Inez Cornell Wilkie
1913 – 2004
Essay by Caroline Wilkie Wordell
Inez Cornell Wilkie was born in Westport, Massachusetts on November 29, 1913 to Arthur Restcome and Mabel (Tripp) Cornell, one of their seven children (Hervey, Albert, Arthur, Rosamond, Inez, Avis, and Howard). She was educated in Westport elementary schools, and one year of high school. As a young woman she worked for various households in the Westport area cleaning, cooking and babysitting. This photo shows a painting done of her at age 5 by the artist who lived next door to them at Westport Point. She received the princely sum of five cents for sitting for this painting!
She loved to tell the story of her mother making stew for the family. Since everyone came home at different times, Grandma Cornell left the stew on the back of the stove for everyone to help themselves when they arrived home. One of Inez’s brothers, the last to arrive that day, dipped into the pot and came out with the dishrag my grandmother had used to clean the pot before making the meal! Forever after they called this ‘Dishrag Stew.’ As kid we always used to ask Mom if she could make us some dishrag stew!
On November 19, 1931 Inez married Chester Raymond Wilkie of Little Compton, the son of Benjamin F. and Addie B. (Kirby) Wilkie. They lived at Westport Point for a while, then subsequently moved to Little Compton and lived on Long Highway and East Main Road, until they were finally able to build their home on Peckham Road (the house that rum-running built according to Mom). Chester Raymond Wilkie Jr. was born on October 4, 1932, followed by Arthur Benjamin on May 29, 1935, then eight years later they were surprised with twins, Caroline (Wordell) and Carlton (aka Butch).
The kids were raised on Peckham Road with all attending and graduating from Josephine F. Wilbur School. The older boys were not as keen on school as they were anything with motors, etc. Mom was determined that they would graduate, so when Benny failed English, meaning he would not graduate, he was not unhappy that he would be leaving school, but Mom promptly told him she didn’t care if he remained there until he was 30, but he WOULD graduate. He then stepped up his game and graduated with the class of 1954!
Mom and Dad were active in the community. Mom was a member of the Social Rebekah Lodge, No. 11, (the female counterpart of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows,) American Legion #37 Auxiliary, the United Congregational Church, and the Little Compton Women’s Bowling League. She was an avid bingo player, and loved to travel. She was also active in whatever school activities her children were involved in.
When my brothers got interested in tractor pulling, Mom was there at every event. Benny retrofitted a school bus and she would accompany them wherever they were pulling, which was all over the New England area. She was known as MA WILKIE AND HER BOYS.
Mom and Dad were responsible for bringing square dancing to the area in the 1950s. Square dancing was held at the Little Compton Grange Hall, the school auditorium, and at the Adamsville Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Electra Lodge. Ultimately they built Chet’s Barn, which became a mecca for square dancers all along the East Coast.
Mom was an accomplished knitter, making socks and Fair Isle Norwegian sweaters for Dad. In her later years, she made sweaters for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Inez had a group of friends who would meet at each other’s homes to play Canasta. Many was the day we arrived home from school to find Isabel Wordell, Mabel Davoll, Louise Wilber, Hazel Cahill, and Janet Jennings sitting around the kitchen table playing canasta, drinking coffee, and smoking! They were a jolly lot of women, and they had many adventures.
Mom and some of these women used to open houses for the summer people coming back to Little Compton for the summer. She later worked with Louise cleaning at the Stone House Club for Helen Bundy. She then, in her 70s, took a job cleaning the United Congregational Church every week.
Mom loved to laugh (we used to call it the CORNELL LAUGH!). I remember one time when Mom was baking for one of Dad’s auctions at Chet’s Barn. She had a back seat full of pies, and pies on the floor -lemon meringue, chocolate cream blueberry, apple, etc. Enroute to Pottersville Road, she turned the corner from Peckham Road onto Long Highway a little too sharply and all the pies slid off the seat and onto the pies on the floor! She was devastated I am sure – all that work – but she laughed and laughed. I was in the passenger seat waiting for the other shoe to fall, but it never did.
Mom loved holidays, especially HALLOWEEN. It wasn’t unusual for her to dress up and knock on neighbor’s doors, even after we were too old to trick or treat. On New Year’s Eve she would often go outside at midnight and clang bells to chase away the bad spirits from the previous year.
Every Saturday when we were growing up, after the beans were put in the oven to bake all day, Mom, Butch and I headed to the “city” for shopping and for Mom to get her hair done. This was quite an excursion and we looked forward to it every week. We would pull into the Second Street Parking Lot and walk down the narrow alley to Main Street. I remember the strong smell of coffee emanating from the Cyr’s Van Dyke Store, the hat maker, and of course Cherry and Webb, and riding the elevator at McWhirr’s with the properly attired elevator operator. Also, McWhirr’s had this engaging system of transporting money through long tubes that sailed along the ceiling to wherever(!?) While Mom got her hair done at J.M. Fields, Butch and I would walk around the city, checking out everything at W.T. Grant, Woolworth’s, Newberry’s, and Kresge’s. One time we pooled our money and bought a puppy. When we took it to show Mom, she was under the dryer and she told us to return the puppy, but we pretended we couldn’t hear her. The dog went home with us at the end of the day. We named him Prince and he lived to a ripe old age.
In addition to taking care of us, and the house, and working with Dad on whatever project he was doing (he was quite the entrepreneur), she worked full time as a floor person at Fairhope Fabrics, Inc. in Fall River, MA. for many decades. When she was in her late 80’s we asked her why she continued to work. She told us it gave her a reason to get up in the morning. Prior to Fairhope Fabrics, in the 1960’s, Mom worked at the Common Lunch for then owners Kenneth (Speed) and Louise Wilber. She also did the bookkeeping for C.R.Wilkie Excavating and for Wilkie’s Garage. I can remember going with her to Attorney Norman Smith on Highland Road in Tiverton to drop off cigar boxes full of receipts for him to do the taxes.
When Dad got sick they decided to sell the house on Peckham Road and move to a mobile home situated near Wilkie’s Garage on Long Highway. Dad passed away soon after (February 7, 1967) and Mom was tasked with completing the sale and moving. She lived in the mobile home for quite a while, and then moved in with my brother Chet (aka Junior) to help him raise his four children. She continued to live with him after the children were grown up, and she passed away there on September 13, 2004 at the age of 90.
Mom adored her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She left a legacy of family values, a solid work ethic, and much laughter.
Caroline Wilkie Wordell, Daughter
Essay by Susan Lynne Wilkie
Nana was my surrogate mother, my best friend. She was my partner in crime.
She was my Thelma…and I was her Louise. She moved in with us when I was 14, right after my parents divorced. Now mind you, she had already raised her own family of 4 children: Jr Wilkie, Benny, Butch and Caroline….all the while managing her square dance club, Chet’s Barn then (now known as Crowthers), assisting her husband in auctions, and tending to multiple acres they owned in Little Compton. She was a volunteer and philanthropist to all who knew her. She never met a person she didn’t want to help or speak with to get to know. She never had a harsh word for anyone. She had many friends. So when she made this decision to change her independent, free-wheeling easy going lifestyle and take on 4 wild Wilkie kids…..she had her work cut out for her. She went full speed ahead, she gave up her home and closed it up to move in with us on Long Highway, still working a full time job and keeping house, cooking dinner every night for the 6 of us. I never heard Nana complain once in 40 years. She was a humble, sweet, generous, determined, grateful, and loving woman and she had decided to help raise her son Jr’s 4 children. No easy feat. Once she had made that decision she was full on and committed until the end to take care of our family. No turning back. No reservations and no regrets. She was a spirited Swamp Yankee with a strong work ethic and dying devotion to her family and friends. She had a hell of a sense of humor. We laughed more on our road trips to the Cape and Block Island, New Hampshire, Sturbridge Village and Provincetown…..until we were crying, buckled over in laughter. She was fun!!! She was really a great person to be with. I feel especially thankful we had a deep connection that lasted a lifetime. I knew Nana’s secrets and she knew mine. We treasured our road trip adventures and our special time together. Nana would say, “ok how quickly can we get packed up to take a ride?”…which meant a LONG ride. Now I have years of amazing stories about our sled rides, drinking vanilla soda on Peckham Road, Christmas gifts and birthday parties, clamboils, summer trips with the grandkids to Lincoln Park, VA and NC and CT trips, croquet in the backyard, cookouts, badminton, egg toss, three legged races, musical chairs, charades, bingo and bowling, Wilkie scavenger hunts, card games, cooking eel and Jonny cakes at a cabin by the lake, graduations, weddings, babies that she loved to hold, turkey dinners, theatrical shows that we attended, and more shenanigans that were had…the love and tenderness that she showed our family Dad/ Chester Jr., Robin Louise, Chip/ Chester III, Christopher Scott, and myself was priceless. Every scraped knee, accident, hardship, broken heart, she was there for us in sickness and in health….good times and bad times. …just like the soft blanket (she made at Fairhope Fabrics). She, like her blankets, would keep us warm and comforted with her soft words and gentle touch. She was there for us, and she will be missed. My Dad once said after Nana had died and I quote dad: “Susan, I don’t think we ever really appreciated all that your grandmother did for us,”….and he was right. ….so I will share one story I think you will enjoy. She was born in Westport Point in a little house, now where the current post office is located, the middle child of farmers, Mabel and Arthur, who worked hard to keep the family going….Arthur became a late night Rum Runner to make extra income to support his 7 children. Nana had spunk and moxie and she was decisive with strong morals and integrity.
One of my fondest stories that gives you a clear idea about my grandmother was when she was on their family farm in Westport, maybe circa 1925, and her parents Mabel and Arthur had gone off for the day in their horse and buggy to get more supplies for the farm. She was at the farm that day with her sister Rosamond who at 16 was growing into quite the voluptuous young lady, while Inez was a mere 13. On this particular day while the parents were away, Inez noticed her sister running around the farm in distress yelling and screaming- Inez help me!!!!! Help me Inez!!!!! Nana noticed one of the male farmhands chasing Rosamond….. And Inez quickly realized…. it was not to play tag and this was a very frightening situation. Nana jumped into action to save her sister from some terrible outcome. She said in a fearless, stern tone…..” You are fired!!!” she told him with no uncertainty….”pack your bags and get off the property now”!!!! With her quick logical thinking she had protected her sister and removed this abusive man from the farm. Later that day when returning home from their shopping trip
Mabel and Arthur came across their employee, the farmhand, walking down a long dirt road. Arthur stopped the carriage and asked his worker what he thought he was doing. Where are you going? You’re supposed to be working. The farmhand replied sheepishly…. Inez fired me….. With that Arthur looked at Mabel and said to the maniaical farmhand,” Inez must have had good reason to fire you…. keep on walking”.
Susan Lynne Wilkie, Granddaughter