Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sophie Ramona Piña (1886-1969)

Sophie Ramona Piña was my paternal grandmother. She was born on 8 Dec 1888 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were Ramon Piña, born in Cuba, and Margaret Gunther, born in Brooklyn, New York. I searched for her birth record at the Family History Library when I was in Salt Lake City. I could not find her name in the New York Birth Index. I even tried to look at films in the range of 1887-1889. No find. She was the second of seven children. She had an older sister, Margarite Piña, born 27 July 1887. Ramon Piña was born 9 October 1891, Piedad Piña was born 30 October 1894, Frederick Piña was born 19 March 1896, Anita Piña was born on 26 April 1897 who later died 24 July the same year. The youngest son, Edward Piña, was born 23 September 1903. There will be more blog posts with detailed information and photos about each of Sophie’s siblings.

I find a hint of her birth in the 1900 U.S. Census stating Dec 1888.

U.S. 1900 Census, Kings County, New York, population schedule, Brooklyn, ward 22, p. [243]-B,  enumeration district 373, sheet 4-B, dwelling 48, family 86, Sophie R. Pina; Digital images,  ( : accessed 9 July 2016); from NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1060.

In my possession, I have a Physics lab notebook of hers from Erasmus Hall High School of Brooklyn, New York, dated June ’05. This is 1905. She graduated from Erasmus Hall H. S. the following year. Other well-known graduates of Erasmus Hall High School include Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond, two of my favorite musicians.  

Sophie Piña's lab book from 1905.

One Sunday in church in the fall of 1906, she met John Carrick Cooper. “Jack” started pursuing her. They became very close friends and romance continued in their relationship as “Honey” continued her education in teaching to become a teacher. By the 1910 U. S. Census, Sophie is listed along with her older sister, Margarite, as teachers. 

U.S. 1910 Census. Kings County, New York, population schedule, Brooklyn, ward 29, p. 81(stamped),  enumeration district 1022, sheet 8-A, dwelling 108, family 63, Sophie R. Pina; Digital images,  ( : accessed 9 July 2016); from NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 983.

She taught for 8 years until she and Jack eloped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be married on 27 Dec 1916. I assumed they were married in Brooklyn until I found this clue on I have yet to order this document from Pennsylvania. 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951.  ( : accessed 9 July 2016)

They boarded a train to Washington D. C. for their honeymoon. Their families had a wedding reception for the couple when they returned home to Brooklyn. After her marriage to Jack, she continued teaching by private tutoring from her home.

Look at blog entries John Carrick Cooper (1886-1969) Parts 1-6 to read about her married life  with children and grandchildren.

Sophie’s daughter, Margarite E. Cooper Carl wrote a touching essay about her mother in 1991. She has given me permission to share it. 


My mom always walked slowly, as her tight shoes were hand-me-downs from her sister, and she carried her head high with a slight questioning tilt as she made her way to the local grocery store. She was middle-aged, slightly plump but dressed neatly with a calf length floral dress, hat, gloves, and purse that always held more than it was meant to. Her hair was rolled in a bun which was pinned in the back and a hat adorning her head like a crown.

The two most haunting physical features of my mom were her eyes, soft, warm and brown, which mirrored her emotions of compassion, anger or pain. The other one was her hands, soft and yet strong from hard work. Those hands could hold your face in a loving vise or swing like a boxer to hit you for discipline. 

In those depression days of my childhood, my mom, like other mothers in that era, were always busy with children, housework, laundry, ironing, preparing meals, grocery shopping, helping neighbors, and many other chores. There were no washing machines, dryers or dish washers to make their work lighter. Most jobs were done by hand. The meals were prepared from scratch as there were no packaged food or TV dinners in those days. Also, the women had to grocery shop each day as there were no supermarkets or no car to help you bring your groceries home as you had to carry them. The icebox was not too large and could only keep food for just so long before spoiling.

In the summertime my mom had to keep a watchful eye on the ice block as it would melt faster and the food would spoil. My mom would place the “ice sign” in the porch window. The next day the ice truck would pull up and the iceman would get out and walk around to the back of his truck carrying those big metal things that looked like claws. He’d stick the claws into a big square piece of ice and grunt and lift it to his shoulder, lug it up the back steps, and mom would hold the screen door open for him. The ice block would go into the icebox, and things would get cold again. At night there was the ritual of removing the pan from under the icebox and emptying the melted water into the sink. If you forgot to do this, you would have a wet kitchen floor in the morning.

The day would start early as in the wintertime she would have to go down to the basement first to put a shovel of coal in the furnace. It was so important in the winter back east not to let the fire go out or you would freeze. So the routine was for the last person home would put some coal in the furnace and the first person up in the morning (mom) would also put coal in the furnace. One night my eldest brother Bud came home from a Valentine party where he played a joke on a girl by wrapping up a white rat for the grab bag. After the party he was told by all to take the white rat home which he did. While in the basement, he let the rat go in order to shovel the coal in the furnace.

In the morning the whole house was awakened by shrieks, screams, and yells emanating from my mom. We all scrambled out of our beds in haste to help her.  Upon arriving in the basement we saw my mom with her hair disshelved, hopping in pursuit and swinging the coal shovel at this rat now turned grey. She began yelling all kinds of orders at us as we stood watching. Bud started lo laugh and almost got hit with the shovel himself as my mom did not see the humor in this terrifying moment! He finally convinced her that this rat was no diseased or dangerous rat but rather a harmless one. She finally calmed down but was angry at my brother for bringing it home and, pointing her finger at him, ordered him to get rid of it. My brother did get rid of the rat by putting it in a cranky neighbor’s mailbox. 

Our neighborhood was international: Irish, English, German, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Russian and Swedish. I always felt lucky to grow up learning about the many cultures and traditions of our world. My mom was a good neighbor, never too tired to help a family in need whether to be a mid-wife at an early hour of the morning or late at night, going to a neighbor’s house to prepare a meal when the mother was ill or to assist a family in grief. 

One day my mom came home just laughing so hard that it took awhile before she could talk and explain. Finally, controlling herself, she explained that she had assisted Mrs. Sweeney in the birth of her baby girl. She had prepared a meal, cleaned the house, and really washed Mr. Sweeney’s teapot. Well, Mr. Sweeney did not appreciate this clean teapot, as now the wonderful flavor was gone. He almost bit the stem of his pipe off!  He never thanked my mom for that or remarked about the baby but Mrs. Sweeney was happy to see the shiny clean teapot. This was the thanks my poor mom got!

Every night we would sit around the dining room table, while my mom held court, as we did our homework. As a former teacher, she corrected our efforts and answered our questions with questions. God help us if our homework was messy as she would tear it up. “You can’t expect the teacher to ruin her eyes on your work, do it over again!” Also, it did not help us a bit, if one of our teachers had gone to teacher’s college with our mom, for they would remark, “Your mother would not appreciate that behavior at all!” My mom always took a great interest in what we learned, and spent time hearing us.

One spring day, when returning home from school, I was delighted to observe my mom hanging the sheets in our backyard. She wore a cast-off Panama hat of my dad’s, a worn housedress, apron and old slippers. The hat was cocked at a jaunty angle, so untypical of my mom. It was almost daringly comical. I stood there unnoticed, watching this person struggle to take advantage of the sun and wind. This scene reminded me of a ship’s captain setting sail with those wet sheets and hoisting the mast with a pole to support the wash line so those sails would not touch the ground. She struggled and groaned but she was not to be denied this day as she put the mast in place. She stood back to survey the start of her voyage with a sense of pride for a job well done.

“Take control of your life and don’t let it control you,” I was reminded of her favorite saying, while not losing sight of the course you have taken in life.

My dad died after two long years of illness during which time she took care of him. Five weeks later she also died. That was the summer of 1969. He was 83 and mom was 81. She no longer had the strength to hold up the mast for her voyage in life but I am sure she is sailing in heaven."

Five weeks after her husband, Jack, who died of a heart attack; Honey followed him of dying of “natural causes” according to her death certificate on 29 Aug 1969. I ordered both of their death certificates from the Office of Vital Records, New York, New York back in 2007. Her eldest son, John A. Cooper or Bud, was the informant for her death certificate. Her birth date is listed as December 8 1888. Honey was the informant for her husband’s death certificate weeks before. She was also buried at Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, with other family members after her funeral on 2 September 1969.

Her daughter tells me that she died of a stroke at a local hospital. During the night at home she got out of bed and fell. Her neighbor, a policeman (who had a key to the house), saw that her dining room window shade was still down late the following morning. This was a signal to him that something was wrong. Every morning if the shade was up, she was OK. If it was pulled down in the evening that was the same message. Her neighbor took her to the hospital. After a week of tests  she “sailed away to paradise.”          

1 comment:

  1. That is a lovely remembrance. I remember the ice man too as a kid. I think he would give us slivers of ice to chew on. Very good mary- keep it up.