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Others Had It Worse

Sour Dock, Moonshine, and Hard Times in Davis County, Iowa

Vetra Melrose Padget Covert and Chris D. Baker

Publication Year: 2013

In 1977, while studying journalism at the University of Iowa, Chris Baker gave his grandmother a notebook and asked her to write about her childhood. Years later, long after her death in 1990, he found the tattered yellow notebook. In twenty-nine handwritten pages, the woman he knew as Grandma Covert had recorded her younger life in rural Iowa between 1920 and 1929. Writing about herself from the ages of four to thirteen, Vetra Covert sent a simple message back to her grandson: “That’s just the way it was. Others had it worse. We got by.”
Captivated by this glimpse of a woman very different from the more formidable grandmother of his memory, Chris Baker reframed Vetra’s journal to create a narrative of her childhood and a window into rural Iowa life in the 1920s. Transcribing her words into nine chapters that illuminate home, family, neighbors, school, and social life, he has composed a collection of candid, whimsical, sometimes ornery stories that will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to decipher the lives found in old letters and photos.
Vetra’s was not a romantic little-house-on-the-prairie childhood. She grew up with seven brothers and sisters (every new baby was “a supprise”) in a dilapidated log cabin near a small town now vanished from the Iowa map. Two rooms up, two rooms down, no plumbing, no electricity, holes in the roof and floor so big “you could of throwed a cat through them.” Her father was a bootlegger-farmer who measured his corn yield in gallons, not bushels, a moonshiner occasionally harassed by federal agents. Although family stories now present him as a quaint old-timer, the reality of living with him was much starker.
In his introduction to Vetra’s recollections, Chris Baker reveals the harsh truths underlying her authentic, uncomplaining account. By honoring her legacy, he discovered a newfound respect for her and for her family’s ability to survive despite the devastating forces of poverty, isolation, and the looming Great Depression. Together he and his grandmother have created an enduring chapter in family history.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I want to thank Leon Wilkinson, Reva Padget Wilkinson’s son, and Betty Durham, my mother, for providing their stories and many of the family photographs in this book; my brother and sister, Mike Baker and Kim Wilkerson, for their ongoing support; ...

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A Family Portrait Reframed

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pp. 3-22

Looking back, it is easy to understand how we lose sight of the past, our lineage. Childhood memories fade along with the names and faces of near and distant relatives. We push forward with our own lives until one day, perhaps some fifty years later, when asked about those ancestors, the answer we give is sadly insufficient: ...

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The Log Cabin

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pp. 23-32

The first I can remember as a kid was living in this log cabin 4 rooms 2 up and 2 down. The floors had holes in it. You could of throwed a cat through them. And upstairs where I slept with Barbara and Reva when it snowed on the bed we shook the snow off the covers when we got up. ...

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Family Life

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pp. 33-48

One time chuck done something and mom was giving him a whipping for it. Short (Paul) didn’t like it so he called mom a name which was the wrong thing to do. Ha. Ha. ...

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Getting By

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pp. 49-60

We had to get water from Humphrey’s well down at the bottom of a big hill lug that water up that steep hill. Dad let Clell take the horses and hitch to a sled and put a barrell on it and get a barrell but if we wanted a cool drink grab the bucket and go to the well. ...

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Life on the Farm

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pp. 61-72

We had several hens for us and one time we kept finding eggs sucked in the nest. Couldn’t find out what was doing it. Finally Mom found a snake. It had swallowed a hole egg and crawled through a hole and there swallowed another and there he was. ...

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pp. 73-78

Dad made moonshine for several years. Would set it in the barrell in the brush. When it was time Dad would cook it off. You could smell it a mile away. Rosy and Mort knew he was doing it but never said anything on account of us kids I know. ...

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pp. 79-86

Me and the boys took the dog out rabbit hunting a lot and this one time we went hunting with our old dog and Rowdy and a old female bird dog some of Dads friends had left there for dad to keep. We treed something in a bank. ...

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The Neighbors

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pp. 87-94

Dan and Mrs. Moughler lived just over the hill from us and we would go there and talk to them. I wasn’t very old before I started to school and she always had cookies or pie and give us some before we went home. ...

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Country School

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pp. 95-114

Leota Bales was our teacher. She was Paul’s first Teacher. Leland Stockdall set in the seat right behind Paul. He was a lot older than Paul but he done everything to get his attention to turn around. He was showing Paul how to crack his knuckles. ...

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Social Life

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pp. 115-122

We had country dances first one house then another. They would remove the furniture. Dance all nite. We always had a big crowd. We hardly ever got home before daylight. Paul and I done the shodish. No one else did this dance but once or twice an evening they all yelled for us to dance. ...


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pp. 123-124

E-ISBN-13: 9781609382070
E-ISBN-10: 1609382072
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381820
Print-ISBN-10: 1609381823

Page Count: 136
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: paper

OCLC Number: 857800300
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Others Had It Worse

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Subject Headings

  • Covert, Vetra Melrose Padget, 1916-1990 -- Childhood and youth.
  • Davis County (Iowa) -- Rural conditions -- 20th century.
  • Davis County (Iowa) -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
  • Davis County (Iowa) -- Biography.
  • Rural families -- Iowa -- Davis County.
  • Prohibition -- Iowa -- Davis County.
  • Fathers and daughters -- Iowa -- Davis County -- Biography.
  • Children of alcoholics -- Iowa -- Davis County -- Biography.
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