(no date given)
Cook Stories 7
One of the facts too seldom noticed is the differences between children born to parents in New York or other Eastern cities and the younger children born to the same parents here in Iowa during early settlement. The out-of-staters were correct and formal, where their younger brothers and sisters were easy and informal. Such a one was Fred Baker, a son of an early settler.
The scene was laid for the unusual when Fred, prompted by his sister, asked his brother-in-law Jason Knapp for a job in his store. This 17-year-old boy, fresh off the farm, admitted to Jason that he knew little of selling; he’d have to be taught. How he hated being taught! He was especially bitter about words with two meanings–why?
This is the tale.
One morning Jason stayed home a bit longer than usual to talk to his three sons and play with his small daughter. Fred had been told to open the store at the usual time, sweep and dust. If any customers arrived, he was to serve them if he could; if not, he was to resort to that new talking box which Jason had brought back and installed after his last buying trip East. (To us it would appear to be an ordinary telephone; to Fred, it was a devilish invention.) Most early customers were farmers; Fred could sell seed and machinery; he knew about those.
The front door of the store opened; Fred heard it in the back room. He came out to the door, a lovely young woman stood there. She was a newcomer in town. Fred, always an admirer of beauty, especially in women, came eagerly forward. “I’ll take care of this, “he thought. “I’ll be very polite.”
“May I see some hose?” asked the hoped-for customer. “Why certainly Ma’am,” promised Fred and left for the back room. He emerged with two rolls of garden hose. Laying on them on the counter, he started to explain their advantages.
“Why, you-you,” stammered the lady. “Of all the impudence!” She turned and started to leave. Fred looked blankly at her back as she went toward the door.
Jason met the angry lady at the door, “I’ve never been so insulted in my life,” she fumed. I asked for hose and he-he.” She stopped, too angry to say more. Jason kept his face free of amusement. “Please forgive him, Miss Stearns, he’s a farm boy and didn’t know what you meant.”
“Didn’t know what I meant! Don’t people out here wear hose?” “They call them stockings,” corrected Jason, his lips twitching. “Oh, I see!” Miss Stearns laughed. “Please show me some stockings.” Jason waited on her.
When she had made her purchases and gone, Jason again took Fred to task for not calling the house. “But she said hose,” defended Fred. “I knew about hose–or I thought I did”–he added disgustedly. “Why are stockings hose?”
“Why is a girl, a female?” inquired Jason, laughing wholeheartedly, “or a man a male or a male, not the mail?”
With a red face, Fred returned to the back room.
Later he approached Jason and queried “Do you think Ben Lindsey would let his daughter, Bessie, go to the social with me?” “Why not ask him? He’s out front now.” Thus dared, Fred gathered his courage and approached Mr. Lindsey and asked: “Can I take your daughter to the sociable?” “If you take her and another girl together and if my daughter agrees,” was the unexpected answer.
Fred scratched his head and thought. Of all the ideas for a father to get. He wanted to take Bessie as his only guest; he didn’t want to pay for another girl just to hang around. Now if”–he stopped–“Who was Bessie’s best friend? Why Miriam Stevens who lived with the Knapp’s.”
Again, he was in a deep study! “Who had said that he had wanted to meet Miriam?” I know it was Nate Collins. Now if he already asked Miriam and Bessie and I could go with them, That wouldn’t be bad at all. It wouldn’t spoil the plan Bessie’s father had to discourage my taking two girls. Yes, I think I can work it for Nate would be in town that night.
Nate met Miriam (as Fred planned). Nate asked Miriam to go to the sociable (as Fred planned). Then Fred asked Miriam to find out if Bessie would not come with the three of them. She agreed (as Fred planned).
When three people came to get Bessie the night of the sociable, how could Mr. Lindsey object? (That, too, Fred had foreseen.)
Though Fred’s older brother (Eastern educated) was a lawyer, one wonders if Fred couldn’t have out maneuvered him had it come to a problem. Untaught by schools, but taught by native intelligence, these Iowa young settlers were unique.
Written by Jane Benson (Luella Ellis Cook)
Transcribed by Eric L. Cook