Alice Masters Phillips
West Greenville Community Member. Worked in Brandon Mill. Started the Philips Income Tax Business. Graduated from Parker High School.
"I was fast. I would catch up my work, run up to the company store, buy myself a piece of cloth, go back and catch my work up, and run home, cut me out a skirt, go home at five o’clock, sew it and wear it that night to go skating. A Broomstick skirt: they just gather."
Alice, tell me about growing up in the Brandon Mill Village.
We all had chores. We made our beds. Ironed everything. We had to do everything. One time I went to the skating rink and I didn’t empty my bath water and when I come home, my Dad had gotten a tin tub and had set it on my bed to teach me a lesson. I didn’t do that anymore.
Nobody had cars except the boss-men, the supervisors. You just walked everywhere you went. It was mostly church that people went to.
Tell me a little bit about your family.
Well there were six children: three boys and three girls. And I was the oldest girl and I have a brother, he will be 97 this year, Oscar. He has been in the hospital up at Furman in rehab and he is going to be back on Saturday. It’s up on Whitehorse Road. He got pneumonia and they had to put him in the hospital. He was out cutting his grass, trimming his shrubs, and his hedges. He plays golf and he walks still. He was the oldest. Oscar, Charles, Alice, Hazel, Stella, and Wallace. He’s still living. Daddy was 99 when he passed away. I got to tell you something funny about him.
About your Dad? Please.
They built a new bridge across the Saluda River. It was about four to five miles from where he lived and he went up there one day— Elferd Masters— and he went up there and said to the man, “Today is my ninety-third birthday and I want to say I walked across the bridge on my birthday.” And the man said, “Old timer, you think you can make it all the way across this bridge? Over there and back?” And Elfred said, “Well, I walked five miles to get here!” That gentleman said, “Alrighty then.” And then he had to walk five miles back home!
This is starting to sound like a very industrious family.
I walk every day. I go to Walmart and walk. If it’s not raining. I don’t drive in the rain. They call me that Walking Lady: “Here comes that Walking Lady!” And one time I was walking and this young couple came up behind me— maybe in their thirties and the woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Lady, do you mind me asking how old you are? We have been just watching you walk and we never have seen anybody walk so fast.” I said, “If you don’t walk fast, old age will catch up with you.” So the next week I went to the doctor for a check up and he said to keep that up.
So tell me a little bit more about growing up in the Brandon Mill village.
My mother never worked. She had problems. Home cooking on Saturday. She didn’t believe in cooking on Sunday. On Saturday, she’d bake pies and cakes, a big roast, everything, you know, for Sunday dinner. So when we got done with church, all she had to do was warm it up. And she sewed. She made all our dresses, our clothes. Back then you could buy cloth for a quarter at the company store. And she would take us before school started. Every Friday, when she went grocery shopping, and I’d go one Friday and pick me some cloth. One time I had four pink dresses, my sister had four green dresses and my little sister had four yellow dresses. Those were our favorite colors.
Alice, did you work in the Mill?
Oh, yes. I didn’t mind at all. I was fast. I would catch up my work, run up to the company store, buy myself a piece of cloth, go back and catch my work up, and run home, cut me out a skirt, go home at five o’clock, sew it and wear it that night to go skating. A Broomstick skirt: they just gather. I done that many a time. I told my brother that and he said, “I’da fired you if I was your boss.” I said, “My work didn’t suffer!” I do everything fast.
It was a totally different time…
At one time every one of the mills was running full blast and I mean they’d have 1,000-2,000 employees. But they are all apartments now. Beautiful hardwood floors. They had to have wooden floors, you know, because of the machinery. They had fixed it up so pretty.
What is one of your fondest memories from those years?
The mill company during the war—all the boys were gone and that left us teenagers with nothing to do. They had an old laundry down below the mill and people would take their sheets and pillowcases and things down there to be pressed, ‘cause they did their clothes at home. A separate building behind the mill; I can take you down there if you want. They took it here in the war, all the boys were gone, so the mill officials took that old building and made a skating rink and four lane bowling alley, and I had been skating for four years at Cleveland Park, and so they asked me to be the manager.
After I got out of high school I starting going to Cleveland Park. I’d go into West Greenville, catch a trolley, go uptown, transfer to another bus, and then go to Cleveland Park. It was about 4-5 miles. We didn’t mind walking.
Where did you go to high school?
I went to Parker High School every day. There wasn’t but two high schools. No, three: Greenville High, Parker, and West Greenville. My class, (I was secretary) we had some money left from the last reunion, and everyone moved away and died or something, so we stopped having them. So I called Carl Thackston, who used to be our president, and I told him about it and I said, let’s donate it to Legacy Charter School.
Do you have a favorite memory from high school?
Back then everybody went to the ball games. Parker and Greenville were the biggest rivals. I finished in 1941 and Parker beat Greenville High for the first time. Your favorite memory in the year book? “PBG.” They had a reunion and asked me to speak and what I said was, “I went through the year books and I found out that most of the girls wanted to be nurses, that was their ambition, and most of the boys wanted to go into the service. Everybody's favorite memory was ‘PBG.’” Everybody went to the ball games. Nobody missed them. Everybody went to P/G game.
Tell me about being the manager of the skating rink.
It was open every night except for Sunday. And I’d go at five o'clock when I got off from work and let the little kids skate and then open back up at seven for the adults. Rollerskating. Now it was hard to get skates during the war—boot skates—and they (the kids) would order them and they would say they didn’t have any. I would order them and they would send them. So I had to order everybody's skates, probably because I had ordered so many of them. Probably thirty to forty.
Every Mill village had two churches, a Methodist and a Baptist, and there are a lot of Mill Villages: Brandon, Woodside, Judson, Mills Mill, Monaghan. I’d see a lot of them at Sunday school and I’d say, now if I don’t see you at Sunday school you can’t come skating. Now I don’t have any authority to do that but all of the sudden I’d get people saying, “Hey Ms. Alice, hey Ms. Alice!” to make sure I saw them. And I taught a lot of the kids to skate. A lot of the kids. And I had one boy— well he is dead now, but— every time I’d see him in the store or somewhere he would say, “I will never forget you teaching me to skate— those were the best times I’ve ever had was at that skating rink.”
You didn’t stay there for too long, though did you?
What happened was that I was working in the mill, and the first year that people made enough money to file taxes they sent them a man from Internal Revenue Service to help them. Well I went down to get mine filled out and I picked one up (nosey, you know) and I filled it out, but I waited my turn. When it got to be my turn he asked, “Who filled this out?” and I said, “I did” and he said, “Who do you work for, I need some help!” I told him and he went to talk to my bossman and he let me go and work with him the next two or three days. Well, he checked the first ten, and then he just quit checkin’ them, you know.
Did you continue to help the Revenue Service?
The next year they didn’t send anyone and then everyone remembered that I done their’s, so they would bring them to me and I’d run quick to do them! They’d run my job— and I’d go to the restroom and fill out their taxes in the Mill. So they’d buy me a coke or run my job while I was doing their taxes.
Wow! So you became a hot commodity.
There was a magistrate in West Greenville around the corner from the main street and he was doing taxes. He was just getting them from all the mills. And was charging them a dollar, two dollars, three dollars, something like that. He heard about me and he was just swamped, getting them from all the mills. He said to me, “If you can get off for the rest of the tax season and come up here and work, I’ll give you everything you make, I need the help!” And my boss let me. I never did go back to the mill.
When did this happen?
1941 is when I finished school so that happened probably 1947 or 1948.
How much were mill workers making at that time?
They were making maybe thirty dollars a week or something like that and the mills furnished the homes. You paid a dollar a room a week. They furnished the water and everything. The company store had credit. They had groceries and Momma, on Friday morning, Momma would buy the groceries and they would bring them by in a truck. Nobody had cars. They delivered to everyone. That was a long time ago.
So what did you do after that first year, out of the mill, working for the magistrate?
I had an income tax business for thirty-eight years on 1232 Pendleton Street (they have gone and changed everything now). Back then there were no H&R blocks, just a few lawyers doing taxes and I was getting customers from all the mill villages. My brother, Oscar, he helped me some and I had a brother that worked for me. And a good friend that worked for me.
You were so entrepreneurial!
I loved figures and accounting. Anything to do with accounting. I’ve done a little bit of everything. I’ve worked in personnel, just about everything. I did a lot of audit work too. That’s what I enjoyed the most with my tax income business. My friend came to work for me for about twenty-five years. She still calls me during tax time (she lives in a nursing home in Anderson) and she’ll say, “I need to get my income tax filled out; do you know anyone that could do that for me?” Changing her voice and all.
What happened to your business?
I sold my tax business. They made me sign this waiver. It was called Phillips Income Tax.
Where you married at this time?
Oh yes. Charlie (Thurston) Philips. Well, he was overseas, at first, you know, for three years. But I was still working in the mill at that time.
Did you have many admirers before this?
He said he knew I was waiting for him, he just didn’t know who with. Because I skated all the time you know. I really didn’t date anyone, it was just skating and I don’t call that dating. A lot of the boys that came to Cleveland Park were out at the airbase. You know about the airbase here? They didn’t have cars you know. A bus would take them from the airbase to the skating rink and pick them up about ten o'clock. I don’t call that dating when you are just skating. But I met a lot of nice boys. Every time they left they said, “Please write to me.” I’d give them my address and I’d get letters and then, you know, I mailed the newsletters to all the servicemen, I’ve got copies of a lot of them. I couldn’t wait to get home to see how many letters I got.
I got a nasty letter from the mother of this boy who came up from Texas and took a real liking to me. Even came to church one time. Rode the bus. He knew about Thurston. His mother told me I had broken his heart.
How did you and Thurston meet?
They had an ice cream parlor down in West Greenville and after church on Sunday night we would walk down there and get an ice cream for a nickel. Ponder’s Ice Cream Parlor. We were out there one night and I saw him and a boy I grew up with standing outside. They kept looking in at us (I was with my sister and two other ladies) and I thought- they are looking at us, you know…
So he told that boy, pointing in at me, “You know that girl? How about introducing her to me?” And he said, “She is a good girl. She won't go out with you.” (Because he drank, you see.) Well, the other boy left and he kept standing out there and when we went out, about to walk home, he came up to me and said, “Can I walk you home?” He was real good looking. Blonde hair and everything. So I said, “Yeah, but you'll have to walk us all back. I am with the other girls too you know.” So then the next week he was down at Fort Jackson in Columbia. I got a— I don’t know if you have ever seen a wooden postcard, like you etch— well, it was like that, but it had a verse on it:
If I hadn’ta metcha, I wouldn’ta known ya,
If I hadn’ta known ya, I wouldn’ta liked ya,
If I hadn’ta liked ya, I wouldn’ta told ya,
But I did, I do, and I does.
My oldest granddaughter thought that was the funniest thing so she has got it.
How did you communicate with him while he was at Fort Jackson?
Then, we didn’t have a telephone and he asked me if any of my neighbors had a phone and they did so I told them he might want to call me sometime and they said that was alright. But he didn’t. He’d come home every weekend until he went overseas. We dated about 6 months before he went overseas and then he was gone thirty-eight months. But everyone had sons and brothers and fathers in the service.
So it sounds like you waited for him to come back…
He was a good- looking blonde with blue eyes. I tell my boys neither one of them is as good looking as he is. They say, “Momma!” He was about six feet and two inches. He knew he was good- looking and he kept trim and all that. We had some rough times and some good times. We hadn’t been married long and he got sick and started spitting up blood. We went to the doctor here and he sent him on to the VA in Columbia. What happened was that he went back too soon after having his tonsils removed. Something had become embedded in his lungs and they had to remove part of his lungs. That is why we didn’t have any children for 5 years, it was because we were waiting for him to get better.
Is Thurston still living?
Thurston died in 1993. Died at 73 years old and born in 1920. It was devastating. He had that lung cancer. He never did get over that. He lived three weeks. He used to smoke. He quit but it was too late. We already had the boys through school so nothing changed financially, and we had good cars and everything. I still miss him. The Lord takes care of me…We got married 1945. He stayed over there for three years. I didn’t have a car when I was first married for about six months. We walked to work. You know where the St. Francis Hospital is? We lived there. My husband wasn’t working at Brandon so we couldn’t get a house over there. You had to work over there to be able to get a house. And, uh, we had to walk to work and that is a long way. Probably two miles and then he worked at Woodside. He would walk me down to Brandon and then he would go on to Woodside. When we were married we got this house right above the hospital and lived up there until he got a job at Brandon, then they gave us a house.
What was your family life like?
Well I was married and had two boys. One was born in 1950 and the other in 1953 and I didn't go to college because back then people didn’t have the money to do that but during tax time I would save 90% of my tax fees and I worked the rest of the year somewhere, so when my sons went to school, college, they went to USC and Columbia. When they finished they didn’t owe a dime and I didn’t owe a dime. When they sent a bill, I paid it. I didn’t get to go to college but I made sure my children did. They are both retired now. One of them worked for Michelin for 42 years, and the other worked for Bridgestone Tire. Both of them working for the two biggest tire companies in the world. Larry and Roger. I have 3 granddaughters, none of them are married. The eldest is 37 the next one is 34, home from teaching school in Lebanon. Then Maggie, who is a nurse, is 30.
You worked so hard to provide for your family.
One time someone asked, “Alice, how many jobs did you work?” One night I sat down and got to 39 then stopped. It was whoever called me first, you see I couldn’t have a full-time job. If I couldn’t find one on my own I would call Manpower and they would send me somewhere. Sometimes, when I worked for Manpower, they would call me the next year, not even go through Manpower. Just on my own. But I never was without a job.