The kid from Cooley
August 19, 2023
Both of my grandkids are going to middle school this year and once I was over the shock, I remembered my first days at a junior high school. The first month I met a lot of new kids and became good friends with one girl especially. Her name of Linda and I thought she was amazing. The first day in English the teachers had her diagram sentences on the board. Diagramming had never come up in my 6th grade class, so she was awe-inspiring.
Linda seemed so sophisticated to me because she listened to this new singer named Bob Dylan, read poetry by E.E. Cummings and T. S. Eliot, listened to show tunes and drank, and seemed to enjoy, ginger ale. She also had a Chihuahua. To me she seemed foreign and exotic but truthfully you could take this girl out of the farm, but you couldn't take the farm out of this girl. I was not cool. I remember being at her house and she had a "Seventeen" magazine, something I had not even known existed. It was a magazine aimed at pre-teen and teenage girls. I read the thing from front to back looking for hints on how to become cool like my friend, Linda.
One article struck me, and I have thought of it time and again over the years. The story had circumstances I would never have found myself in ever. It was about a girl who goes to a party, and she is wearing a cocktail style formal which meant it was knee length. When she got to the ballroom all the girls were wearing floor length ballgowns. Oh, the horror. Imagine the looks and snickers directed toward the newly arrived girl. But, have no fear, "Seventeen" magazine had the exact remedy to save her from embarrassment. It said she should look around the room and show she had pity for all those girls who were in the wrong length gown. Bold thinking! It was a helpful hint that I never got to use, but I did get the idea that if you show confidence you will persevere.
This brings me to Cooley.
The ball gown story reminded me of a story my dad and uncle told. When they were young, they attended a one-room rural school in the 1920s on the farmland of Minnesota. The town itself had a population of 1,500 at the time, but my family attended the one-room schoolhouse miles from the town near their farm. There were about 25 kids from grades one to eight attending school when a new kid showed up. Whenever anyone would comment about how he threw the ball or wore his hat or any criticism aimed at him he would say, "That's what the kids in Cooley do."
He exuded confidence. After all, kids in their hometown thought they were country bumkins and this kid was from Cooley, which must have been a big city by comparison. He wasn't particularly well-liked, but the kids stayed on his good side because they wanted be like the kids of Cooley.
Dad and Howard were probably 9 and 11 when they went with their father to Hibbing one week in a Model T converted to a pickup. On the trip they went through Cooley. My dad and uncle would laugh so hard at this point because Cooley was much smaller than our hometown. In fact, it was little more than a wide spot in the road. He wasn't the big city kid he pretended to be.
However, they admired the confidence of the kid from Cooley just as I admired the girl with the arrogant stare pitying those in the wrong gown. Cooley became a meme in our family. Whenever actions were questioned the answer was a shrug and, "That's what the kids in Cooley do."
We applied it to our music, our hip huggers, our peace signs, etc. when our parents questioned our choices. It was always the time to refer to Cooley. That kid's confidence inspired two generations and now it is time for me to pass the message of Cooley on to my middle schoolers.