Thursday, April 21, 2011

Next Event: "Farm Girls" Reading @ Korongo May 7

For some time now I've been wanting to host an event that would celebrate farmers who write and writers who farm. Since women outnumber men in the Hale Street Gang, we decided to call our next reading "Farm Girls." Among the readers will be members of the community, including Bette Lambert, author of Farm Wife's Journal. Bette and I went to school together (she was Bette Silloway then), and I'm thrilled that she'll be joining us for what I hope will become an annual event. Korongo is the new art gallery on Merchants Row in downtown Randolph. The May 7 reading will begin at 2 p.m.

Here's an excerpt from a piece Idora Tucker is working on—perhaps we'll include it in the reading, though Idora has said that someone else will have to read it, as her voice is giving out. Working title: "Manager Mom." It is a profile of Idora's mother, Gertrude Small (my maternal grandmother). Gertrude was a town girl who became acquainted with farm life as a young woman when she married a farmer by the name of Harry Cooley:

Gertrude Small, an early portrait.
I don’t know how Mom felt about becoming a farmer’s wife. Had she envisioned that at the time of her marriage? She never told me. It is a hard, demanding life, with no time off if your farm is a dairy farm. Her early life had not prepared her for the sort of life she was undertaking. Mom’s responsibilities did not include milking cows, feeding chickens, or driving horses during haying. There was more than enough to keep her fully occupied about the house. A farm wife, even one who does not work caring for the animals or growing crops, has a house to keep clean, meals to prepare, laundry to do, and children to bear and care for. In Mom’s case there were eventually five of us born over eight years in the 1920s. (continued after the jump)

Idora Cooley (right) with her sister Ruth.
Our house was more modern in some respects than most farm homes of that era. We had a limited amount of electricity powered by a set of Delco batteries that sat on a high shelf in the dairy barn. We had electric lights, a washing machine and a radio, and the barn had milking machines run by electricity, but that was it. The cook stove was a wood-burning Glenwood model. The hot water was heated by a kerosene burner located in the bathroom, or in a kettle on the top of the wood stove. The washer was the old-fashioned wringer type and the clothes were hung on lines outside to dry. Everything was ironed with irons heated on the wood stove. (Better choose a cool day to do the ironing.) An ice-box located in the cellar contained a big chunk of ice, cut in the winter and stored in sawdust in an icehouse.  In the days before we had an electric refrigerator that was the way we cooled our food.  The house had no central heating, but was heated by wood stoves. Most of the work related to heating with wood was men’s work: the cutting of the wood from our woodlot, the splitting of it for the stoves, even the carrying of it from wood box to stove and removal of the ashes, was for the most part up to the men and boys in the family. We had a phone (party line) and indoor plumbing. We had few labor saving devices—no vacuum cleaner, for instance—but considered ourselves to be well off, and were so considered by our farmer neighbors. Today I can begin to feel like a nap just thinking about all the meals we prepared and dishes washed; all the clothes laundered, hung out to dry, ironed and put away; all the furniture dusted, floors washed, windows and curtains washed; and the harvesting and preserving of food that we produced for our own consumption.
Gertrude Cooley with grandson Brian and daughter Idora.

Although all hands were expected to contribute to whatever food harvesting and preservation project was scheduled for the day, Mom was in charge, the one who did the scheduling and delegated the chores, according to the needs of the family and the abilities of those able to assist. During the ‘20s she had also incubated the babies and was in charge of their care, including breast-feeding each one in turn. To think that she was considered to be a frail child!  What a lot about farm life she had to learn after her marriage.
Charles Cooley (left) with his cousin Buddy and brother John.

Most of the time Mom appeared quietly serene. I do not remember seeing her angry, but when I asked some of my generation what they remember in this connection, they were able to tell me of a couple of incidents when she was more than a little angry. It must have been the exception to her usual manner, as the memory has stuck with them over many years. My sister tells of an occasion when our brother Charles was in his middle teens.  He was called from his bed in the early morning to chase the cows. Our dairy herd would sometimes find their way from their pasture into some place where we didn’t want them to go. The vegetable garden was one of their favorite spots to trespass. It always made everyone very angry when the cows failed to observe their limits and all available children and adults were pressed into service to chase them back where they belonged. So when Charles was roused to do his duty he thundered down the stairs from his bedroom, cursing vehemently. Out the door he rushed. When he came back, having accomplished his mission, Mom was waiting at the door brandishing the big iron skillet. “Charles Cooley,” she shouted in a voice we seldom heard, “if I ever again hear you use such language, I’ll let you have it with this skillet.” My, oh my.

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