A VISIT WITH JOHN BATES
I don’t think it is documented in any book or it is a State law, but I am pretty sure, to qualify as the best small town in Tennessee, you have to have at least one town character. Lynchburg has always had more than our share of bigger-than-life characters.
We moved to Lynchburg in 1975, and in that time, I have had the honor and privilege of knowing many of our town characters, on a first-name basis.
“Tootler Branch, Reagor“Puss” Burton, Sam Womack, Richard“Boogie” Grant, “Bull” Wagoner, Bill Eady, Andy Anderson, Orval Durm, and Garland Duesenberry, to name just a few. These gentlemen would sit on the bench in front of the Co-op. Their job was to whittle mountains of cedar shavings, discuss and solve all the world’s problems and greet everyone who passed by, whether they be neighbor or visitor. Rather than calling them our town characters, I really think we should call them our Lynchburg Ambassadors.
Here is my visit with Mr. John Bates, our current Lynchburg Ambassador. You can find him most days, on the bench in front of the Lynchburg Cafe. Mr. John greets each person who passes, with a friendly Lynchburg Welcome, and he is a fine representative of us all.
John was born in 1932, on his family farm between Estill Springs and Tullahoma. He was the youngest boy of 7 brothers and 6 sisters. Their 100-acre farm was surrounded on 3 sides by Camp Forrest. He remembered soldiers coming across their farm, training for combat, during WWII. His Dad, Leonard, and Mother, Hallie Bates, farmed and raised kids. John said, “There is no telling how many babies my Momma delivered. Folks from all around us would come get her in their buggies. She had 13 kids of her own so she knew all about delivering babies.”
John attended Estill Springs School until the 6th grade. The school met at the Baptist Church. “I had to help on the farm. That was my education.” I asked John what he did for fun when he was a kid. He said, “We worked 6 days a week and went to church on Sunday, so not a lot of time for fun. We did play baseball and football. I didn’t have a helmet. We just wrapped a piece of leather around our head, for protection. He laughed and said, “I’m lucky to still be alive.”
John met his petite little wife, Jeweldine Johnson, who was from Mimosa, and they married on August 12, 1952. They went to the Lincoln County courthouse to get their marriage license and got married across the street. “Then we went home and milked 30 cows.” He grinned and said, “That was some honeymoon, wasn’t it?” “We had one cow that wouldn’t let me touch her, Jeweldine was the best help. She could calm down a heifer by talking sweet and patting them. She was a fine woman.”
John and Jeweldine farmed and their family grew. They got their girl, Denise Dye, and sons, Adrian Bates (Tullahoma) Ronnie Bates (Culleoka). The family moved to Lynchburg from Fayetteville in 1969. John bought the service station (old Shell Station) on the corner of Majors Blvd and Elm Street. He did work for Jack Daniel at the sawmill with Jack Bateman. This was back when they ricked the wood to burn for charcoal. John and Jeweldine bought a farm on Little Bean Hollow and began a grade B dairy. He said “There is no job I haven’t done. I was a carpenter, electrician, plumber, cement mason, and even tied steel.” “I have built houses, barns and in 1955, I helped build the Twin Bridge across the Saint Joseph River in Indiana. I helped anybody that needed help.”
They sold the farm in 1988 and moved to a little house at the top of Tanyard hill. John went to work in maintenance for Moore County schools. He smiled when he told me “I was the custodian at the Elementary and High School for 12 years. I loved that job. All the kids would give me hugs and wave at me and they called me Mr. John.” He kind of laughed and said, “I want to tell you about one time, I walked into one of the boy’s bathrooms at Lynchburg Elementary and caught 8 boys, throwing wet toilet paper all over the walls. I asked them why they would do that to me. They all said that if I would leave and come back, they would clean it all up. I took them at their word and they cleaned it up and it stayed that way from then on.” I asked Mr. John if he ever sees any of those boys now. He said, “I sure do and they shake my hand and tell me that I scared them straight.”
John and Jeweldine were married for 62 years when she passed away in 2014. “I miss her every day. I took care of her because I know she would have done the same for me.” I asked him what he and Jeweldine did for fun.” He smiled sweetly and said, “We did a little bit of everything. We went fishing and traveled and she loved roses, so I planted her some roses.” I asked him to give today’s young people some advice. He said “If you love each other, you don’t need all the fancy things and stuff. All you need is each other.”
I asked Mr. John, to tell me something about himself that people might not know. He said, “I want them to know I worked hard all my life and that I am an honest man. I want them to know I am proud of my children, and I try to be like Jesus.”
As I held back my tears, I assured him that anyone who knows him already knows those things about him. He also wanted to tell people, “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, help folks when they need it, and live right.”
I had one last request for Mr. John. I asked if I could take his picture. He said, “With or without my hat?” I requested with his Cowboy hat, and I told him, “Mr. John, you are the closest thing I know to Jesus, and I think Jesus would agree with me, when I say, you look better than he does in a Cowboy hat.”