Pioneer Potluck: Happy birthday, Mom

  • Wednesday, December 20, 2017 12:11pm
  • LifeFood

Wellington and on a farm in Northern Colorado

Dec. 19,1915-1999

This is written in honor of our mother’s birthday, Dec. 19.

Our mom was born in 1915, near Wellington, Colorado and spent her whole life in a 30-mile radius of where she was born.

She has one paragraph about herself in the big hand-written heritage book she wrote: “Loretta Edith Cogswell, daughter of Ernest and Freda Cogswell, was born near Wellington, Colorado where her parents resided on a farm. She attended school District #35, north-east of Fort Collins. She studied piano for several years, her instructor being a teacher in the school. When the instructor was no longer available, she studied piano 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 where she assisted her father with the care and harvest of the fruit tree. She worked various jobs in the area. In August 1936 , Loretta and John Melvin McClure were married in Greeley, Colorado. John had come to Colorado in 1934 working for area farmers. After their marriage they spent a month in Kansas were John’s family resided.”

That is the extent of her first 21 years that we know.

As a note on her piano studies, my sisters and brothers never heard her play on the piano that we learned to play at the farm. We had a piano teacher that Mom took us to every week. Ginger said she remembers one time she played a tune for her and that was the only time. I never knew about her piano studies until I read her heritage book!

Mom added: “After their honeymoon and return from Kansas they rented a house north of Severance where John was employed by a farmer and sheep feeder. The following year in February 1937 they rented an irrigated farm six miles east of Fort Collins, within one mile of where Loretta grew up, helping her father in the fruit orchard. The farm they rented belonged to Sam Kemp and provided Japanese Pop Corn, canned in blue cans for Safeway, marketed under the name KempKorn. In addition to the corn, John raised grains and alfalfa hay to feed milk cows John had acquired. In 1949 John McClure expanded his farm to sugar beets and registered Shorthorn cattle and eliminated the pop corn. They named the farm “Shamrock Shorthorn Ranch.”

This is about all Mom has to say about herself except in a little paragraph she says in the retirement of John from the John Deere Implement business, they traveled to Mexico several years in a row, in their travel trailer where John enjoyed deep sea fishing and “though wholly NOT enjoying it,” Mrs. McClure on occasion also fished. But her favorite pastime was collecting sea shells from the beaches, which she used later in various hobby-related projects. (Mom put flowers in small vases, making pretty flowers of sea shells. I still have one of these and framed pictures of flowers made of sea shells. All five of us kids got one of each.)

She does say they traveled to Alaska three times to visit their oldest daughter (me) and John Jr. who had moved to Anchorage and was employed by Craig Taylor John Deere. She says that they did take a trip to Hawaii and a trip to Nassau. A trip to California they drove through the Redwoods and up the Oregon coast. Then the flew to Mazatlan for deep sea fishing.

But most of all she enjoyed the many fishing trips to the two ranches that Dad had acquired while still residing on the farm, The T-Bone and The Grace Creek Ranch, together encompassing about 9,000 acres, up and around Red Feather Lakes. Her call to fame there was frying the bunches of “brookies” (a small trout) that were caught in the small stream that ran through one of the ranches.

A side note: When Dad retired his friend asked him to go to Mexico fishing. Dad told Mom he was invited to go fishing with “Pickle Bill” and Mom was very indignant — “Why would I want to go fishing in Mexico! No thanks!” And she stomped off. Dad return from fishing full of stories and fun. The next year was the same conversation — Mom declining the invitation. The thrid year, Dad informed Mom that he and Bill and his wife were leaving in the morning and if she wanted to go, she could. Mom never said a word. The next morning her bags were packed and sitting by the front door. She figured if he was having that much fun she wanted to go to. It only took three years though!

That is all we know about our mother in her younger years. We do not know how she and Dad met. She was very modest in the many talents that she had. She took her life role as mother of her children, grandmother of numerous grandkids and taking care of Dad very seriously. She showed this in her cooking, baking and canning abilities. She hardly ever sat down and rested, finishing one job and going right to another, like all of the farmer wives. She was the mother of five children — me, John, Ginger, Elaine and Jim — and we had clean clothes, clean faces and full tummies, always.

We had hot meals on the table three times a day and great desserts. Her greatest accomplishment, if you were to ask her today, was taking care of her family. Dad was the wayward one, teasing and laughing at the dinner table. Passing her hot biscuits by sailing them across the table to us. Mom’s scolding was received by a smile from Dad. Dad also kept the gravy bowl next to him and you would have to pass your plate to him, with him telling you to hang on to it as he put gravy on the biscuit and your thumb. He also buttered the freshly baked bread slices and sailed those to us also — we were scolded if we did not catch it — ending up with butter on our fingers. When it came to his birthday cake which was a big two- or three-layer cake, sometimes angel food cake, he managed to mutilate the beautiful cake and we all got big pieces of cake shoveled onto the plate with a pancake turner. The compliments flew out of his mouth with “this is the very best cake you have ever made!” I guess that made up for the misbehaved habits at the table. I look back on this today as his way of entertaining his family and having fun doing it. The ONLY time we knew Mom and Dad were peeved at each other, would be Dad asking me to pass him the salt and pepper shakers when they sat right in front of Mom. No antics at the table on those very few days.

When it came to Mom’s birthday Dad would make a trip to town and buy her a gift. He would bring it home and tell me to wrap it. Well, being close to Christmas I used Christmas wrap — the prettiest I could find. We gave it to her at supper time and she took one look at it and announced, “This must be a Christmas present. I can’t open it.” She got up and put it under the tree. She announced that if she were to get a birthday present it should be wrapped in birthday paper. Lesson learned.

Mom’s legacy and accomplishments that have been passed down through the years are her Christmas cookies. She started baking right after Thanksgiving and baked right up to Christmas Eve. Her batches of cookies she baked through the years could reach clear to the heavens. Elaine’s oldest daughter, Amy, does the marathon baking now, every Saturday ‘til Christmas. This year Amy’s mountains of different cookies and candy will be again put into containers and her dad, Ted, the Cookie Santa will deliver cookies to the lucky persons all over La Salle, Colorado. Thank you so much for carrying on the tradition, Amy. The rest of the relatives do baking with Loretta in mind by using the her cookie recipes. I will be doing the same this week.

When we were younger at Christmastime we had lots of fun opening packages and wadding up wrapping paper and throwing it at each other. Another form of entertainment. The night before, Dad would tuck us all in bed and tell us to close our eyes tightly. If Santa ever saw us peeking he would not leave us any presents. My face hurt at time trying to keep my eyes shut when I heard little “Santa” noises in the living room.

We opened our presents on Christmas morning, Dad setting in his chair with his feet tucked under him. Mom, fully dressed, would pretend she saw the gift for the first time and examine it with a great ta-da. Dad would pretend he wanted what ever gift you handed him to see. We would have to beg for it back. After all the packages were opened, Mom would go to the kitchen and magically produce pancakes, eggs, bacon and ham with hot biscuits or cinnamon rolls for breakfast, “because that was her job.”

In later years they had moved from the farm and lived not to far from where Dad bought the John Deere Implement business in Fort Collins. We all lived not far from them with our kids and the greatest fun of all was opening the present to each other on Christmas Eve. You could not have those presents opened on Christmas day because that was when Santa came, was Dad’s explanation. Mom baked pies and cookies and make her usual chicken noodle soup with “real noodles,” and her usually oyster stew. Fresh bakes rolls and bread and slices of hot baked ham were on the table with lots of condiments. Among the olives, lettuce, tomatoes and cheeses, were Mom’s home canned pickles of various kinds.

During the time before it came to open presents, Dad would sneak down the hall on his hands and knees and snatch a present and head for his bedroom. There was a trail of grandkids screaming at him to put it back, Grandpa! Mom would stand back and pretend she was peeved (that is a family word) at him, but you usually saw a slight grin on her face. He would put it back and go lay on the couch. Time passed and he would slither off the couch and crawl over for another package. The grandkids would pile on him to make him stop. We did not need TV in those days — they had Grandpa!

The big group of five married McClure kids and their kids, of all ages, finally were setting around the big tree Mom meticulously decorated to open gifts from each other. One Christmas, Dad was setting on the floor with all the kids and he was handed a package to open. Upon opening he pulled out a pretty pink sweater, obviously not his, but he proceeded to say how much he liked the color and he would really enjoy it as he tried to put it on. Every kid was laughing and telling him “that is Grandma’s — give it to Grandma.” He pretended to be hurt as he handed to Mom with a sad face. The scramble was on to find Grandpa a present so he would not be sad.

In later years Mom lived alone after Dad passed away. We had all the Christmases at her house. It was lonesome for sure without Dad — but it was Mom setting under the Christmas tree passing out gifts to everyone. She mistakenly got a doll in a mislabeled package. She pressed it to her face and said she would love it forever. I have no idea if that doll got the rightful owner or they just let Mom have it to love.

In later years Mom went to live with Ginger, when she no longer could live by herself as she was well aware she was having memory problems. She developed Alzheimer’s and lived with Ginger for several years until it was too difficult to manage Mom while Ginger had a full time job. She went to live with brother Jim in Colorado Springs until she passed away February 1999, 16 years after Dad died.

She left a legacy that is not forgotten, much of it in the form of cookie baking!

Happy birthday Mom!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. Grannie Annie can be reached at, or look for her on Facebook at Grannie Annies COOK BOOKS, where you can find details and ordering information for her cook books.

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