Behind the Apron Project: Doris Harris Interview, May 12, 1997, Part 1


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Shelia Montague Parker: This is Sheila Parker from the Anacostia Museum; today is May 12, 1997. The person I'm about to interview is Doris Harris. What is your full name?

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Doris Harris: Doris [[?Bernice]] Harris.
Shelia Montague Parker: And your birthdate?
Doris Harris: July 27, '44.
Shelia Montague Parker: And your present address?
Doris Harris: 6815 Marshall Road, St. Leonard, Maryland 20865.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Uh, who were the members of your immediate family, the family which you grew up with [[tape skips]] there any siblings?
Doris Harris: Well, yes I grew up with--
Shelia Montague Parker: Your mother, name of your mother, father, and your sisters and brothers.
Doris Harris: Oh, my father was Hank Gross, my mother Matilda Gross. And sisters, Rosie [[tape skips]] [[?Olivia]] Gross, Mary Gross, [[?Imelda]] Gross and Bennifer Gross.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay, I think that's... yeah... [[tape skips]]

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Shelia Montague Parker: Do any of your sisters and brothers live in the home in which you grew up in?
Doris Harris: No.
Shelia Montague Parker: Do they live nearby?
Doris Harris: Yes.
Shelia Montague Parker: [[tape skips]] still living?
Doris Harris: Mhmm, yes.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. What about the home in which you grew up in, what do you remember most about it?
Doris Harris: Just a, kind of a old looking house, kind of small, run down.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Did your family attend church?
Doris Harris: My mother a little bit.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Which church did she attend?
Doris Harris: St. John's, down Elizabeth.
Shelia Montague Parker: St. John's, okay. What [[tape skips]] [[?acts were you]] involved in as a child?

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Doris Harris: [[tape skips]] Mostly with my sister and brother. I liked playing [[volleyball]], baseball, stuff like that.
Shelia Montague Parker: Were you part of any school organizations?

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Doris Harris: No.
Shelia Montague Parker: [[tape skips]] Were you involved in any type of church organizations?
Doris Harris: Yeah, [[?]] [[tape skips]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Anything else?
Doris Harris: [[tape skips]] On a worship committee.

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Doris Harris: ...decorate the church.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Which church are you now attending?
Doris Harris: ? United Methodist Church

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Shelia Montague Parker: Are you married?
Doris Harris: Yes.
Shelia Montague Parker: Your husband's name?
Doris Harris: George Harris.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Do you have any children?
Doris Harris: 5
Shelia Montague Parker: Their names?
Doris Harris: ? Raymond ? ? and Charlene.
Shelia Montague Parker: Do your children live nearby?
Doris Harris: Yes.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Did your family do any farming?
Doris Harris: Yeah they worked on the farm.
Shelia Montague Parker: For whom?
Doris Harris: I forgot the name of the farm.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. What type of crops did they...
Doris Harris: Raised tobacco.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Do you know anything else? [Tape skips}
Doris Harris: Oh no, I didn't know that.

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Shelia Montague Parker: You didn't know that. What was your first job?
Doris Harris: Uh cleaning [?] for [?].
Shelia Montague Parker: Where's that at?
Doris Harris: On ?

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Shelia Montague Parker: How old were you?
Doris Harris: ?
Shelia Montague Parker: Did you start working as a means to supplement the family income or just to earn some extra money for yourself?
Doris Harris: To earn some extra money for myself.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. What other types of jobs have you had?
Doris Harris: Mostly cleaning and the last one was shucking clams down at [?].
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. How old were you when you started shucking clams?
Doris Harris: 33
Shelia Montague Parker: 33? So I remember you said you learned about shucking clams from your niece, was it?
Doris Harris: No,in-law.
Shelia Montague Parker: In-law.
Doris Harris: My husband's second cousin.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. What exactly had you heard about shucking clams before starting there?
Doris Harris: I hadn't heard too much You can make some fast money. That's almost I heard.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Who taught you how to shuck clams?

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Shelia Montague Parker: So
Doris Harris: Other people doin it. Just standin right there [[?]] other people.
Shelia Montague Parker: How long did it take you to get the hang of it?
Doris Harris: Oh about a week.
Shelia Montague Parker: About a week?
Doris Harris: Yeah
Shelia Montague Parker: OK. When people ask you about your job and what you do, what do you usually tell them?

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Doris Harris: Just kinda shuck clams.
Shelia Montague Parker: So you use your comment.
Doris Harris: You mean my comment?
Shelia Montague Parker: [[??]][[cross talk]]
Doris Harris: Clams [[??]] That's a messy job.[[laughs]]
Shelia Montague Parker: [[laughs]]Most folks do think that, huh?
Doris Harris: [[laughs]] Don't wanna do that.[[laughs]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Gosh. You're still shucking clams?
Doris Harris: Yeah
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. And for how many years have you been shucking?
Doris Harris: Eleven years.
Shelia Montague Parker: Eleven years? What's your hours?
Doris Harris: Five to eleven.
Shelia Montague Parker: Five to eleven? Has that alway been your hours?
Doris Harris: No, not always.In the winter time we cut back.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay.What's your hours [[??]]
Doris Harris: Right now?
Shelia Montague Parker: Yeah, when you're not doing five to eleven.
Doris Harris: When we work five to eleven [[??]] then you just come home.
Shelia Montague Parker: What was the other hours you had before?

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Doris Harris: Well, that was seven to eleven.
Shelia Montague Parker: Seven to eleven?
Doris Harris: Eleven, Yeah, uh huh. Winter time.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Is shucking clams a part-time job for you, or full-time?

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Doris Harris: Part-time for me.
Shelia Montague Parker: It's part time? What do you do on your other time?

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Doris Harris: Well, I do house cleaning.
Shelia Montague Parker: For the same person?
Doris Harris: No, different people.
Shelia Montague Parker: For different people?
Doris Harris: mm-hmm
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay.What made shucking clams appealing to you?
Doris Harris: Shucking, you know. After I caught on then I just liked shuckin.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay.Uh, as you say, most people think that shucking clams is a messy job.
Doris Harris: Oh yeah, most--
Shelia Montague Parker: Uh huh, Did you have any reservation about shucking for that reason?
Doris Harris: Oh no, uh-uh, uh-uh. I still like the doin it.[[laughs]]

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Shelia Montague Parker: Still like doing it, huh?
Doris Harris: Yeah, I still like it. Might be a mess if I don't, you know.
Shelia Montague Parker: Is there an off-season time, or slow time for you guys for shucking?

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Doris Harris: Yeah.
Shelia Montague Parker: What's [[??]]
Doris Harris: From July to November. Thats when we start slacking up.
Shelia Montague Parker: And so you make up by--
Doris Harris: In the winter time, we catch up again.

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Shelia Montague Parker: mm-hmm
Doris Harris: Yeah.
Shelia Montague Parker:

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Shelia Montague Parker: Do most of your family shuck clams?
Doris Harris: My sister, she down there, Mary Gross.
Shelia Montague Parker: Mary's your sister?

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Doris Harris: Yeah [[??]] Mary Gross.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay.
Doris Harris: Yeah, she down there.[[??]] tell ya.[[laughs]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. I didn't know that. Okay. How many oyster houses is there in the area?
Doris Harris: On this side, just one.
Doris Harris: And that's Denton's?
Doris Harris: That's all.
Shelia Montague Parker: When you first started, how many was it?

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Doris Harris: There was a guy at [[??Deale??]] but I think he closed down, so we just got one now.
Shelia Montague Parker: Where's that at?
Doris Harris: All the way down at [[??Deales??]] Down Lusby.
Shelia Montague Parker: In Lusby? Oh, Okay.um. [[??]]--shuking oysters?
Doris Harris: [[??]]
Doris Harris: What's the price for your supplies, your oyster knife, your gloves?
Doris Harris: The apron is two dollar and the knife is five dollar. The buckets is free, you know, they furnish that. I only pay for the apron and the knife, that's all.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Why has the handles changed on the oyster knives? At one there was a wooden handle, now its a different.
Doris Harris: Yea, no, I don't know why that changed. Can't never say, you know,[[??]] have some newer ones.
Shelia Montague Parker: Does it make a difference to you, which one you use, are you more used to--
Doris Harris:

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I like this one now, the newer one
Shelia Montague Parker: You like the new one better? [[laughs]]
Doris Harris: [[laughs]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay.Do most of the workers live in the area?
Doris Harris: Yeah, right around here.

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Doris Harris: [[?]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Is it more women than men?

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Doris Harris: Yeah, more women.

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Shelia Montague Parker: who's usually the fastest, men or women?

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Doris Harris: Women.
Shelia Montague Parker: The women are mostly the fastest? Who's the fastest for the women?

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Doris Harris: Christina Grey.

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Shelia Montague Parker: And then after Christina it's?

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Doris Harris: Me, and then Murdoch.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Uh-huh, okay.

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[[Doris laughs]]
Shelia Montague Parker: What's the age range?

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Doris Harris: I guess the oldest one would be, oldest one would be Murdoch I guess.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Who's the youngest, what's the youngest age?

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Doris Harris: That would be 35.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Youngest would be 35. Any Mary's about how old?

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Doris Harris: 69.

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Shelia Montague Parker: 69. Is there a lot of young people that's shucking there?

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Doris Harris: No, not a lot.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Why isn't there a lot of people?

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Doris Harris: I don't think they want to do that kind of work.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Why is that? Is it because it's messy or they think it don't make a lot of money?

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Doris Harris: Don't make a lot of money. It's not a all-year-round job, you know?

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Shelia Montague Parker: Mmm-hmm.
Doris Harris: Yeah, that's right, so that's why we don't have too many young people.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. And are men and women pretty much treated the same?

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Doris Harris: Yeah, they're treated the same.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. And they do the same type of work?

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Doris Harris: Yeah. Men shuck clams too.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. But you think [[tape fault]] [[?]] women.

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Doris Harris: Oh yes!

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Shelia Montague Parker: What else, what other types of jobs is there, besides shucking oysters and clams?

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Doris Harris: [[?]]
Shelia Montague Parker: at the oyster house?
Doris Harris: That's in the summer.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Are there any other types of jobs that's done there?

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Doris Harris: That's all, just crab in the summer. Crab and the clam in the summer. Oysters in the winter.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. What about packers for the oysters and clams?

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Doris Harris: Oh yeah, we have[[--]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Are the oysters cleaned and packed and all that?

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Doris Harris: We have some mens in the skimmer, we call it the skimmer, [[is?]] do that.

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Yeah, they're packed too.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Have you always just worked on the [[?]]

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[[?]]
Shelia Montague Parker: have you working at Denton also?
Doris Harris: Just [[?]]
Shelia Montague Parker: not to put you on the spot, how was the boss, or?

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Doris Harris: Oh he was a nice boss. I like him.
Shelia Montague Parker: Yeah. Have you ever been in any type of competition?

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Doris Harris: No.
Shelia Montague Parker: No? Anybody there at the oyster house, they compete?

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Doris Harris: No, we don't do that.
Shelia Montague Parker: Oh, okay. That's died out, huh?

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[[laughter]]
Doris Harris: Yeah.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay! So is there any type of recognition or achievements of recognition in competitions?

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Doris Harris: No, I don't think so.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Do you ever socialize with the workers outside of the work hours?

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Doris Harris: One or two of 'em, there's two of 'em, there's two.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay.
Doris Harris: That's Beulah and Mary Washington, yeah, there's two.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Any type of oyster or clam unions or trade associations?

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Doris Harris: Not at all.
Shelia Montague Parker: Have you guys ever considered getting a union, or?

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Doris Harris: [[Nobody know about that?]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Why do you think he brought the Mexicans in?

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Doris Harris: Because a lot of people wouldn't work! [[laughter]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Why's that?
Doris Harris: I don't know, I've heard they don't like that kind of work. That's why. [[laughter]]

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Doris Harris: That's why. He brought them in to help out.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Have them being there made a great difference? I mean, if they hadn't came do you think you would have closed down, or what would they?
Doris Harris: Closed down.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Closed.
Doris Harris: Or they must [[tape cuts out]]
Shelia Montague Parker: What do you think is unique about shucking clams?

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Doris Harris: Unique?
Shelia Montague Parker: What do you think is unique about it?
Doris Harris: I'm not sure.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. [[laughter]] What changes have you seen come about in the last couple years from the time you started till now? Is there any changes that better your condition of [ ]

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Shelia Montague Parker: Shuck the oysters make shucking I'm sorry clams easier for you.
Doris Harris: It easy now cause see now um he dips em you know in the hot water so its easy. But first he didn't do that.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay
Doris Harris: --and we all tired of shuckin em. It was kinda hard.
Shelia Montague Parker: Um hmm
Doris Harris: So by dippin em in the hot water its easier now to shuck em.
Shelia Montague Parker: Oh okay. So its faster now.
Doris Harris: Yeah, its faster.
Shelia Montague Parker: What is the pay scale now?
Doris Harris: Oh you get about a couple, I think it's a dollar a pound.
Shelia Montague Parker: mm-hmm
Doris Harris: So you can get a bucket full in fifteen, twenty minutes.

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Shelia Montague Parker: mm-hmm
Doris Harris: Yeah.
Shelia Montague Parker: [[?]]
Doris Harris: Two dollars some thin. That no bad.
Shelia Montague Parker: Is there certain management procedures now?

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Is there anything in particular that he like for you guys to do or don't like for you to do as a manager?
Doris Harris: No. You always come on time.
Shelia Montague Parker: mm-hmm
Doris Harris: And wear your hair net. That's all. That's only thing I see any different.
Shelia Montague Parker: How has the quality or the availability of oysters changed over time? Are they still plentiful or it's not as plentiful as it was when you first started?
Doris Harris: [[inaudible]]I mean, that's my idea. It's not plentiful.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. Do your children shuck oysters or clams?
Doris Harris: No. My daughter used to do it.
Shelia Montague Parker: She used to.
Doris Harris: Yea. Charlene.
Shelia Montague Parker: But she didn't like it, or?
Doris Harris: No, didn't like it.
Shelia Montague Parker: [[laughs]] Have you taken any of the other ones to work with you before?
Doris Harris: My son. When he was laid off he came down one winter.
Shelia Montague Parker: Uh huh
Doris Harris: He didn't like it here.
Shelia Montague Parker: Oh. [[laughs]][[??]][[cross talk]]
Doris Harris: [[??]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Are you proud of your job?
Doris Harris: Oh yea, I like it.
Shelia Montague Parker: You do?Okay. SPEAKER name="Doris Harris"} Uh huh
Shelia Montague Parker: How is shucking clams different from other jobs you have?

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Doris Harris: It's more easy.You don't have to do no bending, bending down and getting up. Housekeeping you gotta do a lot of work, yeah. Shuck clams, you get to stand straight up.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay
Doris Harris: So its a lot easier.
Shelia Montague Parker: How has shucking clams benefit you and your family over the years?
Doris Harris: Real good. It help me a lot. Fix my house up and everything from what I made down there. It did real good.
Shelia Montague Parker: Okay. What would you like people to know about your job?
Doris Harris: [[inaudible]] Nothin. [[laughs]]
Shelia Montague Parker: And when people say oh there's no money in shucking clams, what's your response?
Doris Harris: [[?]] You just gotta shuck fast there's some money in it for you. You just gotta shuck fast. Some of em just don't shuck fast.

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Shelia Montague Parker: The arrival of the Mexicans really change the environment around here?
Doris Harris: Little bit.
Shelia Montague Parker: How so?
Doris Harris: We were just used to our people there. Now they got there it was just a little different. Used to our people just shuckin.

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Shelia Montague Parker: About how many shuckers were there when you first started?
Doris Harris: Oh, I guess about 40 some when I first started.
Shelia Montague Parker: Were they all black shuckers?
Doris Harris: Yea, all black.
Shelia Montague Parker: And now how many?
Doris Harris: [[?]]About 10[[inaudible]]
Shelia Montague Parker: Is it just black and Mexican? Is there any white?
Doris Harris: [[inaudible]] Just ours, just black and Mexican. Yea.
Shelia Montague Parker: To use your knife, your oyster knife, do you have to do any type of adjustment or your gloves to get you doing what you need to do?
Doris Harris: Just put the knife and put the clam round your hands, go round. I don't use no gloves.
Shelia Montague Parker: You don't use any gloves at all?
Doris Harris: No, no sir I can't use em.
Shelia Montague Parker: You don't cut up your hand?
Doris Harris: Oh might be a little bit.Fingernails but, I don't cut, no. I'm used to shuckin em. Eleventh year.[[laughs]]

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Shelia Montague Parker: What?
Doris Harris: I don't cut no hand, don't cut no [[?]] Some of em might where gloves, but I don't wear no glove.

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Doris Harris: No, I can't work, I tried but I can't work in gloves.
Shelia Montague Parker: Is there anybody else besides you that don't work in em?
Doris Harris: Oh yeah! Mary Dobbin, and Mary Washington don't use gloves.

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Shelia Montague Parker: What?! [[laughter]]
Doris Harris: And my sister, Mary Groves, uh-huh. It's true, about four or five don't use no gloves, but the rest of them use gloves.

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Shelia Montague Parker: So having gloves is not mandatory.
Doris Harris: Yeah, no, you don't have to wear gloves, you don't want to. Most of them wear gloves because they don't want to cut their fingers up.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Uh-huh.
Doris Harris: But I don't need them because I know how to open them up.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Yeah!
Doris Harris: Yeah. [[laughter]] Yeah, Christina, I don't think she wear none either. She don't wear no gloves. Yeah, but a lot of them don't wear none.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Where do you get your boots from?

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Doris Harris: Oh, you got to buy that yourself, you know up [[?]]

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Shelia Montague Parker: Is it rubber boots at all times or?

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Doris Harris: 'sposed be. Rubber boots. [[?]] fasten them, the one that's, you put on your shoe, you can get them too. But I got boots. Yeah, you gotta wear [[tape cut]]
Shelia Montague Parker: You have to have a hairnet on.

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Doris Harris: You have [[?]] A hairnet or hat. You can wear a hat too.

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Shelia Montague Parker: Oh, okay!
Doris Harris: So real nice, huh?
Shelia Montague Parker: Yeah!

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Shelia Montague Parker: And you definitely need your apron otherwise you'll be dirty.
Doris Harris: Yeah, you'd be there all wet and everything, it's like you got to have an apron. When a apron go bad you got to buy another one.

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Shelia Montague Parker: How do you deal with all the water that's on the floor?

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Doris Harris: Just got to take your time, when you're going up and weighing your clams and don't you're falling down. Gotta be real careful here. I takes my time, walk up to the skimmer. Yea, you gotta take your time.