Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ruth Demarest Godfrey: My Two Grandmas

The most recent in our Mother's Day series: Ruth is the sister of Idora, whose essay "Mom" kicked off the series last week. A 10-minute video of their dual portrait of Grandma Small is on our YouTube channel (scroll down the right-hand column to connect). It fascinates me now to think that Grandma and Grandpa Cooley kept a cow on Maple Street after they retired from farming and moved into an apartment in town. The cow was pastured on a hill that overlooks Main Street, across from Gifford Hospital, and Idora and Ruth used to enjoy walking the cow along Maple Street between barn and pasture—although their own cows held no such interest for them.

Grandma Small with Idora.
I was fortunate enough to have my two grandmothers into my adulthood, until after I was married, so I remember a great deal about them. They were as different as two grandmas could be . . .

Grandma Small lived in Claremont, New Hampshire, until I was nine years old, with my grandpa and my aunt Hilda. My sister Idora and I used to visit them each summer and and we always had a wonderful time. Grandma was lively and full of fun, and Grandpa always went along with the things she planned and enjoyed, because he adored her. Grandma and Grandpa bought us roller skates and taught us to skate on their kitchen floor. Since they lived on the second floor, I have often wondered where the people who lived downstairs got patience enough to listen without complaint to the racket upstairs.

Before we went to Claremont for our annual visit, we were given the job of hand-pulling kale from a large field of corn. We did a couple of rows apiece each morning until it was done, at which time we were paid two dollars each. What a lot of money that seems like to us! We took our earnings with us to Claremont, where it seemed to last all the time we were there. We spent it to go to the movies, to buy candy, hair ribbons, and so on. We were in clover!

In addition to the unaccustomed luxury of being able to go to stores and the movies, there were other kids living in the neighborhood, with whom we could play. There were three children living on the first floor of the house where Grandma and Grandpa lived. I recall doing some feuding with them, as well as some playing. Maybe it was the roller-skating upstairs! We got on well enough with the two girls, but they had this poisonous little brother, who had a mop of very curly hair and like to wound us by flinging hard green apples, skewered on a flexible stick and trying to hit us in the head.
Idora and Ruth with two friends.
When I was nine years old, Grandpa lost his job and they moved to Vermont and lived with us for some time. There was a tenant house on the farm, and when it became available they moved in there. Grandma always bemoaned the fact that she had had to move away from her home in Claremont, but I guess she eventually grew accustomed to the change. I am sure she was glad to be near her grandchildren and my mom. During the time when they lived in the same house with us, Grandma had Idora and me go to her room at a certain time each morning and she instructed us in the art of knitting and some embroidery. She referred to these hours of instruction as our "stints." Idora was an apt pupil. I don't think I was, but it was fun anyway, as Grandma was always entertaining. She herself could do all sorts of handwork and do it very well, but she didn't lose patience with my sometimes ludicrous attempts.

Grandma was an excellent seamstress, and she made many lovely dresses for us. When Idora and I were small, whenever Grandma made us each a dress, they were alike except for the color. We were approximately the same height and had the same sort of haircut, so sometimes people thought we might be twins.

In addition to Grandma's skills at sewing, she was a very good and innovative cook and baker. She enjoyed cooking and baking and was never happier than when her relatives and friends arrived on weekends and there was a lot of eating, story-telling, and laughter. I had the impression, as a youngster, that some of my grandma's relatives were on the ribald side, and it was such fun for me, as my family was not expressive in the same way.

Children loved Grandma and she loved them. She had two brothers who seemed to be drunks. As a result, it sometimes fell to Grandma's lot to bring up some of her nieces and nephews. Aunt Hilda's son, my cousin Buddy, lived with Grandma and Grandpa almost all of his life and they loved him dearly. Buddy died suddenly at the age of twenty-five and it was a terrible blow to them. He left a lovely young wife and two small children. His death was a very sad thing for the whole family. One of my sisters, Marion, was Grandma's favorite, I think. She shared some of Grandma's spicier characteristics.
Grandma Small.
I don't know a great deal about Grandma's younger years. I think her mother died when she was fairly young. I don't think she was brought up in affluence, and she did not receive much formal education. She was, however, a highly intelligent person and was able to overcome some of the lack of educational advantages. She read a great deal, which helped. She did remain very bigoted and politically mired. Or so it seems to me, although Grandma herself would not agree with that and would loudly defend her ideas. She remained in touch with her three sisters and her surviving brother as long as she lived. She had a wonderful husband, my beloved grandpa. He loved her devotedly all her life.

Grandma Cooley with Idora and Ruth.
Now we come to Grandma Cooley. Grandma, too, read constantly. She read to gain information about religion, history, science, and many serious subjects. She rejected frivolity of all kinds and did not read fiction and comedy. She believed in being very serious about life and "keeping your eye on the ball." Whereas she tolerated no foolishness or "frippery" in her five sons, she was devoted to them, and they to her. When, on a Sunday, Grandma Small might well be entertaining a large crowd of visiting family and friends, Grandma Cooley would be found in church or reading. Only work of a very necessary nature was done, or allowed, on Sunday, and reading was the only diversion allowed. Grandma Cooley never missed church until she became too deaf to follow the sermon, in her later years. She led a discussion group of adults in matters of religion. On the contrary, Grandma Small, who also professed to having a strong belief, apparently had a stronger belief in entertainment than in religion. Although she had been raised a Methodist, she was forced to become an Episcopalian because that church allowed card playing and dancing, which the Methodist church did not. Therefore, Grandma changed affiliations. I guess she counted on God to understand! (continued after the jump)

Grandma Cooley never danced a step in her life, as far as I know, whereas Grandma Small loved to dance. Grandma Small loved pretty clothes and wore them whenever possible. Grandma Cooley wore them to cover the body and only made a gaily-patterned dress when Will (Grandpa) chose a pretty material. He tended toward the gaudy, which looked surprising on Grandma's rather small and dignified frame, but she would point out that Will liked that pattern.

Grandma Cooley on Maple Street in Randolph.
Grandma Small was one of the first women around to have her long hair cut in a bob, and she regularly had it curled in the style of the time. She was interested in appearing stylish, whereas Grandma Cooley didn't "give a fig" about that and seemed more interested in being modest. She had beautiful white hair which she wore in a bun. A distinguishing characteristic was a flourishing mustache, which she would not remove, as she believed that God had allowed it to develop, therefore she would leave it alone. It did stand out, though. I know of one occasion, in her late life, when she went to the hairdresser for a shampoo, probably at Grandpa's suggestion. When Idora and I stayed overnight with Grandma Cooley, whatever was going on with our hairstyles, when we were doing our morning toilettes, out came Grandma's big white comb with its big white teeth. She would dip it in cold water and start combing our hair back, making certain that no curls showed, keeping us free of vanity, that ungodly vice!

Grandma Small was one of the first women around to learn to drive a car, whereas Grandma Cooley never owned or drove a car. She drove a horse until they moved into the village of Randolph, after selling the farm to Dad. After they relocated she walked wherever she needed to go. She could really walk, tirelessly, and when Idora and I visited her as children, she took us on long walks.

It is difficult to compare the feelings of Grandpa Small and Grandpa Cooley for their respective wives. Certain things were obvious, however. Both ladies "ruled the roost" and both Grandpas marched to their tunes. They did it in different ways, however. Grandma Small said, in a noticeable and positive manner, "Charlie, here's what you do and this is the way you do it!" I never saw him rebel. Whereas, Grandma Cooley just went quietly about doing things in the way she thought was best (and it was!) and Grandpa Cooley went along. It was very apparent that Grandpa Small adored his Dora (her name was Idora, but Grandpa never called her anything but Dora), but Grandpa Cooley seemed to be a man who kept his emotions well out of sight. The only ones I ever saw him show were disapproval of the way Dad was doing things on the farm that had once been his, and a spurious sort of admiration for his girl grandchildren, who he addressed as "little peaches." It was hard for me to tell, as a child, how he felt about Grandma, but every once in a while a gleam of affection would come through and I think he probably loved her. After all, why wouldn't he? She had steered him through a long life of little luxury and they had managed to raise five sons of unquestioned merit and achievement; I think they must both have been proud of that. Grandpa certainly had respect for Grandma. She was probably the reason he was still alive. Grandma and Grandpa Small on the other hand, had raised their two daughers and many nieces and nephews with as man of life's luxuries as they could provide, and they had fun along the way. One of their daughers, my aunt Hilda, had been a high-spirited and headstrong girl, and must have led them a merry chase, but they saw it through to the end, with mutual love and respect. Both Grandmas had emerged into old-ladyhood ardenty committed to women's rights, although with wildly different "takes" on the matter. But they were both right in there, supportive and fighting for the ideas they believed were right. Grandma Cooley supported her views with logical and informed facts, Grandmal Small with emotion and incomplete information.

The grandmas had different ways of viewing the preparation of food. Grandma Small loved to bake and cook. She liked trying new recipes and ingredients and she was a very good cook, a skill that she imparted to both her daughters. Grandma Cooley, on the other hand, prepared food to nourish and sustain the body and spirit. she did not waste time or ingredients on extras. Dad told me that they were so close to the line, financially, when he and his brothers were growing up, that she had to make do with the bare necessities and she had learned to do it well.

Grandma Cooley with Uncle Oscar in Ada, Ohio.

Although Grandma Cooley had little formal education, she read so widely and was so intelligent that she was a true intellectual. Mom told me that the first time she was invited to Dad's home for sunday dinner, the whole family dusted off to read right after the meal and they all spent the afternoon reading, Dad included. That was the most entertainment they were allowed on a Sunday! Dad being the oldest son, he was probably the first to have a girlfriend, so he went along with the family custom and expected Mom to do the same.

Grandma Cooley wrote many interesting articles about her early life, some of which I have. Education was very important to her and she did everything she could to ensure that her boys were educated. Becaue the family had little money, the boys did much of the fund-raising themselves. Grandma Small also valued education and she and Grandpa managed to send both of their daughters to "normal school," the teachers' college of that day. I believe that Aunt Hilda did not complete the training, but Mom did and became a teacher.

In disposition, the two grandmas were unlike each other, Grandma Small excitable and easily entertained, whereas Grandma Cooley was quiet, calm, and always in command. I do not know how the two ladies viewed one another. I expect it was with some trepidation. They were seldom in each other's company, which may have been a good thing and by design. When they were, however, they were courteous and respectful of each other.

After Grandpa Small lost his job in Claremont, I know Dad and Mother did their best to be sure that they did not want. As Grandma's political views varied so wildly from Dad's, and because she was so vocal about it, I am sure it took great forbearance on his part to see so much of her, but he didn't complain about it and in later years voiced a wry and somewhat reluctant admiration for some of her qualities that varied so greatly from his.

I don't know if this comparison of two very different ladies makes it sound as though I loved one more than the other. If it sounds that way, it is far from true. Grandma Small was certainly more amusing for a little girl. She made me laugh and laughed with me. She gave me good things to eat and made me pretty things to wear. She was fun!

Grandma Cooley, on the other hand, was always warm and welcoming when we saw her, and we felt that she loved us in a controlled fashion. She sort of grew on you, and the older I grew, the more I admired her sterling qualities! We were always aware of her great love for her boys and of her loyalty and care for Grandpa, who was no bundle of fun at any time! This is meant to show how very different two women can be during the same time period and in the same locality. Their commitment to feminism was their only similarity, that and the fact that they were both grandmothers to the same bunch of kids. I loved them both and they were a very important part of my life.

Grandma Small predeceased Grandpa. He lived on for a few years after her death, with Aunt Hilda, but life was never again joyful for him. Grandpa Cooley died many years before Grandma died at the age of 105. Grandpa died during the first year of my marriage. Being just married and newly in love, I could not imagine a worse thing than losing a husband of so many years. I wrote a poem about her loss and sent it to Grandma, who wrote back and nicely but firmly suggested that the poem was a little too sentimental for her taste and more or less said that it was time for Grandpa to die and it was for him to die in the autumn, as he loved the colored leaves! Grandma lived alone for some years. Her home was not far from my sister Idora's and she regularly walked over to my sister's house to help her with her small children. She always tried to be useful and helpful as long as she could. When she was into her late eighties she broke her hip. Although the hip was pinned and she was able to walk, her sons felt that she should no longer live alone in her upstairs apartment. She lived with my dad for a while and then Uncle Oscar, who lived in Ohio, felt that she should live with him, and she moved to his home. I think she was probably reluctant to do so, but she did it to make him mappy. Never a complaining person, she adjusted to the new home. the only thing she ever said that could have been interpreted as discontentedness was that she missed the mountains of Vermont.

Grandma Small and her lilies.

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