Jacoby’s Corners, by Jake Falstaff
Review by Sue Cullers
(New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1940)
Herman Fetzer, born in rural Ohio in 1899, used Jake Falstaff as his pen name. He wrote a newspaper column, “Pippins and Cheese,” that was published in the Akron and Cleveland newspapers, and he gained a national reputation while writing for the New York World. Two books, “The Book of Rabelais” and “Reini Kugel: Lover of This Earth,” were published during Falstaff’s lifetime. A book of poetry and Jacoby’s Corners were published after his death from pneumonia in 1935.
Jacoby’s Corners, set in 1911 or thereabouts, is Falstaff’s nostalgic look back at the farms and small towns that he knew in his childhood. It is the story of the summer that a twelve-year-old boy from New York, Lemuel Hayden, spent visiting with, and getting to know, his maternal grandparents and extended family, in the farm country of Ohio. Lemuel’s grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Nadeli, had emigrated from Switzerland in their youth. The book is dedicated to the memory of Falstaff’s grandmother, represented in the book as Grandma Nadeli.
Although he was homesick when he first arrived in Jacoby’s Corners, Lemuel soon settled into the pattern of life there, including
• The Saturday evening shopping trips that all the local farmers made to Kerriston, the county seat;
• Cultivating cornfields to control weeds;
• Milking cows by hand and then running a hand-cranked separator to separate the milk and cream;
• Buying medicines and spices from the Watkins or Raleigh man who came to the farm;
• Celebrating the fourth of July with ice cream and fireworks;
• Harvesting oats with a threshing machine;
• Fighting the fire that destroyed a neighbor’s barn;
• Hosting a sweet corn festival.
The book is rich in description of Lemuel’s family members and their neighbors, their homes, the foods they ate, farming practices, and recreation of the time. Falstaff’s humor and use of figures of speech (such as “raining cats and dogs” or being “madder than a wet hen”) add to the pleasure of reading Jacoby’s Corners.
Any reader who has lived on a farm and is old enough to remember some of the farming activities described in Jacoby’s Corners will reminisce pleasurably while reading this book. Other readers will learn and appreciate what farm life was like in earlier and simpler times, when farms truly were family farms.