I’ve mentioned before that my mother was the youngest of 13 children. Out of all of those kids, none remains. Earlier this past week, my Aunt Leona, the wife of my mother’s brother Elmer, passed away. She was 96 years old. She was a faithful wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and a working woman when women simply didn’t work outside the home. She was also a serious home cook. My mom always said she learned many of her cooking skills from Leona. While I know Leona is now with God, as well as back with her husband of 60 years, my Uncle Elmer, we will miss her. Her passing is the end of my mother’s family of brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. It’s sad to see that generation coming to an end.
In tribute, I am reprinting a blog that I ran a year or so ago about my Aunt Leona….
Working Girls (Originally published October 14, 2014)
As I have looked into my family history, I have realized that I come from really good stock on both sides of my family. Hard working, self-sufficient, honest, kind, straight-forward, and funny as can be. There has always been a lot of laughing in my family. Still is.
And a lot of cooking.
I’ve mentioned that in my mother’s recipe box, there are recipes in her handwriting, but many recipes in other’s handwriting. Many of those recipes are from my Aunt Leona, now in her early 90s. She was, perhaps, the best cook in the entire Micek family, but don’t tell anyone else I said that. Leona was married to my mom’s brother Elmer.
I was going to talk a bit about her in my post today, and so I asked her daughter – my cousin – to fill me in a bit on her life. What she wrote was so interesting and full of love that I’m going to publish it almost verbatim. I changed or added a few things to make it clearer. Thanks Kak!
My mother taught for six years after graduating from high school in rural schools in Greeley County, Nebraska. In high school, she took “normal training” which was teacher prep. She then took a test from the county superintendent and was in the education business. Mom taught until she married Dad.
When Dad was in basic training in Arkansas, she worked at McCrory’s, a dime store, and at a printing place. She went back to teaching at St. Bonaventure Elementary in Columbus, Nebraska, when my younger brother Tom was in third grade. She taught for 24 more years at St. Bon’s, in Duncan District 82, and in Columbus Public Schools. My mother got her degree the hard way, a little at a time in summer sessions and night classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Midland College in Fremont, Nebraska.
My mother cooked from the time she was in high school. My Grandma McGuire made great bread and noodles, but she was a slow moving woman and my mother was the oldest of seven kids. When Dad went overseas, Mom moved in to Gramps Micek’s house and did most of the cooking there as Grandma Micek was sick and then died.
When we moved to our own house in Columbus, Mom cooked two meals a day EVERY day, and sometimes three. When she went to summer school, she would leave food for me to heat for Dad at lunch. We never went out to dinner as a family. She and Dad went out a couple of times a year. She also cooked for the band after dance jobs because cafes weren’t open at one or two in the morning.
Now that she lives in assisted living, the thing she misses is cooking for herself!
Basically my mother raised us as Dad was mostly working at his day job and playing with his and Uncle Bob’s bands at night. Sometimes with the band, Tom and I went along and Mom sold tickets and we sat with her.
The only disagreement I remember them having was when Dad let Tom go on the road playing dances with his rock band at age 16. Mom thought he was too young to be driving other kids at night alone. She was right, but Dad won.
My mother was pretty much a “working woman” before the time when that’s what women did. None of my friends’ mothers worked. But she never missed an event! Bless her heart!
My cousin tells such a beautiful story about her mother. I’m not sure our children can understand how unusual it was for a mother to be working outside the home in those days.
My mom also was a working mom since she and Dad had the bakery and she was always there to help out. If things had been different and if Dad had worked in a traditional job, I wonder if Mom would have been content to stay at home. She was certainly the only woman in our neighborhood with a job.
As for Leona, Mom always said she was an outstanding teacher, and I have no doubt this is true. When my brother was in 4th grade, he had Leona as a teacher. I recently asked him what kind of a teacher she was. He said, “She was very serious. And I got no special treatment because I was her Godson.” On a side note, he recalls that he wasn’t always an angel, and wonders if she didn’t know or if she just let it slide. I know the answer to that question. You didn’t pull the wool over Leona’s eyes. She knew and let it slide. So he did get special treatment because he was her Godson!
As for me, I still make her refrigerator dill pickles. They are delicious. Her brownies are amazing, and the recipe follows. I will tell you this much, when my chocoholic husband took the first bite, I saw the look in his eyes and asked him if he wanted to be alone with the brownies for a bit. Heavenly…..
Cream 1 cup sugar with 1 stick of butter
Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each
To the mix, add
1 16-oz. can Hersheys chocolate syrup
1 c. plus 1 T flour
1/2 t. salt
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)
Bake 30-32 minutes at 350 in a greased 9 x 12 pan
Frosting: Boil together, stirring constantly:
3/4 c. sugar
3 T. milk
3 T. butter
Remove from heat and add 1/2 c. chocolate chips. Stir until melted and pour over warm brownies.
Nana’s Notes: I was unable to find any cans of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. When did they stop making them? Life will never be the same. What I could find, however, is Hershey’s chocolate syrup in a plastic bottle near the ice cream aisle. I think it’s probably the same. They claim it is 24 oz., but I measured out two cups. The brownies are unbelievably moist. A funny side note is that Leona got this recipe from her friend and school secretary. Kak said another friend of hers whose mother taught in the Nebraska school system has the same brownie recipe. It must be the official Nebraska School System Brownie!