by Vickie Jenkins, Staff Writer
It was the year 1919. The little red-headed girl, Ruby Luegene Cook sat between her brother and sister in the back seat of the Model A, dodging the giant mud holes along the gravel road. This was a new beginning for the Cook family as they made their way from Bloomer, Arkansas to a town close to Maysville, Oklahoma. A very small place called Story, Oklahoma. As a five-year-old, Luegene still remembers helping her mother and siblings hold down the wire fence that stretched across the road while her uncle continued to drive the Model A, slowly puttering forward to their destination.
Luegene’s father had set out a few weeks before with their belongings. The team of horses pulled the covered wagon, as it carried their family’s possessions. The trip took 9 days with a few stops along the way to rest. The Cook family felt honored to move to a land that had become a new state in 1907.
As a young child, Luegene lived a happy life with her parents and brothers and sister. She was known as the little girl with long red hair; perhaps this is why she was given the name ‘Ruby.’ The children walked down the country road to the two-room school house; small in size yet big enough to hold the town’s children and two teachers with comfort. On one side of the small school house was the church. On the other side was a small store. “Every time you would walk by the store, there were always two tables by the front door. That is where the men would gather to play dominoes. That’s all they ever did,” Luegene said with a smile.
The Cook children (Luegene, Juanita, Harold and J.W.) were early risers as they had their chores to do before school; feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, and milking the cows. “Sometimes, the cow’s foot would end up in the bucket and the milk would splash, going everywhere. After that, I knew for a fact that we smelled terrible when we walked to school. Of course, I guess everyone did,” she said with a laugh.
“We had other chores after school. We worked at hoeing the young cotton plants, harvesting acres of cotton in the fall. I sure started hating cotton,” she added. “Sometimes, we would hoe the neighbor’s cotton fields too. Back then, that was just the thing to do.”
“My mother, Estelle made all of our clothes. She would flip through a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog to find pictures of dresses. She would look at the picture and without a pattern, begin cutting the material. Our clothes were nicer than the ones in the catalog.”
In 1932, Luegene graduated high school from Maysville, Oklahoma. The next year, she married the boy next door, William Sam Merritt. They had three daughters, Donna, Kay and Phyllis. “One thing we made sure of was to make sure our daughters went to Sunday school, church and would do well in school. I am proud to say that all three did exactly that. They all went to college and became educators. I am so proud of all of them,” she said.
Soon, the married couple had their hands full with three daughters and fields covered with cotton and broomcorn. Both crops took lots of hand labor and they hired about 60 workers that they called Broomcorn Johnnies to harvest the crops.
“During mealtime, the Broomcorn Johnnies would gather around the massive boards that served as tables. With the help of some of my friends, we prepared roasted corn, beans, cornbread and ham, followed with fresh blackberry cobbler. Those Broomcorn Johnnies ate well,” Luegene commented.
Luegene and Sam loved spending time with their three daughters. They attended Story Baptist Church. Later on, when the girls moved away, Luegene was a member of Maysville Baptist Church. At one time, she worked at Storm Plastics gluing lures in the fishing lure plant. With her full schedule, she still managed to find time to play the piano, make beautiful clothes, win state fair ribbons, placing first place as a seamstress. The ribbons didn’t stop there; she also won ribbons for her canned peaches, pickles, along with her first place angel food cake and divinity. In the year 1949, Sam and Luegene Merritt were also declared the Corn Champions of the State of Oklahoma for producing the most corn per acre.
It was a year ago that Luegene decided to move into Heritage Assisted Living; nice and comfortable accommodations where she receives the best of care.
Asking Luegene how she managed to live such a long, happy, successful life, she said, “I just do the best I can, doing what’s right and looking to the future.”
Luegene is looking forward to celebrating her 104th birthday, with family and friends on June 1st, 2018.