Helen Thomas Cooke Richmond
1885 – 1972
Essay by Helen Richmond Webb
An episode recounted in a biography of John Alden, the famous marine architect inspired me to write about my grandmother. The Aldens were neighbors of the Cookes at Warrens Point, and it turned out she loved to sail! I didn’t really know much about her aside from my father’s stories. My memories of Grandma are from when she was in her seventies and eighties. Visiting her and Grandpa at South of Commons was a bit like stepping back into another era. We would visit, often on the screen porch looking out at the road. She liked to show us the sets of seashells that they collected on trips to Captiva, all cleaned and arranged according to size on white cotton, and then we’d be sent off to the kitchen door for a cookie.
When my cousin Livi and I were invited to stay with them—as appropriately-aged cousins had before us—there were regular routines. We went to Warrens in the morning, and at dinner, the table set with tall candles in hurricane shades, we learned which silverware to use and the correct way to handle finger bowls. Otherwise we were left to explore around the farm and play in the corn crib on our own. My cousin Ellie Craver, who is a few years older than me, remembers Grandma attending tea parties in the corn crib, and teaching her to sew, cross stitch and knit.
Recollections of Grandma include words like serious, dedicated, and talented. From my father Josh, Helen’s youngest child, I understood her to be smart, with a sometimes quirky wit, but always proper and formal which is how she was raised. Everyone recounted her good deeds—heading up the Red Cross in Milton during World War II, making the costumes for the golf club show and helping those who needed it. All of us remember her gardens.
Helen was born in Paterson, New Jersey, the first child of John Swinburne Cooke and Fannie DeWolfe Pinckney Cooke. The Cookes were very well off, John being an owner of the prominent Cooke Locomotive Works. Her mother as well as her early teacher, Miss Flora Graves, seem to have set Helen on course for a life of diligence and good works. Mrs. Cooke and the “young misses” of Miss Graves’ English and Classical School helped to raise money for worthy causes. Helen later attended Rosemary Hall School which followed a curriculum of rigorous academics, self-governance and physical training, unlike most girls’ schools of the time. That she was separated in age by a decade from her siblings John and Margaret also likely contributed to her sense of responsibility and duty.
The Cookes first came to Little Compton in 1899 while looking for a place to build a summer home. “Onadune” was built at Warrens Point over the next couple of years and the family immersed itself in the growing summer community. Helen would spent time in Little Compton most summers for the rest of her life. As a teenager Helen was particularly fond of sailing on Round and Long Ponds. When the group, including John Alden, graduated to 21-foot knockabouts Helen wanted one, but her father wouldn’t permit it. Only after John and three other boys adventurously sailed one out and around a large schooner sheltering under the lee of the point in a storm did Mr. Cooke agree. He also required that John be her crew and teach her more about sailing.
On September 28, 1912 Helen married Carleton Rubira Richmond at Onadune. They went to Lake Winnipesaukee on their honeymoon—a two-week trip by horse and buggy. According to the story, at one inn the proprietor told them “it will be fifty cents for you and your wife, and a dollar for the horse.” Many years later they retraced the route by car—they were home the same day.
Their shared interest in history, especially the Colonial period, is threaded through Dad’s stories. They collected antiques, and he recalled riding home inside a giant metal cauldron in the rumble seat of the car. That pot would hold firewood at “Seaborn Mary’s”—the 18th century house they moved from Londonderry, New Hampshire to Little Compton. In the same secretary that once held the sea shells there are two framed pictures of the farm. One shows Carleton’s parents Joshua and Josefa posed with cows and sheep, Josefa sitting sidesaddle on a horse. Grandma and Grandpa restaged the scene 50 years later, with Grandma astride in jodhpurs.
After their marriage they settled in Milton, Massachusetts. Theirs was a comfortable life with servants to maintain their household. They had four children, Helen, Carleton, Jean and Joshua. Carleton commuted into Boston, and they were both involved in many philanthropic and cultural organizations. Summers were spent in Little Compton, first sharing a house north of the Richmond farm at South of Commons with Carleton’s brother, later in the Commons Cottage and ultimately at the main farmhouse.
Helen and Carleton were inseparable. They took up watercolor painting—there are almost always two of the same scene in different hands. They liked pageantry—lining up according to height to go into the sitting room for Christmas presents, flaming plum pudding, or dressing up in historic costumes for an historical society opening. And they shared a sense of fun. At Captiva they would “seed the beach” with shells they had carefully cleaned and polished and watch beach walkers’ amazement from their porch.
My father’s stories, more than my own memories or research, epitomize my grandmother, and maybe none more than this one.
Helen Richmond Webb
The Sauce Rubira Story
A young American from Boston named Joshua B. Richmond regularly travelled to Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean to contract the purchase of sugar cane to be refined at the Boston refinery of the Revere Sugar Company. Richmond first started these trips just after the Civil War, and he kept a diary of his first visit to Havana. He describes entering the harbor there: “There are forts on either side of the mouth of the harbor but the Monitorcould knock the spots off either of them.”
On a visit to Cuba several years later, he met a young woman named Josefa Rubira. She had been born in Havana of Spanish parents. They were married and Joshua brought Josefa back to Boston where they took up residence at 310 Beacon Street. Josefa was brought up as a Roman Catholic. In order to marry Joshua she abandoned her membership in that church and become a Protestant as he was. Joshua must have done something nice for the Catholic Church because he was awarded a medal and status in an honorary order of the Sepulcher of Jerusalem by Pope Leo the 13th. It is generally believed that Joshua gave the Pope money.
Many years later, Joshua’s daughter-in-law Helen, wife of Carleton, was asked to contribute a recipe for a garden club cook book. Never having cooked anything in her life since that sort of thing was taken care of by the cook in the kitchen, Helen decided to crib a recipe from another cook book and submit it. She picked one which called for seven pounds of tomatoes, three pounds of sugar, one pint of cider vinegar, one ounce of cinnamon sticks and one half ounce of whole cloves. The condiments to be in a cheesecloth bag and the whole mixture simmered for six hours. Helen figured that this unlikely sounding recipe and the long cooking time would discourage anyone from trying it so she need not worry about it being a disaster. To give her entry for the cook book romance, she named it Sauce Rubira after her mother-in-law, suggesting that it was a treasured Spanish recipe handed down for generations. Helen didn’t reveal her little trick even to her children who, believing her story, tried the recipe and found it excellent on hash, meatloaf, baked beans, in fact better than ketchup. So it is that a phony tradition became a real one. Carleton Rubira Richmond, Jr., grandson of Josefa, calls it Rubira Shmira.
Joshua Bailey Richmond