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Interview with James M Cates and Laura Cates

Cates, James M
Cates, Laura
Toth, Rose
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Relationships with people and places; Stories and storytellers
James Cates talks about his numerous arrests.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Rose Toth interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
RT (Rose Toth): Are there any stories you remember reading as a child that you still think about and remember? [Laugh]
JC (James Cates): No. Uh, stories as a child-.
RT: Stories that somebody read to you [pause] or told you? A folk tale?
JC: You know, one thing that stands out, it's-, I don't know what grade I was in, but it was elementary school, first, second or third grade probably, could have been fourth grade, who knows? But part of each day our teacher would read to us out of a book called The Jack Tales and it was the book or series of books called The Jack Tales and Jack was always doing stuff. And it's not necessarily Jack and the Beanstalk but it was that type of stuff. I don't remember specifically any of the stories, but I just know that they fascinated me, you know, and that was the high point of the day when we used to listen to those stories.
RT: Why do you think you remember them?
JC: 'Cause they were fun. Uh, they always had a moral, they always had you know, good always triumphed over evil, you know. It was like, it was like Saturday morning serials.
RT: Are there any stories that you remember someone reading to you? That was what I just asked. Um, let's see. Are there any storytellers in your family?
JC: [Laugh] Oh god, no. \\ [Laugh] \\
RT: \\ I mean, \\ who passes down the family stories?
JC: No. [Laugh] No. I'm pretty vehement about that, you know [laugh] my father wouldn't-, good gosh, I remember one time in the Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts, and part of the deal was we had to sit around and read. And it was like it was put off like about three weeks because he absolutely wouldn't participate and my mother actually grabbed him and told him that, this is something, by god, he was going to do.
RT: That he had to read to you?
JC: Yeah, which was just something that he didn't do.
RT: But who passed down like the family stories, oh, you know, like the time Aunt Edna got drunk at, at the Christmas party?
JC: Not that much of us sitting around drinking, I mean [laugh] uh, I'm telling you, I don't know much about my family. Uh, I don't know-, uh, my father's grandparents. I have absolutely no idea who they were. Don't know their names, where they lived, what they did, don't know anything about them. I don't know my great-grandparents on either side, I mean, I just don't know. It never came up. I really-, [laugh] I was never really that interested, I guess. [Laugh] I was too self-absorbed maybe. [Laugh] But maybe that's what was passed down [laugh], 'cause, 'cause we have a family tradition of self-absorption! [Laugh] Uh-.
RT: Well, do you remember reading stories to anyone? Like your son perhaps?
JC: Reading stories? Yeah. \\ And I've always been an avid reader. \\
RT: \\ What stories did you read? \\
JC: Reading out loud has not always been my strong suit, but, uh, stories, I don't know. Uh, [pause] I don't know that I could tell you by name.
RT: What kind of stories do you tell yourself to keep going? [Pause] It's like some bad experience that you had that you lived through and you know you can battle with anything because you've done that already?
JC: Well, being a lifelong drunk might be part of it. I guess over 11, 12, what, 11 years.
RT: So what do you tell yourself?
JC: Well, I'll never do that again! [Laugh] I don't know. That's not the right answer, but you know part of the, part of the problem drunks have is, is, uh, in general, no I guess I mean specifically is, uh, is the whole self-absorption thing. Uh, and the best way to combat that is to help other folks. Uh, and, and that's basically the premise of Alcoholics Anonymous is, is to look outside yourself and see what you can do to help somebody else. Not necessarily another drunk, but if it's appropriate, that's fine. Yeah, that's the main thing, you know. Hell, every day's new. [Pause] We're conden-, condensing this into 10 minutes, aren't we? [Laughter] None of those stories have ever been told and the only time family's has ever been around together is either funerals or weddings, period. \\ Because we didn't get together any other time.\\
RT: \\ But what about stories at your funerals and weddings? \\
JC: Oh, sure! That's a good chance to get a last dig in at somebody for, you know-.
RT: \\ ( ) \\
JC: \\ -We go to their funeral and then we'll really ream them out. \\[Laughter]
RT: We always get a joke at funerals. \\ [Laugh] \\
JC: \\ Funerals are much better than weddings-. \\
RT: \\ [Laugh] ( ) \\
JC: \\ -They're funny, and that's true. \\ I'd go to a good funeral any day, weddings are a pain.
RT: [Laugh] I'm sorry.
JC: Because you're supposed to be happy at weddings and sometimes that's false. But funerals, you just, you know, there's some \\ genuine emotions at funerals. \\
RT: \\ That's the thing. You start thinking about all the good, \\ funny things when they were alive.
JC: That's when the families gather around and talk, is at funerals.
RT: You see? They do talk.
JC: We have a small family. There haven't been that many funerals.
RT: Tell me one of the stories.
JC: Uh-.
RT: Tell me a family story.
LC (Laura Cates): Tell about at Betty's? Didn't they tell some good ones at her funeral there, your dad and Scott was there?
JC: No. Not family. That's always hot, you know.
LC: We were standing out in the rain, Jim, and they gave us some sort of spiels-.
JC: \\ None of us people were family. \\
LC: \\ -About when they were hunting or fishing? \\ Well, they're close enough.
RT: Well, I don't care. Give me a family story. [Laughter]
JC: Just give me a family story. [Laughter] All right.
LC: Come on.
JC: OK. A priest, a rabbi, and-.
LC: [Laugh] Oh god. [Laugh]
JC: -Uh, [pause], I'll tell you, well, it's, it's about me, my favorite topic, anyhow. We were out duck hunting one day, and on the way to go duck hunting and this is, this was almost a family tradition. It was my father and a friend of his, anyway and some other people. Anyhow, we stopped off at a 7-Eleven, uh, to get a Coke or something and, and I must have been 15 or 16 then. And I bought a big plug of chewing tobacco because I had been smoking cigarettes for a while, but I wanted to try chewing tobacco. Uh, and the original taste was vile. I mean it was disgusting. But I figured there had to be something decent to come of it or else people wouldn't do it. So, we're sitting out in this dusty field and I, and I was sharing some with a friend. Uh, and it was the most overwhelming sensation of, of being dizzy and nauseous and, uh, god, it was a lot funnier when it was happening, I'm telling you. [Laughter]
LC: I've been hearing stories for years about you guys getting stuck out there with the police because you didn't have a license-.
JC: Aw, now I did go to jail three times one night. That's a humorous story.
RT: You can tell me about that.
LC: \\ ( ) \\
JC: [Laugh] Yeah, I was arrested as a juvenile delinquent back in Swan Quarter, North Carolina back in '59, for shooting geese after hours. Uh, you have to get a stamp to go migratory fowl hunting, at least you used to, I haven't gone in years. And the rules for hunting migratory water fowl, either ducks or geese, were a half hour before sunrise to a half hour before sunset. Dare County, where Swan Quarter is, that's also where Lake Mattamuskeet is, uh, they changed the rules. They didn't publicize them, but they changed the rules. The local rules were that you had to stop shooting an hour before sundown. So as we were leaving the field, totally within federal limits, uh, some geese flew over at, I don't know, 2000 feet. They were, they were out of range. But everybody's got loaded guns so we just all stopped and shot. Uh, got arrested when we got to the cars [laugh] for hunting and afterwards, and the guy who was the game warden, uh, said he only saw two of us shooting which I guess he figured he couldn't nail four people. Uh, so we had to go to the magistrate's office, uh, which was in a barber shop. The barber's chair was the witness stand. The magistrate was, they had gotten him from dinner, and it was the biggest kangaroo court you have ever seen. It was, it was hysterical. Uh, my father, who had organized the hunting trip down there decided that since there were only two of us to get nailed it would be me and him, rather than my uncle and his friend. And, uh, so we have to testify. And so I'm testifying and the first thing he asks me is how old I was. And I told him and at that time I was either 12 or had just turned 13, I forgot. One or the other. Anyhow, he just closed his little book whatever the book was, I don't remember and he said, "My god. We have a juvenile delinquent here. We can't, we can't proceed." And he proceeded to inform us that we'd have to come back for trial in April. And, and it is a long trip now, but it was a long trip then. It was about nine hours by car then. And they got the response I think they were looking for which was my father said, "Is there not some way we can handle it now?" And the guy said, "Well, you could pay the fine." "What kind of fine?" It was $100. So everybody's checking wallets to see how much money they had and they came up with $100 and gave it to the guy with no other testimony from anybody. [Laugh] No charges brought against anybody for anything. As soon as the money changed hands, "You all are free to go." Anyway, that was kind of humorous.
RT: [Laugh]
JC: That was the first time I was arrested.
RT: Tell me about the third time you were arrested.
JC: Uh, two, three and four on the same night. Uh, I was arrested in, uh, between Little River and Ocean Drive, South Carolina for, uh, vagrancy. I was, uh, that's not true. We were stopped between Little River and Ocean Drive. The guy that was with me was arrested and taken to jail for disobedience to an officer.
LC: How old were you then?
JC: I was 17 or 18.
LC: ( )
JC: We had left Chapel Hill.
LC: That's when they were building the new police facility or something and they arrested everybody.
JC: No. That was the old police facility. Because there was no room in jail I got handcuffed to the tree outside.
LC: [Laugh]
JC: Uh, the guy that was riding with me, the, the cop opened the door and he got out and he said, "I told you to stay in the car." So they arrested him for disobedience. They arrested me for driving left of center. It took the only 20 dollars I had to pay that fine. So I go down to the pad and I'm trying to raise money to get this guy riding with me, I was trying to get him out of jail for when I was arrested for vagrancy because I didn't have a place to stay and I had no money. And they took me to the jail and they didn't have any room in the jail so I was handcuffed too. So they, they had this huge live oak tree, the jail was filled up like they did every night down there. They handcuffed, they had a big chain around the tree, so they'd handcuff you to the tree. So, but I was told that I could get out of that by paying a 20 dollars fine and I'm lucky I'm not still there because I looked at the guy and asked him what kind of idiot he was, because the only reason I was there was because I had no money.
RT: \\ [Laugh] \\
JC: \\ But if I had 20 dollars, \\ I could get out. If I had 20 dollars I wouldn't have been there.
RT: [Laugh]
JC: So, uh, anyhow, uh, after about two hours of standing next to that tree a highway patrolman, uh, had come by just to stop in and he was heading back north and they decided he could follow me north if they would get me out of their jurisdiction or whatever. So we went down the road and, uh, he drove about as far as Bennettsville, it's a long drive and then he peeled off and went to the right. So I turned around to go back and get my buddy out of jail and made a u-turn and was arrested for an illegal u-turn in Bennettsville at 2 o'clock in the morning. Sent me into the jail and, uh, I stayed there for about two hours and it was about 4 o'clock, let me go and I'm heading south back to Ocean Drive and was arrested in Little River for drunk driving. Now I hadn't had a drop to drink, but here I was at 5 o'clock in the morning and I guess they figured if it was. Anyhow I was taken to the jail in Little River and they kept me until about 8 o'clock and at that point I had about had it. I went back down to the jail and found out that somebody else had bailed Dan out earlier in the evening, couldn't find him, so I went back to Chapel Hill. He came back later.
RT: [Giggle]
JC: You think it's funny, huh?