Thursday, March 15, 2012

The cautionary tale of Dolly Copp

Winter ended this morning when I awoke to birdsong, the official herald of springtime.

Sitting up in bed, I scanned the backyard through the multi-paned window searching for my companions; but despite the symphony, they were hidden from sight.

But what really caught my attention was the grimy window. The bright March sunshine showcased a winter’s worth of dirt that had accumulated on the panes.

Catching spring fever, I started a mental running list of things to do: wash windows and screens; vacuum and clean windowsills; wash, iron and hang curtains; vacuum cobwebs off ceilings; scrub fireplace bricks; paint front door red and lintel white; power wash unpainted shingles and brick walkway; stain railings along front stairs; power wash deck; hang basketball hoop; plant seedlings; weed and cultivate kitchen garden…

Then, I remembered the cautionary tale of Dolly Copp and stopped myself.   

Many years ago, I discovered an obscure sign near Gorham, N.H., in the deep woods of the White Mountains National Forest, marking the site of the Copp Homestead.

It read: “Here Hayes Dodifer Copp made his farm about 1827. He built a log cabin and barn and carved the farmland from the wilderness. On Nov. 3, 1831 he married Dolly Emery and brought her to this glen. A frame house replaced the cabin. Here travelers found fine food and comfortable beds. Dolly won early fame for her handicraft. Her woolen homespun linen and dyes of delicate blue, her golden butter, rich cheese and maple syrup were much sought after by the “city folk.” After 50 years of storm and sunshine, pinching poverty and substandard comfort, Dolly said, “Hayes is well enough, but 50 years is long enough to live with any man.” Dividing their possessions, Dolly and Hayes separated and left this valley.”

These words moved me so much that I wrote them down to reread whenever I get too ambitious.

Suffice to say, Hayes was not responsible for the breakup. The daily grind of housework eroded the marriage: the never-ending pile of laundry to scrub at the washboard by the stream; the dishes stacked near the hand pump; the unmade beds; the cobwebs in the outhouse; the batches of watery maple syrup, curdled cheese and butter that refused to churn; fingers stained a delicate blue; scratchy woolens on the loom…

My mother told me that my grandmother was a meticulous housewife. But there were times when she was in the middle of scrubbing the floor with the bucket at her side, and my grandfather asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. The bucket was left where it stood. She knew the secret to a happy marriage.

So whenever I get that overwhelming urge to clean, polish, scrub and fix things, I think of Dolly toiling for 50 years, only to call it quits and send Hayes packing.

History is a great teacher, and I plan to profit from Dolly’s mistakes.  

1 comment:

  1. Lovely!
    I stumbled on your post after looking up "Dolly Copp" on Google to check out the dates of her time up there.
    My family has camped at DC for 40 years, so its fun to read your take on what happened with Hayes and Dolly.
    Great reason to step back from the housecleaning!