Interviewee: Idella Dial
Date: January 27, 2012
Location: Bessemer, Alabama
Description: An Alabama native, Idella Dial has worked in Alabama schools for forty-five years.
Linda Godfrey: I’m interviewing Mrs. Idella Dial in Bessemer, Alabama, who’s been with the Bessemer school system for how many years?
Idella Dial: Forty-five.
LG: Forty-five years. That’s pretty much a lifetime for some people. You do realize that don’t you?
ID: Yes ma’am.
LG: Ok. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family, and where you grew up.
ID: I was born in Bessemer, Alabama. I grew up in Bessemer, Alabama. I went to three schools in my life and graduated in Bessemer, Alabama. I first went to Muscoda. And then I went to Muscoda on 150 afterward, and I stayed there until I was in the fifth grade. But my father had moved out and built us a home because U. S. Steel, they were a Tennessee company called TCI, they moved us from Muscoda Hill to around 150, and he built us a home. And my dad was a hustling hard worker for his children. There were six of us, three boys and three girls. There’s a distance between our ages. I’m the first of the second set, and there are three of us living, and three have passed away. And I went to the fifth grade at Muscoda; then I went to Carver to school. It’s torn down [now]. I went there. And I graduated from Dunbar in 1948.
LG: Alright. Now when you were in school there was segregation?
ID: That’s right. And when I went to work they had just broke the key.
LG: Is that right?
ID: I graduated in Home Economics and I have a certificate in that, and I passed the test to go to Alabama State, but I got hot-headed and wanted to marry, so I married my husband and we had six children, three boys and three girls. Each one of them has had a trade school or a college graduation. Some of them have gotten their master’s and some haven’t, but I thank God as well as it is. I had Christian parents. They kept devout, went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evenings. I went to church, prayer meetings – we had that midday, and I met my husband there at the church, not in the street, because I wasn’t going to be left at home alone with my brothers and my father. And I like this about my mother and my father. Growing us up my mother was in front, we were in the middle, and my father was behind. So that you knew I grew up in a good home.
LG: And you grew up in an era when there was segregation. How did your family feel about that, or did you ever talk about it as a family?
ID: No, we didn’t really talk about it as a family. As I grew older, some things I found out growing up in my life, I didn’t want to talk about it. And so we just didn’t talk about it, but things got better when I married – I got age enough and I took the test and I voted. I was able to vote even though sometimes the vote might not have been any good – but we voted.
LG: You know how I feel about voting. It is important.
ID: Yes it is. And then in my life my husband’s father and mother passed, and it was four of them that were in school, and he accepted them, so I reared some more children along with my children.
LG: You did?
ID: I sure did. Doris Long – she was Doris Dial – and Robert Dial and Eddie Dial, and also Lola Dial, just retired from her school. She went to Miles. Doris went to Booker T. Washington. My husband’s pattern was you either go to school or a trade, college or a trade, so we did have them to do all of it.
LG: Do you feel like that some of your working in child nutrition helped them to do some of those things?
ID: Yes ma’am. That was it. It helped me. And then I took it in high school. I had child nutrition. They were calling it Home Economics, learning to sew and cook and to measure and all that. And my mother was a great cook, but we learned more.
LG: Ok. When you were in school did you have a chance to eat in the lunchroom? Was there a lunch program?
ID: I got a chance in my middle school, but it wasn’t like the high school. Now first when I was going to school TCI, the company, used to fix the lunches. I remember I got a little bit if that. That was kindergarten.
LG: And they fixed the food – because I know that they actually took care of the families? They provided housing. And they prepared the food for the children?
ID: Yes. But it didn’t last with me because they cut it out.
LG: I guess that was about the time the school lunch program was implemented.
ID: How long has that been?
LG: Well, it was actually implemented in ’46.
ID: This was before that.
LG: But before it was implemented you had food at school, right?
ID: I had it one year.
LG: What about after TCI quit doing that? Did they still serve food at school?
ID: No. Our parents fixed you a lunch.
LG: And then that went on how long, that you had to carry your lunch from home?
ID: I’ll say from the first through the eighth grade. You know that had little snacks and stuff you could buy, but you carried your lunch.
LG: Ok. So you didn’t even have the opportunity to eat at school.
ID: Until I got in the ninth grade.
LG: Tell us about that.
ID: I got a chance to eat in the lunchroom – where you buy your lunch – not the nutrition we have today. They served you maybe some cookies and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and on like that. And we had spaghetti and all that.
LG: What was your favorite meal at school? Do you remember?
ID: Well, my favorite meal was chicken.
LG: Ok. And how was that cooked?
ID: They fried it or baked it. I never cared for chicken and dumplings, but they would have all like that, meals like that, green beans, limas, dried peas – dried food.
LG: And how did you get involved in child nutrition? Why did you decide to start working in child nutrition?
ID: Well, after my kids, my first one started school, and I was fixing a variety of meals. And in Home Ec you always learn what to cook and balance your meals and we read that and balanced it out, and then I got interested in it.
LG: Where was your first job?
ID: Alton Avenue and 19th Street.
LG: And which school was that?
ID: Alton, it’s still standing across from the Methodist church.
LG: And was that an elementary school?
ID: Yes ma’am.
LG: And how did you get hired there?
ID: Well, my neighbor across the street, I asked her if they needed some help, and then she told me she would check with them – Miss Miller – her boss lady. And I said, “Well, I’ve got to check with my husband.” So I checked with my husband. During this time he was out of a job. And we were trying to take care of four of our own kids and four of his siblings, so that is why I was trying to get a little job. But I couldn’t leave, so then I had two more children and I worked there.
LG: When you started working had integration taken place at that time, or were we still segregated?
ID: Well, when I first started they were segregated and then they integrated.
LG: What was that like? Do you remember anything about that? Did it affect your job or your life?
ID: It didn’t affect either one because I was used to being around people of both [races].
LG: And this was at an elementary school?
ID: Yes ma’am.
LG: And how long did you work there?
ID: I worked there seven years?
LG: Were there both white people and black people in the kitchen working?
ID: Just black – and the supervisor was white.
LG: Did you get along with her ok?
ID: Yes ma’am! She was a nice person and she was very sweet to me. My mother – my sister-in-law passed, and during that time – she had some children- and she was very sweet to me because I went to see about my mother every day.
LG: What about your children? Were they in school there, or were they in school somewhere else?
ID: They were at Carver.
LG: At Carver – and that was in Bessemer?
LG: If you had to say that somebody helped you in your career, was a mentor to you and encouraged you, can you think of anyone you would say was a mentor to you?
ID: Yes ma’am. Miss James, Eula James. She was a mentor to me.
LG: And what did she do to help you out?
ID: Well, my neighbor across the street carried me to work and introduced me to them, and Eula told Miss Miller to hire me.
LG: And so did she continue to help you after you started working?
ID: Oh yes, she did. She helped me by neatness, cleanliness, and everything.
LG: You’ve worked in the school system for forty-five years so you’ve seen a lot of children come and go haven’t you?
ID: Yes ma’am.
LG: Can you think of an incident or a child that you felt like you were what they needed at the moment?
ID: Yes ma’am. I think about several of them. They were HUNGRY. And they would come through the line, and some had an opportunity to get free lunches and some didn’t. Some said, “I’ve had nothing today to eat.” I can remember a little white boy at Arlington. I was making rolls.
LG: And this is an elementary school?
ID: Yes ma’am. And he said, “Give me another one of those biscuits.” I’ll never forget that. They said, “They’re going to get you!” I said, “Well, I’ll have to give him another biscuit.” He said he had never had a good biscuit, and I gave him another roll. And I feel like the Lord was pleased with that.
LG: How did that make you feel?
ID: I feel GRAND over it! I think about the children that I fed.
LG: It sounds like it didn’t make any difference to you if they were black or white.
ID: They didn’t make any difference. Today they don’t make any difference. I would give each child what he needed as far as I was able to.
LG: Tell us about those cinnamon rolls that you make.
ID: Well, the rolls and the cinnamon rolls – my mother was a great roll maker, and cinnamon rolls. She would make them for us, because she went to afternoon class, and she had a white Home Economics teacher teaching her to make that. And I learned from my mother making the cinnamon rolls and the rolls. She went to afternoon adult class.
LG: When you were in school – that kind of brings a question to mind – when you were in school did you have white teachers or black teachers?
ID: Black teachers.
LG: When you think about child nutrition programs in the state of Alabama is there anything unique or different the state.
ID: I think the child nutrition programs were real good. And we really cooked the food that the children loved, that was nutritious. Now we are in better shape because we give them more fruits and vegetables, and we cut out the frying – health wise it is better.
LG: So you think there’s more emphasis on people having a healthier lifestyle?
LG: What about the trainings and meetings and things like that? Do you like to go to those?
ID: Yes ma’am. I found a Healthy Edge last night looking in my things from the ’90s – 1990 – I took that class.
LG: You sure did.
ID: They say I don’t throw away anything. I have a lot of material from workshops that I went to.
LG: Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot of different things in your career?
ID: Yes ma’am. I sure do.
LG: How do you feel about having a career in child nutrition?
ID: I feel wonderful. It’s one of the greatest things in my life.
LG: When you look back, and I think we all have to look back and thing ‘what if I had done this, and what if I had done that’, when you look back at your life and you want people to remember you for something what you say that you would want them to remember you for?
ID: First I want them to remember me being a Christian.
ID: And second, my life at the school.
ID: And the children love me today. If they see me in the street they speak to me.
LG: Do you see any of your children – and I’m sure that’s what you think of them as – in the grocery store, or out shopping, and that type thing?
ID: I sure do.
LG: And what do they say to you?
ID: “Hey Miss Dial. How are you doing? I love you” – the most of them – and “Can I come by your house and get some good ole cinnamon rolls?” And I’ve been known to make some good dressing you know. But I could cook anything that they had – a variety of things that I love to cook – bake cakes and all.
LG: Right. Now you’ve helped train a lot of different people. Do you want to talk about that, what they’ve gone on and done?
ID: I’ve trained quite a few. Some of them have gone home to glory, and some have retired.
LG: Where do you work now?
ID: At Davis.
LG: Davis Middle School, right. And how long have you been at Davis Middle School?
ID: Since about 1987 or 1988.
LG: And where were you before there?
LG: Ok, so you were at Jonesboro Elementary School. What was it like to go from an elementary school to a middle school?
ID: Well, it was a little different because the children were a little more hard-headed, as we say. Well they were a little bit more misunderstanding I would say, than hard-headed.
LG: Middle school’s a tough time for students too. It’s a tough time in life for them.
ID: Yes it is.
LG: So how did you help some of them out?
ID: I think I’ve helped a lot of them, because my mother always told us when a child reached twelve or thirteen, fourteen, they were pretty hard to handle. You just have to be real careful with them.
LG: You have to be patient don’t you? You have to be patient with them.
LG: What would you say your typical day is like? Do you have a typical day in child nutrition? If you come in in the morning, what do you do first, and what do you do all day long?
ID: Now when I come in I wash my hands and make the dishwater, and then we get prepared for breakfast. We cook a variety of foods, grits, meat, breakfast portions of a variety of things.
LG: Do you cashier at breakfast?
ID: Sometimes I have to cashier at breakfast.
LG: And what do you do after breakfast?
ID: Whatever I need to do. I write down what we have to have, and what we used.
LG: You’ve worked long enough that you remember when we didn’t have a breakfast program, right?
ID: That’s right.
LG: What was it like to implement a breakfast program, to start a breakfast program?
ID: It was a little tough, but it worked out real well.
LG: What was your feeling about it after it got going? One of the things in child nutrition is we all have to change a lot, don’t we?
ID: That’s right.
LG: And I guess that was probable one of the BIG changes that ever had to occur, so after it started did you feel like it was good for the children, or it was too much trouble, or how did you feel about that?
ID: I felt like it was GOOD.
LG: What did the students say about it?
ID: They liked it. They loved it because some of them – it was a help to them to have some food to eat the next morning.
LG: In child nutrition there’s been a change from doing a lot of scratch cooking, preparing food from the beginning. We have more really convenience foods now. Do you want to talk about when we did a lot more scratch cooking? What about preparing vegetables?
ID: We would have to snap those round baskets of green beans. We had to pick the greens, and we had to wash and peel the sweet potatoes and the turnip roots. There were various things that you had to do, like you would have to do at home.
LG: Did you ever have to shuck corn?
ID: No, we didn’t have to shuck corn.
LG: I remember one time somebody telling me they had to do that in school nutrition.
ID: WE didn’t have to shuck any corn.
LG: But you did have to snap beans?
ID: Yes we did, and pick the dry ones, and cook them.
LG: You had to shell those too, the dry beans?
ID: Yes. We would usually pick them one day and soak them overnight, and come in the morning and wash them and start them to cooking. And I was taught there that we must put them on in cold water. If you had to add some water, add cold water, to keep them from cooking to pieces.
LG: Alright. So you’ve taught a lot of people what we call little tricks over the years haven’t you?
ID: Yes ma’am. And also I could take a recipe and work it up – it would be like for twenty people. I could take it and add the tablespoons, the cups, the amount, and make it for one hundred, and then take the hundred and make five or six hundred.
LG: Ok, so you know how to do that and still use those homemade recipes. What kind of changes have you seen as far as the way we cook over the years?
ID: Well, they don’t seem to use boiling meat. We used to use oil, and they changed to butter, and now we use margarine.
LG: We used to use a lot of butter didn’t we?
ID: Yes we did, to season the food. And to me butter was good, tasty, it made the food tasty.
LG: You already said you’re not doing as much frying as you used to. Have you seen any changes in the equipment that’s available?
ID: Ooh yes, Lord. A lot of equipment is handy. You can have a tomato slicer. You have a grinder. You can have a roll mixer. And you have big tilting pots, where you used to have to lift those pots. Equipment is really good.
LG: Do you think equipment has been developed that makes the job easier?
ID: It does.
LG: If a young person came to you and said, “I really want to work in child nutrition and I really want to be involved in school service”, what would you say to them?
ID: I’d tell them to take advantage of it and take it. I sure would, because I came a long way and [it is an honest job].
LG: It is a good way to make a living then you would say?
LG: What would you think is your biggest contribution to child nutrition?
ID: The care of children.
LG: Alright. Tell us about that.
ID: The care of the children would be their health, their happy living, some of them. Some of them come from a broken home, and nutrition, food, plays one of the greatest parts in their lives.
LG: Have you enjoyed what you’ve done all these years?
ID: Yes ma’am. My kids have told me to come home, but they say, “You enjoy what you’re doing.”
LG: You’re not planning to go home and quit working anytime soon I hope?
ID: Yes, I am.
LG: Oh, Miss Dial.
ID: I have to agree with my youngest son. He said if his father had been living I would have been at home before now, and he thinks he has let me work long enough. And he says that he feels like they can take care of me.
LG: I’m sure they can. Do you think it’s helped your children over the years that you worked in child nutrition?
ID: Yes ma’am.
LG: And have they developed a good work ethic because of looking at you and what you’ve done and what your husband did?
ID: Yes, they sure did. I like to say this about them.
LG: Thank you for talking with us today.
ID: And thank you for asking me. Anything I can do to help someone I’m still willing to help them.