Friday, February 26, 2010

Ruth Demarest Godfrey: I Am Born

Many passages in Ruth's memoir about growing up on the Cooley farm begin "Idora and I." The two sisters have been lifelong best friends. Idora remembers sitting for the picture above—she was unhappy because she wanted to wear Ruth's shoes. The picture below was taken by their mother, Gertrude Cooley. I know my maternal grandmother only through stories. Ruth's story about eating the candle holders is a clue to the kind of mother Gertrude was—whatever mild punishment Ruth's disobedience provoked has been long forgotten.

"I was born at home, and in order to get Idora out of the way during the commencement, she had been taken to the barn to see some baby pigs that had just been born. I guess it was not surprising that Idora thought I was another little baby pig! I hope she may have changed her evaluation since then.

"It began for me as an independent entity on June 27, 1922, in a farmhouse in Randolph Center, Vermont, which was my home (except for a couple of years when Dad rented the farm to Wyman) until June 27, 1943, when I married. My mother and father were there, of course. Dr. Gifford and Edith Chadwick, a nurse, were in attendance. Idora had arrived fifteen months before, so she had established a beachhead and had a running start. I never caught up with her, but then, she was here first! As you can see, I was fortunate enough to have loving parents and a friend, mentor, and rooting section from the onset. . . .

"There is a very early memory somewhere in there of a trip to see my great-grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Small. I remember, dimly, a couple who seemed ancient to me at the time. They may have been close to the age I am now! I think they were wearing black clothing, my great-grandmother in a long dress that came to the floor. That is my entire and only memory of meeting them. I have since learned that Great-Grandpa Small fought in the Civil War with his four brothers and his brother-in-law and that all survived. Grand-Grandpa was at Appomatox. . . .

"Another memory has to do with someone's birthday party, after which there were leftover candles and small candy candle holders. Apparently, Mom had to leave us for a moment, perhaps to go to the barn, which was across the road. She left us with explicit instructions not to eat the candle holders. Now my sister, Idora, and I were apparently not always obedient, because we did eat some or all of the candle holders. Outside the kitchen door at the farm there was a cement porch floor, which we referred to as the piazza. There was a glider hanging there, and Idora and I felt that if we crawled under there, headfirst, we could not be seen and therefore would not be reprimanded for our disobedient act. The seat of the glider was high enough that our small bottoms were clearly visible, so we did receive some sort of retribution. I'm not sure of its nature, but the thought of castor oil is running through my mind with some insistence. Mom may have felt that the candle holders would be harmful to our very young digestive systems, and castor oil was thought by some, in those days, to be the be-all and end-all of curative substances. Our mom had a very good friend who was somewhat older than she and very sure of her own wisdom. In fact, this friend once insisted that she had cured one of her own children of polio by administering castor oil! Dr. Salk could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had only known that. At any rate, I think we were sent to bed very early and we may have been given a dose of castor oil.

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