by Bonnie Norwood
Bonnie Norwood, a resident of the Eubanks/Rogers Road, Chapel Hill area, agreed to help The Prism present local concerns and experiences regarding the current debates around the impact of the Orange County Regional Landfill on the residents' lives. But debates about policy are dry and cold without the touch of humanity that can be shared by presenting people's real life experiences.
In the tradition of both oral history and radical grassroots journalism, I asked a local resident to do the interviews herself. Norwood interviewed two veteran residents of her neighborhood, both African American women, Mrs. Gertrude Nunn and Mrs. Mildred Rogers.
Jeff Saviano, editorial staff.
Did you know that your family picnic garbage winds up in Mrs. Nunn's back yard? And believe me, a sunny day in a plastic bag will make even mom's apple pie something you don't want to smell. All household garbage that is not recycled from UNC Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Orange County goes to the Orange County Regional Landfill (OCRL). Which, if you didn't know, is in Mrs. Nunn's back yard, on Eubanks Road.
Mrs. Gertrude Nunn has been a resident of Eubanks Road for 50 years, and is one of the many strong Black women in our neighborhood. She was married in 1938. She lived a few years in Chapel Hill before moving into her new three bedroom home off Eubanks. What a wonderful day that was Mr. and Mrs. Nunn raised five children in their new home. Mrs. Nunn enjoyed the peaceful afternoons listening to her children playing in the yard. They'd see rabbits, squirrels and all kinds of creatures. The Nunn family had picnics, reunions, and I'm sure a barbeque or two, in this beautiful country setting.
Mr. Nunn passed away in 1968. He had worked 25 years at UNC Hospitals which at that time was called Memorial Hospital. He worked hard to keep his wife and children clean and fed. Think about how hard it would be nowadays to raise five children and buy a new home on one salary. Mr. Nunn's passing made times hard for Mrs. Nunn and her childrenit would be for anyone. But maybe that way he was spared the humiliation of seeing all his years of hard work turned into the Town Dump.
Mrs. Nunn is a strong woman, full of the kind of pride that comes from her closeness to God and family. She put her whole heart into being a mother and homemaker. Back then, she'll tell you, you didn't let anyone see your kids dirty, or drop by for a visit to see a messy home. It gave people the wrong idea about you, and Gertrude Nunn wasn't going to let anyone get the wrong idea about her. She worked as a homemaker, growing a garden, canning, whatever it took to keep her family looking good.
I am a resident of the Eubanks / Rogers Road neighborhood. My years there are only thirteen, but that has been enough time to see and experience how much of an effect the OCRL has had on the community. I've just painted a picture for you of what love, devotion, and hard work can accomplish inside a family. The next picture I'll paint is of what an innocent sounding dump and a couple of political promises have done to change the legacy that Mr. and Mrs. Nunn had hoped for.
Remember the things the family shared? Animals, picnics, barbeques, a clean home, a clean yard, clean air, birds singing and peace and quiet. Mom's apple pie, right? The All-American Dream. Well, yes, it used to be that dream, that is until the OCRL moved to Eubanks Road. Remember the children playing, seeing rabbits and squirrels? The children of course stayed but the animals didn't. The BUZZARDS at OCRL get hungry and small animals are what they eat.
Family get-togethers, picnics, and reunions stopped when the new neighbor moved in. When the OCRL came, it brought BUGS, BUGS, BUGS. You know the joke about ants and picnics? This tale is about the really big ones we have all cringed at: ROACHES. Would you bring your food outside if you had to fight the bugs for it? The odor from the garbage will make your food taste really bad as well. Neither one is conducive to eating out.
What have the Nunns lost so faranimals? Can't truthfully say that because the OCRL gave lots of buzzards and hundreds of crows and rats. The OCRL took butterflies and gave roaches by the billions. Airfresh, clean, sweet airthe OCRL gave lots of returns here too. The landfill is always willing to give something in return for what it takes. The problem is, can humans still have a high quality life with what we get? There are many gifts the OCRL bestowed upon the entire community. Most of us, however, just see it as trash.
The last thing Mrs. Nunn shared came with a different tone in her voice. The words seem to wrap themselves around her soul. "We are a Black nieghborhood," she said, "and it hurts me, way down inside when I come home and everywhere I look there's trash. Each walk I take a plastic bag goes with me to put trash in. I don't like touching the nasty stuff but I have no choice. No one who puts the litter there ever offers to pick it up."
"It's embarassing and humiliating," she continued. "Just because we are a black neighborhood doesn't mean we want trash everywhere. Most people driving through here think the trash is there because we're Blacknot true." It's another OCRL 'gift.'
Mildred Rogers is another strong Black woman in our neighborhood. She was born in 1923. A time far different than today. She graduated from Orange County Training School in 1942. Born and raised in Orange County, she married in 1943, then moved to Rogers Road in '46. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers raised seven children. Mildred worked at home, gardening, cleaning, sewing clothes and cooking.
That real good down home food that you just have to have corn bread with to be sure you get every last drop.
When the youngest child was three, Mrs. Rogers started work outside the home. She was a care person for seven years, while the second job was in a factory called Rogers Triem (not related to the Rogers family, and now called Triem Electric Inc., an electrical manufacturing shop in Carrboro). After 22 years she retired.
Mrs. Rogers was no stranger to hard work. Before she married you might find her picking cotton and tobacco at her father's side, with never a complaint.
Let's go back to 1946 when the Rogers family moved to Rogers Road. At this time, no roads were paved. You had a horse or mule and pulled a buggy, that's how you got around. You'd meet folks on your journey and stop to offer a ride. Everyone talked and rode together. In those days you went to Hillsborough to grind corn for meal, or to the grocery in town for some flavors, some lemon or vanilla extract for cakes. A little vanilla behind the ear made you smell sweet. The grocery was at the corner of Franklin and Columbia. Top Of The Hill stands there now. Didn't have electric refrigerators then, so you didn't buy things that would spoil. What the Rogers did have was an "ice box" which looked like a big box with doors. You put a huge cube of ice in one section and it kept things cool.
On the Rogers farm, you'd see mostly chickens, well, broilers is what they are called. Broilers are not for egg laying. They're the eating kind. Mr. Rogers was in the Broiler business and sold chickens to buy all the things you couldn't raise at home. Try as you may, you'll never get shoes to grow from a shoe tree. With seven children to keep in shoes, you've got to sell a lot of Broilers, and they did.
"These were times," Mrs. Rogers told me, "that people helped each other, and if someone knew how to make money they'd be honored to teach and get you started. All you needed was desire and a good back." Mrs. Rogers said that's how they got into the chicken business. Mr. Rogers went to classes, back then folks weren't so eager to make things impossible for you, "no as a matter of fact they'd tell you you could do it and don't give up. People now days are just negative about everything," she added.
With that in mind comes the landfill. Folks went to meetings and listened to the stories about how at the new landfill the garbage would be put in a hole and covered with dirt. Mrs. Rogers had a 'wait & see' attitude: could her family really trust the politicians? Guess what?
Now, in 1998, in Mrs. Rogers back acres is the biggest uncovered pile of garbage you'll ever see. I believe Mrs. Roger's instincts were correct.
The actual dump has expanded. The extension is across from the old cell on Eubanks. The dumpster site, with more than 15 dumpsters and various recycling bins, is now on the opposite side of the road of the new cells. [In the landfill, areas of ground which are excavated and prepared to receive garbage forms a huge, boxlike shape called a "cell."Editor.] In the beginning it was the other way around. There were only three dumpsters and they didn't sit in a nice fenced in area on clean stones with an attendant. They were unattended, stinky messes. People went any time of the day or night and when the dumpters were full, it didn't matter, just throw it on the ground. Who cared?
Mrs. Rogers and her family cared. The dumpsters brought so many rats to her home looking for food that they ate holes in her house. You may talk about being eaten out of house and home and think about it as a joke. Would you still feel that way if your home was really being eaten by rats? Mrs. Rogers said, "the rats ate anything that wasn't nailed down, they'd go after the pets and even rooted the shrubs."
The events of Mrs. Rogers' life since the OCRL took over the neighborhood have been more than most could bear, yet she caries on with a head held high, and 'fight' still hanging on every word. Mildred has faced her fight without her husband of 33 years. Her first loss was the wonderful life style her family shared because of the OCRL, which came in 1974. She then lost her husband in 1976. Mrs. Rogers adjusted to the empty places her loved ones left. At the end of 1988, Mrs. Rogers lost two more children, the first in November, the second in December.
Mrs. Rogers tried to trust the promise of 25 years as the projected life of the landfill. Now that we have touched on how she has suffered, is it fair to ask her to put up with another eight years of landfill? Five acres of land and two years is all it would take to begin relying on a MURF and stop the landfill altogether.
Mrs. Rogers feels that she's had enough trash and enough of the four-legged rats as well as the two-legged kind.
No more landfill!!
|Bonnie Norwood lives in the Rogers Road / Eubanks area and works in Chapel Hill.|
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