Tricounty News

When I Was Four



By Elizabeth Cooper Mike

From the pen of Elizabeth Cooper Mike, Kimball Historical Society member, in her book "The Girl From Stickney Hill, Kimball Prairie, Minnesota" (Reprinted with permission of the author.)

Note: Gramma Coopie was my paternal grandmother; Muddy, my mother; Bailey or Daddy, my father; Nana, my maternal grandmother; Frederic, Jack and Peggy, my siblings. Mary and Laura were my second cousins.

Sitting on the steps of Gramma Coopie's back porch I stretched out my legs and admired my new shiny black shoes, my white stockings pulled up tight and rolled over round garters to below my knees, and my next-to-best dress, blue with little white flowers all over it.

I felt my hair. It was still damp. Muddy had let me comb my own hair. Then I had smoothed it down all over with water, especially the bangs.

Muddy had left me sitting on the porch while she went inside to talk to the grownups in the house. I could hear their low voices, Aunt Ruth and Aunt Mildred, and then my mother.

I pulled my dress down tight over my knees and wondered what "dead" was. Was it like the old cat I found stretched out flat and quiet behind the barn in the snow last winter? Or like the squirrel that came tumbling down the tree when Uncle Warner shot it?

I leaned over and rubbed the dust off my shoes. I remembered the phone call that morning. Two short rings and a long. I knew it was our ring. We were all sitting at the breakfast table. Daddy jumped up and took the receiver off the hook.

He said, "Hello. Yes, yes, this is Bailey." And then he said, "Yup, I'll be right there."

Turning away from the telephone, he said, "That was Mildred. Mother's worse. I'll ride a horse up and leave the car for you." And then he had ridden up the road, galloping fast to Gramma Coopie's house. Her farm was up the hill and down the road, near the school where I would go when I was bigger. Then the phone rang again. Two shorts and a long. We were still at the table. Nana was giving baby Frederic his bottle and Muddy was taking dishes off the table and hurrying us to finish. Jack, Peggy, and I. She answered the phone and after a few words turned to Nana and said, "She's gone. I'll have to go right up."

"Well, we've been expecting it," Nana said as she held Frederic to her shoulder. "It's a good thing I'm here. Take Elizabeth with you. I'll take care of the other kids. Now hurry along."

"But it's a darn shame," Muddy said. She's only 56. Darn doctors don't know much. Then noticing us her mouth went firm and her shoulders straightened as she gathered us around her, Jack, Peggy, and me. Sitting with Peggy on her lap and putting her arms around us, she said, "Gramma Coopie has gone away where she won't be sick anymore. She's not hurting now. She's in heaven."

"But we just saw her. Jack and I saw her. Remember." I pulled away from Muddy's arm. "How can she go away? She's in bed. She can't walk.

"It's a different kind of going away," Muddy said as she tightened her arm around me again. "She wanted to borrow my legs and I said no," I began to cry.

Gramma Coopie's bed was in the front room when we visited her. Quietly Jack and I had tip-toed in and stood at the foot of her bed. When she opened her eyes, she smiled at us. Then she asked to borrow my legs. My young, strong legs, she said. I shook my head no, shook it hard, hair flying in my eyes. Everybody laughed. My face felt warm. Taking our hands Gramma Coopie drew us close to the bed, saying, "You two look so healthy, rosy cheeks, shiny eyes, so young, so healthy, all your life ahead." She smiled at us and the sadness went away from her face. She said, "Now run along and play." And then smiling all over her face, she closed her eyes and we slipped away.

Now I wished I had given her my legs. Tasting warm salty tears on my lips, I pulled my dress down, stretching it tight over my knees.

Then I heard Mary and Laura plopping down on the porch, crowding in beside me. Laura was bigger than me. I was 4. But Mary was a big girl. She was 10. She put her arms around me and hugged me tight. The Fredericks were my second cousins visiting from Minneapolis. Gramma Coopie was their mother's sister. Mary and Laura had their shoes on and their Sunday dresses. Whispering softly with her lips against my ear, Mary took my hand and said, "Let's go upstairs. I want to show you something.

We tip-toed into the kitchen, skirted the edge of the living room where beyond the adults talking, I could see the edge of Gramma Coopie's bed in the front room. Slowly, up the steep creaking wooden steps we went, into the upstairs, and then into one of the bedrooms. Carefully Mary lifted the flowered summer cover off the stove pipe hole in the floor.

Motioning us to the floor, Mary laid down and looked through the hole into the room below.

"She's down there. Auntie's down there," Mary whispered. She looked for a long time. Then Laura looked for a long time. Then I looked through the hole for a long time. I could see Gramma Coopie's long white hair spread out on the pillow. Her face was round and white and still. Her hands were folded. Aunt Ruth who was as soft and plump as a pillow with a string tied round its middle stood on her tiny feet by the bed brushing ... brushing hair back from Gramma Coopie's face.

It was my Daddy's mother down there. I remembered when she wasn't sick, when she wasn't dead, when she was smiling with warm arms and raisin cookies and lots of stories.

Suddenly, I didn't want to look anymore, so I sat on the steps waiting, blinking my eyes hard. We all sat on the steps for awhile, not talking, our arms around each other. Finally, we slipped down the stairs, tip-toed round the edge of the living room again, and through the kitchen. Out on the porch we sat in chairs swinging our legs. Then Mary jumped off the porch, ran up the steps, and jumped again. Laura jumped off the porch and ran up the steps. They jumped and jumped. Then I jumped off the porch. As Mary jumped again, she shouted, "Let's get some green apples to eat." Tossing our shoes and stocking on the porch, Laura and I raced after Mary, down the hill, past the pump to the orchard. Her voice floated back to us, "Last one is a monkey's uncle.

I ran faster. I didn't want to be a monkey's uncle.

* * * * * * *

Thank you for attending "Supper in the Park" on "opening night" of Kimball Days 2009 festival. Hope you visited the "open House" and restoration surprises at the history exhibit in historic City Hall all weekend. More and more like its original beauty, with the comfort of advanced technology's finest air conditioning and heating systems.

* * * * * * *

Family Genealogy program Sept. 22, and Armistice Day program in October, right here at our "becoming more amazing" Kimball City Hall. A place of endless discoveries. Come and enjoy.

* * * * * * *

You're invited to new or renewed membership, donations towards restoration or your information in this column or the growing collections. Remember the great gifts available for yourself or gift-giving. The Kimball Area Historical Society is supported by individuals just like you. We can be reached at Box 100, Kimball, MN 55353, by phone (320) 3989-5743 or 5250, or e-mail < This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We look forward to hearing from you.

* * * * * * *

"Nothing in this world is impossible to a willing heart." - Abraham Lincoln