Remembering Cooper Road

IMG_9397July 9, 2016 – The day started one way and ended quite differently.  The notion had crossed my mind that it would be fun to write a post about the spontaneous gifts of words from strangers that have shown up on my Facebook page.  Here are a few that made me smile that day before an incoming email triggered a major mood change.

How can anyone not enjoy this from a stranger?   “I was driving and I felt cold.  So I turned down the volume on the radio.  It was a full ten minutes before I started thinking, “I’m still cold and now I can’t hear the music.”

I’ve often wondered how to describe my son’s work to anyone who asks the perfectly ordinary question, “What does your son do?”  As if in answer to my confusion, this public relations release appeared on my Facebook page under the following headline:


“Ideally, enterprise information technology (IT) systems should include or accommodate architecture that is based on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which leverages internet protocol down to the sensor level,” says Erik Dellinger, manager for the IoT for Kepware.  “While II0T is gaining momentum, the reality today is that enterprise IT systems must interface with older technologies.  Innovative suppliers are meeting this challenge with unique easy-to-use, and cost effective technology that enables cloud-based, Big Data solutions to collect and organize data.  Called intelligent data aggregation, it revolutionizes the implementation of an enterprise system.”

With a lingering envy for any mother who could say “My son is a pilot, a doctor, a florist, or a carpenter,” I decided just to say, “I really don’t know.”

Then, still thinking back about starting the company in the kitchen in the early ‘60s, I wrote this:

People my age often ask how I knew it was the right time to leave the land I had loved for 56 years.  It had rolled over me gradually that I used only my bed, my desk, and my kitchen, that going in the other rooms just made me sad.  In my new place I still have a bed, a desk, and a kitchen.  What I don’t have is the several hours a day of outdoor mowing, plowing, and splitting that I loved.  That’s what I miss:  my tractor, my plow, and my splitter maul – and at this age, that’s okay – except on winter nights when it’s impossible not to think about plowing snow under the moonlight.

And then, on July 8th, this email came from my daughter, Laurie:

“Caught a raccoon and took him to our old house to release him.  It is being torn down today.  The guy said it was a solid well-built house that was hard to take down.”

It felt like a sock to the gut even though I had known it was inevitable. I wrote back, “This makes me very sad this morning,” and sent that to Laura and her two brothers, my sons Corky and Kevin. Suddenly, those three kids of mine started to reminisce by collective email.  Here it is.

From Laurie:  “Don’t be too sad, Mom.  It was a glorious time for all of us and now Time has marched on.  The next house will make its new family some great memories.  The land is still there, and the raccoon I released was very happy about that!

From Corky:  “She was a great place to grow up.  Simple, but we thought it was the greatest place.  The linoleum floor in the kitchen that withstood skateboarding around the kitchen table.  Family dinners of Barfaroni, Welsh Rarebit, pure low fat hamburgers with Gerbers baby spinach or squash, and all the mud in the beginning, with Dad bringing ash from someplace in Highlands for the driveway.  Oh, and the roof as a bounce back for football catches.  She was a great home.

From Laurie:  “The ash came from a furnace in a school in Highlands.  What a mess it made. Jumping off the mulch hay mountain with an umbrella, playing mud pigs, digging very deep holes to find old bits of blue and white china.  Old bottles everywhere!  Skunk cabbage.  Forts.  The sandy corner on the well road where there were always ticks.  Wild blackberries and violets on the way to the gravel pit.

From Kevin:  I was just born and didn’t see any of this.  The gravel pit was a huge forbidden place like something out of Tolkien.  There was danger there.

From me:  I just hope each of you knows how much it meant to me to hear your memories and that you took the time to send them.

From Kevin:  I was too young for the mud.  For me it was the magic of a poured basketball court – 22 feet to the end exactly – with lights!!!!  Janny and Grampy’s pond for skating and the coasting hill.  The long days and nights on the basketball court after Laurie and Corky had left for boarding school left an indelible mark on me and enabled me to live sufficiently alone with my thoughts.  Oh….and living next to your parents may have been a drag for you sometimes.  But it was great for me.   Great having them around.  I wish I’d appreciated it more.

From me:  Kevin may have been too young to remember this but it happened:  I was sitting outside the cellar on the flagstones I had laid as a “terrace” having tea with a friend (I don’t remember who) when I realized that Kevin, who had been playing at our feet, was gone.  Remember this, he couldn’t yet walk.  He could only crawl.  With increasing terror, I searched all round the house with no luck.  I called next door to my mother to enlist her and my father in the awful search.  They opened the front door and there was Kevin sitting happily on their front stoop.  You can understand this only if you know that he couldn’t walk; he was just one.  He had crawled down to the lake, turned left on a trail through the woods, and then right over a bridge across the little stream, up the hill and around to my parents’ front door where he was sitting happily when they threw it open to join the search.  Fifty-seven years later I still turn cold when I think of it.

From Laurie:  I believe you, but I find this hard to believe.  Mom, you must have been weak with fear!  How about when he stuck his finger in the fan belt?  A couple of things come to mind:  Kevin knew the route because we all traveled it many times a day.  Living next door to one’s grandparents was a fabulous gift.  And Kevin’s athleticism and gregarious nature were already in evidence.

From Corky:  That story about Kevin seems impossible.  He could have crawled off the bridge and fallen into the brook, or gone into the pond.  Was he dirty?

From me:  That’s precisely why I still go cold every time I think of it.  Yes, it was that dangerous.  And I don’t remember whether he was dirty.  All of you were dirty all day long until your late afternoon baths before supper when you suddenly became three perfectly clean little people who might not have been doing all you have described here all day long.  I ask you all to imagine what you looked like after jumping from those high hay bales into the wet black furnace ash that we were using to harden the driveway mud.

From Laurie:  I love hearing Kevin’s memories.  When we first moved there the basketball hoop was nailed to an oak tree outside of Mom and Dad’s bedroom window.  If you missed the rebound the ball landed on the tree root and shot across the lawn, getting covered with mud in the process.  It was a great incentive to make our rebounds.

I agree that living through the woods from Janny and Grampy was HUGELY important.  I ran over there multiple times a day, always assured of a warm welcome.  Janny taught me about roses and vanilla pudding with nutmeg.  Grampy was silently loving and always taking pictures.  He was addicted to his insant camera.  How ironic that the instant photos didn’t last, something about the quality of the film.  But our memories do last.  Can we keep this roundtable of memories going?  It’s such fun and eases the loss.

From Laurie:  do you remember when I fell into the well when they were digging it?

From me:  Didn’t you read my description of you falling in?  I was in the bottom of the well shoveling dirt into a bucket on a long rope which Dad would then pull to the top.  You, of course, leaned too far forward and fell in and somehow between us, I got you onto the bucket and he pulled you up.  I, of course, was scared the rope would break.  It didn’t.

From Laurie:  My memory is exactly this:

Joan:  Laurie, stay away from the edge of the well; you might fall in.

Laurie (in her mind):  Don’t tell me what to do and I will be perfectly fine.  I will get in as close as possible to the edge and see what happens.

From Corky:  The water pump breaking constantly, Dad and I going down to the hole, where he constantly had to repair gaskets to hold the seal, with me holding the flashlight.

From Kevin:  I HELD THE FLASHLIGHT TOO.   But I could never hold it still.  I would lose my attention and he would yell at me.

From Laurie:  Hahahah. You guys make me laugh!  He never asked me to hold the flashlight.  Once when he was helping me make a rabbit trap (I was about 7) I hammered a nail in crooked.  “Girls,” he sighed with exasperation.  I was offended, infuriated, and determined to hit a nail straight from that day on.

This small exchange, over a couple of days, did so much to put the demolition of the house in its proper perspective for me.  They all grew up, all married, all had children, all have work of their own.  They began their lives in that house on that land with a mom and dad who were in their 20s.  So now I’m reminding myself that it’s all okay, it’s all the natural flow of life.

However, there is one thing I will never accept, and that is that for at least 40 of the 56 years I lived there, that damn well drove me crazy.  About twice a month the first person to take a shower would yell out, “Dad, the mice are in the well again.”  The stench in the shower water was unmistakable and meant always that we (varying ones of us) would go down the hill to the well and try to patch the holes they used as tunnels to the water where they would die and then stink.  I often wondered how many of our contemporaries showered in water smelling of mice.   I was still somewhat surprised when I moved to this new apartment at 85 to find myself feeling a visceral thrill when I turned the shower handle with complete confidence that I would not smell a rat.


5 thoughts on “Remembering Cooper Road

  1. Kimberly Hackett says:

    I so love this. What a collection of memories of home and place and family you all carry inside you forever. Kevin’s childhood memories have always been rich with detail and one of the many things about him I fell in love with.


  2. trinkandkent says:

    Oh Ferg, you are so good to share this with all of us out here. You’ve absolutely made my morning with this wonderful, moving, and often very funny conversation. I love you and your delightful kids, and that house and its stories will live on now in our minds as well as yours.


  3. Stevie McCarter says:

    Joan – I loved listening to this conversation with your three great kids. Bruce and I were so lucky to be the Ellis’ and Ferguson’s neighbors. I remember wonderful happy times at your welcoming house when you scoped me up to have a day with Laurie at your great house or the many days we spent skating at Ferguson’s pond. We would walk up to the pond and your wonderful mother, Mrs. Ferguson,would be gracefully skating around the pond in her long flowing skirt while some beautiful music was being piped into speakers that were hammered into the trees. Wow Bruce and I were very lucky to have such a great childhood in the perfect skunk cabbage neighborhood! Thank you very much.


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