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The “C” Stands for Careful fields where the food was grown did not escape his thanks. The prayers were full of “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” and other Old English words that had been the prayer language of the devout for centuries. While they were formal, they were heartfelt: a loving son talking to a feared but caring father. And they were long. A little boy with a short attention span would take a quick peek every once and a while. What he saw was Grampa, his big hands folded and his eyes pressed firmly shut against temptation, praying on and on as the steam rose from the full platters of meat, potatoes, gravy and vegetables that covered the kitchen table. He announced the end of his prayers with a strong “Amen” and began to eat with a passion. Grampa loved to eat, and it showed. Photographs of him in his 40s and 50s show a heavy man who carried 250 pounds on his six-foot frame. He did not appear to be obese, for he was broad in the chest and shoulders, but he was never again as trim as the day he walked off the farm. To be a supper guest in the home of Ralph C. (he had no middle name and took to using the C to distinguish himself from another Ralph Cooper in town; the “C,” he said, stood for “Careful”) Cooper was to eat until everything was gone. If you did not eat enough to satisfy him, he would load up your plate, even over protests against

A young Ralph Cooper takes a load of hay to market circa 1915. more Brussels sprouts. It was a sin, he said, to waste good food, and he was against sin. One cold, gray day in late November, 1955, Grampa and Gramma took me on a drive into the country. I rode in the big, high back seat of their beautiful new, blue and white Che v y Bel A i r a nd w atche d t he brown fields of cut corn stalks and leaf less trees slip by the window. Our mission was to buy chickens for Thanksgiving. Grampa, being a farm boy, did not have much faith in store-bought chickens; there was just no telling what they had been raised on or how fresh they were. The chicken farmer, a friend of Grampa’s from the old days, waded into the run and grabbed a half dozen good-looking birds, stuffing them into a cage of wooden dowels, which was to be returned. The cage was put in the trunk of the Chevy as the brisk wind of the coming winter blew white feathers around the car. The chickens complained about their plight all the way home. I was still caught up in the adven28

July 2013 ttimes web magazine  

Tidewater Times July 2013

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