1937-1999, Northern Colorado
Author’s note: This story was suggested by daughter Susan.
Although Mom wrote extensively about our life on the farm and ranches and made a wonderful keepsake heritage book, totally hand-written in her tiny hand writing, she wrote very little about herself and the first 20 years of her life. We know she grew up in the Wellington, Colorado area where she went to school. She took correspondence in piano from the American College of Music in Kansas City. We never heard her play the piano! It must’ve been hard for her at times to listen to all three of us girls learn to play the piano taught by her good friend Katherine Sutherland, especially me with my Dad’s “tin-ear.”
We know nothing about how she met our Dad; we do know they were married in Greeley, Colorado and vacationed a month in Kansas. Coming back to Colorado, they resided north of Severance where Dad was employed to help farm and feed sheep. In February 1937 they rented the irrigated Kemp farm, and that is where I was born in April of 1937. My two sisters and two brothers were born there also. Mr. Kemp raised Japanese popcorn which they “thrashed by hand,” setting on a sheet under the clothes line where there was always a breeze. We rubbed two corn cobs together to shell the corn. I got in on that practice. It was then canned and sold to Safeway as KempKorn. Under the terms of the lease Dad would raise Japanese white corn for Mr. Kemp for several years.
Mom and Dad resided on that farm (after buying it and many improvements) until 1955 when Dad bought the John Deere Dealership for Northern Colorado.
The farm is where Mom perfected her cooking talents and her love for flowers. I still see her making the rounds looking at each flower and tending to the irrigation of them by way of a “little” irrigation water Dad would let into the ditch on the east side of the yard. Mom flooded the grass with water, (usually barefoot) and carefully dug little ditches to each bed of flowers. They grew into beautiful blossoms that she loved showing off to our piano teacher, Katherine, and our neighbor, Jessie Aranci. I can see them now talking about each flower bending over to smell and moving on to the next flower; Katherine in her pretty dresses, and Jessie, with her big smile and laugh. They always ended on the north side of the house to see the Lilies of the Valley. The Lilac tree was a great attraction when it was blooming. It filled the yard with a wonderful lilac smell for weeks. We shared blossoms with our Grandma who lived with Grandpa a mile north on a cherry-apple orchard. That is the flower we put in the May baskets we made and hung on door knobs, knocked and then ran-a May Day tradition that no longer is in practice.
Mom grew up and raised her family within a 20-mile radius of where she was born. In 1955 they moved a mile east of Fort Collins on Highway 14 and Mom resided there after our Dad died in 1983, until she realized she could not longer live by herself. She moved to Boulder to live with my sister for about 8 years. Her advanced Alzheimer’s was becoming too difficult for my sister as she had a full time job. She was moved to Colorado Spring where my brother Jim and his wife Sandy took care of her until she died of complication from Alzheimer’s in 1999. This is why I give a portion of the sale of my cookbooks every year to Alzheimer’s and my sister, Elaine and her family join the walk for Alzheimer in the Greeley region.
From my sister Virginia (Ginger), of Boulder, Colorado
When I think of Mom’s garden on the farm I remember how hard she worked to produce all sorts of vegetables for the family meals, including canning just about everything for the wintertime suppers. That included bushels and bushels of sweet corn that she’d have Dad bring in right from the fields early in the morning. We’d have all the corn on the cob we could eat and still have plenty later on from the corn she canned.
I love the memories of Mom’s flower gardens. She had a “formal” iris garden that was laid out in exact spaced rows and made a grid of iris plants in a big square. A favorite was the grape iris that, no kidding, smelled like Concord grape juice and was this amazing purple color. I remember that Mom and her sister, Ruth sometimes called iris by the name of “flags” Hollyhocks – big, tall, multicolored plants that put on quite a show. And she taught us how to make the hollyhock “ladies” using the big blossom as the full skirt.
Later on she had all sorts of flowers at the other house including the tallest, finest, delphiniums that were so dense they made a beautiful wall for the edge of her patio. When Gail (Ann’s daughter) came to Colorado that year and stayed with her they had a vegetable garden, but Mom never failed to mention that the okra that was growing was Gail’s idea as she never cared for it.
During a visit one Sunday I recall Mom rushing into the house, down the hall to the bathroom and dashing back outside with the entire bag of cotton balls clasped in her fist. Of course we had to follow her to see what the commotion was about. We found her on her hands and knees making a new dry bed for a family of really tiny baby cottontail rabbits that she had accidentally flooded out of their nest while watering her flowers.
I love flowers but don’t have the magic touch in getting them to grow that Mom had. I know that her granddaughter Susan has the magic touch as evidenced by the amazing explosion of color in the Fireweed Greenhouse in Kenai, Alaska. When Mom came to Boulder to stay with me at the beginning of her journey of living with Alzheimer’s, she still loved flowers. People who came to visit her would bring all sorts of potted plants that Mom would enjoy. When they quit blooming, she’d find a place in our garden to plant them. After all these years I still have an amazing variety of chrysanthemums that she planted that come back every year to remind me of a very special Mom. I enjoyed the ride down memory lane.
Thank you Ginger!
There are a lot of “Mom stories.” Enjoy the sunshine and be sure to stop and smell the flowers!
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. 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 email@example.com.