This interview was conducted by Kristee Langham on March 29, 2008 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2008 class.
Willie Mae Gates was born on February 1, 1922 to Wilborn and Goldie Stanteen. She is the youngest of two with a brother, Wilborn Jr., who was killed in 1944 during World War II. She is Baptist and enjoys playing Bridge and Bunko with her girlfriends every week. She also likes to stay in shape by walking and takes pleasure in throwing garden parties and having weekly luncheons. She was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas but moved many times after she married her first husband, William Craigg, on January 26, 1940 who was in the war. After divorcing Bill and marrying her second husband, Maxell Gates, on January 3, 1950, they moved to his home town, Beloit, Kansas, until she convinced him to move back to San Antonio which is where she currently resides. She graduated from Brackenridge High School in 1938 and attended Business School for two years at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. She has performed many occupations throughout her lifetime such as working for Kelly Air Force Base and a general supply company; she has also owned her own business, built houses, raised ostrich and horses, and much more. She was married to her second husband for 57 ½ years until he passed away on June 25, 2007. She has five children; two with her first husband, a daughter, Lynell and a son, William and three sons with her second husband, Maxell Jr., Gordon Rae, and Wilborn Burnell. She also has twelve grandchildren, thirteen great grandchildren (including me) and two great-great grandchildren. She was interviewed about growing up in San Antonio, Texas for about one hour by Kristee Langham on March 29, 2008 in the living room of her house.
What was life like for you growing up in San Antonio, Texas as a child?
Well, at the time, we were better off than a lot of people because it was during the bad, bad depression but, my dad worked for a mobile oil company and was able to keep his job. We were middle class but, he was never out of work so, that made it really great. And, I still remember the neighbors coming home and saying, “oh, Mr. Cantro walked all day long today, still couldn’t find work.” Everyone was looking for work that I knew except dad. So, we were, well, blessed. We never had problems with putting food on the table.
How was everyday home life like? Did you have any chores? What did you do for fun?
I had a few chores. I used to have to wash dishes every once in a while. But, also, everybody came to mother’s house. Either to go to school or to die. And, the time I was in high school , I had my brother, myself, and I had two cousins that came to live with us and we were all in high school, or the cousins and I were. And, we lived in a two-story house and those boys waited on me hand and foot. They did everything for me. I was pretty spoiled. My brother always fixed breakfast for me. Even when I was younger. It’s amazing to me that I didn’t grow up to be a really spoiled brat. That’s why I don’t really think spoiling children hurts them. ‘Cause I know how spoiled I was. And when it was my turn to take over, I did. But, I guess that was the example that I had set for me. When it was my turn, I did it. Well, you’re getting all my secrets. I didn’t know how to drive and like I say, my mother had, this is before she turned the car over to me, and she had this brand new Pontiac sitting in the driveway and dad was going through the chairs and the preacher next door was holding a revival so, his daughter that was my age, and we were always together and the minute they were all out of sight, Martha-Dale and I went and jumped in that new Pontiac and the thing to do back then was drive down Houston Street. Well, it’s two-way now. But, Jefferson and Brackenridge were the two schools and so everybody from Jefferson was coming this way and everybody from Brackenridge was going that way and we would just cruise down Houston Street. And, you just talked to people all along the way. We just totally had Houston Street closed down to anybody else. And, when we finally got to the end, well, I don’t know, it must have taken quite a while ‘cause I don’t think we made but one pass of it and then we always managed to get home before they did. And, nobody ever caught us. But, that was fun.
What were some of your favorite places to go in San Antonio as a kid?
Oh, I guess we went to the San Antonio Zoo. I don’t know. There wasn’t too many things to entertain kids then. And, I never did learn how to swim but, I loved to go swimming. And, I learned to swim but, not like I should have. Mother made sure all my children learned how to swim properly. But, I just paddled. That was the two things that I guess we did the most. I thought it was great fun to go swimming.
How far away were your closest neighbors?
We lived in town. Just little city blocks, you know. We just all lived, you know how town is, just one house after the other. My best friend was the girl next door, we lived next door to a Baptist minister. So, that’s how I got started in the Baptist church. His kids and… we all went to church together. He wasn’t the pastor of the church, he was an evangelist. There was seven of those kids so, those were my best days, I guess.
How often did y’all have people over at your house?
The house was always full. Because three in mother’s family married three in daddy’s family and so, we were all just one big happy family. And those people had no friends or needed no friends. There were so many of them, brothers and sisters, and all the rest of them that weren’t married to each other, you know, they all got roped under the same rope so, we just had a very large family and a lot of cousins. I lived a very, very happy childhood. Any excuse, they would come over. I know mother had big dinners, you know, and then my grandmother and grandfather lived out on Blanco Road. That was their family farm but, they all sold out as soon as they could. But, we spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house. They lived in an old house that hadn’t had paint in a hundred years, I don’t think it ever had paint. But, it was a nice place to go. And, laughter, my goodness, The Jones family, they were full of laughter. They laughed all the time. I can remember as a child, just sitting. My grandparents had a big old rock fireplace and in the winter time, they’d all gather around there and stat telling ghost stories or jokes. As little kids, your eye just got bigger and bigger.
What was your first job? How much did you make? What was the cost of things at that time?
A general supply company. I don’t remember what it was. Right after I got out of high school, probably about 1939. I made $55 a month, I’ll have you know. I guess, it’s just starting wage. And, I really thought I was in the money then. Bill always had a good job. He made $90 a month. When we first got married, mother and daddy bought us a little house over on Greer. And, that seems hard to believe now. It was a little two-bedroom house, kitchen, hardwood floors. Dad paid $2500 for it. So, anyway, then the war came along. That’s when we left. But, anyway, he was making $90 and I was making $55 so, we thought were doing pretty good and we had a brand new little Chevrolet. That was another little interesting thing. I remember we bought that little Chevrolet coupe and paid $90 for it. He must have had a car too ’cause that was what I drove. Anyway, the war came along and I drove that little Chevrolet coupe all over the United States. Wherever I went, that’s where that little car was. And, you know, I drove it for all those years and came home and sold it for $1,000.
Describe a typical day growing up in San Antonio.
Brother would make me breakfast. We had the preacher next door who had seven kids so, we always had plenty of entertainment with all those kids, you know, we were all pretty close. And then, one fond memory I have, that lady, her name was Mrs. Joiner. She was such a funny lady. Everything was funny to her. She had all these kids, you know, and they had a big open screened in back porch and that’s where all the kids where, on that back porch ‘cause they didn’t have a very big house and we’d always go over there on Sundays and we’d lay back there on those beds and read the Sunday, funny papers. She said, “It’s a funny thing to me y’all are reading all the funnies and I never hear anybody laughing.” But, that was our Sunday afternoons.
What were the most desirable items for you at that time?
A car was the only thing I ever desire. I thought I had to have a car. And, I always liked to have a good car. Something I thought I was proud of. And when I was ready to start college, well, my mother had a brand new 1938 Pontiac and she let me have it. And I was driving out to Our Lady of the Lake and before I got out there, I picked one or two girls up on the way. So, those were fond memories. Well, I’ll tell you, those are a couple of memories that are wedged in my mind because I was told, seeing it was a Catholic college, and I’d get so sick and tired of fish and the girls would too and mother told me over and over, do not leave that campus; you go straight to school and you come straight home. So, we got to where every Friday, we were coming into town and going to the Mexican restaurant. One day I walked in there and at the first table, there sit mom and daddy. But, I was never intimidated by anybody. And, I walked up to him and I said, “oh, dad, I’m so glad to see you. I’m a little short on money, can you let me have a quarter.” And it took him by surprise and he let me have a quarter. Dad and I were always kind of… I can remember when I first started dating, it was funny, I had this boy and he wanted to double date and so, they came to pick me up, and I don’t remember, I was still in high school and I was pretty young and dad said, “No, no, no!” And I said, “What’s the matter? You think you’re going to keep me tied to your apron strings all my life?” So, he let me go. That’s just the way he was. I just approach life in a different way than, I guess, most people did. So, I always got by with a lot.
When were women expected to get married at that time?
I don’t know, usually right out of high school.
How did you meet your first husband, Bill? How long did you know him before you married him? Where did you marry him?
At school. High school. It was probably a year before we got married. ‘Cause we went to school together. We got married at mother’s house. It was just family. That’s another thing, everybody got married at mother’s house.
How did you meet your second husband, Max? How long did you know him before you married him? Where did you marry him?
I met him at a dance that I didn’t want to go to. I never did like to dance and he did. So, I got talked into going to that dance and that happened. We danced together and he was from Kansas and he had just come down here for the winter and he had a friend and they were going to work down here for the winter and then go back to Kansas to harvest. And, after he met me, well, he decided he wasn’t in quite so big of a hurry to go back. So, he stayed a little while longer. Then, he went back and then came down here to get me and that’s when we moved to Kansas. I probably knew him for six months all together, not very long. We got married at the church but, we came back to mother’s house to a reception.
Did you ever move? When? Why? For how long?
Oh yeah. Bill was in the service. so, we moved a lot. We moved all up and down the California coast line in 1943. That’s where he got his wings. We lived in Nebraska during the war. I guess we were in Nebraska in 1944 ’cause I remember Lynell was a baby there and then we went to Indiana and from there we went to South Carolina and then from there, he was getting ready to go over seas because the war was over so, we came home then. Well, that was about 1945. Lynell was still a baby. I moved to Kansas when I married Max because that’s where he was from. But, I eventually talked him into coming back home.
What changes have you seen happen as you were growing up in San Antonio?
Oh, a lot. Too many to even think about. It was a small, sleepy, slow town, you know. I walked to elementary school and junior school. Kids are different now.
What type of household did you live in: big? small? What would you consider your socio-economic status was?
Well, we had a big two-story house but, we were probably middle class. Daddy never lost his job during the depression. So that was good.
Did your family take any vacations? Where to? How often? What was your favorite?
Oh yeah, we did. Well, we went mostly to the coast but, we would go down into Mexico several times too. And I had this old great-uncle, that he’d come stay with us. And, a lot of times on the weekend, he was one of the ones that were on (the farm). And he used to come spend the weekends with us and we would go to the coast or we went to Mexico. It seemed like we always had him with us. So, but, other than that, I don’t remember going too much to too many places. Seems like we always went South. Max and I went on several cruises with the church and we always enjoyed those. But, then we used to travel quite a bit with Max’s sister and her husband. They had a motor home and we had a motor home. And, we’ve been all up and down Florida. We met them out in Colorado. So, we had fun together… mostly nice trips.
What type of classes did you take in high school? Did you have any favorite subjects? Favorite teachers?
Yeah, I ha all the required things. My favorite subjects were Algebra and Geometry. But, I liked shorthand and typing. I didn’t care too much for English but, my English teacher did not understand me because I never could learn the rules. But, I always had an ear for words, you know, and I always hear it if somebody says something wrong. But, I didn’t like English. I don’t remember too many teachers but, the one that I have the memory of was an Algebra teacher and she was so mean. Oh, she was mean. So, she’d go up there and, boy, if we didn’t learn those rules, we were in big trouble. And she would turn around and just let you have it and then she’d turn back around to the chalkboard. I can still remember, her name was Mrs. Fry, she always had a glove on and she’d get up there and put that chalk to the chalkboard and then all of a sudden she would turn back around and she’d say, “Now call me Mrs. Meany.” So, I remember her. I remember the English teacher but, other than that, I don’t remember. Because the English teacher could not understand why I could learn English.
How was it for you going to college at that time?
Not everyone went to college. I may have gone longer than two years but, the war came along, you know. I never was a good student. I was too young.
Do you still keep in contact with any friends you had from your childhood?
My good friend, Martha-Dale, we grew up together, next door. The preacher’s daughter. We are no longer close but, we are still in contact and on my birthday, she called me and then she came to San Antonio, just yesterday, I guess it was, and we had planned on going out to lunch but, just as they drove in, she heard that her son-in-law had had an accident. And, her little granddaughter was killed so that’s real sad on her. And, her brother was my first love. Oh my goodness, I loved that boy. We were in third grade. You know how you can fall in love when you’re a little kid. In that family, there were seven and there are only two left but, we are still in contact with them, you know.
Are you happy with your decision in coming back to San Antonio instead of staying in Beloit?
Oh yes! Oh yes!
In your opinion, what is your secret to your longevity?
Lack of worry. I do not worry. I say, “If you pray, why worry? If you worry, why pray?” I just live life for today.
Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?
I didn’t know I had that many memories. Really, my memories are very scattered. But, I guess a few that were really happy, I remember. But, I remember always telling the kids, as far as I was concerned, I had an ideal childhood because there was no strife in our family. My mother and daddy never fought until after I was grown up, you know, and then they got to where they would. But, they would never say one cross word in front of us. And, that was nice. So, I always said I had a happy childhood and that’s good. I think everybody deserves a happy childhood, you know. Oh, when we came back from the war, me and Bill started a flying school. There isn’t anything I haven’t been involved in. It was out at Stinson Field and we had airplanes, you know. Did I tell you we lived in Colorado? Yeah. I think I did. When we lived in Colorado, it made me so unhappy one time. It was time to move. I guess the war was coming and he was going to have to go or something. And, he was a pilot and so we had bought an airplane. And, when it was time to leave, I had Lynell. We still had that Chevrolet, I guess, and I had Lynell so, I had a baby bed and everything. We had been living there for a year or something. And so, he bought an old trailer and we packed up me and the baby and we started down the road. I never did have sense enough to know that I couldn’t do everything I sought out to do. And so, of course he couldn’t come along ’cause he had to fly the airplane. So, he got home and I didn’t show up… and I didn’t show up… and they couldn’t figure out what happened to me. And, we didn’t have cell phones then, you know. I got out there in the panhandle and I had a flat tire on that trailer. So, no problem, I’ve got a spare in the back of the car. So, first person that stopped, of course, I was a pretty good-looking young lady so, I never did have any trouble getting men to stop. And so, he was going to change the tire for me and he got out that spare tire and it would not fit that trailer. So, nothing to do, he picked up my wheel off of the trailer and took it into town, got me a tire and brought it back and put it on the trailer. Well, that wasn’t too bad. Then, I got on down the road a little bit further and another tire blew out on the trailer. Well, I knew exactly what I was in for then. Once again, a nice man stopped and he took the tire off, took it to town, brought it back and put it on there. And in the mean time, I was up there in the panhandle and the wind was blowing and the sand was blowing. It was enough to take the paint off of the car. I’ve never had such a miserable trip in my life. And, I want you to know, I thought, okay, I’ll tell you one thing, I was talking to myself, if I have another flat, this trailer is getting deserted right here. So, anyway, then it got dark and I had to stop and I stopped at some motel. And, then I got up and I came on home and here was Bill and mother and daddy just sitting around the kitchen table wondering where I was. And, oh yes, I was so mad. And, when the war was over, that’s when we started that flying school at Stinson Field. Cardinal Aviation. It was before Billy was born. Probably 1945, I imagine. And, that’s it. I have had a rather interesting life. I’ve never been bored, let’s put it that way.
By interviewing my Great-grandmother, Willie Mae Gates, I learned about how she lived her life growing up in San Antonio, Texas. I was able to talk to her and spend time with her learning about her life. I enjoyed hearing all of her stories and going through countless photos in her storage room. The most important points in this interview were basically just the real life stories that she told me. It was so important to learn about the history of my family by talking to somebody who knows so much about it all. I learned how strong of a woman Willie Mae Gates really is. She has taught me so much throughout these couple of weeks of interviewing her. My views about growing up in San Antonio have really changed. The whole economic aspect of San Antonio has changes. When my great-grandmother was younger, the cost of living was so much lower than it is today, but so were the wages. I could really tell when my great-grandmother spoke about her life growing up that she loved it. I verified many stories told to by talking to other family members about the stories and seeing how they remembered the events and what she had told them before. In my opinion, learning about history through a real-life person instead of a book helped a lot because it was personal and fun. It didn’t bore me. This was a very effective way of looking at the past and it was fun, too!
- Willie Mae Gates (nee Stanteen) was born February 1, 1922.
- Attended Smith Elementary in 1927.
- Attended Poe Middle School in 1932.
- Graduated from Brackenridge High School in 1938.
- Started her first job at a general supply company in 1938.
- Attended college at Our Lady of the Lake University from 1938-1940.
- Married William “Bill” Craigg on January 26, 1940.
- Moved to California in 1943.
- Moved to Nebraska, then Indiana and then South Carolina throughout 1944.
- First child, Lynell, born on May 3, 1944.
- Her brother past away in 1944 during World War II.
- Moved back to San Antonio in 1945.
- She and William opened a flying school at Stinson Field in 1945.
- Second child, William “Bill”, born on October 21, 1946.
- Divorced William “Bill” Craigg.
- Married Maxell Gates on January 3, 1950.
- Moved to Beloit, Kansas in 1950.
- Moved back to San Antonio.
- Third child, Maxell Jr., born on February 10, 1952.
- Fourth child, Gordon Rae, born on December 27, 1953.
- Last child, Wilborn Burnell, born on November 8, 1955.
- Her father, Wilborn Stanteen, died on February 10, 1968.
- Her mother, Goldie Stanteen, died on December 21, 1973.
- Started a subdivision in San Antonio in 1977.
- Built a Daycare Center in San Antonio in 1979.
- Son, Maxell Jr., died on September 5, 2005.
- Husband, Maxell Gates, died June 25, 2007.
- Was interviewed by her great-granddaughter, Kristee Langham, March 29, 2008.
- BBC-World War Two is helpful in order to get background information about World War Two for anyone who wants to know more about what killed Willie Mae Gates’ brother.
- Our Lady of the Lake University The site shows what it takes to get into this school. It also gives a look at the school’s past and present.
- San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium‘s website shows what type of events take place at the city’s zoo and when you are able to visit. It provides pictures and basic information about the zoo.
- Hubcap Cafe-1938 Pontiac. This website shows the tyoe of car that Willie Mae Gates drove around in the 1930’s.
- Photographs on this website were provided by Willie Mae Gates and were stored in the storage room inside photo albums in her guest house next door to her house.