By Gloria Pitzer – Recipe Detective (circa mid-1970s), as seen in… No Laughing Matter (her syndicated series of articles).


EVER SINCE I SAW Carol Duvall make Sonny Elliott weatherman buttons out of baby food jar lids, on her television craft show, I was determined to do something creative. I have always prided myself on being one of those non-creative mothers who never found joy in sloshing around in a tube of Elmer’s Glue-All or a kettle of papier-mâché.

The PTA knew better than to assign me to the centerpiece committee of the anti-militant Teachers Association’s annual potluck. Without meaning to, I was the one who inevitably ended up gluing the principles tie to the fire exit sign.

After attending one craft session, the Ladies’ Aid dropped me from their church bazaar’s knitted items list, for I was the one who contributed 28 mittens – all for the left-hand. I was so embarrassed I could have died! It was all I could do to keep myself from committing Hari Kari with my knitting needles.

‘You know, my dear,’ said the chairman, taking me aside. ‘You have made a fine attempt. You have admirable enthusiasm. All you need now is ability.’

‘I know.’ [I replied.] ‘I once entered the Draw-Me contest for [the] famous Artists’ School and they told me I had done a fine picture of a Brontosaurus. The big trouble was the picture was supposed to be a horse.’ Everything I tried, proved that if there was a hobby somewhere waiting for me to take to my heart, it would have to consist of using the thumbs only.

I was suddenly engulfed by a sea of creative mothers and I could barely bring myself to look at a copy of BETTER HOMES & GARDENS without bursting into tears. When I entered a what-to-make-out-of-bottle-caps contest in The Workbasket magazine, they sent me a sympathy card.

At the Girl Scout boutique, last spring, I won first prize, though, for most original entry in the pop art exhibit. Someone labeled it ‘Moby Brick’ and awarded me a handsome blue ribbon and a certificate for a beauty shop estimate on a facial.

It wasn’t an honor, considering it was really a Boston cream pie for the bake sale table. I couldn’t muster the courage to admit the mistake to them. The schools workshop teacher paid five dollars for it and [was] about to take it proudly home with him when he dropped it on his foot and had to spend six weeks in a cast.

It was at least comforting to know that the object d’ art wasn’t even chipped. However, I suspect the woodshop teacher’s foot might never be the same again.

I’ve always needed help tying my own tennis shoes and there I was determined to give Carol Duvall a run for her money. Carol’s television craft show had kept me from a good night’s sleep for years, as I jealously watched her concoct creations from anything and everything.

While Carol Duvall was turning ball fringe into caterpillars, I was setting my kitchen on fire trying to make homemade parchment paper by wetting down dime store bond and baking it in the oven.

At Christmas time, Carol showed us how to staple IBM cards to a pizza cardboard and hang it over the fireplace as a wreath. Time was short. I had to first collect 15,432 IBM cards, locate my scissors, which Mike had once borrowed to shorten some roof nails for his tree fort in the backyard.

Then [I had] to remember what I did with my stapler after I found Lorie had stapled all of my recipe file cards to the kitchen curtains. Collecting the IBM cards wasn’t difficult. I simply called Nellie Nottagain, who thought it was sacrilege to throw out old flashlight batteries because she never knew when the Cub Scouts might need them for their next old-battery-drive.

‘Nellie!’ I gasped into the phone. ‘I’m in trouble and need your help desperately!’

‘Don’t tell me your husband’s run off with the B-Girl at the Coney Island,’ she guessed. ‘You want to leave the kids with me? Do you need a good lawyer? My brother-in-law…’

‘No, this is much worse!’ I cried. ‘I need 15,432 IBM cards and a large pizza cardboard. Can you help me?’

‘Could the Shadow help Lamont Cranston?’ She laughed. ‘Of course, I can help you. The cards I have but the pizza cardboard I am out of. Would you settle for a dozen used vacuum cleaner bags instead? Or how about some Minute Maid orange juice containers? If not, I can give you 137 false eyelashes in assorted lengths. Now they make darling artificial flowers if you have pipe cleaners.’

‘Good heavens, no, Nellie!’ I cried. ‘This is for a Christmas wreath. I’ve been watching Carol’s craft show and I think this is one project I can handle. I feel it in my bones. I may even go on to greater challenges, but you’ve got to have that pizza cardboard.’

‘I think I know where I can get you one. I have a friend whose uncle caters Italian weddings. When do you need it?’ [Nellie asked.]

‘Like yesterday. Name your own price.’ [I replied.]

‘After all, Gloria, what are friends for?’ She asked. ‘But now that you mention it, I would like to have that old chicken incubator on your back porch. With some legs on it, what a marvelous end table that would make.’

‘It’s yours!’ I said, wiping the sweat from my brow. ‘I’ll be right over.’

Even though Detroit’s Channel 4 gave Carol Duvall five minutes, in which to make HER wreath, it looked like child’s play. I was not deterred in my hour of triumph when I worked for both days and nights to complete mine. The ironing was rising like yeast dough in their baskets. We had TV dinners and the kids learn to pack their own lunches.

When my husband ran out of white shirts and I still hadn’t finished the wreath, he mumbled something testy and wore his Blatz-is-best bowling shirt. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to the boss,’ he said sourly. ‘Yesterday it was a button missing on my coat and he noticed it right away.’

‘Maybe he’ll give you a raise,’ I said, trying to be brightly encouraging. With the family’s moral support and encouragement, my creative spirit might have otherwise died on kindled fire of inventive genius. And there I would be, again… The only mother in the neighborhood who couldn’t make a pizza-card wreath for over the mantle.

[Oh] my! I was proud of that accomplishment. But I was shortly given to fits of hysteria when the dog ate it before I had a chance to hang it up. ‘Don’t cry, Hon,’ my husband consoled me sweetly. ‘Tomorrow is Easter, anyway. You still have plenty of time to make another one for next Christmas.’

‘Yes. There is time I suppose,’ I said, sobbing. ‘But what will Nellie say?’

Once I had become addicted to the creative craft show and subscribed to all of the Craft Letters that tell you never to throw out old corn pads and how [to] convert toilet paper spools into napkin holders, chances are (or so I thought, at the time) I was on my way.

There was something about the craft-lovers women I met at the PTA and the church bazaars that once made me feel inadequate as a mother.

‘Good grief, Gloria!’ My neighbor exclaimed. ‘Why do you want to be creative?’

‘Because I can’t be a sex symbol, that’s why.’ [I answered.]

‘You’re not going to decoupage the refrigerator door, are you?’ [She countered.]

‘Once you get started, Madeleine, it’s like eating popcorn. You begin to see all kinds of possibilities. Wait till you see what I’ve done to the TV trays with Del Monte labels and I just know you’re going to love my [braided] bread wrapper rugs.’

Exposure to the creative palisades of probabilities left me with the serious doubt and hidden inhibition that I should never throw away a Maxim Coffee jar lid, without first turning it into a bracelet. I couldn’t look a margarine cup in the face, without seeing definite possibilities for a mobile in the baby’s room. Then I realized – we didn’t have a baby!

Although I was hardly going to cost Carol Duvall need to worry that I might be her next season’s replacement, I was making progress. ‘I wish you’d do the laundry, Mom,’ Bill said, dismally. ‘It’s been two weeks since you turned on the washing machine and my teacher had to sit me next to the opened window.’

‘I will, Son,’ I promised, ‘as soon as I finish boiling these paper bags. I just found a wonderful idea for making paper sculpture. Now all I need is an old Persian lamb coat and three dozen strands from a horse’s tail!’

Before I knew it, I was up to my armpits in plaster of Paris and word soon got around [to] the local laundromat that I was creative and the phone began to ring incessantly. I was in demand like committee chairmen in a 100 mile radius.

‘We’d just love to have you work on our place cards for the Let’s-Get-Sewers-in-Clay-Township kick-off campaign dinner.’

‘We’d be honored if you could come to our workshop for underprivileged horses,” said one chairman. “We’re crocheting feed bags and blankets.’

‘If you have time in your busy schedule,’ pleaded one woman, ‘would you be able to do the centerpieces for our luncheon for aid-to-dependent-public-officials?’

Even the hospitality committee for the road commission asked me to put together candy cups in the shape of [pot] holes, last spring, for their highway repair pep rally. It was a glorious experience. My husband was beside himself with pride at my ability to overcome defeat and rise above what once seemed like an impossible personal handicap.

He said encouraging things to me, from time to time, like: ‘Why couldn’t you have stayed just a dumb housewife? I don’t want my match books covered in gingham. I don’t need a glass case made out of swamp reads. I don’t even wear glasses!’

‘Would you like an aardvark modeled out of Silly Putty for the dashboard of your car, to bring you good luck on the expressway at the rush hour? Or would you rather have an abacus for your desk at the office? I can make one in a snap from Cheerios and Dairy Queen straws – and you’ll love it!’

‘NO!’ He snapped. ‘All I want is a decent meal and the right to happiness, finding socks in my dresser drawers again. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had my laundry caught up? When was the last time you squeezed an orange or cleaned your oven!’

‘Bite your tongue!’ I said, jerking to attention. ‘You know I’m not the kind of woman who cleans her oven. The next thing you’ll want, is for the children to stop using my first name and start calling me M-o-t-h-e-r! I know your kind. I’ve seen men like you lurking in the back of the multi-purpose room at the PTA.’

It wasn’t easy living up to the reputation of being the epitome of understated elegance in the creative realms of self-expression. As I was telling the family the other night at supper (in McDonald’s), ‘pass me another envelope of ketchup – and nobody throw away their hamburger envelopes. I’m doing a patchwork wall hanging of popular places to eat in town.’

‘That cuts it!’ My husband growled. ‘You are not going to ever see another pair of scissors again, unless you’re cutting bubblegum out of the kids’ hair or clipping seven-cents-off coupons out of the newspaper.’

What he didn’t understand was that, a year ago, I never would have attempted making a beaded headband for him for Father’s Day. (By the way, he loved it! They gave him the part of Samoset, in the Lions Club Columbus Day play.)

I can even see where it all may have a beneficial effect on the children, who have never shown much creative ability. And who knows where that may lead us? Just last night, I saw Billy molding freeform art out of his mashed potatoes. Debbie built a Gothic castle out of her Oreos and Lolli cut her teeth on a Reader’s Digest, until it was shaped like Dr. Seuss.

All right! I admit it. I have no one to blame but myself. I would like to say it’s all Carol Duvall’s fault, but I won’t. At least, not until she tells me how to remove glue from the principal’s tie. I did it again!

By TheRecipeDetective

Hi! I'm Laura Emerich and Gloria Pitzer, the ORIGINAL Secret Recipe Detective, is my mom. This website is lovingly dedicated to her memory and legacy.

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