Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mrs. Cook Was Mom To Boarders at 1007 N. 6th

In the kitchen with Margaret Cook

Content with the communal living I  knew when I was a frat boy, I took a room in 1965 at Mrs. Margaret Cook’s boarding house, a few blocks from the Statesman in Boise.
Mrs. Cook was a reluctant landlady who was forced into it by her humorless farmer son, Clyde, married to the righteous Priscilla, Queen of the Bible.  They were the real American Gothic with their children Nathan, Martha, Nealus and Luther.  Clyde, a former New Mexico extension agent, lured his mother to Idaho to raise his four children while he farmed on the desert near Mountain Home.  
At this point in her life she was ripe for retirement and almost crippled with arthritis.  While he was plowing, mom was running a boarding house so his children could attend Boise High School.  
Martha, a sullen teen, slept  on the first floor with her grandmother and the boys were in the basement with Dan the Man, a Boise State College student, YMCA lifeguard and a fine picture of young manhood.  Dan didn’t fraternize with me, Albert, Duane Mitchell, Terry Newman, Jose or Roy the Boy (flim flam specialist who taught us golf and cheated Mrs. Cook out of rent money.)  Dan kept company with the married woman across the street which caused tongues to wag.
Mrs. Cook referred to the relatives as “Clyde and the others,” but she had an attractive daughter who lived in Dallas who was very professional and urban.  The daughter would visit on holidays.
The house was a smaller replica of the Governor’s Mansion, three stories with transoms above the doors on the four second floor bedrooms.  
On Sunday’s when she didn’t serve meals, four of us would go to the Brass Lamp or the Village Pancake House.  Albert had a friend with stereo equipment and tape recordings of musical shows.  Through him I became familiar with the music from “Oliver!”  
Mrs. Cook was to cooking as the Three Stooges are to plumbing.  Memorable was the time she burned the hell out of the roast beef while she caught a nap.  Sometimes Clyde would bless us with milk from the farm which was noxious so she would dilute it with powdered milk, making it even more unpleasant.  Clyde would share the meat from critters he shot on the farm.
Mrs. Cook was in the Lady’s Circle at the Methodist Church and sometimes the ladies would meet in her living room.  Since I was working nights at The Statesman, I would be home during the days.  I am sure she wished I would disappear on Circle days.  
Priscilla supplied me with literature on Christianity so I could mend my heathen ways.  When the Others visited grace was said before the meal and it was a long painful affair as practiced by Priscilla.
I would sometimes go on errands with Mrs. Cook in her 1950 Chevy coupe with manual transmission.  I enjoyed taking her and a church friend in my car to lunch at McCall, Idaho’s answer to Aspen.
Mrs. Cook would invite us to public events at the high school sponsored by her church, such as a talk by the Jewish advice columnist Ann Landers.
Terry Newman was a smart kid whose parents moved to Colorado and left him in the boarding house so he could finish high school in Boise.  He had a portable record player and introduced me to popular music such as Steppenwolf and Jose Feliciano.  
The boarding house Jose was a Latin lover who kept to himself.  He installed a basement shower in exchange for rent money he owed.  I raised a stink when he didn’t get a city building permit before doing the work.
My social life picked up when Ralph Nichols, a coworker, moved nearby and we would go to Lucky Peak Reservoir.  Bob Gould from Spokane was an attorney for Albertsons and moved to Boise in about 1969.  We went to the Snake River Stampede Rodeo and saw “Bonnie and Clyde” but I was glad to find a better social life in Frostbite Falls.
As a family, we visited Mrs. Cook on a trip to Boise in 1973. Duane visited her in a nursing home in later years.

In 2006, I returned to the house now owned by an unkept woman with two big dogs and a broken screen door.

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