January 18, 2017TRI-CITY AREA — She was a walking archive of 20th Century history and a living library of local lore.
A wife, mother, sister and grandmother, she was also everyone's 'Country Cousin,' whose strolls down memory lane were chronicles of life in the country when "simpler times" really meant harder living and much toil and labor. And she cherished every minute of it.
She was Carol Gertrude 'Gertie' Brooks, a lover of nature and a weaver of words as Tri-City Times' Country Cousin columnist for as long as the community newspaper's been under the Page One Inc. family umbrella.
Gertie was 98 years young when she passed away on January 10. For the last 20 years—following the death of her beloved high school sweetheart 'Red,' Gertie "lived strong," an independent woman who endured a few life-threatening illnesses and continued to persevere.
She lived most of her life in the Almont area—born in 1918 the very place from which she'll be sent off: Burley Hospital, which is now Muir Brothers Funeral Home.
She grew up on the farm that was the subject of many of her Country Cousin columns. Eventually she and Red would end up with the place, a dream come true for Gertie. She and Red raised three kids there, and were "foster parents" of sorts to numerous 4-H Saddle Club members.
When Gertie wasn't busy with family and farm life, you'd find her out in nature. In younger days, horseback riding and taking road trips in the family RV. Later, odds were she'd be out at the pond that was part of the 'back 45,' with her pampered pooch Daisy—who would amuse her with whenever a squirrel or some other creature would happen by.
She loved reading and writing, it almost seemed to be in her blood. From a young age she kept diaries and journals detailing every day life with the encouragement and help of her mom.
Gertie logged trips to Port Huron by horse and sleigh—when it took more than half a day to get there and they'd keep warm with bricks that had been heated in a fire at home and wrapped in blankets for the trip.
Gertie's pen brought us memories of her mom's wood burning cook stove, which was instrumental in one of her tales about the tedious task of "doing laundry" in the olden days.
Gertie described how they'd have to heat the water in a big pot on the cook stove, and make the soap with lye and whatnot. What takes less than an hour today was a week-long task back then.
Gertie loved her brothers—both considerably older than she was—with a fierceness that never wavered, even well after both passed away.
She loved her "little church in the wood"—West Berlin United Methodist—and wrote about and looked forward to their ice cream socials and holiday events.
I learned what a 'pinafore' was from Gertie, who felt grateful for every single thing her parents did for and gave to her and took nothing for granted.
She never thought her life was very remarkable, but it became so because she took the time to recount the details that in contrast to today's mechanized and tech-driven world appear more heroic than archaic. Just keeping the pantry stocked and the food cool enough to prevent spoiling was an adventure in human ingenuity.
Our Country Cousin shared those adventures and more in the living library that was her life. Her chronicles of local history are unrivaled and, ironically, also a thing of the past. There is no other local columnist with that kind of experiential knowledge and ability to narrate it all with such obvious joy.
"Gertie was one of those people who knows everything about everybody and life around here for the past 100 years," says historian Jim Wade, current president of the Almont Historical Society.
"One of the things we're looking at doing is going through our archives and pulling all of her stories together."
That's a most welcome endeavor, says Paula Alfonsi, longtime Almont resident and friend of Gertie. Alfonsi says Gertie's memories and knowledge of local history belong in a book.
"I have so many stories from Gertie swirling around in my head," Alfonsi says, "it would be great if they had a permanent home. My kids are at an age where they really enjoyed her memories as well. She was just an amazing storyteller with so much knowledge of local history because she lived it."
Like Alfonsi, Times publisher Delores Heim's relationship with Gertie and her family is a long one, and she's grateful for that.
"We've had a relationship with Gertie's family since late 1920s," Heim says. "We were fortunate enough to have her write for us since our family acquired the paper in 1980. Gertie was a remarkable person who was always so friendly. Everyone really loved Gertie, and I feel fortunate to have had such a long friendship with her."
Gertie leaves behind her three children, seven grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and many friends and neighbors. Visitation will be held on Thurs., Jan 19 from 3-7 p.m. at Muir Brothers Funeral Home in Almont. Funeral Services will take place at 11 a.m. at Muir Brothers, with West Berlin United Methodist Pastor Curtis Clarke officiating.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.