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.
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 Laughing 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!