THE TILDENS AND DEBOS AT BEATTIE

Written by Angie Debo, Ph.D.

(From the Angie Debo Collection, Box 7, Folder 59)

 

My mother, Lina Cooper, came to the Beattie community with her father’s family in the fall of 1883. There she met the young Tildens. They impressed her as the handsomest couple she had ever seen: “Billy”, with a magnificent physique, straight, strong, and blond; Lisetta (“Lucy”), tiny, dark, and glowing. Sometime during those years my father, Edward Debo, came to live briefly in the family of his sister, Lisetta, while he shucked corn for his brother-in-law. He was a sturdy young man with almost fanatical energy who was known in the community as the “cyclone shucker”. He set a record of husking, hauling, and cribbing one hundred bushels of corn, and kept it up throughout the season. A few incidents of that time have come down to me.

My father had used tobacco since his young boyhood, and his pockets were filled with the paraphernalia of his addiction. The first time Aunt Lisetta washed his clothes she emptied the pockets and placed everything in one pile. When he came in that night, she said:
“Eddie, what shall we do with this? You know our father never used tobacco, and neither does Willie, so I don’t know how to take care of it.”
He made a sudden resolve. “I don’t care. Throw it away if you want to,” he said. And he never touched tobacco again.
The last time I saw Aunt Lisetta, after my father died and my mother and I visited her in St. Joseph, Mo., she showed me some worn silverware. “Your father gave this to me for a Christmas present when he stayed at our house,” she said.

Eventually my father and mother married and settled on a farm near Beattie. The Tildens were in Oregon and Washington for a time, but they returned when Ray and I were about a year old. From that time on, our families visited back and forth. Ray and I became inseparable. When my brother Edwin came along, Harry adopted him in spite of the differences in their ages. Harry never saw me, although no little girl ever looked at a “big” boy with greater adoration than I bestowed on him. It was a real shock to me when years later in St. Joseph I discovered that he was only two years older than I. He had seemed so mature and so masterful in those childhood days. One incident stands out.

Our family was visiting the Tildens, and we children were out at the woodpile. Harry was teasing Ray when his father came on the scene. Uncle Billy seldom punished his children. “I leave that to Lucy; she scratches them once in a while”, he used to say. But that time he picked up a twig about six inches long (I can see it yet) and switched Harry lightly across the shoulders with it. Harry hunched his shoulders and danced a little (How well I remember that mannerism! The last time I saw him he leaned over the back of a chair and hunched his shoulders in that familiar way). Then he came over to us smiling, shrugging his shoulders, and saying it didn’t hurt. I thought I had never seen anyone so brave. To take that awful beating – with a stick – and laugh it off.

I remember our association best the year I was four. We lived on a farm east of Beattie, and the Tildens lived about a mile north of us. I still remember the familiar road, even a red bull in a pasture that we passed – “the cow with the pretty, curly hair”, I called him. (I visited the place with my mother in 1948 and everything was as I remember it.)

Shortly after my fifth birthday my parents moved eighty miles away to a farm community called “Welcome” south of Manhattan. I was six when Ray died. It was close to Easter, and my mother was coloring eggs for us children when the letter came with the news. She told me later how sad it seemed to her to be doing things for her two happy children while Lisetta had lost one of hers. She loved Aunt Lisetta as much as she loved her own sisters.

Years later I read Aunt Lisetta’s letter. She began: “How can I tell you the dreadful news?” And she ended it, “It already seems to me that the time since he died is longer than the time he lived”.

The following fall, when apples were ripe, my mother took us children in the wagon back to Beattie to visit our Cooper and Tilden relatives, and pick up a load of apples for our winter eating. She admonished me not to stand around forlornly without Ray, for “that would make your Uncle Billy and Aunt Lucy feel bad”, but to play with the other children. But although I had the best intentions in the world, I could not spare his parents’ feelings. When we drove up, Uncle Billy lifted me from the wagon and sat me down. “Well, Angie –”, “Well, Angie –”, was all he could say as he turned away.

My mother told me later that on this visit Aunt Lisetta recounted the whole story of Ray’s sickness. He had been bilious for a day or two, so that she kept him out of school. Then he came down with an acute attack of what the doctor pronounced “inflammation of the stomach and bowels”, but which we now know as appendicitis. His suffering was almost more than his parents could endure. His father said, “Doctor, don’t kill him outright, but try to ease his pain even if it shortens his life”. And as his mother told it, “Lina, I got down on my knees and prayed for God to take him; and when a mother can do that, you know how he suffered” – and telling it, she broke into wild weeping. Then at the last his pain left him – one can see now that his appendix burst – and he passed into a pleasant delirium in which he mentioned every one of the family as he talked of imaginary happenings in his little boy world.

I did not have to stand around wondering what to do without Ray, for Emily took me up. I suppose she was about twelve years old, a serious conscientious child, and she petted me incessantly. I had attended school the previous term, children used to begin at the age of five, and had passed joyfully from one book to another in those days of one-room schools and ungraded promotions. Emily took me to visit her school and showed me off shamelessly, having me read for the other children. “Only six years old, and in the Third Reader”! they marveled. It is a wonder I ever settled down to ordinary living.

As for Edwin, who was then nearly five, Harry took him off the minute we arrived – just as he had always done – and the two stayed together in some kind of a man’s world of their own. Guy must have been around by this time, but I do not remember much about him. I have a faint recollection of a quarrel between him and Edwin over his velocipede (early day tricycle), and I suppose that must have occurred at this time.

This visit ended our close family associations, but they are still vivid in my memory. In that last visit to Aunt Lisetta in St. Joseph I noticed an enlarged picture of Ray in the bedroom. I had not seen him since I was barely five and I had never seen a picture of him except baby pictures, but I recognized him instantly. I should have known him anywhere. Even in writing this, there are tears in my eyes when I think of him. And my affection for Aunt Lisetta and Harry and Emily continued throughout their lives.