Hattie Cook Shurtleff
1859 – 1943
I have to tell you about the outhouse. That was priceless. We’d go out there and we’d be prepared to sit. My brothers always wanted to get out there and I’d say “No, it’s my turn,” because my grandmother papered it. She would have magazines brought to her and people would give them to her, those old-fashioned fashion magazines. She’d cut out all these women, and make a flour paste and paste them. Inside the roof, the seats, whatever out there was covered. If one fell off she’d put another one up. And this was the whole thing. We’d get out there and sometimes I’d have to pull it aside to see what the rest of that picture was.
I couldn’t wait to get out there because she’d make us sit there when you went in the house. The stove was here and there was a little settee here and I think they piled wood underneath of where we used to sit. She always sat here and combed her hair. When she combed her hair she’d pull her hair down and sit there with a comb. When she got through, she’d put it in the air and take one piece of the hair out at a time until she had enough to roll around her finger and she’d put it up into an old kerosene lamp holder. She always put it in that. After she died, they found all these match boxes full of all this hair. I remember once saying, “What do you do with all that?” Well she said she was saving it to send to Japan for them to make a wig. And I thought ‘You don’t need the wig later, you need it now.’ That’s all I was thinking but I didn’t say it. I think she was going to send it for them to make a wig and maybe sell it and send her the money. That’s all I could think of. That would be one way she could get some money.
She always wore these long skirts, many, many, many of them. You know, pull it up, and down around the knee there was always a pocket, and she knew right where it was. She’d put her hand down, and she’d pull all the slips up until she got it. When she died there was over two hundred dollars in her pocket.
[My grandmother] never went out of the house. She’d send Grandpa down for the paper or for food. She didn’t want anybody coming in her house. She’d go outside to meet them. She wouldn’t go very far, scared to death of a car.
The other thing she was crazy about was my mother’s [fruitcake.] Thanksgiving and Christmas, plus their birthdays and their anniversary, my mother would make a fruitcake. They wouldn’t eat it. My father would decorate it. [My grandmother] wanted it to show people. She’d keep it in the pantry until it was brown and started oozing. But she’d bring it out to show everybody.
[My grandfather would] have her make cookies on Saturday knowing that we always went on Sunday. Of course, we had to go to church somewhere. I’ve been to church on many a Sunday five times. He would go in the pantry and come out with this plate of cookies she’d made. She always made the same kind, thumbprint cookies, and always put apple jelly in them. They always had a little curly-q around the edge. They were always the same and Grandpa would say “You want a cookie?” He was so sweet. He wouldn’t say boo if his mouth was full. Everybody loved him.
Based on an oral history interview with Helen Shurtleff Collins.
First published in “Remembering Adamsville” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2013.