by Mary Cordelia Riffee Figgatt
Cordelia began writing at the age of 93 when she taught herself to use a computer. Initially the stories were for her family, but soon her stories of life on a rural farm were being published in the Charleston Gazette Metro Edition. She reminds us what self-sufficiency really meant: making all your own soap, jam, baby cradles, and bed sheets. She tells about attending, and then teaching, in one-room schoolhouses. Chapters on gardening, farm animals, and working in the kitchen come alive with funny stories, and remind us about the once inherent necessity of growing and raising your own food. Creative inventions came along that made cooking and housekeeping easier, and some simple things we take for grantedâ€”such as screen doorsâ€”were first looked at with a dubious eye.
Figgatt, who goes by Cordelia, was born in 1904 and began writing this personal and practical memoir in 1997. Thatâ€™s the year she turned 93 and taught herself to use a computer. She spent the next seven years writing about growing up in rural Putnam County in the early 1900s. Cordelia finished the book in time for her 100th birthday party.
Figgatt initially wrote the book for her two children, so they could read about growing up in those very different times in the early part of the last century. She also wrote to pass the time during cold West Virginia winters, when she couldnâ€™t get out much. Soon other family members requested books, and her children had copies printed at an office supply store and spiral bound for them.
Over the years, more and more people wanted to read Farm Stories. Demand for the book increased with its exposure, which continued to grow as excerpts were published in various Metro editions of the Charleston Gazette- Mail. As Cordelia reached and passed her 100th and 104th birthdays, she garnered more and more attention. At age 100, she was recognized for being Marshall Universityâ€™s oldest alumna. At age 104, she was inducted into the West Virginia Voter Hall of Fame, having voted since the 1920s and never missing a chance to do so! Cordelia herself has been surprised at the interest in her and her Farm Stories. Well, whatâ€™s behind it? Probably admiration maybe mixed with a little hope.
Today itâ€™s predicted many of us will live into our 90s. Accompanying that knowledge is the stark reality that Alzheimerâ€™s, dementia and good old senility await for some of us, while lack of health care waits for others. At the same time, Social Security looks iffy and investment gurus tell us to buy another â€œlong term careâ€ policy. Itâ€™s at just such a time that we read with fascination and reassurance about Cordelia Figgatt, who has happily and contentedly, with her health, wits and loving family around her, gracefully exceeded the century mark with wisdom, grace, hard work, common sense, a little luck and a book under her belt. Maybe, just maybe, some of us can end up a little bit like her.
Cordeliaâ€™s stories about how times have changed are poignant. One hundred years ago there werenâ€™t auto emissions worries; she saw her first car in 1905. She reminds us what self-sufficiency really meant: making all your own soap, jam, baby cradles, and bed sheets. She tells about attending, and then teaching, in one-room schoolhouses. After she finished eighth grade her father, the local teacher, became ill. A good student, she was the logical choice to take his place, at $50 a month less $16 in room and board. Later she went back to college.
Chapters on gardening, farm animals, and working in the kitchen come alive with funny stories, and remind us about the once inherent necessity of growing and raising your own food. Creative inventions came along that made cooking and housekeeping easier, and some simple things we take for grantedâ€”such as screen doorsâ€”were first looked at with a dubious eye. Some appreciated the elimination of flies at the table while some said screen doors just made the house hotter.
This new edition of Farm Stories comes with numerous photographs dating back to 1904. Pictorial reminders of those times reinforce the contrast with life then and life now. Farm Stories has a vitality and warmth that is lacking in most books, and we should be grateful to Cordelia for sharing it with us. Cordelia also shares that she has always been partial to fruits and vegetables, and that fruit was served at their table three times a day. Couple that with house work, yard work, and keeping your brain occupied, and you might be well on your way to reaching a ripe old age. Kudos, Cordelia!