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Interview with Laura Cates and James Cates

Cates, Laura
Cates, James
Toth, Rose
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places; Stories and storytellers
Laura Cates talks about family stories, nursing stories, and plant cultivation.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Rose Toth interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
RT (Rose Toth): Are there any stories you remember reading as a child that you still think about and remember?
LC (Laura Cates): Oh yeah. I used to read all of the horse books.
RT: What \\ horse books? \\
LC: \\ Black Beauty, \\ you know and, and all the ones because that's what I always, I didn't do dolls, I did horses, you know, 'cause I was all animal oriented. And Call of the Wild was the biggie.
RT: Did you have a horse?
LC: No, I asked Santa Claus once for it though. One year I even sent a letter to him because I sent letters with lists. Instead of asking for anything else I thought I'd, I'd fake him out and I just asked him for a horse and he didn't send me a horse, and it really upset me. And my mother said no he knew better 'cause he knew our backyard wasn't big enough for a horse and not to worry about it. I still resent the fact [laughs] that I never had my horse. I got horse riding lessons, until I got braces and then I couldn't do horse riding lessons anymore [laughs].
RT: You got what?
LC: Braces.
RT: You couldn't ride a horse \\ because-? \\
LC: \\ I couldn't \\ go to classes and stuff. That was too much, too expensive to do both.
RT: Uh, OK. Um, what stories do you read your kid?
LC: Scottie?
RT: Uh-huh.
LC: I read him everything we had in the house, really. We had all the Golden Books and we had of course all the, all the wonderful, um, Mother Gooses and, we just, we read everything.
RT: What was his favorite?
LC: I don't know that he had a favorite. He never mentioned it if he did.
RT: What did he request all the time? Every kid has like a little thing that they request, a certain story.
LC: Oh. But I'm old and I don't remember that far back.
RT: When was that?
LC: I don't remember. Can you remember?
JC (James Cates): It was a favorite song.
LC: \\ Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog? \\
JC: \\ Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog \\ and no. I don't give a damn to do \\ ( ). \\
LC: \\ [Laughs] \\ No I don't remember that. I remember you telling me about it all the time. Uh, I'm trying to think. I don't think there's one specific, I might, every night there was always, when you read him a book he wanted you to read it again. But I think that was just so that you didn't stop reading, or something, but-. No, we had, we had tons and tons, and tons of books, and we read them all.
RT: Do you remember stories being read to you by anyone?
LC: Oh, yeah. My grandmother used to read all the time when I'd go down and visit her. She would read some and then I would read some, when I was younger, \\ and-. \\
RT: \\ What \\ did you read?
LC: Well, I do remember doing Call of the Wild one summer and doing the whole thing. And then we'd read it back again. I can't remember the other ones we had, but we always had a book going, all the time.
RT: What was your favorite?
LC: Anything with animals. I don't remember specifics.
RT: Are there any storytellers in your family?
LC: More like story makers. Um, tellers. [Pause] Oh. Daddy's a pretty good teller. Bill Stuart. He's got all kinds of stories to tell about his overseas adventures and then different countries and doing all sorts of thrilling and growing up, and he was with the, uh, Stan Kenton and played clarinet with them. So I hear about his Navy escapades and when I was little and I was the barroom baby doll with them, and up on a piano and stuff, but he'd tell all kinds of stories about his conquests and, things that he did and-.
RT: Can you tell me one?
LC: [Long pause] I can't remember one. Um. [Pause] Well one letter really that he wrote me that I thought it was interesting, I probably still have it upstairs, but, when he was in Iran, and he was working for Anaconda, uh, copper mining then, and the war was just breaking out back in '60s, '70, early '70s and he wrote me a letter and he was explaining what it looked like in the hotel, he was by himself, the rest of the family over there had come back to the States. And he was looking out the window of an old hotel, over the Jordan, I guess it was the Jordan River.
JC: Tigris-Euphrates.
LC: Tigris-Euphrates? And he could sit there and he could watch the shells going back and forth over the river, and talking about how scared it was making people feel and everything, I think he was a little bit looped at the time. But, ah, it was a long letter and I could just visualize the area out there, what it must have been like to be by yourself, it's like being a, I don't know, like a Hemmingway-type person just up there in the area, just watching something happening and, and writing it down and setting it off. I thought that was, that was interesting. I can't think right now about what some of these other little antics would have been. They'll come to me after this is over with, I'm sure but I can't think of it right this second.
RT: Can you think of any stories that you tell yourself or things like, like incidents or anecdotes of your own life that are real important to you?
LC: Hmm. [Long pause] I'm sure they're there too, but I can't think of anything right now. Um, Jim has much better ones than I do, and he has a much better memory to bring them up. [Pause] I can't think of anything right now. Just go on. It'll come eventually maybe. I'm a bad interviewee. I apologize.
RT: Oh no, you're just fine. I don't really have more questions. Who passes the family stories down?
LC: Um, probably Bill Stuart. Aunt Marguerite does some.
RT: What kind of stories does she tell?
LC: About Uncle Bill. About that Bill Stuart. [Laughs] About her brother. [Laughs] Um, mother would, but she died back in, ah '85, but she used to pass down stories about family members and, and such things, I can't remember some of them right now. Um, she would talk a, a great deal about my grandparents, you know, about the things they used to do growing up in a preacher's family, and mother should never have been in a preacher's family.
RT: Tell me about that.
LC: Well, she was like a tomboy. Oh, this is a good one. She was like a tomboy. She, uh, her brother was five years older than she was and, uh, John, was in the ah, I guess he was in the Marines 'cause he was in the Marine Air Corp, I believe but he was studying to be a medical missionary, which Grandaddy was static about. He ended up, uh, one day he just went out into the target practice area with some friends of his and they lost this plane in the, uh, clouds. Never did see it, never found it. And this is over the Bermuda Triangle. So they never found the plane, no oil slick, no nothing, no, period. And he was just gone. Well, grandmother and grandaddy, of course, that was very tough on them but even tougher on mother because he was the 18 year old who always was getting in trouble and now she had up to meet up to John's expectations. So when grandmother, she was growing up and dating or whatever, and they were very specific about stuff as far as dating and all this stuff, mother was really pretty. Grandmother used to lay down across the floor in front of the front door, so that she'd know when mother came home so that she wouldn't, you know, stay outside on the porch kissing and everything. But she was just, uh, horrendous about stuff like that. But she'd tell all these stories, so growing up when I was younger she tried to overcompensate the other way just being my best friend. Because she knew what it was like to grow up with people with grandmother like she was. But she would always have stories about her, about Aunt Marguerite and everything in the past. Um, I can't think of a whole lot of things that were relatively funny. I'm sure they were there, but right now \\ can't think of those. \\
RT: \\ Well, we don't need \\ funny stories.
LC: Well, yeah, no, but it's no fun to have depressing stories. I've got a bunch of those.
RT: Give me a depressing story.
LC: I don't want a depressing stories. \\ [Laughs] \\
RT: \\ I'm sure lots of people just want to share the funny ones. \\ Give me a depressing story.
LC: Oh, God. Um-.
RT: Or something that makes you feel proud about your family or-. Just something.
LC: I've got lots of proud things ( ), about my son, about my dad. I've been very, very lucky. Um, I was always, well, I was the only child until I was 11 on both sides of the family after mother and daddy divorced when I was four and then she married my adopted father. And I never saw my, my real father until I was 23 which is really kind of interesting. So I get to find him. But 'til I was 11 and then a cousin was born, so I was raised with adults. Now I guess that's why we read so much because we didn't really, there was no TV to speak of and they always spoke at me, but they always spoke to me like I was an adult. You know, after all the kids started coming along then and I met dad and he had four children that were now half brothers and sisters. So all of a sudden when I had been the only child then mother and dad had Leslie, I was the matriarch of six kids. And I always thought that it would be interesting to see because I always thought I would die, be the last one in the family, until they all tootled along, and I always thought that was kind of interesting, this isn't depressing at all. I had all these family members. I had all these years of giving birthday cards and Christmas presents and stuff. Scottie grew up with four sets of grandparents. Uh, so we've always had good, good people that have loved us a lot. We haven't gotten to see them like we've liked to see them and stuff, but, uh, that's, that's just kind of the, that's the problems, I guess. [Long pause] Oh, OK. Let's see here. Uh, I'm kind of proud we've got a cat. She's 23 years old. I think that's impressive. \\ [Laughs] \\
RT: \\ [Laughs] \\
LC: And she's real healthy. Uh, I always wanted to be a veterinarian. Decided, uh, didn't decide to go to nursing school until August before I went in September. I was real shocked that they accepted me because they weren't accepting too many people. But I got into there thinking, "Well, I'll get out in three years instead of four like my friends," not realizing what I was getting into, um-.
RT: Your other friends were nursing students?
LC: Oh no. They were all going off to colleges. They were going to go for four years and take their specialty stuff, but I wanted to be a veterinarian, but when I realized that, I could only go to Georgia for that and in Georgia it was much more expensive to go across the state line. That was the only place at that time that had a veterinary school. And then the, the physicians and the other people had to do with it really didn't want women to get into it. And their reason was they didn't think they were strong enough, if you'll imagine. And so I thought, "I've got to help somebody." And so I thought, "OK, I'll always have a job as a nurse," you know. "They can never take that away. I can do it in three years." I was not realizing what I was getting into. So when \\ I-. \\
RT: \\ Why \\ do you say that you were not realizing what you were doing?
LC: Because those are three years you're around when I learned a lot. I, a lot of it was fun but it was like a, a going between the service and a convent. Which also made it with the few of us in the little group we were in it was all we could do to just try to get away with things. Which we did. We made something called Green God Damn one time in the bathtub which was definitely a no-no. We had been caught, they would have shot us.
RT: What was it?
LC: It was like PJ. It was an alcoholic beverage. [Laughs] I'm trying to remember, um, I think it had lime juice and it had, I'm sure it had grain alcohol, anything that you couldn't taste that you could put in with some sort of fruit juices, and stuff so-.
RT: [Pause] Where did you go to school?
LC: Presbyterian Hospital.
RT: Charlotte?
LC: Charlotte, and, uh, then when I got out of there about in your senior year you just decide that you're going to graduate whether they like it or not, if they ever, just to prove you could really do it. And 72 of us went in and 40 of us graduated. And a, when I got out the first thing I did, I went to work for the Red Cross, which was a lot of fun. And then after we got married and I got accepted because Jesse Helms, and I really didn't even drink then, but Jesse Helms was, uh, I guess he was Senator then, wasn't he? Wasn't Jesse Helms Senator in '73? He's always been a Senator, hasn't he? And, uh, he once again put down the liquor by the drink. And I stood right up, I said, "We're moving, I'm not raising my child in this state." And I was three months pregnant. So we tootled off to, uh, Florida, and moved to Tampa. Once again, not knowing what I was getting into, Florida is even, at that time, I didn't realize, it was just a fun state to be, but I was young and stupid. And then when we came back up to Charlotte, I went into, uh, back to the Red Cross again. Now Florida's psychiatric is, I loved that. And I came back up here and they didn't have psychiatric facilities still working, so I went ahead and moved back to the Red Cross. And we kind \\ of tootled-. \\
RT: \\ What did you \\ do with the Red Cross?
LC: I was a blood si-, stucker. I was real good. Nobody even knew when I stuck a needle in them so.
RT: What was the worst one you had?
LC: Of those? The worst or the best. I never had a bad one. I had a guy that came in one time he must have been like 500 pounds and the, uh, you'd always have people come in because if you tried to get blood and you couldn't get it, you still got credit for blood, so that your family or whoever could receive it. And you were notorious to have people coming first thing and sometimes saying 'cause they could never get anything. Well, that automatically made me, "Yes I'm going to get it ( )." So this one guy came in that was so fat, oh where was I? Oh, it was over at, um, Southern Pines, Moore, Moore Hospital. Tiny little one, we used to go to weird places, tiny little room to get blood. His arm was this big around. Normally you can feel the vein if you're blind it's OK to draw blood because it's feeling, not seeing. And his vein must have been this deep down. That's about two inches down into the arm. \\ [Laughs] \\
RT: \\ [Laughs] \\
LC: And so I went in and I truly drew the needle just perpendicular, just straight down and I hit there. And he said, as he was talking. "They just never, never, never get it." And I said, "Now just hold still now, it'll be through in a minute." He says, "You're kidding." So I got a whole pint out of the man. And that just, um, tickled me to death. But we used to go all over the state, rent a car, because we were in a mobile, mobile unit. So we go up to some of these places that you had your, uh, coal mining people. Little tiny places like Horseshoe and stuff. They always put up a thing to come in and give blood to the Red Cross. Well they came out faithfully, the whole town and they would come and their arms would just be black with dirt. And we'd almost have to give them a bath on their arms before we could even draw the blood. So, it was, I really kind of enjoyed that. It was long days just getting there and getting home.
JC: You didn't like Holly Farms or the tobacco thing.
LC: No, I didn't like Holly Farms or the tobacco thing. Holly Farms was kind of tough because when we went to there, because that's where they do all the slaughtering, and when your patients would come in and those would be, uh, 24-hour deals so we would go up there for two or three days and stay and you got the midnight people. But they come and they would have chicken parts on their feet and skin and, and flesh and stuff just hanging off of them when they came, so that was gross. But, but the one up there at Reynolds Tobacco was worse because even of you smoked, you go, the constant, the smell of it, at least all must have died of cancer, they had to. It was so pungent and they'd walk in there with tobacco leaves on their shoes and their feet, and everything, so it was always there. It was always fun because you go down to the cafeteria to eat and it was hard to chunk anything down because they never got rid of the smell. So yeah, I didn't care for that one much. Anything else you'd like to know about my history and life? [Laughs] Four minutes? OK. Let's see here.
RT: I like particular stories.
LC: You like particular stories? Anybody got a suggestion of something to refresh my memory? You must have some. No? You can't remember anything neat? Oh God, uh. Oh, this is a good one. Well, we used to grow pot, marijuana.
JC: This is not a particularly good one. [Laughter]
LC: Can I tell this one?
RT: Yes. Come on tell it.
LC: Can I tell this one?
RT: Yes, yes.
LC: You're not going to use my real name, right?
JC: \\ [Laughs] \\
LC: \\ No, \\ this is back in the early 70s. [Laughs] Well, during this time, pe-, well, that was the, nobody thought that marijuana bothered you, hurt you. May, they thought they were smoking regular ci-, cigarettes that it got in your system and it got out of it and the whole bit. So of course we were back in the late 60s and early 70s and that was our era. And so we would buy it and we would get what they call a lid, a small lid which is just a small amount in a baggie for like 30 dollars. Well, we always would have friends that would know somebody that would have it and they would get it from them. So they bring it in and then they start having this, uh, thing going around saying that people were what they called lacing it with other drugs, which meant it could have been anything from quinine to cyanide and who knew what. So we decided, "This is ridiculous." So we would save the seeds from particularly good, and I always argued with people because some would say, "Oh, it's all the same." And I would say, "No it's not. Some of them are down and some of them are happy." So we'd save the seeds [laughs], good seeds and I'd go in and I'd put them \\ in-. \\
RT: \\ What \\ seeds? Down or happy?
LC: Oh, happy. Always. Anything that's an upper, no downers. So we went in there, and we were kind o-, in the kitchen and I can see it now, I'd always bring out, I'd put water on the, uh, paper towel, and put little seeds on it and then put water on the paper towel and cover them up. Well, it wouldn't take long in there before they started germinating, these little seeds would start coming up and then you put them in pots. Well, we had them in a pot and put them around these little areas. I'd put enough to be sure that we had enough. Well, I saw something that I read or heard about pure estrogen in plants. I think it was in Better Homes [laughs] and Gardens or something, anyhow, "This will help your flowering plants flo-, flower better." Well, all of a sudden we had these beautiful grass plants in pots on our back porch which were amongst at least 250 other plants and we had another plant in there called Aralia. It looks just like a pot plant, so that way it just kind of interchange within them. I went to my OB-GYN doctor, Dr.White and I told him, "I'd like to get some pure estrogen." "Well, why?" He said, "I don't even think they make it." He is a good buddy and everything and I said, "No I have to have it for my plants." I said, "I understand that they can go ahead and, and put them in there and they flower better and we have tons and tons of plants." So he said, "Well let me look in my book." And he said, "Well, by golly we do have it, but I'll have to give you a prescription for it just like birth control for 12 months." So I said, "OK." So I had these little blue pills and you had to squish them up and you put about a tablespoon of alcohol, I used gin and, in, in a gallon of water. And we'd water our flowering plants and I watered our grass plants. Well, they were beautiful and they bloomed in the pot. And they were gorgeous, and they were great big bushes. And then when they looked like they were ready to be harvested, we turned them upside down and put them in our storage room and that was it for us and our friends. So anyway, that was one of our deals.
RT: Tell me another.
LC: OK. [Laughs] Well, this is, this is stupid. These were funny times, though. There were really funny times. This whole thing sounds like the whole population between the 60s and 70s really didn't know anything. Uh, when we were so knowledgeable. Anything I've ever done or we've ever done is still, we have books coming out the wazoo on things and Scottie's seen them off and on during his lifetime, but I'm sure after we're gone, he's going to see up there, he's going to wonder, where in the world did they come from and what did they do with these? [Laughs] I used to think about growing, um, [pause], oh what's it called? The magic mushrooms, uh, Jim, what's the, uh, generic name for magic mushrooms?
JC: Psilocybin.
LC: Psilo-, Psilocybin. We got a little book on those 'cause growing mushrooms and we were going to grow our own mushrooms, and these are (pause), hallucinogens I guess, but once again, these are more an upper. And then we read the book and looked at it and I realized it has to be under a totally sterile situation. We decided this looks like too much trouble so we put the book away. But people used to come down and, and bring the mushrooms and stuff, and you could only find them in cow patties. And only some people know how to pick them. I wouldn't dare, I'd probably get a toadstool. And we did that twice. We had those two different occasions. But \\ they make you laugh a lot. \\
RT: \\ Why do they have to be \\ sterile?
LC: On, on the book itself to grown them? Had no idea. [Pause] Not since you go out there and pick them out of a cow pasture, you know. It would make you wonder. So we did all kinds of things like that. We, we, we have started, we have now today started getting into teas. Especially green tea because it helps to lower your cholesterol. So that's our latest thing on here and I'm getting more and more into herbal care and herbal, everything's, the herbal, the vitamins and that sort of stuff. You have to move on and change your ways and we're going to go out to Ocracoke and enjoy the folks out there, I hope. Which is out on the Outer Banks.