Corinna Durfee Ramos

Corinna Durfee Ramos

1906 – 1985

Corinna Durfee Ramos, 1922. Courtesy of her daughter.

Anyone who knew my mother knew she was a “talker”.  She had stories, oh yeah, she had stories and they could go on for hours.  You would wish for them to end so you could go about your business.  Now I’d loved to sit and have her tell me her stories again.  Because of all her stories I am able to glean many anecdotes of her past.  I just wish I had the mind that she did and was able to remember them all.  She had a phenomenal memory.  After she had a stroke and was unable to write her Christmas cards I got ready to write them for her.  Had my pen & the first envelope ready to go & realized she had no list of names or addresses.  I looked at her in bewilderment but she began rattleling off the name and address of each recipient down to the zip codes.  We must have written more than 50 cards that day using her mental list.

Born on February 28, 1906, in Tiverton, R I, Corinna was the daughter of Edgar James and Mary (Mame) Eliza (Macomber) Durfee.  She had an older brother, Harry Elmer (1889 – 1955), who served in the U S Army during World War 1.  He was the father of twin boys, Charles Pullman and Harry Elmer who were left in the care of my grandmother for several years until their mother became financially able to care for them.  My mother helped primarily with Harry, while her sister Jane helped take care of Charles.  She also had an older sister, Viola Mabel (1896 – 1897) and youngest sister Jennie (Jane) Barker (Camara) (1908 – 2000). Her father worked at the Fall River Bleachery located on Jefferson Street, Fall River, MA, which was built by Spencer Bordan, a chemist in 1872 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.  The Bleachery bleached the cotton sent from the South to be ready to be dyed for cotton print cloth.  My grandfather walked to work & in the winter would put cardboard in his shoes and newspaper inside his coat to keep warm.  To add to his wages he also owned a small candy store on the same property as their home, and my grandmother would tend it while he was working.  They had an outhouse, and the only heat from a wood stove.  My grandfather would have to get up during the night to keep the fire going.  They also had a hand pump for water and a well with a turn handle to lower a bucket tied to a rope into the well, which would fill with water & then cranked back up to the top.    

Mom went to grammar school then on to secretarial school which she completed when she was 14.  She had a very difficult time getting a job even with her education because she was so young.  She worked as a secretary for Mr. Foster at the Velvoray Fabric Printing Company in Fall River, MA, where they did the cotton fabric printing.  She had a story about a worker who came into the office covered in red flocking from the production line and she began to sing “The Lady in Red”, which he did not find at all amusing.  She guessed he didn’t like the “Lady” part.  She had an uncanny ability to identify every color in existence, I’m supposing from her close work with orders for the fabric printing.  Her shorthand skills were fine honed and when she no longer needed them for work she still took all messages in shorthand.  On our way to visit family, she rode shotgun so as to help my husband, Ed, with directions she had been given.  After going in circles for some time & not being able to find the address, I exasperatedly said give me those directions.  Of course they were all in shorthand so we were totally at her mercy & my husband just loved it.

Corinna married Manuel F. Ramos, August 17, 1940, in Boston, MA.  This was the second marriage for both of them.  They met & knew each other through their Little Compton circle of friends.  My city girl mother who had a little black car with a rumble seat was now a farmer’s wife.  We lived on the Ramos dairy farm and I remember in the evening while waiting for my Dad to finish milking & come in for supper, she would sit & rock me & sing song after song.  She continued this rocking & singing to my young daughters after they were born, teaching them her favorite songs.   She knew all the words to so many.  In those days songs also had introductions & she knew all the words to those, too.  We had an old upright piano & she would pick out songs on it from old sheet music that she saved.  She would rearrange the furniture in our entire house every Saturday when she did the house cleaning, right down to that upright piano.  I can see her now on her hands & knees lifting the piano on her back & scooting it around the living room to its new location.  One night my dad got up to use the bathroom & because she had rearranged the bedroom furniture that day, he got turned around & ran into the bathtub.  She giggled when she heard him cry, “Where in the hell is the toilet?”.

At Christmas my dad would go up to the woods & cut down a tree for us to decorate.  Looking back at pictures, those trees looked like Charlie Brown trees, but I remember them as being absolutely beautiful. 

Before I was born there is a story about my mother, father, Aunt Jane & Uncle Manuel Camara spying a tree that they thought would be perfect for a Christmas tree, however it was on someone else’s property.  My father & uncle decided that they would go back, cut it down & bring it home.  My mother & aunt were to be the get-away drivers.  The men accomplished their mission & dragged the tree to the road, but when they got there the pick up the girls weren’t there.  Back away from the road they dragged it.  Meanwhile the girls arrived to pick them up, but there was no one there with the tree, so they drove on.  They repeated this routine a couple more times before they were able to meet up and make off with the tree.  Not sure who ended up with it, but the get-away drivers were portrayed as failures when the story was retold.

Their first baby was a boy and was stillborn.  Carol Elaine (Ramos) Shearer, was born August 20, 1944.  Because they were an older couple & I was an only child, I was idolized and spoiled unmercifully.  I was pretty much a brat, but that’s a story for another time.

My mother converted to Catholicism when she married my dad.  She made sure we went to church every Sunday & Holy Day, and that I went to Catechism classes.  She became a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Little Compton Fire Department, President of the J F Wilbur School PTA & Secretary of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau.  She traveled by train every year that she was Secretary to different parts of the country representing Rhode Island at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s National Conventions.  When she wasn’t involved with some organizations’ tasks she would knit.  She also liked to crotchet, but knitting was preferred.  My Aunt Jane and my mother would sit and visit with each other while being able to knit intricate patterns at the same time.

Mom always dressed up when she went out, usually donning a large hat.  She would top the outfits off with a silver martin fur stole or in winter a black Persian lamb fur coat.  She was a large woman and under those clothes I swear she wore a suit of armor.  I don’t know how she could move in that thing; it must have been very uncomfortable.  As she would say, “what price beauty”.

Mom was the annual Thanksgiving hostess for us, her sister Jane’s family and Mary & George Flores who were friends and had no extended family, and who, during those years, lived in the Wilbur House.  She would bake mince meat pies, squash pies, apple pies & suet pudding, the recipe for this handed down from her mother.  We had an unheated sun room in our house & the floor would be lined with these treats leading up to the feast day.

To get groceries, Mom would call Wilbur’s Store at the Commons & give them an order over the phone.  They would fill it & Walter Elwell would deliver it to our home in boxes.  If she went to the store to get her groceries she would hand a shopping list to the clerk and he would collect everything, box it & put it in the car for her.  We had a fish man that would come to our house about once a week to sell fresh caught fish.  There was also the bread man & the laundry man.  We didn’t have a washing machine so every week the laundry man came from Slade’s Laundry in Fall River, picked up a laundry bag of dirty clothes & dropped off a laundry bag of washed, wet, clean clothes.  They had to be hung on the line to dry within a short period of time, or they would get moldy.  We didn’t have a delivery milk man; because we had all the raw milk and cream we needed from the dairy.  We did have a milk man who came every morning before daylight to pick up the milk from the previous days milkings.

My dad died on January 31, 1964, at the young age of 60.  Mom sold their house in Little Compton and moved to New Hampshire.  After one of the worse winters in their history, she decided that New Hampshire was a nice place to visit, but she didn’t want to live there.  She returned to Little Compton and rented a house on Old Windmill Hill Road.

My mom liked cars and went through a muscle car period.  She bought a 1967 Chevrolet Caprice Sport Coupe in yellow and then traded it in for a 1969 Chevrolet Malibu Sport Coupe in Frost Green.  She never did any racing that I know of.

After going through a major illness in 1975, losing a lot of weight and recovering, my mother came to California to live with us and later to Washington State until her death in 1985.  My husband said he couldn’t have asked for a better mother-in-law; she was always so easy going, never interfered in our lives and always went along with anything we suggested.  We unwittingly put her through many difficult experiences while thinking we were helping, and because she was so good natured she went along with our “help”.  We insisted she drive when we lived in Temple City, CA, which she did.  She had a little Chevrolet Vega & decided to go get take-out one evening for supper.  The Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant she was headed to had a kind of complicated way to get into the parking lot.  She sat at the traffic light while it went through several rotations, one of which was a green arrow into the restaurant that she evidently wasn’t used to seeing.  Eventually, a police man came and knocked on her window and asked, “What are you waiting for, an invitation?”.  She kind of didn’t want to drive after that.  At some point we all decided that because she liked train travel that she should go by train from California to Rhode Island to visit family.  It turned out to be the train ride from hell.  Going East went smoothly, but returning not so much.  The train was stranded in a snow storm on a side track overnight.  Again, because she always found the fun in things, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The passengers entertained each other; I’m sure the best part for her was everyone telling lots of stories, and they shared food that they had brought for snacks.  They were somehow rescued and taken to a train station where while riding up an escalator, the escalator suddenly stopped & she fell backwards graciously into the arms of those behind her.  We still received a phone call from the train company telling us she had fallen down the escalator but was fine, reminding us that we should never have sent her on this trip.  She was 2 days behind schedule arriving back home.  We always wanted her to come along with us when we went on outings and she was always game.  She went with us when we took our girls roller skating one evening and I don’t remember why we took the pick up instead of the car, but when it was time to leave we had brought a metal milk crate for her to step up on to get into the truck.  She got up onto it & then had to turn around so her back was facing the edge of the seat.  She didn’t get her derriere back far enough onto the seat and when she started to sit down she began sliding off, so she laid over backwards with her legs hanging out and laughing so hard we didn’t think we were going to get her in.  My husband went around to the other side of the truck and began pulling and I began pushing all the while we were laughing hysterically.

Mom passed away on May 13, 1985.

She was always a good sport and definitely a trooper, knowing how to make lemonade from whatever lemons she had been dealt throughout her life.  She loved her family first and held them in high regard, loving to be with them and loving to be on the go.  She lived during the generation that went from horse drawn carriages on muddy roads to putting men on the moon.              

Carol (Ramos) Shearer     

April 6, 2020

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