Friday, March 12, 2010

Charles Cooley: Grampa, Buddy, and Me

I grew up hearing stories about Grandma and Grandpa Small, my great-grandparents. My uncle Charles remembers them here. You can see the 2-minute video we made of his memoir on YouTube.
I was three years old when the stock market crash of October 1929 triggered the depression that affected the economy of the world for a decade. As a result, my Grandfather Small was laid off from his job in a machine shop in Claremont, New Hampshire. He never had another regular job. He must have been nearly sixty years old when he, Grandma Small, Aunt Hilda, and her son, Buddy, came to live at our farm. I think the consequence of my Grandfather Small’s unemployment was one of the first ways that the depression affected our family.

Buddy was about six months younger than I was and we became very fond of one another. Grandpa was always doing something that we could “help” him with. He had a garden with a lot of the kind of hand work at which kids could make themselves useful. He kept a small flock of hens and cut wood to heat his house. My grandfather did most of the work that these projects required by hand so we could at least be safe with him even if we weren’t much help. He was always patient and careful, so I expect our mothers felt we were in good hands. I think we learned how to do many things that way. When we got tired or bored or cold we could go into the house where my grandmother or Aunt Hilda always seemed to have something tasty to snack on. (continued below)

The barn where Grandpa kept his hens had a loft where we put grass and weeds we had dried pretending to make hay. The henhouse had a floor with space under it that became infested with rats. Grandpa stopped off all the rat holes except one. Periodically we would have a “rat hunt.” Grandpa would wait until dark when the hens were on the roosts and the rats came out from under the floor to feast on the grain intended for the hens. At the proper time Grandpa would rush into the henhouse with his little dog named Tag. Grandpa would block off the one remaining rat hole while Tag set about slaughtering the rats. Buddy and I rushed around helping Tag find the rats with flashlights. It wasn’t unusual to kill fifty or more rats in a hunt so there must have been hundreds of them under the floor. I don’t think Buddy and I had any idea how much the rats cost. To us, the hunts were great sport, so the thought of eradicating them never occurred to us. I know Tag enjoyed them and I suspect Grandpa got some satisfaction from them because he never made much progress ratproofing the barn until I got old enough to tear out the old floor and install a concrete one in its place. That was about fifteen years later.

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