By: Verna (Cook) Weatherly
Our parents went to many Saturday night dances, which were usually in Bates or the surrounding areas such as Prairie City, Long Creek, Hereford or Unity. They took all three of us children from the time we were very young.
The dance halls, sometimes called town halls or grange halls, were a must in every small community. The buildings, which were made of lumber, had bare wooden dance floors inside. Windows flanked both sides the length of the hall, and were opened during the summer dances. From these opened windows spilled the wonderful clear jubilant music made by the musicians out onto the land near and far. The dance hall music greeted you some distance from the building. By the time you reached the well-lit parking lot surrounding the hall, not only could you hear the lively music, but people were coming and going all evening. Some were going to their cars, often it was men going to get a drink of "whiskey." You could hear people laughing and telling stories, greeting late arrivals or making any odd combination of good hearted remarks. On occasion fist fights would invariably break out and then you could hear any "odd combination of good hearted swearing." But, tempers cooled quickly and people, as often as not, ended up good friends again. My father was always rescuing the little guy who was being beat up by the bully.
As you entered the dance hall you were instantly caught up in the remarkable sight. The room literally seethed with aliveness. In a far corner were usually the musicians. One played the upright piano, and the other two or three musicians were usually playing the fiddle, drums, bass, banjo or maybe a guitar. Some of the favorite tunes of the day were "Tennessee Waltz," "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain," "The Waltz You Save For Me," "Beer Barrel Polka," and the last song was usually "God Night Sweetheart."
From time to time the town ladies would organize a box social. This meant each lady or girl would prepare a scrumptious supper and place it in a brightly decorated basket or box. The men then would bid on each entry. Many of the boxes held such items as fried chicken, ham, varied types of sandwiches, potato salads, pies, cakes, rolls, etc.
One appointed person would stand up and start the bidding, and the whole activity took less than a half hour. The money raised went toward a worthy project. People finished eating their suppers and then went back to dancing.
During most dances, at about midnight the town ladies had prepared sandwiches, coffee, juice and milk for the children, potato salad and wonderful pies and cakes. They spread it out along a counter between the kitchen and dining room in the back of the hall. We ate with great appetites, and we children noticed we usually got a little sleepy shortly afterwards.
It was always difficult to let go of the evening after such excitement, but our parents insisted, and the family would pile into the car exhausted. We carried home our new found dreams from this extraordinary night.