Happy Monday and a continued happy National Inventor’s Month to all! I always look forward to Mondays because they are my 52 Chances each year, in which I get to share Memories of My Mom with all of you!
Since this is still National Inventor’s Month, among other things, I want to continue telling you even more about my mom, Gloria Pitzer, the ORIGINAL Secret RecipesTM Detective and INVENTOR of the copycat cookery concept for imitating junk foods, convenience foods, fast foods, and other restaurant dishes at home!
During the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about Mom’s 40+ years (1973-2014) as the Secret RecipesTM Detective – from the inception of her copycat cookery business and the 1973 release of her very first, self-published cookbook, to her and Dad’s forced retirements, for different health reasons, in 2014.
That’s why, this week, I correspondingly want to mention that May is also National Stroke Awareness Month, National Mental Health Awareness Month, and National Older Americans Month. I additionally want to share with you a more difficult subject (at least, it is for me) – Mom’s last four years (2014-2018), as the retired “Recipe Detective”.
Mother’s Day came and went last weekend. Like the last few years, it was bittersweet for me, again, as I cherished the loving bonds I have with my three children (and my grandson), while missing the physicality of that bond with my own mom; especially since it had grown exponentially during her last few years on Earth!
Moreover, Father’s Day is just around the corner. Accordingly, I’m really missing BOTH of my parents – especially these days more than most others. Dad passed away rather suddenly, in October 2014. Apparently, he had been sick, but he never said anything to anyone because he just wasn’t one to ever complain about his own ailments.
Furthermore, Mom had been suffering through a few grand mal seizures that summer, requiring some hospitalizations and doctor visits; so Dad was even more focused on her than himself. That’s just a small example of one reason why there are so many different national “health awareness” days, weeks, and month-long observations now – the key word being AWARENESS!
Amid everything going on in 2014, Mom and Dad had to completely retire their business. That relieved Dad, because he was six years older than Mom and had been wanting to fully retire for years. However, completely retiring the whole business left Mom feeling kind of empty, like she had lost her child.
No more stories to write… No more recipe investigations… No more radio shows… Even traveling had become too taxing for them, both. Then, as I mentioned above, Dad passed away, unexpectedly, that fall; following Mom’s several hospitalizations throughout that spring and summer.
Over the next eight months, with Dad gone, my sister, Cheryl, and I took turns taking care of Mom everyday, watching her for seizures, helping her with the daily housework, and taking her to her appointments and shopping. One morning, in the summer of 2015, we found Mom on her bedroom floor and had to call 9-1-1. The doctor at the hospital said she had suffered from another grand mal seizure AND a double-stroke, at some point during the early morning hours.
Mom was in the hospital for quite a while and even in the ICU for a brief time, followed by months of various therapies at a health care facility, before having to move into a “retirement place” that had 24-hour, on-site nursing care and other special amenities, as she had acquired dementia from the strokes. What Mom needed then was a lot more than what Cheryl and I could offer her, since we both had jobs to work as well.
Mom went through a lot changes and losses from 2014 until she passed away in January 2018. She never got to return to the condo she had shared with Dad, after her strokes. I had to become her legal guardian and medical advocate that summer. Cheryl and I also had to pack up her condo, paint and carpet it, then sell it to pay for her new living conditions.
Throughout her last 39 months of living without Dad, Mom never lost faith that they’d be together again, someday. She believed that it wasn’t for her to know when, why, or how – only that IT WILL BE! Giving up what we LOVE (no matter who or what it is) is probably one of the most difficult tasks we’ll face in our lifetimes. It definitely takes a toll on us mentally (admittedly or not) and that, in turn, affects us physically, especially as we get older!
Mom rolled rather resiliently with every punch Life dealt her, during her last four years. Her faith in God’s love and ultimate plan never waivered. She told me once that she drew her strength from memories of her own mom and all the adversity that she had faced throughout her lifetime. Mom felt that her own hardships paled, by far, in comparison.
Having journaled almost every day since she was about 10 years old, Mom’s love of writing was especially therapeutic for her dementia in helping her remember things, particularly in her last couple of years. In as much as it was a form of therapy for her memories, it was also a natural reflex for her to relax, reflect and meditate. She was amazed to be able to remember her youth more clearly than the previous day’s events, and bewildered by the “old face” she saw in the mirror.
Mom liked to write about finding the blessings in any given day or moment; good and bad, alike. That’s just how she was raised, being grateful for something everyday – not just for Life’s gifts, but also for Life’s challenges; which she willingly confronted and overcame, empowering herself to do more rather than discouraging herself to fail.
MOM BELIEVED THAT THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR FAILURE – ONLY LESSONS AND FAITH!
‘There’s a powerful wisdom we don’t understand. It comes down to believing… To having faith.’ – Gloria Pitzer; as seen in… This Is Not A Cook Book! It’s Gloria Pitzer’s Food For Thought (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Oct. 1986, p. 60)
Even though Mom enjoyed being “Nana”, “Grandma”, and “Mom” a little while longer; it was still, in part, a heart-wrenching time for her, being without Dad. She told me that it’s not something you get over, you just learn to live with it. He was not only her husband, life partner, and co-parent of five kids; but he was also her best friend and business partner.
They were together for almost 60 years, especially after Mom’s copycat recipes business really took off, in 1976. That’s when Dad left his job at the sign company to manage the business end of things for Mom, while she handled the creative and promotional sides – at which point it literally became a day-in-and-day-out, 24/7 relationship!
While I was growing up, surrounded by and involved in the “dining-room-table, cottage operation”, I didn’t truly understand Mom’s deep-rooted love for all of it (like a mother has for her child). Until late in 2015, when I started collaborating with her to rewrite her self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1982), using my 3rd edition copy of her book from May 1983.
The original goal was to republish one of Mom’s cookbooks for a new multi-media generation, while creating another source of revenue for Mom, as she started a new phase of her life without Dad. Mom chose that cookbook because it was, basically, one of her most popular and also her personal favorite, coming off of the tidal wave of fame she had received from her FIRST appearance on the Phil Donahue Show, in 1981.
In as much as I have always loved to write, since I was a young girl, like Mom; I hadn’t done much creative writing for a couple decades. Consequently, when I started helping Mom rewrite her cookbook, it rekindled an old flame in me; because, as I’ve mentioned before, Mom’s cookbooks weren’t just full of recipes. They also contained a lot of her own creative writing, in food-for-thought articles and stories of inspiration.
For decades, Mom never wanted to let any of her books be published by an outside company because they always wanted to change her creations. But, as times changed, so did situations and attitudes. We couldn’t take the self-publishing route this time around. So we researched many companies and finally chose Balboa Press.
To our surprise, Balboa Press didn’t want to change very much of anything except a few of Mom’s original illustrations (containing the likeness of KFC’s “colonel”) and the book’s title! They said it too closely resembled The Betty Crocker Cookbook’s title. As I told them, it was supposed to, since the whole book was a parody of imitations! But they wouldn’t budge. There was a time, years ago, that Mom would’ve said, “Never! Not any of it!” to the changes.
When Balboa suggested calling the “new” book simply Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook, that just wasn’t good enough for us! Together, Mom and I came up with a shuffled version of the original, eliminating the words “Better Cookery”, altogether.
Thus, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook, having a secondary title of “Famous Foods from Famous Places – the Best of the Recipe Detective”, became Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – the Best of the Recipe Detective, with the secondary title, simply, “Famous Foods from Famous Places”.
The layout needed to be changed slightly because of the digital revolution and the printed format we chose for the final product. Plus, I had to scan all of Mom’s pictures and illustrations from the original book, of which she and I could only choose a dozen or so to go into the new revision. Additionally, we chose some parts of the original book to omit due to changes in information, lack of current relatability, or other such reasons. There was a lot of work involved!
One of Mom’s most favorite things in life, next to Dad (and us kids), was ALAWAYS to write. She also loved to mentor those who shared that love! Helping Mom rewrite the “revised rewrite” of her original book, put me in touch with her in a whole new way from what I had, while growing up! Even from what I had, after having children of my own.
Somewhere within that project, Mom’s “child” became like my own child, as I dedicated about two years of my life to its completion (when I wasn’t doing all the other work I needed to do). The cookbook went to print in early January 2018. When Mom heard the news, she said that one of the highlights of her life was that she was “kind of famous for a while!”
Mom passed away later that month, two weeks after her 82nd birthday, leaving behind a beautiful legacy of faith, love, generosity, humor and a wide range of artistic talents. I feel so lucky to have all of these memories of her and how she contributed toward the woman I am today.
In honor of today, being National Cherry Cobbler Day, here are Mom’s “secret recipes” for Cake Mix Cobbler and Thin Vanilla Icing that I shared on the “Good Neighbor” show, with Kathy Keene last month! [As seen in… The Joy Of NOT Cooking – Any More Than You Have To (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Nov. 1983, p. 182).]
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
May is still celebrating, among other things… American Cheese Month, National Asparagus Month, National Egg Month, National Hamburger Month, National Salad Month, National Salsa Month, National Strawberry Month, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!
Other celebrations for the week:
…20 down and 32 to go!