Back in My Day | Emma Jean Pate

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Pate believes she is fortunate to have lived a long, full life

By Tim Hendrick

Sometimes when life gives you a lemon, you are not old enough to make lemonade. But when the dust finally settles, you find yourself surrounded by love sitting on the porch sipping a tall glass of cold lemonade.

That describes Emma Jean Pate’s start in life. She was born Dec. 19, 1930, in Campbellsburg, Ky., the 10th child born in about 20 years. Her mother passed away Jan. 28, leaving her father with an infant and nine other children.

Her mother’s cousin, Jim Lee and his wife Elvessa, took Emma Jean to live with them and within a few years had adopted her.

The Lees lived in English, and part of the family farm is where she still calls home.

The Lees had each faced tragedy in their lives. Jim lost his wife and three children in 1927 when the car stalled out on the railroad tracks and a train hit the car. Elvessa’s husband had contracted tuberculosis and ended up in a sanitarium in Albuquerque, N.M. Pate has a 1921 picture of Elvessa standing beside the car that she drove to Albuquerque to visit him. Pate thought the Lees were married in 1930 or 1931.

Elvessa had two grown children, a son who delivered mail and a daughter, Emma Lou Brindley, who worked as a nurse in the community for a number of years.

“Emma Lou was grown and out of the house when I was old enough to know what was going on,” Pate said. “She was just like a sister to me.”

Jim Lee was a farmer and instilled his love of working outdoors in Emma Jean. She would rather be tending to crops or working with the farm animals. “I never cared much for cooking and baking,” Pate said.

Pate said she was taught to drive the tractor when she was 11 years old. “When I was 12 or 13, I would disk the ground and Dad would follow with the planter,” Pate said. She estimated that he raised about 135 acres of corn. “I never plowed with the team of horse or mules,” she said. They also grew tobacco and milked 13 Jersey cows twice a day.

Pate said there were two metal pans that had to be filled with milk before she could start filling the milk buckets. There were 32 cats on the farm that drank out of the pans.

Their two farms stretched from Greens Bottom Road along the back behind the town of English and ended close to the old English school. She said they totalled 250 acres combined. When the government purchased land for the interstate, it only left about eight or nine acres on the Carrollton side of where the interstate was going to go. “There was just enough land over there to build three houses,” Pate said. She still resides in one of the houses on that stretch of land and her children live in the other two homes.

Growing up, Pate was involved in 4-H. She purchased two registered Jersey heifers from Mr. Carraco and Mr. Barker at Richlawn Farm in Carrollton. She showed the heifers and won a championship at Kentucky State Fair.

She also bought a 4-H Club pig from Richlawn Farms for $3. “I kept his belly rubbed and won a grand champion with him,” Pate recalls.

A big change came in 1941 when Shelby Rural Electric brought electricity to them, she said. But Pate does not remember when they were able to get telephone service, but believes it was about the same time.

When she was a child, she remembered getting a quarter to go to the movies. The movie was 15 cents and she had a dime for a Coke and popcorn.

Her father had given a German shepherd puppy to Miss Marie who owned the Richlawn Theatre. Pate said the dog would lie there beside her in the theater.

Pate attended the English School for seven years before going to Carrollton to finish eighth grade and graduated from Carrollton High School in 1948.

“Mary Katherine Arnold was my first grade teacher,” she said.

School gave her a chance for a bit of mischief.

When she was in the third grade, she asked to use the girl’s restroom that was an outside facility. Instead of using the restroom, she would sneak across the street to see the baby who happened to be Dave Robertson, the former Property Valuation Administrator. She did not think they ever caught on to what she was doing.

Pate talked about the trip that 60 students made in April 1947 to Washington, D.C. with students from other Northern Kentucky High Schools.

“We rode a bus to the Cincinnati train station and rode a train to Washington, D.C.,” Pate said.

Her highlight of the trip was when she and a small group of students wandered into the White House with Carrollton High School principal Mr. Lyles.

“We walked right in because we thought it was open,” she said. “We looked in and there sat President Truman’s daughter, Mary Margaret, in a pretty dress and then all of sudden Secret Service agents came up to us and escorted us all the way outside the fence around the White House,” Pate said.

Pate met her husband, William Earl Pate, in Mr. Sims hamburger joint across from First National Bank in 1948 or 1949. She ran off from Midway Junior College to get married in 1949.

When they tied the knot, William Earl was driving a milk truck and delivering milk to the Kraft plant. He was in the business with Earl New who owned New’s Café in Gratz.

She said he would pick up the 10-gallon milk cans from the farms and deliver them to Kraft. He would stack smaller milk cans double decker on top of the 10 gallon cans in the truck. Pate said it was a long route and hard work.

Mr. New decided to get out of the milk pick up business and the Pates moved to a three-room apartment in Crestwood. There they both worked at Central State Hospital — she received patients in the office and he worked in the men’s dormitory.

She also worked at Royal Bank on the corner of Fourth and Market streets and Mutual of Omaha on the corner of Fourth and Broadway streets in Louisville. Her husband drove buses for the City of Louisville.

The Pates moved back to the family farm in the late 1950s or early 60s when Elvessa became ill. She passed away in 1964.

The Pates rented out the farm until William Earl’s health made it difficult for them to manage and they sold the farms in the early 90s.

William Earl worked at M&T Chemical, and later Atochem, for 28 years before retiring in 1991.

Emma Jean was a stay-at-home mother once they moved back to Carroll County. “I did a lot of baking and people saved their one pound coffee cans. I would bake pumpkin bread in the cans and give it away as gifts,” she said.

She worked as a volunteer for seven years with Mark Ransdell at the Carroll County Senior Citizen program on Seminary Street in Carrollton.

Her oldest children, Tommy and Tony, were twin boys and born in Louisville. Tony was killed in an automobile accident when he was 32 years old. Twins ran in the family, Pate said, noting that her mother and two of her sisters also had twins.

Johnny was born a year later, also in Louisville. Her daughter Rebecca and son Billy were born at Carroll County Memorial Hospital. She has six grandchildren.

“I am fortunate that I have lived to be this age,” Pate said. “I have been blessed with special children and grandchildren.”

Pate was surprised with an 85th birthday party held at New’s Café in Gratz. “Rick Rand made me a Kentucky Colonel,” she said.