INTERVIEW: MARY PENSON
Note: Q indicates interviewer.]
Interview Date: February 19, 2016
Interview Location: City Hall Annex
MARY PENSON: (laughter) I don’t sell it, I don’t want it.
Q: OK. I think we’re ready for the real deal. OK, let me get my — OK.
MARY PENSON: These yours?
Q: I think these are just extras for the next round.
Q: Yeah. Well, we have —
MARY PENSON: Oh, OK.
Q: Let me give you a less crumpled up one. OK.
MARY PENSON: No, you can have a (inaudible).
MARY PENSON: I need a fan. Let’s do that — oh, oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t even see you no more. I — yeah, I didn’t see you anymore. I was fanning. (laughter)
Q: You know, like, the consent form that we can just use to interview for non-commercial purposes, and —
MARY PENSON: And I already signed. So, I’m gonna still have the pen now, just in case you said — and now, you’re gonna say, why is she — why, how she gonna sign and don’t even have the pen top off. (laughter) So, if it’s gonna be real, it gotta be real.
Q: Oh, you signed it? Oh, OK.
MARY PENSON: Yeah, I signed it already, girl.
Q: Oh, OK. Because we have to sign —
Q: Yeah, where’s the — (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
MARY PENSON: Yes.
Q: Maybe she took it.
MARY PENSON: Yes, she did. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Q: OK, cool. So get this going. I’m very disorganized in my — OK. OK, what’s your name?
MARY PENSON: Are you gonna check it off? I am Mary Alice Penson.
Q: Can you spell that for us? For the transcript.
MARY PENSON: M-A-R-Y A-L-I-C-E P-E-N-S-O-N.
Q: Awesome. What gender do you, do you identify with?
MARY PENSON: I am female, 100%.
Q: Cool, cool. Keep it 100.
MARY PENSON: Right, right.
Q: Yeah. (laughter)
MARY PENSON: That’s what I do. (laughter)
Q: Where were you born?
MARY PENSON: Right here in Elgin. I am the last child born at the Elgin Fleming Memorial Hospital —
Q: Oh, did it close down?
MARY PENSON: In our family. Yeah, it closed down. It’s Fleming Center now. It’s a rec center. Well, not — that’s where a swimming pool — and basketball goes outside. But they use it for different functions, but it’s not large enough to have, you know, major anything. But, you know, because it was a hospital. You don’t get it.
Q: Yeah, yeah.
MARY PENSON: Small, you know, yeah.
Q: How long has your family been in Elgin?
MARY PENSON: Forever. Yeah, we’re, we have six generations here. You know, so a couple have passed on, but yeah, we’ve here forever. I don’t know where we started from, but you have ask my uncle. He did all the genealogy, and I can only retain so much. You know? (laughter) I’m born and raised in Elgin. I have left, but I’ve come back because, you know, you know, growing up, you think, I can’t wait till I get grown. I’m getting out of this house, and I’m moving on. I’m gonna be — you know, you come right back to just a little small town, because it’s so wonderful. You know, so now, I’m on city council. Who would of ever thought? You know, because, you know, you know, how you have stereotypes? You know, you think only, you know, certain people belong on city council board. Not me or, you know, whatever. So, I wanted to have a voice in our decision making, so now I have one.
Q: Did you feel that your voice wasn’t represented before you were on council?
MARY PENSON: Sometimes, because some things, you know, happened. Not that it’s, you know, total — you know, it’s still eight people, so everyone, you know, but it’s more not going along to get along type now. You know, I don’t know, I don’t know what, you know, transpired before, because I was not in attendance to meetings or whatever. Just like people aren’t now. But yeah, I, so now, yeah, I have opportunity to represent the city. Well, more (inaudible) my part. So, it’s, feels good. It’s, you know, I enjoy it. Seeing, meet people like you, you know, different functions. You know, hopefully we get some more people to tell stories because, you know, I like to sit around older people and listen to what they have to say. You gain a lot. See, I’m 50 now, so I have a lot to share. (laughter)
Q: [05:00] I want to make sure I get this before I forget, what’s your birthdate?
MARY PENSON: Seventeen of ’65 — 19– July 10th, 1965.
Q: Oh, that’s my mom date. Like, she was born in 1965 too.
MARY PENSON: Oh, really?
MARY PENSON: See, 50.
Q: (laughter) Represent.
MARY PENSON: I represent 50. I got my AARP card, girl. I’ve already got a couple discounts. (laughter) See, that grey hair helps. (laughter) I go get a senior citizen discount. They don’t know I’m just 50. They think I’m 60 or something, what–whatever the, you know, the age is. I didn’t tell them that, you know, they just assume. OK, you know, what they say about assuming. I’m just saying, you know, that was their fault. And I don’t, you know, I didn’t realize it until, you know, I got the receipt, but oh well. I won.
Q: Yeah. No, it’s not a bad thing. (laughter)
MARY PENSON: (laughter) Take advantage, man.
Q: I guess, tell us about your food experiences growing up in Elgin.
MARY PENSON: Growing up in Elgin, I had my grandmother. She worked at a, at the nursing home. It’s only one nursing home in Elgin. She worked there as a cook, you know, the supervisor of the kitchen. And so most of the family had worked at the nursing home in one capacity or another. Well, my aunt and — yeah, it was the paper moved. I saw it. (laughter) And my oldest sister, they all worked in the kitchen. I think my middle sister too. But yeah, the, so growing up, we loved going to Big Momma’s House, because Big Momma — I don’t care if you just ate at home, when you get to Big Momma’s, Big Momma say, go in that kitchen and get you something to eat. You know, she done always had something really good, you know. And we can remember hard fried pork chops or pork steaks. You know, they were really crunchy. You know, oh, Big Momma fried these hard. (laughter) I mean, but they were good. It wasn’t too hard. There were, it was just tough, it was just perfect. You know, and my baby girl, I don’t, she doesn’t even met my, she didn’t meet my grandmother. But she, she loves food just like my grandmother, you know? So, you like, where you get that from? OK, we know. Because, you know, we remember something else. You know, but that’s important to tell stories because we lose it along the way, because, you know, somebody you — well, some younger people don’t appreciate what we did. You know, like, my 15, my half 15-year-old. She doesn’t appreciate home cooking most of the time. She likes to — like, my mom used to — you know, she used to get off the bus at my mom’s. She would — my mom would cook chicken today, right before — you know, so she’ll have something when she get off the bus. The chicken place was right across the field from my mom. She want money to go buy chicken. And, you know, my mom did. Now, she wouldn’t have done that for me growing up, but she did it for my, for my kid. Like, really, momma? Oh, she wouldn’t’ve starved before I got, gave her some money when I can cook, you know, if I cooked. Because growing up, if you, if we cooked dinner — you know, your mom cooked dinner, whatever’s cooked, that’s what you ate. You didn’t eat, you will go hungry, you know. You didn’t want it, too bad. So, we all appreciate it — because I didn’t like squash. I don’t know how I got around it — or okra. You know, but because my mom loves some okra gumbo or whatever. Okra, salami.
Q: It’s good though, it’s good. (laughter)
MARY PENSON: There you go, girl. (laughter) To be young and appreciative. I, I like other things, you know, but yeah. Yeah, so we just grew up. My mom always had a garden as long as I’ve known. You know, we had to get out there and pull weeds and stuff. And that’s when our — although we didn’t like it, my — OK, it’s five us kids. My youngest brother’s a baby boy. He didn’t really get in on it, because we’re seven and half years apart. But the other four of us, my oldest sister, she used to get out there and preach. Boy, she’s — you know, but she wasn’t preaching, like, you know, at church, but, like, at the house. Yeah. We had — yeah, (inaudible) got us here digging these weed — you know. (laughter) You know, you know, the sound of, like, a preacher. I mean, even that was funnest times. You know, pulling dirt, chunking dirt, you know, you know, getting dirt all under your nails. You know, I can’t stand under my nails, man. Although, I have a little spot in my yard, so — for me to plant something that I had made [10:00] up last year. Haven’t done it yet, because I don’t want to get out there and pull weeds. I don’t have anybody to talk to. I can’t tell nobody stories, because my kid is not gonna do it. She’s allergic to everything. She used to get out there. When she was two and three, she’d cling — whatever I did, she did. If I cut the grass, she cut the grass. You know, I had her a lawnmower too, you know. You know, she didn’t go in the row like I did. You know, so she just went everywhere, but she would do it, participate. Now she’s a teenager, so let that — (laughter) and so we, we’d like to go to my aunt’s, you know, to — because she always made all the favorites. Like, especially like Christmas. You know, we’d all, you know, grown, after we’ve grown up, we’re gonna say that. After we grown up, we could go from house to house. You know, but when you growing up, you — wherever momma goes, that’s where you go. But after we got grown, used to go to my mom, my aunts, because my aunt used to make homemade candies, and, you know, all the little scratch cakes. And boy, I loved that three layer coconut cake. Oh, I’m not a chocolate fan, but my grandmother used to make a homemade scratch chocolate iced cake, and put pecans all over it. That’s my uncle’s favorite. (laughter) I mean, but, I mean, you know, scratch was, was it. You know, now we have box everything. Store bought everything, you know, a lot of store bought. Yeah, so, whatever I remember, I like to cook, you know, from scratch. You know, like, I don’t like Wolf Brand Chili. You know, it really does give me heartburn, because it’s I don’t know, greasy or whatever. I like to make my own; I think it’s the best. (laughter) You know, rinse my meat, you know, I don’t have all that grease. (laughter) Yeah, but that’s what I miss. That, but —
Q: Oh yeah. Now, do you think that kind of the younger generation isn’t as, I guess appreciative or, like, as into, like, home cooking and, like, gardening? Or do you think it’s more like because your daughter’s a teenager, and she’s just like —
MARY PENSON: Now, you know what surprised me? Corn. Now, corn is her favorite food, but she mostly like creamed corn. You know, like, you know, you get the cans, drain it, and put cream cheese and buttered sugar in it. That’s what, that’s mainly her favorite. We got the recipe from my grandma, from her daddy’s mother. My momma. And but I bought some fresh corn, and I told her she had to shuck it. Didn’t you know that girl, I got her in that kitchen and shucked that corn like she was a professional. We would, we would — trust me, either they had it on sale when it was good. And that corn, we bought 24 ears at a time, because they had it, like, six, six ears for a dollar. And yeah, she would tell me to go get her some corn. And we had the biggest pot, you know, like, we was making a big old stew in, in there. We cooked all that corn, and she would sit, she would eat five, five ears in one sitting. You know, nothing else because fresh corn is where it’s at. I mean, I mean, you can’t, you know, so she does have an appreciation of just a few things. But most kids doesn’t, you know. Just and she like, you know, like, just a few, few things that she’s not allergic to. (laughter) Like I said, she’s allergic to everything. Now, she’s allergic to peanuts, and a little bit to tree nuts. She’s always eating pecans and cashews. Like, she gonna eat it (inaudible) gone take that (inaudible) (laughter). You know, like, like, she’s allergic to tomatoes, but man, she put ketchup on everything. And if it touches her skin, she’s, I need some Benadryl. You know, but, you know, that’s, you know, but yeah. So, and, and she’s allergic to eggs, but you know at Easter time, we boil eggs, and everybody else is eating boiled eggs. She won’t even want to. But we had to use the EpiPen for that one because she, she was, I can’t — you know, the Benadryl didn’t work. You know, so yeah, for that one. I mean, that, you know, I, so I gave her Benadryl before, and then I let her, let her try, you know. You never know. I didn’t know it was that bad. Now, I knew peanuts was that bad. I don’t, she doesn’t like anything peanut. [15:00] Because she was, I, when she first found out she was allergic to peanut — when we found out, we were at, at H-E-B in Round Rock. And she and her dad, they was eating the peanuts, you know, and, you know, peel them. You know, how you get them roasted peanuts in the store. And they were eating them while we were shopping, and she was laughing and scratching, and laughing and scratching. Yeah, she — that’s when we found out she was allergic to peanuts. We just knew she was allergic to eggs. So, I mean, she loved those peanuts. Now she (laughter), now she’s allergic to them, she can’t stand them. (laughter) But she, she was trying, she was eating Nutella — I don’t know what it tastes like, because it’s chocolate something. Yeah, she liked it. But, you know, that was the closest thing to peanut butter she was gonna get. You know, how do you grow up not eating peanut butter and jelly sandwich or egg sandwich? That’s what she had to. So, yeah, but your kids doesn’t appreciate freshness, and I don’t think they’re, you know, like, you know, local farming or whatever, I don’t think they will be in tune to gardening. You know, you know, some, when you get — you know, after you’ve passed all of your, your teenage years, and you can come back, you probably would enjoy a garden. You know, have an appreciation of it. Because, you know, you think about it, you know, we’ve been, I’ve been living here in Elgin, and you’ve always seen between Elgin and Austin, a bunch of farmland. And there’s not a lot of farmland, it’s a bunch of housing developments. So, where are we gonna get our, you know, vegetables, our cotton for our clothes? You know, this microfiber is not working for me. I do not like it. (laughter) But it’s, it — and these sheets. I bought some 12 — you know, because, you know, go buy the count. I bought some 1,200 count microfiber sheets. I didn’t know that was microfiber until I — I was like, these are not 1,200 count, and then I read microfiber. I was like, oh, god. Because they just slide, they don’t even stay on the bed. (laughter) Just sliding. And it say more absorbent — no, it’s not. Cotton is the way to go. Yeah, but so what are we gonna do? I don’t know. But, so, we’re needing people like you all to come up with some ideas. You know, we’re trying to get them encouraged to [look?] You know, but yeah, so I sit home, and we do what we can. But can’t make anybody do anything.
Q: And imagine it’s really difficult. Yes. A natural transition. Can you tell me about, like, what food your family cooked around, like, the holidays and what y’all ate, like, growing up?
MARY PENSON: Yeah. Mostly — even now, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Christmas is always been turkey, dressing, and ham. And then, you know, do, like, cabbage, maybe some, OK, maybe some greens at Thanksgiving and some at Christmas. And, you know, had a lot of sides. You know, like, a pea salad — oh, I, always pea salad. And potato salad because, you know, we have some. Like, my baby brother, he doesn’t eat condiments, only ketchup. You know, like, no, no salad dressing. He just, he didn’t eat salads. He doesn’t drink tea. (laughter) Like, where did you come from? No fish, where did you — but he likes to go fishing. (laughter) But he’s, I mean, you know, but that’s — people — but, so, you have to make mashed potatoes for him, and potato salad for us. You know, so we had, yeah, a big variety of food. And then everybody’s cake, you know, like, pineapple cake, chocolate cake, and banana cake, and apple cake. And sweet potato pies always at Thanksgiving and Christmas — and pecan pies. Yeah. And when my aunt was alive, we always had [20:00] — we call it a white folk pies. (laughter) But they were just, they were just cream pies. (laughter) You seen life. (laughter) You knew where I was going with that, yeah. I was (inaudible) (laughter). I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But that’s what we called them because, you know, I can’t explain it. That’s what we called them. Because see, my aunt, she used to make all the incredible desserts. You know, a Watergate cake, and it was, and it’s pistachio. Pistachio pudding and Cool Whip mixed in together. And yeah, just the, just the package. You just beat the, beat the package of cool, Cool Whip and the Jell-O pudding together. Yeah. And then put one package in the, the mix, yeah, and then that was, that was your icing. The Cool Whip with the pistachio, and then top it with coconut and some pecans. Boo. I mean, yeah, she’s the one, you know, make the coconut the cake, the banana cake. I mean, because you can’t make banana, you, you never had banana cake until you had some of my auntie’s. Woo. Now, her kids can even cook it too. You know, make it like that. So, her daughter on my birthday or some occasions, I gotten accustomed to this spice apple cake, you know, it has pecans in it also. It’s no icing, it’s just all (inaudible). Yeah, I mean, you know, just the cook stuff. That’s what I call it. All the good stuff, yeah. See, and I’m, I started making earthquake. Earthquake cake, it’s, you layer it with coconut, and then — at the bottom, and then pecans, and then make cream cheese icing. And you bake it in the middle of the German chocolate cake. You know, you make a German chocolate cake, and then you pour the — when you put it in the pan, you pour the German chocolate icing on top of the, you know, coconut and the pecans. Put the German chocolate cake mix, some, the cheese, cream cheese icing, and then some more German Chocolate. You know, so it all bake together. And when you flip it over, it looks like the earth. You know, because it’s coconut, you know, like, you know, how dirt?
Q: Yeah, all rocky.
MARY PENSON: Yeah, so it look just like it.
Q: You’re gonna need to share the recipe with Miss [Nia?], so can get it to me.
MARY PENSON: Girl, that’s some good stuff because — yeah, my brother. Let me tell you, see y’all were too young to know about Bruce’s Pies. Bruce used to make coconut and pecan pies. They used to make fruit too, but we only like coconut and pecan pies, and they was about that big. You know, they were small, and they were in orange packages. And I’m a mailman, so on my route, these people used to give me some little pecan and coconut pies like this. And one day I talked to that man, and he say, yeah, we used to work to see Bruce close down. I’m sorry I missed that part. Bruce closed down several years ago, and it went out of business or whatever. But some people, some of the employees lived on my route, and I found them. And so I get them every occasion, you know, any time I can call them and tell them I want some, you pies, da-da-da-da. And they say, how many you want, when you want them? And all I have to do is tell them and pay for them, of course. (laughter). And he’s so, he’s so wonderful, you know, he said — you know, because I ship them to my brother that lives in Dallas, and — or we meet and make an exchange so he can get them. And yeah, I ship them to him, and pack them real tight. And he’s giving me credit, he’s telling everybody that his sister get them for — you know, I get them from my sister. See, they, he didn’t tell them where she get them from. And like my sister, she works at the post office also, and she used have me making peach cobbler for her. And she tell them — you know, they all thought she was making them. (laughter) Go figure. Everybody give credit for some, whatever they want, you know, but that’s what we do. (laughter) Hey, I take that credit, look. Yeah. It’s hard to learn [25:00] that crust. You know, it took me a few tries, you know, to make that, you know, fresh crust, yeah. Yeah, did I cover what you guys — you asked me what we ate in holidays. Yeah, we ate it all. I mean, you know, and see, like, you know, New Year’s we ate the black-eyed peas, of course, and, you know, whatever we wanted. You know, something else. I can’t tell you. You know, some make ham, some, you know, and just whatever you wanted. Most of it — you know, I don’t eat (inaudible), but my sister does, you know, my family does. That’s what they usually eat for New Year, you know, it’s a tradition. So, that’s what they eat. Yeah, Mother’s Day and Easter, mom likes chicken and dressing. Not the turkey, but the chicken and dressing. Yeah. Because my Mother’s Day, I made all Spanish. She did not think that was a Mother’s Day dinner. Man, I had chicken enchiladas, beef enchiladas, Tostito taco nachos. All this food, that’s not a dinner. That’s not a, that’s not a Mother’s Day dinner, because she want her some chicken and dressing. I don’t cook chicken and dressing, but my mom does. So, if you, we gonna do it for you, then OK. I’m just saying, you know. But we appreciated it, that’s what I liked. And, you know, a lot of people now are going with their own, making their own traditions, because I talked to chief, our chief of police, Chief Bratton. He had said they do chili, you know, Texas chili. Christmas chili, whatever he said that they do chili, so. And one of the kids or his wife or somebody suggested they wanted the traditional, now you gonna make that chili. And I understand it, because my cousin — you know, my aunt passed away a few years ago, so her daughter, she make, she makes good, you know, turkey and dressing and all, but they make, like, enchiladas. You know, they may have something different too. So, yeah, everybody is getting away with, from the traditional stuff. You know, because, like, back in the day, I used to eat pig feet and, you know, all that, and I’ve become a little conscious. I like, I cannot know that I’m eating, putting fat in my mouth. You know, but, you know, some things, you know, you can eat and just sometimes, you know, the texture of stuff, like, oh Jesus. I can’t believe I ate that. Now, I eat tripe. You know, like, I make menudo. I don’t put pig feet in it, unless, you know, somebody want it, you know, and I make it for them. But for my house, I just put tripe and hominy. Yeah, that’s what we eat. (laughter) You know, so everybody do their own thing. So yeah. So, what’s good for you, I mean, I may not like it. So, I make what I like. You know, that’s what the, that’s what you’re supposed to do when you giving gifts. You supposed to buy something that you want. So, if that if they don’t appreciate it, come right back. (laughter)
Q: Re-gift it.
MARY PENSON: Yeah, re-gift it back to me. Oh, you didn’t want this? You don’t — oh, thank you, baby, I’m sorry. Look, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you don’t want this. (laughter)
Q: Tell us your preferred place to get food now. I know earlier you were talking about H-E-B.
MARY PENSON: Girl, yes. H-E-B is my favorite place. I’m telling you, I’m serious when I’m talking H-E-B. H-E-B — I’m a shopaholic. OK, my name is Mary, and I am a shopaholic. And I make deals when I know them. You know, you know, and I do shop at other stores besides H-E-B, but H-E-B is my favorite because they always have — you buy something and you get something for free. And I mean, or money off of, you know, even, like, toilet paper or whatever. You know, we all need toilet paper. We don’t have to have paper-towels, but we have to have toilet paper. And, you know, so they have, you know, a dollar or two dollars off or, you know, sales. And the food, they always have — you know, like I said, they [30:00] had chicken fajitas, you buy a bag of chicken fajita meat to cook, and they give you tortillas, beans, rice, soda, and, you know, a whole bunch of other stuff for free. You know, you, you get more free than you pay, you know. You know, sometimes it work out like that because like I say, I got some eight dollar bags, you know, eight dollar bags of fajita meat, and I got $11 of stuff for free. You know, and they have every, you know, they don’t have the same things every week. But they have a lot, you know, a lot of stuff to encourage you to buy from them. And you don’t find that at Walmart, and not too many other stores. Some stores trying to do, you know, the same what H-E-Be, but you have to go through too many chains to get their sales. You know, to get off this thing. Yeah, because — but H-E-B had a coupon right here for you, and the stuff right there too. You don’t usually have to go hunting for stuff, for the deals. You, they all have it all prepared for you right here. Yeah, and they have good prices if, if they don’t have the, you know, buy something and get something for free, the prices are good too. Yeah, I shop at Randall’s too. Yeah, I had a Randall’s card. If it’s on sale, and lately they’ve had good sales. Look, really good sales. (laughter) I mean, but it has to be on sale to go to Randall’s. You can’t go — because I’ve taken my sister to the store with me recently. Like, you can’t just pick up anything you want in here. Do you know how, do you know — you know, you guys stretch a dollar. You can’t just buy any and everything in here. So, yeah, so you got to make, make it work for you. Yeah. And plus, yeah, everything is so high, you have to make — you know, find you some deals. Now, like today, we have the local food farmers here at the park. You know, a lot of people doesn’t go, you know, participate because it’s rather expensive. You just really can’t afford because — we have local goods here, right here on this corner at the light. And they have, you know, fresh fruits, fruits and vegetables in there, but it’s, you know, expensive. Just, like, an H-E-B and whatever they have. Now H-E-B has some stuff for sale, too, with it. We’re talking organic stuff. Trust me now, H-E-B is the place to be. You know, but, but it’s harder — well, it’s more expensive to buy local and fresh as far as, you know, organic or whatever. But we’ve been doing it all these years, buying whatever H-E-B has, so I don’t see a problem with it. It had to come from the ground. You know, they still have to grow it the same way organics, you know, grow. And so that’s just my feeling, that’s my personal opinion. You know, this is my interview. (laughter) So, I can’t speak for other people, I’m just saying, you know, this, you know, that’s just reality. So, and I do represent some people, but this is my interview.
Q: Yeah. No, no, talk about what you like. We’re not try (inaudible) (laughter).
MARY PENSON: She say she can’t afford the — but I, I still have gone, you know, down there, because I like fresh pecans. And I just pay their price for some fresh pecans. Yeah. I wished I found somebody that makes some good peach preserves because my aunt and one of her daughters that used to make the peach preserve, both of them diseased. And it’s — boy, I stretched that last two jars of peach preserves for so long, I think I stretched it two good years after my cousin died. Because my aunt died — no, my cousin died first, and then my aunt died. You know, they, they had diabetes. My cousin had, had a lot of problems. And so…
Q: Are there any local kind of restaurants or places you like to eat when you don’t cook at home?
MARY PENSON: Yeah, we go to a few here in Elgin. Now, see I like — well, we just got Eva Mae’s — is a soul food kitchen just right across the street, yeah. And we have Lucy’s. But I mostly like Luther’s — you know, if I’ma eat a burger, I like Luther’s. It’s called Superior Burger, but I know the owner. Look, that’s a good thing. [35:00] (laughter) I be knowing people at the Luther burgers. His name is Luther Wilson, and his wife, Marilyn. (laughter) So, we like to go down there mostly for every, you know, whatever we eat out. Yeah, because I’m not a, I’m not a big fan of McDonalds. All of my kid is. And yeah, that’s pretty much where I eat if — I mostly eat at Luther’s if I eat out somewhere. I’ve gone to Eva Mae’s since she’s been open. I went to Lucy’s a couple time. Yeah, but I mostly — yeah. Unless I going with somebody that’s paying. (laughter) I don’t want to spend my money.
Q: No, no. It’s good to mostly eat at home.
MARY PENSON: You ever like Cheddars? Cheddars is, you know, has those good croissants. Godly, I love them. I didn’t even know about them until (laughter). Yeah, I just, yeah, I pretty much like to cook my own food at home. Because, you know, that’s another thing, you know, you see — I watch too much TV, that’s my problem first of all. Because you see too much, you know, you don’t know what these people are doing with your food, and you haven’t done anything to them. You know, how they’re — just, just don’t just say that. You don’t know what people are doing with your food before they bring it out to you. You know, I’m not saying that everybody does it. I’m just saying you don’t know. So, I know where I’ve been, and I know what I do. So that’s why I like what I cook. Oh, listen to me, I’m hungry. I’m sorry. Look, I’m sorry, because I should have ate before I came up here.
Q: If you want to grab something real quick, that’s cool. OK. I guess since kind of you’ve been here for, like, like, a while, how have you seen Elgin change? Kind of the population doubled, and it’s double again in the next 10 years. So, how, like, have you seen Elgin, like, change since, I guess, you were young to now?
MARY PENSON: Oh yeah. Yeah, although, you know, we used to walk everywhere, now people drive everywhere. Although, Elgin — look, the, the [leafs?] haven’t changed, although we are, we have annex, you know, so more land outside of the city just to make it a city. So, we have, we are expanding, but I think this is our first year in a lot of years that have annexed. And so that’s what we’re trying to do. But yeah, that’s just a lot of like I said, a lot of farmland is becoming housing and subdivisions, and it’s taking away all of our farming. Although, and then, I don’t know who’s responsible. You know, you watch the news, they tell you the government or, you know, but a lot of people are not interested in all that hard work. Because farmers work hard, I appreciate farmers. I mean, you know, but I still want a deal, you know, as far as, you know, paying for everything. You know, so quality, you know, has gone away, I guess. You know, but then, you know, how they say that, like, chickens on their steroids, steroids in the chickens. That’s what my sister said about my daughter, because she said, Mary, you didn’t know to let that baby be a baby. (laughter) She has to grow up from the womb. I like, she was a baby. She went from, you know, from formula to table food. She didn’t, you know, you know how — I don’t know if you know or familiar with other people’s children. People go through a baby food, yeah, mine didn’t. Yeah, she went from formula to table food. I mean, but that wasn’t my fault. See, just like I said, I birthed her, but she’s everybody baby. She all love them. She belong — I mean, seriously, you can ask her. She belong to all of them. She goes up to everybody’s house. I sure appreciate all my family. (laughter) Everybody, even my momma. Look, even my momma when she just falls — look, I don’t care. Look, it’s not my money. Yeah, but yeah, yeah, Elgin has change a whole lot as far as just being able to, you know, get out. And yeah, you can get run over, because people drive so fast now. [40:00] You know, growing up seeing, like, everybody drove slow. Whoever you rode with, they were going 12 mile and hour. Not even 20, look. (laughter) I mean, I remember, you know, they Mr. Morris lived on the next block from us, and he had a cow, and the cow always got loose. And see, because my mom — we had a pear tree in our yard, and he always came to, came there eating pears. And Mr. Morris always came down our house looking for his cow. And my baby brother, you know, he was about three, you know, about three or four, and we used to always scare him with Morris’ cow. There go Mr. Morris’ cow. Oh, look. You can’t do stuff like that anymore, because nobody has cows in the city. Nobody has — you know, we got a lot of chickens. Man, I done had to stop so many times for a family to cross the street, a family of chickens because they don’t coop them. You know, yeah, but that’s a good, one good thing. I know some people that has fresh eggs at a cheap price. Look, friend’s friends. Yeah, but Elgin has grown a lot in as far as, you know, people in stores. Because, you know, we used to have, you know, always had one grocery store, you know, and then, you know, some, you know, a small local grocery store. And we have William’s Grocery, used to be right there where General Dollar is. And yeah, that was a wonderful store. I don’t know a whole lot. But I still, you know, how you have dreams about your childhood? I don’t know if you know, y’all young. Look, I’m older. I ain’t old, but I’m older. Look, that’s all, I’m just older than you. Yeah, you know, I used to work at a convenience store down here, and I still have memories of, you know, all the neighborhood. Because we use to have fresh luncheon meats, you know, and cold-cuts or whatever, and we’d slice them right there, you know. And I’ve always been a people’s person, I like to talk and have fun. I’ve always wanted to enjoy life. And I used to have — be the only employee at the store, and have two lines, and nobody walked out. You know, because I, I’m talking to everybody at the same time, and I’m working that fast. I can, I multitask also. I mean, I’ve always been like that. Because one morning, I, I was supposed to open up, I overslept; I opened up at 6:00. And these people — somebody had called my mom and told her, was Mary supposed to open up today? And she said — and she came and asked me, and I was. And this oh no, it was almost 7:00, it was, like, about 20 to 7:00. These people were lined up all the way up the street, waiting on me to come in there, and open that store up and make some coffee. Boom, that’s how I am. (laughter) I mean, they — you know, that’s the country people. I mean, the small town people, they know every — you know, know everybody, and you love everybody, and you help each other for whatever reason, you know. Don’t even have to be a reason. You see a need, and you do it. But now, baby, please, you better not be out there trying to change no, no tire, you know, no flat. You in the way, look, they blowing at you because you can’t get out of the road all the way. Look, yeah. It’s not, it’s less caring in the world now — well, in Elgin now, because you have so many people that doesn’t even know Elgin, you know, as, lie, we do. You know, because growing up — well, since been, since I’ve been an adult and come back to Elgin because yeah, I moved away and come back. We know everybody’s face. If I don’t know you, I know who your momma is or your daddy is. And who your momma? You know, I don’t — look, I don’t care who you are, I — who your momma? Who your daddy? You know, how long (laughter) — because I know them. And see, you could go by everybody, but now I don’t know anybody.
Q: It’s, like, get to know somebody else.
MARY PENSON: Yeah. And I don’t know half of the people now, because [45:00] they just not from here. We just move here — look, we move here 10 years ago. I don’t know people 10 years ago because I wasn’t doing anything to know them. You know, so yeah, that, that’s how mostly Elgin’s changed. With this, you know, influx of people, you don’t know as many. I mean, but I like to get to know as much as I can. You know, because it’s, it’s important, and although, I’m a, you know, I’m a mailman, I’ve always told people — I encourage people to at least know your neighbors, because they can help you in times of trouble. As in, it was on the news just last night about a woman — a neighborhood was getting robbed, well, this woman was, got robbed in her, you know, her house was burglarized. And the neighbors saw it — saw them coming out of the house with a big-screen TV, and she didn’t recognize them. But she called the police and gave a description of them or whatever, and she did something about it. You know, she didn’t go and let them know. But they were still burglarizing a couple miles away, and they caught them. And I’ve had a neighbor to tell me that — where I moved, where I lived in the country, the country ain’t in Elgin. Like, Elgin is a city. (laughter) This was right outside of Elgin. She told me that the people that lived in the house before me, they had gotten burglarized, and she knew who did it. But them people never spoke to me. They wasn’t even way — you know, the houses was way far away, but you could see and, yeah, you could at least wave. They wouldn’t even wave. And, but like I said, it’s very important to know your neighbors, so remember that. Even in your little apartment complex, because things happen. Look, I’m just — I don’t know if you living in an apartment or whatever you’re doing. The door — you need to know who next door at least. Because you see how many serial killers are out here? You know, I mean, but if you know them, and you know their habits — not to say that you gonna study people, but I’m just saying, you know, like, she ain’t never got a smile her face. You know, something like that. Just a little, little, you know, subtleties. You can, you can just, you can see that without even trying to. You know, so that’s important. And yeah, it’s just hard when you don’t know anybody, you know, to try to offset. Because who would ever thought these kids have drugs, guns, and stuff up at the school? It’s Elgin. Would done been shot down, you know, a few times. You know, and I read the paper — look now, we have a police blog, a blog in [Henley Times?]. The police has been to the school. You know, we have to have officers at the schools now. I mean, it’s, it’s awful. You know, back in the day, I’m gonna call your momma because, you know, mine (laughter) (inaudible). And see, you know, you used to know all of the teachers, you know, but now you got teachers coming in and out. You don’t even know any of them. They don’t know any of your family. Because I, when I was going to school, they knew all of my family. But I was a good kid, so they didn’t have a problem. They knew, them people that was before me, like my oldest sister, yeah. She was smart, but she, she was bad. She be in trickery. (laughter) Always with food. (laughter) She’s always gonna eat, and that’s all my issue was too. I like to talk, and I like to eat in class. And my baby girl, that’s all she does. She talks, and she eats in class. But the thing about her — look, that’s the thing that’s changed, bad attitude. Oh, she has an attitude that you want to just choke her. I can’t do it, but I want to. No, I’m, I’m friends with the police chief — did I say that? And see, we can whoop them. Yeah, we can whoop them, you can’t choke them. You can cause blood. That’s it. That’s all. Look, that’s the thing. You know, you hit them, and certainly on the bottom. You know, you have to — because child, when we were growing up, we could get hit anywhere. Wherever the switch hits you or the belt hits you, that was it. But now, you know, now you call 911. You know, but now you call my — you know, but now kids lie on their folks. You can’t know, you don’t know what’s the truth. But see, if you know them, you already — you know your momma didn’t do that. You know, (laughter), you know, what I’m saying, you know. You know, your, the people, you know, that’s how much Elgin has changed. You don’t know all the people, and, you know, their characteristics. You know, so that’s a lot that has changed.
Q: I think, see is there’s anything I missed. So, how have these changes affected your experiences with food?
MARY PENSON: Yeah, I cook at home more. (laughter) Yeah, I eat at home more, yeah. See, and I cook in bulk, and I freeze it. You know, like, like, I barbeque and, you know, I put it in Ziplocs, and put in the freezer. So, when I want barbeque again, I don’t have to go cook again, you know, go fire up the pit, and, you know, do — you know, that’s too much work. So, so we just, you know, put in the freezer and have it for next time. Like, I make a big pot of chili in Ziploc bowls, bowl it, and have it for another time. When I want Frito pie or nachos or whatever I want, then I have it, so. Because you don’t know what other people are doing. (laughter) Yeah, that’s, that’s pretty much, that’s pretty much it.
Q: How long has the H-E-B been here? I could tell, like, the Walmart looked pretty new.
MARY PENSON: The Walmart’s been here two years, I think two. Yeah. And H-E-B been here, oh, H-E-B been here a little while. Because we had, you know, we had William’s, and then we had Super S.
Q: Yeah, that was here when I was little.
MARY PENSON: Oh, you said you from Smithville, so yeah.
Q: Yeah, I was there about 12 years.
MARY PENSON: Yeah, it’s been, yeah, it’s been there about at least that long. Yeah. Because they, we just remodeled — look, we got (inaudible) —
Q: The city.
MARY PENSON: (laughter) Oh, yeah, that’s right. Look, girl, I forget sometimes that I’m on council. You know, but that has no — no. (laughter) No, I’m just saying, yo, we, we had to give them the, the OK to expand, you know. So, so, when some things change, you know, we do the — you know, like, zoning change or, you know, some — we don’t do all the permit — they wanted to — yeah, they wanted to change their, they wanted to change something so they can expand. So, we did. (laughter) Yeah, so they, you know, made it larger, and yeah, they changed that. I didn’t really like the way they changed it because, you know, I didn’t — you know, but I go to the store still. Look, I still know where everything is, trust me. Look, and I be in the store, and people say, where is (inaudible)? I like, it’s, like, about two more aisles over. I swear to God, people think I’m an employee at every store I go to. Because I, I’ve been in CVS in my post, you know, uniform after work. And people ask me some questions about where something is, or do y’all have so-and-so? And I’m like, why you ask me that? Here my, here, look, don’t you see uniform? It say US Postal Service. And I just say, I don’t know. Maybe you could ask an employee. But if I know, trust me, baby — I’m like, no, I wouldn’t use that one, I would use this one, you know. If I know, trust me, I will — yeah. And I said, don’t forget your coupon. Look, or, you know, in the paper or, you know, whatever. I be at the register and say, did you get the coupon for that? Did you if you buy this, you get this here free — because people don’t even look at that. My own kid that goes with me to the store all the time — I have sent her in the store for something, and, and I go into the store the next day, I say, I can’t believe you. They had a coupon for this here, you know, buy one get one free. Why you didn’t get my free one? Look, (laughter) (inaudible). I didn’t even see it. You supposed to look. [55:00] You know, but a lot of people are not paying attention to their surroundings, and that’s all life is about. You need to pay attention to your surroundings. That’s some wisdom for you youngsters. Pay attention because it will keep you out of a lot of mess, and keep you from harm. (laughter) You know what they say about us, you know, you gonna, we gonna run first, and ask questions later. (laughter) You know, those —
Q: If you see the black people run, you run too. (laughter) (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
MARY PENSON: Yeah. Why you didn’t get me? You saw us running. (laughter) Who gonna wait on you? You better help yourself. (laughter) Baby, you can’t laugh more than me.
Q: Oh, sorry. (inaudible) so much. OK, I think we got — because we talked about gardening earlier, so I didn’t ask that. So, I think we got everything. Yeah, we’ll turn it off.
[END OF INTERVIEW]