By Becky Cook


Wonder what you’d think if someone asked you to talk about the tools you use on a regular basis, particularly your favorites. You might think of the helpful garden hoe, the jig saw you use to create a beautiful wooden shape, or a favorite kitchen gadget or small appliance you use in food prep. If you’re into knitting or quilting you’d have to have task specific tools to work with. Alas, would you proudly report that one of your most treasured wedding gifts was a wheel barrow and a set of garden tools?29_J Bates 3 001


I like to think that almost any task can be made more efficient, easier, and truly more pleasurable by having the right tool in hand. Further, I believe that one can gain a window into the personality and character of someone by looking at the kinds of tools they use most over a lifetime. I would go so far as to say that one man I knew should have had something on his tombstone about the tools he used and how they defined his life.


In 1899 in Madison County (NC) a boy (the last of nine children) was born to a mountain family. Their home had no electricity, indoor plumbing, central heat, or insulation in the walls, plus they relied on an outdoor hand pumped well for all their domestic water needs. That young man, named Bates, grew up with scant material possessions and sometimes very little food on the table. His strong work ethic came about naturally and was based on the necessity of using what was available or making do with aged or broken equipment to complete the task. I believe young Bates actually enjoyed the challenge of succeeding/overcoming, even with few tools. His hands grew strong and calloused. His creativity came forth. Ultimately he vowed to overcome his limitations, get an education, improve his lot in life, and most of all be of service to others, even his home community.


While I don’t know a lot about his growing up years, I know Bates somehow managed to learn about a boarding school connected with Berea College in Kentucky. He went there in 1916 at the sixth grade level. (It blows my mind to think that was almost 100 YEARS ago!) His dream of becoming a doctor progressed as he obtained a chemistry degree at Berea College and then with the help of a supportive benefactor, completed medical school. From there Bates’ story includes a variety of work/service venues centered in family medical practice, always with a service motivation. In retirement he ended up right back at his old North Carolina home place caring for neighbors, family, and friends.


If you viewed his hemostats, scalpels, hypodermic needles, fever thermometers, and stethoscopes, and you would easily identify Dr. Bates’ in his life long profession. OR you might catch a glimpse of his “recreational side” using his potters wheel, or his woodworking saws and planes, or carving a small wooden animal with one of his carefully sharpened pocket knives. He often rode a bicycle to work, played tennis, hiked in the woods, or fished in nearby ponds, all of which required task specific tools. If he didn’t have it, he found or made a functional substitute.


I remember observing this man in many kinds of situations, including assisting some injured folks if he arrived first at an auto accident. He pulled out his “little black bag” and provided stop gap medical assistance until more help arrived. (NOT something you would see happen today!)


On at least one occasion I watched Dr. Bates relieve the mounting pressure under the nail of a smashed thumb by using his sterilized, very sharp pocket knife to “drill” a hole in the nail. OUCH, you say! Well, yes. Often treatment was a bit unorthodox with Doc….but the desired goal was safely reached with whatever equipment he had at hand. He was always ready and willing to do what was called for to patch a slashed arm, or to return a sobbing child’s scooter to usefulness. It seemed to me Dr. Bates could fix anything!


Mostly by simple and repeated observation of Dr. Bates, I gained some of his tool savvy nature, and I’m grateful for it. Beyond that, I must give heredity a bit of credit. For, if you haven’t already figured it out, the previously mentioned newlyweds who received the wheel barrow and garden tools for a wedding gift 55 yeas ago were John and Becky (Henderson) Cook. The giver was Dr. Bates Henderson, father of the bride!! [And now you know the rest of the story.]