Telling my family's stories
My great-grandma, Tina Belle (Greenwood) Cook, was just over 101 years old when she died in 1993. I was 13 at the time, and it was the first death in either of my parents’ families that I remember. She’d been declining for several years before that, so I don’t unfortunately remember her telling stories – though I suspect she could tell a good one. On the other hand, everyone around her had a story to tell about her, and I remember hearing the name “Tina Belle” thrown around with something between fear and awe by any number of people. It was never “Tina” or any nickname, always “Tina Belle.”
My dad and his brother, for example, who used to go and stay with their grandparents as boys and teenagers, always said that when she gave them a bath, she expected them to wash the bruises out. They would go and visit her and Grandpa Denver fairly often, especially in the summer, and they would all go camping and fishing.
One year hungry robins were eating the blossoms out of her cherry tree – so she handed my uncle a BB gun and told him to get rid of them. I don’t know if he actually followed through or not, but it seemed like a pretty traumatic event, and nobody seemed to think this was particularly out of character for her.
Once, when our family was visiting my grandparents over Christmas — Tina Belle was living with them by this time, though she was still active and mobile — my three-year-old brother Denver was put down for a nap on the couch. Being three, he amused himself by throwing the cushions off the couch. My mom heard yelling, and came into the room to find Great-grandma wielding her cane in the air. My mom intervened, and always said she wondered if Tina Belle would have used it. 🙂
Tina Belle’s life and family
Tina Belle was born in Cabool, Missouri, about 50 miles east of Springfield, smack-dab in the middle of the Ozark Plateau. Her parents were both from southern Virginia, refugees of the War Between the States; the Greenwoods came from a Church of the Brethren background and had refused to fight. Her mom’s father appears to have died in the war, causing the children to be divvied up and sent out. She was the fifth of ten children, and the oldest daughter.
When I visited Cabool several years ago, it took a couple of hours to find the Greenwood farm — now passed on to other hands, driving on old gravel roads. We were close to giving up when we found a road that had a street sign: Greenwood Lane.
Sure enough, it led to both the farm, and the adjoining, still-active church, built on land donated by the family.
Around the turn of the century, when Tina Belle was a young girl, the family moved west again, to Bent County, Colorado, where she met Denver Roscoe Cook. He was ten years older than her, and she was only just 17 when they married on June 9, 1909 in the Church of the Brethren, with her future step-father presiding.
When much of the rest of her families went back to Missouri and Oklahoma, Tina and Denver went instead to Zion, Illinois, where they became active in the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, both of which were founded by John Alexander Dowie. Dowie had died by this point, but the city was still, and would be for another 20 years, organized as a theocracy. The Cooks lived at 2620 Gilboa Avenue (named after Mount Gilboa in Israel) from 1916-1922, and afterwards on 2405 Gilboa. Later in life, they moved back west, to a small house in Fort Collins, Colorado.
A universal faith
Despite the often exclusionary teachings and practices of both the Christian Catholic Church and the Brethren church, my great-grandma was a self-proclaimed universalist, believing in salvation for all. I was lucky enough to get to hear her talk about it in her own words, since my dad recorded a lunch they had together, well before I was born:
I believe with all my heart-a, that…that everyone will be saved-a, in time. We, we learned that from Christ, on the cross, I mean, he came down, he was three days, in Hades, teaching the people, Earl would never take a criminal course, he didn’t believe in’em, the Bible doesn’t believe in’em, no. . . .No, let me go first, before I ever sentence anyone. And that’s what God was giving us too, he’s a forgiving God. . . and I heard one of the good elders in Zion, you know, preaching, that the devil would be, uh, saved at the last, Christ comes out victorious over all, but my father always said we have to have these two ways or we wouldn’t know which way . . . to turn, you know. We had to go along with it you know. And I believe that. He said we’d be worthless if we didn’t have the two ways.
We still have my great-grandma’s Bible, covered on every page with notes and cross-references, and with folded sheets of paper with sermon notes and more Bible verses criss-crossing them in careful red ink.
Though my own religious upbringing did not include this universalism, I found it in the words of George MacDonald, the 19th century theologian and fantasy author, and found it to be like a light turning on. When I transcribed this interview years later, I wondered what she would have said. I still do. I look forward to talking to her again some day.