WATTERS: From Winnfield to Chicago, an elder shares her story

Cyra Watters

Dorothy O’Neal, born in 1948 in small town Winnfield, La., recently shared her story with her granddaughter. 

O’Neal explained that during her childhood years she grew up with eight siblings, and two loving parents. O’Neal grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, which she described as rural and small. She enjoyed living with her eight siblings because she was able to build a friendship with her siblings which made life more fun, but she also faced hardships. 

“When living with eight siblings it was hard to keep us fed,” O’Neal said.  

Because O’Neal had eight siblings they had to catch their own food, her father and the rest of her siblings would catch fish, birds, raccoons and chickens. 

O’Neal said the education down south at that time was a lot easier for students and that when she was a child, she never had to put as much as effort into doing homework. In contrast, she said her oldest granddaughter stays up every night completing difficult assignments and studying for hard tests and quizzes.

O’Neal also noted that during her childhood things were less expensive as far as groceries, books, housing and cars. 

O’Neal’s family owned a grocery store right next to her home. O’Neal helped her father tend to the store everyday after a long day of school. O’Neal learned the skills of how to manage a business, which helped her later in life.

O’Neal pointed out that back then they didn’t have the resources we have today, as far as insurance for a doctor or dentist visit and there wasn’t any technology that allowed them to order groceries online. Things were very different for her, including having to walk everywhere, she only went to the doctor only during emergencies and dentist visit once or twice a year. O’Neal feels that today we take a lot of things for granted.  

“If the younger generation understood what it was like to live during my time they would be very appreciative,” O’Neal said. 

At a young age O’Neal lost two of her older brothers in a car accident. She explained that this was a major event in her life that made her appreciate life more. After the death of her two brothers it allowed her to become closer to her friends and other family members. Moreover, as a child O’Neal reminisced about how things were a lot simpler, there wasn’t as high of a crime rate, children were able to children. 

O’Neal also explained that her parents prepared her for real world experiences, she learned a lot of survival skills, values and the importance of family.

In her adulthood O’Neal went to Chicago for more job opportunities where she became a data entry operator.

Along with that, she spoke about how the south had more friendly people. Compared to Chicago where people weren’t so nice and crime rates were through the roof. 

O’Neal said that living in Chicago made her more aware of things, it made her stronger and focused on her goals. She feels that leaving Winnfield was one of the best decisions shes ever made.