By John Cooley
Francois was a delightful young man who came to live with us for a couple of months one summer, courtesy of ag provisions in the Marshall Plan. After WW II Europeans were starving because their farm lands had been devastated. I think we sent them lots of food, but George Marshall, originator of a plan to help war ravaged countries recover, was a believer in the Mamonidian principle that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach him to fish he will eat forever. So one part of the ag provisions in the Marshall Plan was to bring some young farmers from Europe to the US and show them our ag practices. Francois was one of those farmers.
I was a bit leery when we were asked to host him, because I had only a few words of French from high school and no German. When we met, I found there was no problem. Despite his name, he spoke English at least as well as I do. He explained that for centuries the region that he came from, Alsace-Lorraine, had been passed back and forth between France and Germany and people spoke the language of whichever country prevailed. Francois went to school during the German occupation, when children were taught German and English and were not allowed to speak French.
He described his home as a small farming village in a mountainous part of the region. Farming practices had not changed for centuries. The people all lived in the village. In the summer, livestock was taken into the mountains where the grazing land was owned jointly by all the people in the village. In winter the animals were brought into the village, where they shared the houses with the people.
The tillable land surrounded the village. Each farm consisted of a narrow strip of this land, stretching from the village to the surrounding mountains. The strips were very narrow because fathers had been giving half their strip to their oldest sons for generations. Francois was not very optimistic about using our farming practices, there because we used machinery that was too big to turn around on one farmer’s land, but one farmer could not trespass on another’s without causing a lot of trouble. I always wondered if Francois was able to solve this problem.
Francois worked alongside me while he stayed with us. We included him in our family and social activities, because he was so pleasant and easy to get along with. We all went to a square dance one evening, and he was persuaded to demonstrate the way they danced in his village. It reminded me a little of what dancers in Holland did in the street with wooden shoes on.
This essay is part of Korongo Books' series of memoirs about the Cooley Farm, written by Harry Cooley and his descendants. Above: Francois holding the author's one-year-old son, John Jr.