Mondays & Memories of My Mom – A Labor of Love

I was going to continue from the end of last week’s blog, regarding Mom’s experiences from being on the Phil Donahue Show. Then, I decided I needed to write more about Mom’s back story first – who she was before becoming that “Secret Recipes” “trail blazer in the 70’s.”

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it. The saying is adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…” [from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/the-best-laid-plans-of-mice-and-men-often-go-awry]

Mom used to tell me, “life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.” In other words, while we’re busy making plans for how we’d like our lives to be, life changes and all we can do is hop on the wave and go with the flow…”re-calculating” as we go.

Mom’s first love was writing. As a girl, she dreamed of writing a great American novel one day. She loved to write short stories and poetry. In high school, she pestered her school’s newspaper “sponsor”, Mr. Rosen, to let her be on the staff. She told me that he had no hope for her as a reporter, but she set out to prove him wrong anyway. From her love for writing, she also became Secretary of her January 1954 Senior class at Royal Oak High School in Michigan. Sharing that love of writing with Mom was Judy Guest (who became the author of “Ordinary People” about 20 years later.) Mom said Judy had also worked on the Royal Oak High School paper and everyone knew that she was destined to be a great author – it was in her genes. Judy, like Mom, was also Secretary of her Senior class (June 1954 – 6 months after Mom’s class.)

However, Mom’s own dream of writing “a great American novel” never came to fruition, as “life” took her in a slightly different direction. Every successful accomplishment that Mom had with her writing efforts in and after high school and college involved cooking and recipes in some manner. In the 50’s and 60’s, she won multiple contests on radio shows and in magazines for recipes; as well as for food-related stories, articles and essays that she wrote and entered. With the prize money from one contest in 1963, she bought her first typewriter, as she had always borrowed one before then.

Photo by Gloria Pitzer, March 1973 (her family)

As a wife and mother, Mom found her ‘family life’ to be the best subject about which to write. She was very creative and funny. She designed a few columns for weekly papers on that new typewriter, mailing out samples to over 300 newspapers. Within a year, she was writing two different columns (“No Laugh’N Matter” and “Minding the Hearth”) for 60 regular papers. She even created her own cartoons (similar to “Family Circle”), which she called “Full House – as Kept by Gloria Pitzer”. They depicted her life as a wife and mother of 5 in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s. Yet, Mom still did not see recipes as a “calling” – to her, it was merely an interest that kept her writing and making a living from it.

Then, when she was writing a regular food column, syndicated through Columbia Features, she realized there was a niche – no cookbooks on the market took the monotony out of meal time for her. There wasn’t even a single recipe in the newspaper’s food section that didn’t come off, to her, as “down-home dullness.” She approached the editors with an idea to change things up from the usual meatloaf and chocolate brownies recipes. They told her to write the recipes that she thought would excite the readers, and so she did! The readers loved it! However, the food industry advertisers of the paper were not so happy with her inventive ways to make family-favorite, “fast-food” meals like you were “eating out at home.”

So, the editors asked her to go back to the monotonous meatloaf and chocolate brownies recipes or “pick up her check.” But, it was too late…the bug had bitten her, and she realized this was her calling. She told them to mail her the check, and she went home to start her own paper! She knew someone needed to give homemakers, like herself, something more. The food industry was so much bigger than what was being offered in the colored, glossy magazines and the cookbooks of those days. Fast food recipes weren’t found in any cookbooks back then – and these were the types of restaurants that struggling, middle class families would frequent when they wanted an affordable meal out. What were they to do when they couldn’t afford to take their family out for such a treat? Mom knew! Make it at home! And she couldn’t wait to investigate all the possibilities there were to offer from this new platform!

 

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – A Legacy of Love

To blog or not to blog? That is the question…and I’ve been asking myself that for a while now… as well as, about what should I blog?

Hi! I’m Laura Emerich, and Gloria Pitzer is my mom!

Gloria Pitzer

I’ve always loved to write, draw and craft things since I was very young. The arts (on so many different levels) seemed to run in my blood. If there’s an artistic gene, our family seemed to be blessed with it… and it was something my parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles would always encourage and nurture further in us whenever we created something.

Over the years, my mom has personally inspired me in so many ways…as a writer, artist, crafter, homemaker, cook, mother, teacher, aide, etc. How she managed to juggle all of these same hats with a husband and 5 kids for which to take care always amazed me (except for a few of my teen years, when I thought I knew better than she.) When I became a mother, myself, (and got a little older and wiser) it all made so much more sense – about why she did things the way she did. However, I had only 3 kids and a husband to contend with while doing that hat juggling act; so, I was still amazed at all of her accomplishments. I was always asking her for advice and I loved to learn from her. To me, she was just Mom; but, to the world, she was Gloria Pitzer, “The Secret Recipe Detective”.

Mom and I at her 80th Birthday Party – Photo by Paul Jaekel, Jan. 2016

She was very gifted in her own right as a writer, publisher, artist, crafter, homemaker, cook and so on. Her taste buds and culinary skills, combined with her creative writing skills and sarcastic sense of humor, developed into their own super power. In a time, not unlike what we are in now – with political upheaval, low wages and high costs of living – she found a niche that people wanted – “eating out at home”, she called it – and she set to work, discovering how to mimic fast food & restaurant dishes at home; as well as, shelf-stable grocery items. If it saved her household money, she wanted to share it with others to help them save money too.

She was a trail-blazer in the 70’s – writing her own recipes and marketing her talents through newspapers, magazines, local television talk shows…but, especially through radio talk shows. For nearly 40 years she was a regular on a few local radio talk shows such as “Ask Your Neighbor”, hosted by Bob Allison on WWJ-Radio, which still airs out of the Detroit area today and “Listen to the Mrs.”, which is still hosted by Art Lewis on WSGW-Radio in Saginaw, MI. Mom said Warren Pierce of “The Warren Pierce Show” put her “in touch with some of the most responsive and enthusiastic listening audiences.” That show also still airs out of the Detroit area on WJR-Radio. Mom did radio shows all over the country – mostly by phone, from the comfort of home.

In the early years of her “Secret Recipes” business, Mom sold recipes for a quarter each, printed on 3”x5” index cards from a mimeograph she had in the laundry room. She started with an index of about 200 recipes. She promoted these mostly through radio programs. But, newspapers and magazines also picked up on it quickly, as she blazed that trail of uniqueness among all the ‘Betty Crockers’ and ‘Julia Childs’ of that time, and they wrote articles about her, as well. It didn’t seem to take long before her recipe library grew through requests from fans of her writing. She went from index cards to newsletters and multiple cookbooks in the blink of an eye. Soon, she was getting national, as well as international, recognition. Mom only did a few TV appearances – the first was on “Kelly & Company” in the mid-70’s – a local talk show on WXYZ-TV in Detroit. Later, in the early 80’s, “PM Magazine” created new interests in Mom’s recipes, sending their Detroit television crew to our house (then, in St. Clair, MI) to film Mom doing what she does best…creating “art” in the kitchen! However, it was her first appearance on “The Phil Donahue Show” that created the most overwhelming response to her talents than she could have ever expected… More to come on that next week!