News from Vermont #394 There Are Vermonters, Then There Is Vera Ruth

March 8, 2018

Hello again Maple People,
I can just hear my wife Betsy now talking on the phone with her cousin Pennie. One of them would say “and what would Vera Ruth say about that?” And then, through gales of laughter, they’re off and running with a long phone conversation. You see “Vera Ruth” was their grandmother, stalwart Vermonter, character…perfect common denominator for the those gales of laughter.
Vera Ruth Cole was born in 1892 before Vermont living got “soft”, our winters were still winters, and folks grubbed out a living one grueling step at a time. She started her life performing the never-ending “girl” chores of cooking, housecleaning, and washing clothes but, due to the particular poverty around her hometown of Mount Holly, Vermont, she also inherited “boy” chores: milking cows, cutting wood, driving horses. In fact through her experience with these chores, she once reached down a cow’s throat to extract a choke-causing apple. Another time, she was dragged through the dirt by a team of runaway horses! This early period in her life gave her both Yankee fortitude and Vermont wisdom.
Both intrepid and straight-laced, she had no room for smiling. This quality remained through her whole life. Back in her early years, smiling was pass√©, especially for photographs or in public. One theory was that smiling portrayed a person as “lower class, foolish, dumb” and Vera Ruth was certainly none of the above. In her case, this writer’s theory is that life was so hard in her community that there was rarely anything to smile about! In spite of her hard life, life did go on…even though she was once heard to say “Harold never saw me naked”, she and her husband Harold Parker somehow had four kids. Not surprisingly, most things were done in the dark!
Even with her stoic persona, there was at least one of life’s little pleasures she partook of. She often departed behind her bedroom’s closed door to, in her words, “take a trifle of a nap”. It was smoke from an unfiltered Chesterfield, however, wafting through the loose-fitting farmhouse door that told the true story…a nap was not what she was about! Although she never admitted to having the habit (ladies did not smoke!), telltale signs went as far as once putting out a couch fire with the crook of her cane (we have the cane which is still very charred).
The earlier description of Vera Ruth Parker points heavily to her being prickly but that was not necessarily the case. To her children and grandchildren, her door was always open. Her idiosyncrasies included love, reverence and guidance. She had a gossipy interest in what was going on around town but also a genuine concern for the lives of each and every family member. After all, her granddaughters say the harshest swear word she ever uttered was “bubbles”…and in light of words we hear today, who could not love a person like that!
Vera Ruth Parker finally passed away at age 99 in spite of the Chesterfields. If she could assess the quality of her life, she would probably say something like “hard work never killed anyone” and would cast an unsmiling eye toward some things that go on these days. I, for one, pine for the Vermont of yesteryear when hard work brought character instead of complaints, more folks farmed the land, and the worst swear word we heard was “bubbles”.

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