when things became where we could join together she just kind of took us under her wing and it worked out.

LG: If you had to say that somebody’s been a mentor to you, had taught you things, and you wanted to be more like them, who would you say over the years has really helped you? You just talked about Mrs. Hill taking you under her wing. There has to be somebody. Mrs. Borger in child nutrition gave you an opportunity. Who would you say helped you get to where you are right now, because you’ve had a very successful career?

AD: I guess that would be Pat Bolger that really got me into child nutrition –

LG: – who was the director.

AD: She was the director at that time. And then after Pat, I think you took her place.

LG: I did.

AD: And that was encouraging to me because, and we often talk about it now, the benefits that you worked so hard to get us. And it was encouraging for us to see that someone like you cared. We were lower-paid people. We weren’t recognized as much as some people. And in the process of doing that and working that year or longer that it took you to do that, you’re still talked about now. We talked about it just a few weeks ago, well last week. We said we have what we have because you worked so hard and fought for us. And when people come to sub and some of them are not familiar, we tell them that child nutrition hasn’t always been where it is. We weren’t recognized as much. We didn’t get benefits. We didn’t get a chance to increase draw, until you did that for us. And so you’re a mentor to me.

LG: Well good. I really appreciate that. It makes me feel good.

AD: And I’m sure the other employees will tell you the same thing.

LG: It’s blessed me more than anybody else. I’ll say that. Tell about all the different jobs you’ve had in child nutrition.

AD: When I first started in child nutrition I was subbing at the middle school when I left the elastic plant. I subbed there about a year. During that year I subbed I’m going to say about half the year because they had like nine people in the cafeteria at Chelsea. It was a fairly big school at that time. So by the time I subbed for those nine ladies up there I had worked all year. And so after I had done that, after I had subbed and they got to know me, knew my work skills, they hired me here. And I started to work here as a worker, and then I became assistant manager under your time, and I’ve been assistant manager really ever since. In the process a couple of workers took me under their wing and taught me all they knew, and it was an education. And in the process I tried to teach somebody else. I had one girl that came to me that works at Russellville School. And she came back to me one summer, and she was the type that didn’t want you telling her things. And I said, “I don’t know everything,” and these are my words, “but this black lady will teach you something one day.” She came to me about three summers ago, after she had moved to about three or four schools and saw how tough it was, she said, “I just want to thank you for what you told me and what you taught me, because it has come true, what you told me.” So that makes you feel good.

LG: I was going to ask how does that make you feel when somebody thanks you?

AD: Oh it makes me feel so great, and that fact that she pulled over in front of the school one day and hopped out of the truck and told me that, after crying and not wanting to do what I had told her. She didn’t want to take orders from me because of who I was.

LG: It was because of you being assistant manager or because you are black?

AD: Black. I could pick up on that being some of the problem because she would leave me and go to a white manager and want to go tell her when I gave her orders. So one day I caught her looking through that window and I went up and I said, “You know _____, one day you will appreciate what this black lady tells you.” I said, “I’m not trying to hurt you, but I’m trying to teach you, and as you move on you’ll see this.” Well, she went to four schools, and after she went to all those schools she realized what I had told her. She said, “I just want to thank you for what you did for me.” She said, “You told me and I see that what you said was true.” And I said, “If you just pull your load you’ll work out. Be a teamster and you’ll work out.” She’s learned that.

LG: Good.

AD: That means a lot to me.

LG: It should, definitely. When you think about working in child nutrition, and working in the state of Alabama, do you think that there’s anything unique about what we do in this state when it comes to child nutrition and that type of thing, training maybe? I know you go to state meetings.

AD: Yes. Alabama in that sense if great, because they open doors so we can advance ourselves. And you know Mrs. Godfrey, I never would have done that if they did not offer these things to us, and tell us, “This is good for you. Keep this certification up.” I never would have done those things. Sherita’s dad and I told her we wanted her to get a better education than what we had and what our parents weren’t able to give us.

LG: Now Sherita is your daughter?

AD: Sherita is my daughter, only child. Like I said, she is a licensed social worker, has her master’s through Alabama, has her license, and she’s a therapist, and that makes me feel good that she went on with her education, and the things that you all have allowed us to do to widen our horizons and become better people. And had you not done that – you started a lot of that off. You told us to take the classes. You encouraged us to go. They made it known on the website and you let us know when it was coming up, and you would appreciate us going, and so we started kicking into that. As a matter of fact, the other ladies that have retired – all of them are retired that I started with – we started running the concession stand, instead of the teachers, to get the money to go to those conference meetings, and to do uniforms, and educate the kids. When we have extra funds we give away little tickets to the kids to encourage them to come in and eat. And then we would start telling them, “Taste this. Take a sample. It grows on you.” And right now, this will be my twenty-fifth year, and I am here because of these kids. I am here for these kids. I can tell when they come in if they are having a bad day. They’ve grown so close to me they will come to me. I had one little boy that came in and jumped all over me, and the principal got on him, Mr. Rogers, and made him come back through that door and apologize. He said, “I know Miss Annie. You know her. And I know how she treats y’all.” And he came back and told me, “I’m sorry Miss Annie that I did that, but I woke up and I had a fight with my dad.” And I said, “Well, you know we can talk about this.” I said, “But if you go through the day with this chip on your shoulder it’s going to knock everybody in your path back away from you.” And he kind of cried and told me he was sorry. And I said, “Whenever you need to talk we can talk.” And he said, “OK.” And it made him have a better day.

LG: Sure.

AD: But these kids are the reason that I’m here. I love them. I tell their parents – I meet them in the street a lot of times and ‘Hey Miss Annie, hey Miss Annie’, and the parents will tell me, “My kids talk about you night and day.” And I say, “They were your kids. I only birthed one. That was Sherita Drake. But I have four hundred and something kids, and they’re all mine.”

LG: Every year.

AD: Yes, and they’re all mine. And they just laugh.

LG: You’ve just talked about how when you see them on the street or in the grocery store. You have a restaurant now. Do they come in there and eat?

AD: Some of them come in there. It’s just a well-known thing. And what’s amazing to me is that the parents know me as well as the kids. And they tell me if they have a problem they can call. And they say, “Oh Miss Annie you’ll understand”, and they talk to me about the kids. The parents say, “Make sure they eat.” I say, “Oh I will.”

LG: How many of the parents have been your students?

AD: A bunch – I ran across about five in the last month that bring their babies by to see me.

LG: Oh really?

AD: – bring my grandbabies to see me – and they’ll come into the restaurant. One guy had two kids. He told me how many he had and what age they were – but I’ve had a bunch to come.

LG: Let me ask you this. Do you think you would have had these types of opportunities in life if it hadn’t been for child nutrition?

AD: No, I don’t. I don’t think I would have had those opportunities. Like I said, I would not have broadened my horizons with food and food service. I would not have done that. And it made me a better person being here. And the kids and the parents take to me so much that at one time it frightened me. Really. I said, “God, why me? Why are people taking to me so?” But I found that God put me in their path to make their life better someway, and they did the same for me. They are the reason that I’m still here. And I try to teach them the things that you and other people have taught me about child nutrition, and how good it’s going to be for the future.

LG: When you first started working in child nutrition did you see a difference between the way the white students reacted to you and the black students, and if so tell us a little bit about that, because I know you’ve been through a lot.

AD: I’ve seen a big difference. When I first started, and I’m bad about calling them ‘baby’, like I did today, and they like that. They are my babies. I feel like they are. When I first started our maintenance guy, Nick Wells -his mom is back there – he was in school. He’s now a maintenance guy for the last six, seven, or eight years. And he came through the line and I said, “Come on baby.” And he looked at me like ‘You’ve never had a white child’. He was real mean, really rude to me. And I tell him about it now – he’s a preacher now – and he laughs and I tell him about it. I had our Ag teacher come through one day, and I never noticed it – we had two registers at the time – and if kids come through and they have too much I tell them they don’t need it, to take it back. And he told the kids, “You know what? I’m going to tell y’all something. Annie doesn’t care if you’re white or black. She’s going to treat you all the same.” And I never noticed that until he said it, because like I said, they were all my kids. But I noticed the difference. Nick – he was so rude – but I was determined to call him baby again. I kept on until he got used to it and I had someone tell me ‘Get your hands off me’ – actually push my hands off. And then I had one of the workers back there because – they had integrated the schools, which was older for them that me – and we had this young white girl that was going with a black guy on the ball team – and I had one of the cooks kind of mistreat him. She’s go to whispering when they came in. That’s when I decided I was going to get even closer to them, black or white, and they grew closer and closer to me – because that was hurting to me. She didn’t say it to me, but I knew what she was doing, and she kind of mistreated him because of it. And I made sure that I was nice to both of them.

LG: What about your daughter? Where did she go to school?

AD: She went here. Like I said, the school integrated in ’70 so she went up here fulltime. She was born in ’81, and when she got old enough she came. She went to Elvin Hill and then she graduated from up here. She was on the band club in the other school. Missed it by a few points the years she was up here. And she graduated from here and she went on to CAT for one year to get her kick into it, and then I sent her to Jacksonville. She went to Monte Valley? And then her dad died just before she got through Monte Valley? She was about sixteen or seventeen. And then I worked three or four jobs to get her – no loans, no loans – I worked about three or four jobs to get her through college and grad school, because at the time things changed. Her dad was on dialysis for twenty-one years. Therefore when she graduated it wasn’t like it used to be. They took her off those funds and I had to make the sacrifice to keep her in t here – which I had always had to jobs, but I increased to four.

LG: Where all did you work, because during this time you also became an assistant manager?

AD: Yes. I was a worker part of the time, and then when she got to high school she might have had one year at Pierce, or something like that, and then I became assistant manager. Under you I worked at the Board of Education. You were supervisor then. I worked at the Board of Education at night, my husband and I before he died. And I think we were there for about seven years.

LG: What did you do at night?

AD: We were janitors. We kept the Board of Education clean. I cleaned First Alabama Bank. I cleaned [unintelligible] in Alabaster. By the time she was a [Monte Valley?] I picked up another job, and I’m still doing that. I go to Mountain Brook every Saturday and clean for two attorneys up there in Mountain Brook, and I clean for one older lady that’s almost ninety in English Village – which is also in the Mountain Brook area. Right now I’m cleaning Bryant Bank – I used to clean two banks – an insurance store, and a car lot. Right now I’m cleaning Crossroad Autos. I’m cleaning Bryant Bank. I’m cleaning for the two attorneys at Mountain Brook, I’m cleaning for Crossroad Autos in Alabaster, and I’m cleaning for an accountant that is right in that area also. And then I work here, and when I get off here I go across the street to Annie’s Place, which I opened July 14th.

LG: That’s your restaurant.

AD: That’s my restaurant.

LG: And some time in there didn’t you work for the 4-H?

AD: Oh yes, twenty-one years. When I started here I was already at the 4-H. I had left Elastic Corporation and gone to 4-H, and that summer they hired me here in food service. I was night manager at the 4-H Center most of that time. And what I would do is work here, and we usually get off at 2:30. I would go home, freshen up, change into my uniform, and go to 4-H. I did that for twenty-one years. As a matter of fact I had only been out from down there about three years when I started Annie’s Place, but I was night manager at the 4-H Center in food service.

LG: Did you feel like that your child nutrition experience helped you in doing that?

AD: Oh yes, it helped me a lot because like I said, we had started the classes by that time under you. And then I taught them some things that were taught to me – myself and Laurie Teal. And just before I left the manager over the kitchen told me, he said, “You know what Annie? It’s because of you that things are running smoother.” And I had taught them to prep ahead, which you had taught us here, to help things run smooth. I had taught them to prep ahead for the next day. So that made me feel good.

LG: When you look at your typical day what do you do?

AD: You mean in child nutrition?

LG: In child nutrition.

AD: Normally we get here at 6:30, sometimes before. We come in and start prepping for breakfast and get it ready and have the line set up by about ten until seven. I count my money box and get it set up, and pull the computer up for the program I need. We usually start breakfast about 7:10. We’ve probably got 100-120 eating breakfast now – it’s grown a lot. They’re getting used to the meals – wheat biscuits – and they like these things better. After that I go in the kitchen and kind of supervise the ladies in the kitchen – after I count my drawer down – what they need to do, what we have for the meal – the manager and I will discuss, and then I’ll make sure it happens in the kitchen, while she’s doing some paperwork. And we’re in the process of where we kind of swap out. About 10:30 is normally break time and then the kids come in about ten or fifteen minutes later. And then from that time on – they eliminated one of the registers, so I have to get them all through by myself. There used to be two registers. I get almost 500 through a day by myself.

LG: What’s the enrollment at this school? How many students are actually at this school?

AD: About 700.

LG: And you feed about 500.

AD: Yes, close to it.

LG: What if a student comes through and you have something new? Because you’ve seen a lot of changes in child nutrition, and you have a new product, let’s just say the whole-wheat cornbread that you had today. How do you get them to try those types of things?

AD: The kids are kind of funny about trying new items so you have to encourage them. Now when I first started out I told them, “Try this.” “No, no Miss Annie!” So I started just putting it on their plate anyway. I said, “Just try it. I’ll give it to you. You’ll like it.” And they say, “Did you cook it?” I say, “We cooked it. We’ve got the team.” That’s what I usually tell them. “But if I tell you it’s good, it’s good.” You would be surprised how many of them have started to sample. They sampled a new item yesterday. They sample, and usually from then on they will eat it. And I tell them, “If you don’t like it come to the register and tell me what’s wrong with it.” Like the other day they had oatmeal on the menu at breakfast, and they didn’t want to try it. And so I started talking to them. I said, “Taste your oatmeal. Tell me what you taste” – day before yesterday, so I started that little game with them. So I had about five sitting there. They were trying to figure what was in it. And we have recipes that we have to go by, but they told us occasionally we could put something to enhance the flavor, that won’t add calories or affect it. So in my oatmeal I started putting a little vanilla flavor. And after about five tries they guessed it, because it’s just mild. And I paid for my tea, and it’s encouraging to them. And we might have a little something, we have a lot of people that come by, the vendors come by, and I talk them into giving us free stuff down through the years – different stuff – some of it’s offered now, because we have fruit drinks, and they will give us some, or a case of it to give away. Or I’ll talk them into giving us a t-shirt, and do things like that to encourage them. And then they’ll try it or they’ll buy it, and then we’ll give them a little gift – a little raffle at the end of the week. It keeps them in tune.

LG: Now since you’ve been working in child nutrition, like I said, you’ve seen a lot of changes. What changes have you seen in the way things are cooked, prepared?

AD: Changes I didn’t want to accept at first, but that have been good changes, like we used to use a lot of butter, cook a lot of sweets. We went from the white flour to whole grain. We went from a white spaghetti noodle to a whole grain noodle. We changed our roll recipe. We went from so much frying to baking, and it’s a good thing. It took a little while to get them used to it, but once they get used to it, and I tell them I had it and it was good, encourage them, they will take a big change. And all the disagreement that they were giving us at first has just mellowed out. And it’s got so they will come and tell us like yesterday, ‘Good meal today’, and it was wheat, wheat rolls, something like a Panini sandwich that we stuff, that had ground beef – and a lot of fat taken out of it – and they loved it yesterday. So it was something that you taught us when you were here – don’t give up. They have to grow in it. And they did that, and so did we. Because we as cooks think that things change so drastically that we didn’t want to accept it either, but in us accepting it, getting them to taste it, telling the kids, you become a team in that, and they accepted it so well. This year is great. This year has really been great, because they started three or four years ago, and when you started us it was a little at a time, and it kind of made them grow into it. It’s been really great for them.

LG: Ok. Do you remember when we did more scratch cooking, when you first started working?

AD: Yes.

LG: Tell us a little bit about that, about the difference in that and maybe what we’re doing now, and maybe we’re moving back to those types of things.

AD: We’re back to some if it but in a healthy adjustment. When I first started a couple of schools would have like the vanilla pudding already prepped, and it’s a lot of preservatives and sugar in it. When I started here after they changed things I had to make it. We had recipes that we had to go by, guidelines that would tell you exactly what was in that recipe. Before I became assistant manager I was the baker, and we used to rotate, but I was the main baker, and we went from twenty cups of sugar, a couple of dozen eggs, to something less than that, to substitute. Like all the butter we were putting in the rolls – you’ve got one that calls for oil and shortening in a smaller amount. And then they also taught us instead of brushing butter on the rolls they had us doing a little light skim milk. I think we started that under you. It made them softer. It has been a drastic change. We no longer do all the frying. As a matter of fact they keep saying in a few years all of the deep fryers will be gone. And so instead of frying we bake. And they have purchased what they call a Combi Oven down through the years – WONDERFUL. You can steam in it. You can put things in overnight that will cook. I even went to a class in Birmingham where they sell them, where you can put five different items on five different racks. It will cook them all at different times, and perfect cooking. So it has been a drastic change in the work you do. They eliminated a lot of the eggs, a lot of the fat, a lot of the sugar. We are almost one hundred percent whole grain on what we do. Hotdog buns – they’re loving it.

LG: And you said you resisted at first but you’ve changed?

AD: I’ve changed and it’s been a great change. It’s just because you fell in a mode with things, and things I wasn’t taught on down through the years, I learned better. That’s the reason I’m trying to incorporate some of those things in Annie’s Place, because it’s a healthier choice, and if you go to the kids, like you say, you want them to have a healthier choice. We no longer have fries every day. But we got them used to that fact. Now they do want to buy extra when we have them, but we tell them it’s just not allowed. So now we’ve got them so they don’t disagree with that so much. And we try to tell them ‘You’ve got to do some choice. Get all the items on there. Get your fruit. Get your veggies. Get the salad.’ And we have a low-fat dressing that they fell in love with, buttermilk dressing, low-fat mayo, and it’s just a process of getting them used to things.

LG: What about technology?

AD: Broad range. When I first I remember I didn’t want to get on that computer. You told Becky, “I want her on that computer, and I want her on there now.” So Becky put me on there. Now I have gotten used to a lot of it, and I’m told I’m the fastest cashier that they have. That’s why I’m on the register. Technology is wonderful. You don’t have all the paperwork on paper now. You just have it stored in your computer, and you don’t have to worry about all that paper trail, you’ve got it on disk – wonderful.

LG: I never thought I’d hear you say that.

AD: Wonderful – no, because you know I hated it, and I’m still not in love with it, but it’s better.

LG: But you’re comfortable with it.

AD: I am comfortable.

LG: And why is that?

AD: Because you forced me! No, because it’s become a part of life. I was talking to my daughter last night, and I said, “You know, there are certain things that I don’t understand, and Word stuff comes up that we didn’t cover, and I feel so stupid.” She said, “Mama, you’re not stupid. You’re learning to grow with things.” She’s a computer rat, totally computer rat day and night. “It’s just technology.” And she said, “The more you do it the more you will learn it, and comfortable with it.” And you had them to send us to a computer class too, while we were still under you, and they’re still doing it, and that makes you comfortable. I had one lady tell me, “Put it in there, because you can’t hurt it.” I really thought that if I did something wrong it might explode! Really, that’s the way I felt.

LG: I lot of people felt like that.

AD: So I got relaxed. She said, “Just put it in there. Put it in there anyway.” So we were in this computer class, and it was under you, and I started feeling relaxed then. We took so many during the summer, and if we were up for it we could take it during the school year. Yes, technology is wonderful, and if you don’t take part in it you will get lost in the crowd.

LG: That’s a true statement; that is a true statement.

AD: Lost in the crowd.

LG: What’s your biggest challenge? What would you say the biggest challenge is of food service, or that you’ve faced over the years?

AD: The only thing I felt that was a big challenge to me was the fact that we had to learn that computer. That was a challenge to me. I don’t know why. I’m a hyper person. I’m fast. Even in school I didn’t take typing, because I felt like I’d be too slow, and I’ve never been a slow person. So then when I was forced to get on the register as assistant manager and do more in that field it was frightening to me. Like I said, until I just kicked it inside. As a matter of fact I sat in there and I almost cried in the office. “God, it’s you and me now – You and I. We’ve got to do this.” So that’s the way I started seeing that is was not to be frightening to me, but to help me be a better person. And once I relaxed and faced that, then reality kicked in that it was a good thing. I was a little angry when you told Becky, “Put her on there.” I said, “She should have to get on here.” [Laughter] It did great things for me.

LG: If you, at the end of your life, and we all know we’re going to get there, some people sooner and some people later, what would you want people to say about you, about what you’ve accomplished in life and how you’ve contributed to child nutrition? How do you want people to remember you?

AD: I want people to remember me as – you know what I really want people to remember me as? – a friend to their kids. I strive for that every day because you never know. We had one kid that killed himself in the summer. He was going through stress and everything. And the lady that I was telling you about that was not as friendly to him as she could have been – after that summer I promised myself for the rest of my life I would always do something that would encourage them. And as they come through here – I feel like that’s why God put me in this position – I promised myself I would never come back to Shelby High when I graduated, because you know, you just wanted to be out of. I thought ‘Here I am God, I’m back here’, and I even kind of questioned why, why I left the plant [when] I’d been there two or three years, but there was a reason Mrs. Godfrey, and that reason was to help these kids through their live, teach them things, make their life better. And let them know that segregation is nothing, and together they can stand. And this is what I tell them every day. I remember when I first started they had a Martin Luther King thing in class. The kids got mad and brought it to the cafeteria, and this black boy and two white boys got to fighting because they were talking about blacks and whites in the class – they brought it to the cafeteria. They tore up our cafeteria. We had set the salad bar up. They tore it up. The salad bar was just all over the cafeteria. And I hated that so bad, and so I told them, “It’s ok. Why are you angry?” And I told them, “Y’all have got to get along. This is life. You’re going to have to get along, not one, not two, but all of you.” And it made a difference.

LG: Do you think you’ve made a difference with them by saying that; they listened to you?

AD: I made a difference with them on that day and it settled them down, but I’ve made a bigger difference with them since I have been here in this cafeteria probably the last ten years. When I call one baby I call the other one baby – and that’s the way I see it. One year I think I gave them one hundred dollars paying for their lunch when there was not enough money, but it wasn’t one, it was all of them. And I listen to them now in the street – Piggly Wiggly, in the street, everywhere – “Hey Miss Annie! I love you!” And I can go out to the store, anywhere, and the guy I’m dating now, he said “These kids love you.” And he said, “One thing I have to say about you, you’re always smiling.” And I told one of the kids one day – I didn’t feel good – I said, “You have made my day. I didn’t feel good when I came here, but you have made me feel better.” Just seeing them, and they will ask you, “Miss Annie, how are you doing? What’s wrong today? How is your day going?” They come through the line and ask me, “How is your day?” “My day is fine, baby. How is yours?” And if they’re not smiling I go to the table and ask them what the problem is. They talk to me instead of their parents. That made a difference in my life.

LG: Does that make you feel good?

AD: Oh yes, and I pray I’ve made a difference in theirs.

LG: What advice would you give somebody who – let’s just say that you have a student that comes to you and they say to you, “I’ve seen the way that you work in child nutrition and food service and that’s really what I want to do with my life.” What would you tell them?

AD: I would encourage them to go for it. I would tell them to learn all that they can about child nutrition. That it is a good thing and that in the long run if they’ll learn as much as they can, the good things about food, that it will reward them in the end. Their life will be longer. They can prolong somebody else’s life by the knowledge that they have, because it has taught me that. That good choices in life when it comes to food if going to be with your body and pay off to you later. I tell my daughter that, I say, “I made wrong choices. I have high blood pressure. These things are important to you. These things are important.” And I try to tell the kids – they’re fussing about wheat – I say, “You’re going to be glad later because you’re going to get used to it, your body will get used to it, your system’s going to be better, and you will live longer.” I would encourage them to go full force in child nutrition, and I’ve had one girl to come tell me, she said, “Miss Annie, I want to do what you do.” I said, “You can do it. Just go for it. Get the schooling that you can get and make the best of it.” I had one girl tell me, she said, “I want to go into culinary.” I said, “Do it. You can do it.”

LG: So if a student comes to you and they say, “I’d like to do something,” you encourage them?

AD: I encourage them and I tell them that if I can help them I’ll do that. If I can help you and teach you – as a matter of fact I’ve had a couple of them do that, and I tell them and try to explain to them how that wheat is good to them, why they don’t need quite as much milk, sugar, and I have to tell them every day, “If you will get everything, all the choices we give you, you won’t be hungry.” “This is not enough food Miss Annie!” “Get your choices and you won’t be hungry, because it’s going to hold you longer.” They come in – we do a brunch breakfast at test time – and I encourage them to get all the items. I say, “Feed your brain. It’s good for you.” You’d be surprised at how many have started doing that just from me telling them.

LG: Is there anything else you want to say about child nutrition, or about working here?

AD: I love my job. I love my five-hundred kids.

LG: I think that kind of shows.

AD: And you know what Mrs. Godfrey? This is going to be year number twenty-five for me – could be retirement year. I’m not quite ready – but it is SO HARD for me to even think about leaving because of my children.

LG: Because of your babies.

AD: Because of my babies and I worry about how that they will be treated – the things that they won’t do.

LG: Who are they going to talk to Miss Annie?

AD: I don’t know – the choices that they might not make – and I tell some of them that start their families too early, I say, “You know what? This is your baby. You need to eat better. And you know what? Once they get here you can’t send them back, so make the right choices.” And they’ve listened to me, they’ve listened to me.

LG: That’s pretty much a legacy that many people cannot claim.

AD: I would encourage them. You know they talk about this, “We pay you”, when I say, “Clean that mess up.” “You get paid for that.” I say, “No, I don’t get paid to clean your mess up. It’s probably like your bedroom at home. Clean it up.” And then in doing that they see what it’s like. Every chance I get I get them to come in here when they do something wrong – see what it’s like. And the love and everything we put into it, not because of a payday, because we’re prepared to make it good for you. It’s a good thing. Make it good for you and make it better for you, and they’ve learned that. And every chance I get I let them come in to see what it’s like – to wipe a table, clean up your own mess – I encourage them to taste the food – they realize what our job is all about. When you do that they realize what the job is all about – and it’s about making things better for them.

LG: Anything else you want to say?

AD: I’m probably going to cry when I leave here. I can’t imagine leaving.

LG: I can’t imagine this place without you.

AD: You know, like my family’s fussing at me, “You got too many things going. You got Annie’s Place now. Something needs to go.” I don’t know how I’m going to do it. And I bought that place for them. I bought that place for them – I really did. And I tell them, “Look, I got this place for y’all. And you’re going to eat better and we’re going to have some choices over there.” And I thought if I did that it would encourage them outside to eat better.

LG: Give them another option.

AD: Yes. And I think it’s going to kick in, eventually it’s going to kick in with them. I think so. Thank you so much. I could talk all day. You know that.

LG: But what you’re saying is really important.

AD: I would encourage these kids to go into the cafeteria until they learn, because I had to learn.

LG: What I’ve heard you saying over and over and over though is you encourage people to keep an open mind.

AD: Yes. And I had to learn that. You’re taught one way, but you have to learn that. My parents’ group – say I do something across the street – country cooking and stuff – I had learned, and I’m still doing some of it, but you learn to slowly get away from that. And that’s what’s teaching me – to slowly get away from it. And I’m hoping these kids will kick in more, and they will come ask me, “Miss Annie, what’s good on the line?” And I tell them, “It’s all good, but try this.” And they’ll be shocked when I go, “Here, try this.” Give them a whole bowl of it every now and then. “I don’t have to pay for it?” “No, I just want you to try it.” The next time they eat it. They’ve done it this week – every week.

LG: So you’ve accomplished your goal.

AD: Yes I did. When they do that I’ve accomplished my goal. And then they’re going to tell the next person and the next person and it’s going to grow.

LG: Right.

AD: I love them.

LG: I can tell. I can tell. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

AD: You are so welcome. Thank you for all you’ve done for us. You have done so much for us and I want to give you flowers while you live. You’ve done so much for child nutrition – you really have. We were just talking about that last week, about you and the things you’ve done for us.

LG: It’s all that team approach.

AD: Yes. See, we had one girl that was subbing and we were telling her about the way Mrs. Godfrey did this, and she got us up to where we should have been with others, because it was a hard job. And then there were changes, like you said, technology, and food, and all this. But you know, pay is good, but the training is good too. It makes you appreciate it more.

LG: It’s that inner feeling of accomplishment.

AD: Yes. You’ve grown in your life. I told Sherita, my daughter, when we were talking the other morning, about things I felt I was lost in, hadn’t taken time for, wasn’t educated enough, and she said, “Yes you are Mama.” So it’s been encouraging to her to see me grow, and see how I’ve grown in child nutrition.

LG: Sure.

AD: And so I take it to her. I say, “You know, if Mama does this and can stand it and grow when she’s down, so can you.”

LG: Right.

AD: So, child nutrition has been great for me.

LG: Good.

AD: I don’t know when and how I can let it go.

LG: You’ve been good for child nutrition too though.

AD: Thank you.