SUNDAY EVENING STORIES AT THE FARM

Howard LeRoy, Mary Josephine (Ellis), & Luella Ellis Cook
Edward William Cook

It is still the 19th century but it is the last year of it. Seated around the old wooden table, now owned by Forrest and Irene Cook, is the Edward Cook family. The family consists of Edward Cook, about 5’-10” tall, a bit stocky of frame, with strong well-shaped hands. His eyes are bright blue and are usually dancing as the result of some joke he has played on someone. His hair is dark Brown. His nose is large, very large. Indeed, his wife told of one woman who said, “Edward Cooks head would never stay out in the weather for lack of a handle to carry it with”.  Below that knows is a mustache. He was rather proud of it, but as a young man he had been clean shaven. After his marriage, he grew his handlebar mustache. Only once did he shave it off. That was after his first child was about 2. When he came home without the mustache, said child took one look, refused to go to him, and yelled if he touched her period, he straight away began to restore the cherished mustache. The second adult in his family is the mother, Mary Josephine Cook, a woman of more than medium height, a pretty face, a beautiful skin, a pink and white complexion, and curly brown hair with flecks of auburn when the sun hit it. She is a bit overweight. Moving swiftly, as always, she clears away the simple Sunday evening lunch. Intolerant of the slowness of the ordinary individual, shoot really frightens away any assistance with her family might have offered to give her. Quick-tempered, often angry, she fails to recognize the fact that she is overworked, and so is often disgusted with her family. They love her, but they are afraid to get in her way. In spite of her outside facade of brisk energy, she is very dependent on her husband when a real crisis develops. He is calm and even-tempered unless the provocation is great. Even then he never raises his voice, but simply looks at the offender, who suddenly wishes that the floor would open.

The children are 2 in number; the younger a very attractive small boy of 4 or 5 with a mischievous look is prone to kick others under the table if he can reach them from his high chair. It has no arms on it; he graduated from the one with the tray and arms a year ago and now thinks he is grown up. His hair is white — almost for he is so toe headed. He is athletic and build, is full of nervous energy, moves quickly like his mother, is continually wriggling unless sitting by his father. The other child, a girl is 6 years of age, is slow and movement, but quick to catch a new thought. She is not a pretty child comment she knows that even at her age.

At the table on weekdays at summer supper time, there are usually from 1 to 3 hired men or men who stay with the family because they help with the threshing, and woodcutting and shredding. Then, too, if there is a surplus of hired men, there is usually a “hired girl” who helps out. Sometimes a niece of Mr. Cook, his brother’s oldest daughter is there. She teaches a rural school and the family regard her as a daughter and the children adore her. To them, she is “their sister Anna”. However, she has a young man who comes to call Sunday evening and often takes her to spend the evening with her friend Julie Oakley and her boyfriend’s charm Ed Lane.

 Sunday evening is about the only time that the family is alone — meaning without hired men, so the children always begin begging “Papa” to tell the stories about “when he was a little boy in New York” or “when he first came to Iowa and lived down on the river” or “when he lived on the Bailey farm (he was there 10 years)” or “when he moved down on Grandpa’s place” or “when he went to parties with “mama”. The latter topic often provoked remarks from “mama “.  This might be “don’t tell those children a lot of foolishness, Ed” or “Ed Cook, don’t be ridiculous” or  in case of a really revealing story, such as the one about how he “kissed her anyhow” might prompt her to try to show us off to bed — she could still blush and even though she was almost 40 years old.

 These tales in New York usually began “I was a little boy in New York State, I lived in a house just over the fence from my grandfather and grandmother Benson. Because I was the baby for 5 years, my grandmother babied me more than my 2 older brothers, Ranford and Malcolm. Maybe if the little brother who was born 3 years after I was had lived, I would have not been so indulged. It was a fact that we were not supposed to knock apples off the trees in the orchard, but we could have all we wanted provided they were on the ground. My older brothers could dress faster and run faster than I could, so they usually got the best apples. It dawned on me that I just needed to find some way to “get there first”. I slept in my shirt. I decided that if I did not stop for all the buttons required to put on my pants that I might “get their first”. My father looked out of the window and there I was “pant-less” making for the biggest tree of apples. My grandmother saw me. She laughed and told me to “hustle along”. I got the most beautiful apples. Just as I was ready to sink my teeth in them, I heard my father say, “what are you doing out here without your clothes?” I looked at the switch and still hung onto my apple. Grandmother came over to the orchard and said that she thought I should be allowed to keep my apples, that the 2 older boys “always got ahead”. I don’t know whether it was that remark, or my father’s respect for his “Benson in-laws” that made my father throw the switch away but tell me to “get some clothes on right away”. It was a red-letter day for me for it was the first time I ever got the best of my brothers.”   

“Those brothers”, continued Papa, “decided when I was 4 years old that it was time that I learn to swim. Choosing a time when our parents and grandparents were away, and they were supposed to “keep me out of mischief” they enticed me to the swimming hole. They tried to get me to jump in. When I refused, they threw me in. I went down and down. I was scared to death. Then I heard someone yell “Paddle, paddle” and I paddled for dear life. This began my love for the water and all activities that had to do with it. My brothers threatened me with all kinds of dire penalties if I told how the they “threw me in”.

 As soon as I was old enough, I was taken to church. The Bensons were really religious. This was not from grandfather’s choice, but because grandmother raised the roof if he did not appear at church with her every Sunday. When grandfather got “more than he could stomach” he took a trip to see his brother, John, who ran a silk mill in another state. That left grandmother with her older sons to operate the farm and the mill. When I say we went to church, that meant 5 times on a Sunday. We went to classes of Bible study, something like your Sunday school common nowadays. Then we sat through a long sermon. Then we went to dinner at a relative’s house, and there was lots of Benson’s so we always had a place to go. Then in the afternoon we had to learn Bible texts. At night there was a meeting for testifying and another long sermon.

 As we were older, we were a nuisance to take on stormy days. This was especially true after my sister Helen was born when I was 5. My mother had to look after the baby to keep her warm, so she used to leave us at home. On one particular Sunday, I was very put out. Sunday dinner was to be served at my grandmothers and I loved her raisin cookies. I knew that if I could get to grandmother without my folks knowing that I was along, she would protect me. So, I sneaked out of the house while my father was putting the harness on the horses and mother was wrapping up the baby. Because it was winter, my father was using the bobsled. He used a spring seat on the wagon box with a lot of horsehide and cowhide robes slung over the seat and tucked in to keep my mother and the baby warm. I hid under a robe that came over the back of the seat to the straw in the bottom of the bed. It was a really nice warm place. I was so pleased to think that I could go without anyone’s being the wiser. By this time my parents had moved, and it was about 3 miles to drive. Part way there, my nose wrinkled an I started to sneeze. I stopped in time. Then it started again. How I struggled. Finally, I could not control it and I SNEEZED LOUDLY. I heard my father say to my mother “was that you Mary Jane?”. She replied “no, I thought it was you, Emory”. Then they decided it was baby Helen. But she was asleep. It was now almost to grandfathers house. I made myself as small as possible under that seat — but I heard my father say, “that came from under the seat; I wonder which one it is; He can just walk back home”. He pulled me out, but when my mother saw me, she said “it’s too cold Emory; He’s too young to walk that far alone through the snow”. So, I got to grandmothers. She praised me for “wanting to come to see her”, and stuffed me with cookies, much to my father’s disgust. When we got home, he was all for punishing me, but mother said, “you will just make him jealous of the baby”. He was the baby a long time. So, I was not spanked, but I was told that I had to stay home from grandmothers the next time the family went there. I worried over this considerably until I decided that if I stayed someone would have to stay with me because I was “too mischievous” to “leave alone”.

 In New York State my brothers and I used to catch frogs to eat. We took them home and fried their legs. We really liked them. We used to pick cranberries in the bogs and berries from the Blackberry bushes. We got tired of picking and tried to hide, but my mother always found us.

 My mother was well then. She had been married at 18 and had 3 children in 5 years and it kept her very busy. Then, too, there was lots of hard work and little money. The Bensons were well to do, and it bothered mother if we were not dressed as well as our cousins. My mother raised flax, spun and wove and made suits for us from the cloth. When we were little, she embroidered our clothes when we still wore dresses. All the sewing had to be done by hand. Then, too, mother had all the care of us children when our father took a job of coopering or carpentry in the winter. After baby Helen was born, mother was usually tired. My father was continually telling her that he wanted to “go to Iowa” where his brother-in-law Alfred Coates had taken up land. But my mother dreaded leaving grandmother Benson and her family. It was not until I was 10 that my grandmother died, and my father simply announced that we were “leaving for Iowa”.

written by Luella Ellis Cook

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