Pioneer Potluck: About my mom’s birthdays

Born December 19, 1915, near Fort Collins, Colorado

Died Feb. 3, 1999, Colorado Springs, Colorado


As you can see, our mother spent most of her life in the same area.

This is what my mother wrote in her tiny hand writing in what I call my Heritage Book.

“Loretta Edith Cogswell grew up near Wellington, Colorado with her parents on a farm. She attended school near Wellington and studied piano for several years by a teacher at the school. When the instructor was no longer available she studied by correspondence with the American College of Music in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Following two years of high school in Wellington she moved with her parents to a fruit orchard near Fort Collins. She assisted her father with the care and harvest of the fruit and worked various jobs around and in Fort Collins.

“On August 28, 1936 Loretta and John Melvin McClure were married in Greeley, Colorado. John, formerly of Westfall, Kansas, came to Colorado from Kansas in 1934, working for various area farmers. After spending a month in Kansas following their marriage, John and Loretta return to Colorado, where John was employed by a farmer and sheepherder.

“The following year, February 1937, they rented an irrigation farm east of Fort Collins and one mile from the orchard where Loretta’s parents resided. The owner of the farm, Sam Kemp, was well known as a producer of Japanese popcorn. He wished to retire. The corn was marketed as KempKorn which he canned and sold to Safeway Stores.”

(Dad continued to grow corn for Safeway for a few years.)

That is all I know about my mother growing up. I never heard her play the piano. She did see to it that Elaine, Ginger and I received piano lessons for many years from Kathryn Sutherland. I inherited my dad’s tin ear and monotone voice. Playing the piano and keeping rhythm and timing were very difficult for me. Once in a while my mom would poke her head through the door while I was practicing and say, “Ann start over — or can you play something different?”

I played Christmas carols all year long, just so I could get them perfect at Christmas. I am sure my mother tolerated more than I know!

My first recollection of celebrating my mother’s birthday probably was when I was 6 or 7. Mom always baked her own birthday cake, chocolate angel food cake, and Dad would give her a small present. One year he gave it to me to wrap, which I did with utmost care and great honor. I found real pretty wrapping paper and took a long time wrapping it. Those were the days of no scotch tape, so it had to be tied with ribbon. I was so proud to hand it to her. Dad even said “that’s real pretty, Ann.”

As I gave her the present, she looked at me a little sideways, her chin down and her eyebrow up, and said “This is Christmas wrapping paper; I guess I have to wait till Christmas.”

Dad and I both convinced her it was a birthday present and that she could open it now. So on every birthday, I would remember this and always look for the prettiest birthday paper I could find in the middle of December. In later years she was emphatic that “If you wrap my birthday present in Christmas paper I WILL NOT open it until December 25th!”

In earlier years she fried chicken, mashed potatoes, made gravy and made her own biscuits for her own birthday dinner. I do not remember Dad ever taking her out to eat, which she probably would have declined anyway. And in later years he bought her flowers; they did not have to be wrapped

We had many birthday parties for her through the years and she was always a little embarrassed at all the fuss. And we never knew exactly how old she was. And she never told either!

If my mom was known for anything it was baking cookies. She baked cookies all year round. Bake tons of cookies for Christmas. Susan recalls when we moved to Alaska, she would send us baggies full of cookies, wrapped tightly with twist ties. Packing was crumpled newspaper, which we smoothed out and read. Then the shipping box was wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. Still no scotch tape. How did we ever do without scotch tape? She would ship us cookies throughout the year.

Mom loved flowers and spent many, many hours irrigating her yard full of Lily of the Valley, cosmos, Iris, marigolds, pansies and tending to the big lilac bush. As I have mentioned before she always carried a hoe everywhere to clean out the little irrigation ditches but most of all just case she saw a snake. Then she would do her “snake dance,” chop that little water snake into little bitty pieces, dig a little bitty ditch and scrape the remains of the little snake into the ditch. She would scrape some soil over the top of it tamp it down with the bottom of the hoe and then finish by stomping it with her feet. I still smile with this image.

Mom loved Christmas and she worked hard for us to have a beautiful Christmas tree, thoughtful presents, wonderful dinners and most of all her cookies. She would start the first of November making cookies and continue to bake them after Thanksgiving and a week before Christmas. She stored them gently and carefully in her big freezer. She doled them out carefully, and when the tray was down to crumbs, magically cookies would appear again.

Her Christmas dinners were spectacular after the remodeling of the farm house. She worked even harder at her dinners and her baking. I can honestly say her most satisfying moments must have been when everyone seated at the dinner table, complimented her on her dinners and her baking. She planned her life around baking and cooking,

My mom’s favorite cookbook was “The Boston Cooking School Cook Book” written by Fannie Farmer. I have this cookbook plus I have collected three more, one just recently.

During World War II, mom helped Dad in the fields and then cooked meals. She sewed for us, washed clothes in her ringer washing machine in the basement, and carried the wet clothes in the basket up the stairs, out to the clothes line. They were hung on the clothes line in her orderly fashion so the occasional neighbors would not see our underclothes. We would wait for the gentle Colorado breezes to dry them. She taught me how to carefully fold and place them in the basket. After we carried them in the house, we put the towels, sheets and pillowcases away and the underclothes. Then the clothes that were to be ironed were laid out on the table and we sprinkle them with warm water, folded them back to so they could be ironed the next day. That was done every Monday and Tuesday. Mom taught me how to iron so as not to have one wrinkle because”what would the neighbors think” if we had one wrinkle in our nicely starched clothes.

I find myself doing more and more things like my mother did however I do not iron clothes because my neighbors do not care if I have wrinkles in my clothes and neither do I. We have a simpler life compared to how it was in the olden days. I am not so sure it’s the best

December 19, in memory of the Loretta Edith McClure. I bet she is in God’s kitchen baking cookies!

This column is written by Ann Berg, a longtime resident of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at