BATES, OREGON - PRECIOUS MEMORIES!
By: Norm Rasmussen
If you've never experienced having your hometown wiped off the face of the earth, then it will be hard for you to grasp the sense of loss I felt when I returned to the Bates area in the late 1980's. Perhaps the sense of loss I experienced could best be described as a young virgin who had just been violated against her will.
The only way I could identify where my back yard used to be is a baby spruce tree that still stands where I planted it as a kid. It is over six feet tall and is nearing manhood, if the cows don't stunt its growth from leaning into it when it storms.
Although the buildings have long been removed or torn down, the fond memories of living in Bates remain vivid in my mind, and shall remain priceless as rare treasure.
If you stand where the school and gymnasium used to be located, you can look north and a few degrees west and you will see Big Rock. Big Rock was that place where you could look out over town at night and dream into eternity. (Drat: I never dreamed that I would one day be living in Michigan though!). It was a place where a youth could stand equal to an adult, because upon Big Rock, one could become about anything you wanted to be ... as long as you kept it to yourself.
Amazing - a few dozen yards east of Big Rock there still remains the skeleton of a tree fort my brothers and I constructed during the late 1950's and early 1960's. Floyd, my oldest brother, started the first phase. When he grew older, electronics became his passion and tree fort construction ceased.
I started phase two of the project, but when High School came along, there was no time nor interest to continue hammering boards and nails on tree limbs, either.
From there my younger brother, Dale, picked up the brotherly tradition. Dale was the one who not only put the finishing touches on the original tree fort, but constructed a bridge to an adjacent Pine tree and built a second tree fort - much higher of course than the first one. And what a structure it was!
I believe the only reason the tree fort remains in that tree to this day is that one simply would have to be crazy to climb that high to destroy it. Porcupines won't even climb that high, otherwise the tree fort would have been supper many mill whistles ago.
As I flash back over the many fond memories that still remain tucked away in the cedar chest of my mind, I recall the day my Father, Ray Rasmussen, and my Mom, Edna Rasmussen, transplanted us kids to Bates from Long Creek. That was around 1951-52. I was nearly 60 months old; some 50 months out of my last diaper.
I left Bates in 1966. Uncle Sam gave me an all-expense paid vacation to Vietnam for a year. People didn't have much money at Bates so you had to travel any way you could if you wanted to see a little of the world.
Although the publisher of this book (Sonja Morgan) has asked former Bates-o-nites to write of only fond memories of Bates and Austin, I believe it is a disservice not to mention the gold mining town of Galena as well. I would like it recorded that I was best friends of the Major of Galena. He was also the Sheriff, Fire Marshall ... and everything else. When you're the only person who lives in town, you can be anything you vote yourself to be.
Terry McConnell is the person I'm speaking of. Terry was also Mayor of Bates and Austin, although everyone didn't know it at the time. That was just his secret and the few others he shared it with.
There was one person in Bates I feared more than the Boogy Man who liven in the attic at the old Hobbs Ranch. That person was Arthur Cardwell. I was ordained, I believe, to be Art's "thorn in the flesh," if you're at all familiar with New Testament scripture.
Art Cardwell wore soft-soled shoes made out of cotton balls or such that was impossible to hear as he walked up behind you and caught you writing notes to your girlfriend, or working on a puzzle next to your desk, when we were supposed to be studying. I actually believe the highlight of Art's day was to try to shake me into Boise, Idaho for being caught doing something I wasn't supposed to be doing (which was more often than not).
I visited Mr. Cardwell years later just before he passed. I found it hard to believe that I stood nearly two feet taller than he. He was nearly blind then, nearing the end of his life.
I asked Mr. Cardwell if he remembered how bad of a kid I used to be. He replied that there was never a bad kid that lived at Bates. Only those he had been given a privilege to help shape to become responsible adults. That was Art Cardwell.
As a departing salutation, I considered reaching out and grabbing him by the back of the shoulders and shaking him into Boise, Idaho, but managed to fight off the vindictive temptation gripping me.
The greatest basketball player who ever lived is not Michael Jordon, contrary to popular belief, but Mickey Watterson. The only reason he never made it to the NBA was because I was his agent.
Terry McConnell and I planned on marrying four classmates we chummed around with, whom I'll leave their names anonymous to protect their privacy. The only reason we never asked for their hands in marriage was because they knew too much about our private lives. Besides, there was more of them than us, which was illegal by state law.
The old Hobbs Ranch, northwest of Bates, was rumored to be haunted. A church group was to visit the place, and Tip Frazier and I climbed up into attic above the stairs. Tip and I pulled our trouser up around our knees, rubbed ketchup all over our legs, and dropped our "bloody" legs out the attic, screeching and howling and dropping broken glass below ... as the church group was walking up the stairs. You can still hear echoes of terror to this day ... all the way to Boise, Idaho.
A side note about Hobbs Ranch: A bunch of us boys slept at Hobbs Ranch one night to prove our bravery, just to really see if the place was haunted.
The night passed without incident. Our conclusion? The place was still haunted. Why else would there be no one living in such a beautiful mansion?
Mom grew the best strawberries ever grown in Bates or Austin. She made me and my brothers and sisters scoop up dried cow flops in Ricco's field, which she used for fertilizer. We never scooped in daylight though. Only after darkness descended upon Bates. Otherwise the cows would have laughed at us and we would have been embarrassed something terrible.
Hiking with classmates holds many fond memories. Once a rock came tumbling down the mountain, heading straight for Carol Reid. I scooped her up to safety just at the last second, proud to be her hero, but she still wouldn't go steady with me after that. I pain her brother, Mike, only twenty-five cents instead of the promised $1.00. The rock he rolled was too small, the way I figured it.
Another time we were in the cut just north of Austin hunting fossils. Carol found the biggest and most preserved fossil ever found for show-and-tell at school, much to my envy. Again, I paid her brother only twenty-five cents because he placed the fossil in the wrong location. I was supposed to find it first and give it to her if she would promise to go steady with me.
Getting a steady girlfriend in those days was difficult to do. Especially one who would not only drag your deer out after you shot it, but one who would gut it too.
My first and second grade teacher, Mrs. Garlinghouse, I believe was her name ... was more partial to one student than the rest of us, which I've never forgiven her for, (just kidding) God rest her soul. I know Teddy Thompson was her favorite, as the rest of the kids knew, by the way she always let him sit at her feet (under her big, wooden desk) while the rest of us had to sit in those hard wooden desks. If Teddy moved even an inch, she would shower him with love with a stiff kick in the rear.
Teddy offered me twenty-five cents to burn her house down, but I told him that was way too much for such a small task. (Just kidding again). But doing us both a favor, I stuffed fresh cow-flops inside a brown paper bag, placed it on her steps on Halloween, lit the bag with a match, knocked loudly on her door, (seriously) then took off running for Boise.
Teddy Thompson was already in Boise that night with his parents so he had a good alibi. She was a swell teacher though, as I'm sure Teddy would vouch for, God rest her soul.
Cy Pierce was the world's greatest bear hunter. He would sip from a jug of the purest spring water ever to be bottled, and concoct some of the most outlandish bear hunting tales a youth could ever imagine hearing.
I knew I had become a man when I started telling bear stories to match his, but only after he let me have a swig of that purest spring water from his jug that never seemed to empty. He hid it in the shed across from our house, out of sight, of course.
The first swig was complimentary. Every one after that was twenty-five cents. Cy gave all donations to the "Preserve the Spotted Bear Fund." Cy knew one day the logging industry would be damaged by spotted bears ripping too much bark off trees as they roared down after him to gobble him whole.
Carrying my father's lunch to him at the sawmill was the most important thing I've ever done in my life. When I grew up, I'd become just like him. Sure enough, I grew up and became just like him. I hate bologna sandwiches.
The dances at the gym on weekends were usually exciting. You could dance with the most beautiful girls in the world, or go outside and watch Raymond Brooks and Jerry Coalwell, swinging at each other. Mrs. McConnell and Mrs. Raines had their hands full, bless their hearts, baby-sitting the town kids during those dance nights. They should be given the Medal of Honor for their dedication to raising us little hellions into the responsible parents we've all become ... no doubt.
If I could build a summer cottage anywhere in the world, it would be upon the old reservoir hill above Bates. I'd have myself a hang-glider, strap myself in it, and glide out over Bates just as far as I could sail every morning at sunrise.
To this very day I have dreams every now and then of doing that very thing. I wake up with warm-fuzzies tickling my innards when I've had that dream. I know that if my hang-glider ever rises above the mountains that lead to Prairie City, my time will soon be done here on earth.
For some reason I have few memories of Austin. The old jail house was a place of mystery and intrigue. Beyond that, Austin was a foreign country to me. If you didn't live smack dab in Bates, you couldn't be important.
I visited Austin in the mid-1980's and found Grace Pierce still alive and living there, much to my surprise. For several years I had had a nagging question roaming around inside my head I always wanted to ask, but figured it was too late.
"Grace, did you ever pray for me when I was a snot-nosed brat growing up?"
Tears began to form in her eyes as she answered my question. "God got me up in the middle of he night many a time to pray for you, but you weren't the only one. I believe God had me praying for every kid that ever lived in Bates and Austin, at one time or another."
She didn't boast about it. She just looked right through me, it seemed, as though she was focused on something a whole lot bigger than myself.
"May I ask why you asked?"
"Your prayers paid off," I replied, thanking her with tears of my own.
To each and every one of you who knew me, I thank you for the many fond memories you gave me. If I ever offended you, which I'm sure I must have at least a 100 times, I ask forgiveness. For the record, for a mere twenty-five cents, things could have been ironed out a long time ago.
I took my precious wife, Kathleen - a little Dutch lady born and raise in Holland, Michigan - to the Bates area a few years back on a sight-seeing tour. I took her to my favorite parking spot and kissed her passionately. She says to this day she's never been kissed quite that good. For a mere twenty-five cents, you can write to me, and I'll send you a map of this top secret parking spot. There's only one like it in the world ... found in Bates, Oregon, USA ... of course. [Update: Due to inflation, the cost for this secret location has now been adjusted to $1,000,000].
For those strapped for funds, I'll be generous and drop you a hint of this location. When you're smooching, you won't have to worry about porcupines disturbing you.