As a child I remember my mother’s love for all things Christmas. She would decorate the dining room fireplace and the living room would have the tree. One year in particular we had a silver aluminum tree with a color wheel. The tree was so shiny and the motorized wheel would change from green to red to blue. That was my favorite tree.
Mom was an only child and she was doted upon. Even as far back as 1914 when she was born, Christmas was special to her. I remember that mom’s favorite Christmas was when she received a gift from an uncle in Chicago. The package contained a gold watch, a doll, and some comics from a local paper. She said that she was giddy with pleasure for a very long time.
Mom was raised in Topeka, KS. Her dad was one of the first licensed embalmers in Kansas. She would go out in the horse and buggy sometimes late at night so her dad could embalm someone in their home. Mom would hold the lantern so he could see. She had some pretty scary stories from those adventures. Her dad became bored with his career and started a restaurant in Topeka. He made a famous chili and offered it not only in the restaurant, but would send it by post all over the United States. One day he was working on the roof and a nail hit him in an eye. He was blinded, but it didn’t nail his sense of humor. He changed his business card to say, “Ira puts the I in the chili”. Needless to say he got a lot of stares from that. His chili was still famous even with the “I”. The chili did not contain a tomato product. Only spices and suet. That way it could travel without spoiling. Also he used a finely ground beef, not chili grind.
The story goes that mom had a great family life in Topeka and was well-off financially. But her dad decided he wanted to live on a farm. They moved from Topeka to Columbus, KS. They had a farm alright; of rocks! Mom and her mother worked that farm for all it was worth, growing vegetables, milking cows, butchering rabbits, and then hauling the goods on the horse and buggy to the close mining communities. Mom would sell her homemade butter, bunches of flowers she had gathered and even tatted doilies. She says she learned the value of a penny and the patience of Job. Her mother was not a happy camper with the farm. I heard that her husband went to town frequently and belonged to school boards and schmoozed.
After a few years on the farm they moved into town and started a restaurant. The chili with the “I” in it was back and mom and grandma were up at 4 in the morning making cinnamon rolls and pies. Mom said that was when she knew she was not going to ever be poor again and she started her own restaurant which was a fast food business. I will save that story for another day.