I interviewed Dorothy Powell at the GhanAgain Festival at Austin Town Hall Park on Sept. 10. Powell, 90, grew up on the West Side but currently lives in Oak Park. She talked about her life in the city after having moved from Water Valley, Mississippi 83 years ago. She’s outlived her 10 siblings and three of her five children.
On growing up in Austin
I did a lot of things while on the West Side. I used to work for the Chicago Defender. I would go to different lounges like the Oasis to dance.
Back in them days, you’re talking about before World War II, things were so much different. We didn’t have all of this luxury. You had to make your own fun. Union Park was the only park that they had. That was between Lake and Washington. That was big with all the kids. I used to play on a baseball team called the Studdettes. We made our fun. We would get tin cans, crush them and race with them. The old people used to sit and watch us. We had those stilts and we would get on those and race. We’d make them out of long tall sticks and we’d put a footrest on them and take off.
In the winter, we’d get on a hill not too far from us and take our mothers’ wash tubs (they didn’t have all them washer machines back then) and we’d go on the hill and come down on the snow. That was our fun.
On quarter parties
This man used to have quarter parties where you’d pay a quarter and come in and you’d drink pop and dance. Sometimes we’d go and sneak and turn the lights out when he’d turn his back and do all kinds of devilish things. We would put in together and get some of that cheap wine and on Friday nights at the grammar school they had what we called a social center night. You’d come to the social center and buy you one of those big old peppermint sticks. They had different activities in difference classrooms. Boy, we used to have some fun. It was good, clean fun. Not all that gangbanging and crap.
I’ve been dancing all my life. When I was little they used to throw nickels and pennies on the floor for me to dance and I’d be out there with my little self. I’d just be moving and if I moved pretty good, here would come another handful of pennies.
As I look back on it now, that was the foolishest thing I ever did. But it was fun, I didn’t know any better because those little pennies would get me a peppermint stick. Back then, you could get five little peppermint sticks for a penny.