Interviewed by Logan Wilson
August 27, 2013
WILSON: My name is Logan Wilson. Today is August 27, 2013. Today I’m interviewing Mr. Rand Bates. This interview is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is part of the Footprints of Times Past project. We appreciate Mr. Bates’ time and his contribution. He’s going to tell us some things about his family and Limestone County and just a variety of things. The next voice you hear is going to be that of Mr. Bates. (moves microphone)
BATES: Okay. I’m going to do my best to—it’s something I haven’t probably ever done, but I’m going to do my best to get this in here where maybe some folks can use it. I was born and raised at home: Davis Prairie community, which used to have a little country school. I was born in 1934. My parents were Roy and Helen Bates, from that area, and they married in 1931, right in the middle of the Depression time, which was hard. I’ve heard more than one time [them] mention that my dad went to the bank in Thornton, and he was getting started in life. Of course, he farmed, and that’s all he knew, was farming. He went to the bank and they told him, said, “Mr. Bates, money is short. All we can let you have at this time is twenty-five dollars to make a crop on.” He questioned them about it. He said, “I just don’t know whether I can do that or not.” He [the person at the bank] said, “Well, that’s all we can let you have. But, now, your mother lives on the place. If you’ll get her to sign a note, well, we’ll let her have twenty-five dollars also.” He [his dad] said, “No, I’ll just take the twenty-five dollars and let it be that way.” So he carried it home, and they done different, various things, worked out different ones that they could work for. They made that twenty-five dollars do the year and made the crop on it. And that was a big story for Mother and my dad both.
And I’ve heard her say that—of course, neither one of their families had very much because my grandmother on my daddy’s side, she’d lost her husband when she was real young, and the kids was all young. In fact, my dad was about six years old when he passed away. She had a big load with four children by herself, and she never remarried. She just thought that no one would treat her kids like she wanted them treated, and so she never remarried. She raised those kids, which I have a lot of respect for. I never heard her grumble or complain about it, but she went on with it. Just like my dad: I never heard him complain about the hard times that he went through. Different ones that knew my dad, they would be in school, which was on my grandmother’s property—the school at Davis Prairie—and they would tell me about him be[ing] out working in the fields when he wasn’t very old, and they would be in school. I think he went to probably the seventh grade, and that’s as far as he went through school. The schools out in the country then, they didn’t go to probably the seventh or eighth grade. Then they had to go on into Thornton, which was a school there where I graduated from in 1952. But I remember going to school at this little schoolhouse, and I went to the second grade.
I remember so many different things that we endured. Of course, back then, we didn’t have water facilities. People didn’t have running water like they do now. We washed in the washtub or whatever we could wash out of. We had an outside privy, and that’s where we had to use the bathroom. But anyway, I remember when the electric lines was laid somewhere along in the forties. We didn’t know what in the world was fixing to take place, because they run that electricity into the homes. When they first turned that first light on, well, man, everything was so bright, you know, we just thought, Man alive!
Then later on my mother finally got up enough money and she bought a refrigerator. Up to then, well, we used to get ice in big blocks. She had a little old icebox that sat there. The iceman would come along, and he’d put the ice in there. When he did, well, we’d have ice tea and cold water or whatever. And when she got the refrigerator—and also we got a radio, which was a big deal because that was part of our entertainment. I remember on Saturday night, we’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry. That was a big deal. I love music and I still do. We’d sit up and listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night.
Okay, after the second grade, well, we moved on into Thornton, and I remember so well my folks had purchased this—well, they didn’t purchase—this fellow that owned the grocery store—the guy that was running the store, he went into the navy and had closed the store up. He came down—this fellow that owned the store—came down to my mother and wanted her to take [the] store over. She first told him no, that she didn’t think she was qualified to do that. But anyway, he came back the second time and he told her, said, “I’ll help you get started.” She did, taking this little country store, and probably it was our salvation, being able to do better than what we was able to do at the time. I remember, of course, they had a hard time getting [the store] stocked up with groceries and everything.
But going back to the school, I remember the bus came out and picked us up and carried us into Thornton. Well, I, of course, hadn’t been to town that much growing up. I was in second grade or third grade—third grade, I believe, when we went into Thornton. We got off the bus and I looked at that big school. It had these pillars, you know, there and I said, “Man, I’ll get lost in this thing.” But anyway, that’s where I graduated from in 1952. It was a good school and we had good teachers and everything. It was a joy to grow up there.
Then, I remember when I was probably, I don’t know, eighteen or nineteen years old, there weren’t any jobs around Thornton, except picking cotton or working at the cotton gin or some other job. I decided—I’d bought this old car, and I was having a hard time paying for it. A friend of mine, he was in the same shape, and he said, “Why don’t we just join the air force, and maybe we can at least save our cars. We don’t want to lose our car.” I said, “Well,” you know. We didn’t want to lose our car. So I said, “Well, that might be a way to pay for them,” which wasn’t much. But anyway, we did. I joined the air force. I look back and that was probably one of the best choices. I got to get out and meet a lot of different folks and [see] parts of the country. I went and made an aircraft instrument repairman in the air force. I came back and was stationed in Waco, of all places: James Connally Air Force Base.
But I remember so much growing up. Of course, cotton fields. Everybody had cotton in that era of time. We had to try to pick that cotton to kind of keep bills paid and everything. It was an experience that I look—at the time, I didn’t even know that we were having a hard time. Everybody else was doing the same thing. It was just a part of life.
Looking back now, I don’t know how we made it, you know, really don’t. But it was a good experience and I wouldn’t take for my growing up in the country because I remember so many older people that lived, and they was trying to survive on maybe a little pension, whatever they could get. And they did. We raised our food and made things work out where we could survive. There’s always a way to survive. I think back of all the—I hear all of these hard times that people are having now, trying to live and survive. They should look at this and maybe think about it and maybe learn from our past experiences on how to survive when things get rough, because you can if you make up your mind that’s what you want to do. We can do on a whole lot less than what we think we can.
I’m still a country person. I live out here in the boonies. I’ll never forget, when I purchased this place I was working in—I’m a barber by trade. This fellow came by, and he found out that I was going to buy this place. He said, “Rand, I wished I’d known that you were going to try to buy that old place. You know it’s just an old wore-out place.” I said, “Yeah, I know it. I’ve got two children, and I’d like to get out in the country and let them grow up sort of like I did.” (pauses) But anyway, I wouldn’t take him for it. This fellow told me, he said “Rand, I hate to tell you, but you’ll never pay(??) for that old place.” (both laugh) And I thought about it a lot of times. I thought he was right. But I did, [with the] good Lord taking care of us. We managed to make it. I still say that that’s a good place to raise a family and learn these children how to do without some things. That’s part of what’s going on now, that some of these children, they don’t know how to do without things that they can do without. That’s all I know to say.
WILSON: Well, that—we sure appreciate that. Mr. Bates, I always ask everyone the same question in conclusion, and I’m going to ask you the same question, too—that question. And that question would be, if you had one bit of advice to give the young people today that would do them benefit, what would that piece of advice be?
BATES: To talk to the older people of the family. Get all the history that you can from them, learn what they went through, and say, “I can do the same thing if I have to.”
WILSON: Yep. We can draw a lot of strength from the people we came from, can’t we?
BATES: Right. Because we know they did it, because we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.
WILSON: That’s right. And they did it the hard way.
BATES: They did it the hard way. Just like you was talking about one of your kinfolks had one leg [and] cut wood.
WILSON: Yeah, on one leg. I’d have a hard time doing that on two legs. (laughs)
BATES: Isn’t that the truth.
WILSON: Well, Mr. Bates, we sure do appreciate it. And I thank you very much. You’ll be getting a transcription for you to review and mark up and approve. When you get that and you’re satisfied with it, if you give us a call we’ll come get it. And we’ll be off and running. Again, we thank you so much for contributing to the history of Limestone County.
WILSON: Thank you very much, sir.
BATES: You bet.
end of interview