You will be familiar with the name Bill Tate if you have read my story “Here Lies Bill Tate”, or if you have ever lived in Brentwood, California – not that Brentwood. No, not the fancy one near Beverly Hills. I mean the other one. The one started back in the 1800s and then built upon by the back-breaking fruit-picking of Oklahomans, who traveled west in the midst of the 1930s Dust Bowl, living in tents and looking for new opportunity.
That Brentwood. That’s where my Gramma settled when she was a girl, after moving up and down the San Joaquin Valley with her parents and sisters and brothers.
If you lived there, or in Oakley, or Antioch, or Byron, or Bethel Island, or even Knightsen…you might have seen the sign. The sign that was posted on a farm gate at the end of Balfour Road where it meets Deer Valley Road. The sign read, in plain, painted lettering:
Here Lies Bill Tate.
He is the one who hit the gate.
A few days ago I wrote about a non-paranormal bit of folklore, having to do with this sign and how through my childhood, I went about imagining who Bill Tate was, and what happened to him. Eventually, as I grew up, I imagined that he probably died there in a fatal car accident, and that made me sad.
Not long after I posted my blog entry, I had a message from him. From The Bill Tate. It might have just as well been Paul Bunyan or Doc Holliday. Following feeling stunned, then relieved that he was still alive, a pang of worry entered my psyche. Maybe he wouldn’t want me telling this story?
It was not long before my worry was put to rest.
We found each other on Facebook, and he shared his version of what happened, as opposed to Truman’s version.
Bill told me, “Here’s the story. That weekend, me and my friend David Wilson” (I’m assuming he meant to say in the next brackets0 “[were shit-] faced, walking down the street. I look in this car, and the keys were in it. I said, ‘Come on, David, take a ride.'”
They were doing a pretty decent speed for these back country roads of Hay Country, which could be pretty curvy ribbons of asphalt, fenced on either side by barbed wire. “Probably 40, 50 miles an hour,” he told me. “I whipped over into the fence and started plowing it. Bam. The car stopped. We hit the gate.”
They quietly took the car back from its joy ride and left it where they found it. Then they ran.
I’m awfully glad he lived to tell the tale. Or to keep quiet about it as a youth, for fear of getting in trouble. After all, the sign did eventually feature in the Daily Ledger, and when his dad saw the photo, he had questions.
I have to say, hearing from Bill Tate is one of the highlights of my life. Our conversation made me feel as if my childhood wasn’t that distantly removed from me, after all, but just hovering there, close by where I might not be able to see it, but I could definitely feel it.
Many thanks to Bill Tate for taking the time to converse with me! It was a pleasure to meet you on Facebook!
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