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My Two Younger Brothers

By Idora Cooley Tucker

John Cooley, left, with his mother, grandmother, and cousin Buddy.

My two brothers, Charles and John, were the two youngest in our family of five siblings. Charles is five years younger than I am, John eight years younger. Ruth and I had formed our own closed corporation before the boys were born. Marion, in the middle between the girls and the boys, took full advantage of being the middle child, choosing the twosome she would join on any given day. Some days she joined the girls as we went about our household duties. Other days she might become one of the boys just for a day as they did the chores that were their responsibility. We all played together anyway, indoor games on rainy days in summer or extremely cold days in winter, outdoor play in all kinds of weather in summer and winter.

Because of the age difference between the girls and the boys, and because of the difference in the kinds of work done by girls and boys, I didn’t actually spend much time with the boys. As a consequence I have few memories of my brothers as children that still stand out after all the intervening years. I remember helping them to get dressed in the morning when they were quite small. Mom would be busy making a big breakfast for everyone, including one or two students from the Vermont School of Agriculture (V.S.A), who lived with us and helped with the barn chores and other farm work. As the boys became old enough to dress themselves we girls helped Mom to get the breakfast on the table, and helped the younger children to locate lost items of clothing, or various items needed for school. Sometimes they needed help in winter with their outdoor clothing. Eventually they didn’t need our help any longer, and that part of our relationship became superfluous.

The school year 1941–1942 was my first year of teaching, and the first year of my marriage. I was living with my parents on the farm in Randolph Center, expecting that Ransom would join me there as soon as he finished his medical internship at the end of the calendar year of 1941. He would establish his practice of medicine in Randolph and we would set up our own home. That was not to be, as Pearl Harbor was attacked before any of this came about and our plans were drastically altered. That winter John had injured his knee and was not able to go to school for several weeks. My memory informs me that it was a ski injury. Out of sheer boredom, he learned from Mom how to knit. Knitting was kind of a fad among young men at that time. Medical students claimed that it developed finger dexterity that would serve them well in any surgery they would do in the future. I have a mental image of John seated in a comfortable chair in a corner of the living room, leg elevated on another chair, working at his knitting. I had reams of written work to correct for my pupils in my one-room school, so much that I had trouble keeping up with it, so I enlisted John to help me with that. We spent a generous amount of time together over the weeks that he was housebound.

Charles Cooley on the farmhouse lawn.

I have memories of injuries suffered by my brothers. They always upset me. Charles once stepped on a pitchfork and injured his foot. It still makes me cringe to stir up that memory. A common injury to several of my siblings (but not me) was one that came with crawling under the barbed wire fence. A barb would catch one in the middle of the back and leave a cut of two or three inches that looked worse than it was.

When my brothers were old enough and strong enough to do more hard work on the farm, they became part of the work crew during haying. At the height of the haying season all hands worked out in the hot hayfield, brothers, boy cousins, and hired help, doing the hard labor of loading the hay wagon with loose, dry hay to be stored in the barn for feed for the cattle during the winter. I remember that the contribution of girls to this back-breaking labor was to make and carry to the men in the field or in the barn gallons of a cold drink called swizzle, water, vinegar, sugar, and chipped ice from a supply of ice cut during the winter and stored in sawdust in the icehouse over the summer or for as long as it lasted. The ice took the place of electric refrigeration for house and barn before the days of rural electrification.

I was aware that the boys worked very hard in the spring during maple sugaring. The trees were tapped while there was still a good deal of snow in the woods. This was all done by men and boys, who made their way from tree to tree carrying pails and their covers, spouts, and an assortment of tools to drill the tap and hang the buckets. Exhausting, to say the least. Girls prepared meals for the hungry men and boys who did the work. There was much more hard physical labor related to producing maple syrup. I knew that my brothers were a part of all this, but girls had no responsibilities related to the sugaring operation, except for meals and occasional snacks. I saw it as all play and no work for girls.

In 1937, at the age of 16, I went off to college. Charles would have been only eleven and John eight. I never again lived at home full time. I was there summers and on school vacations, but I missed much of my brothers’ growing-up years. It was not until several years later that as adults our lives began to converge.


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