Inez Cornell Wilkie
1913 – 2004
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