Wildfires and Creamed Chipped Beef


Entries from my mom’s journal.

Some things you should take when evacuating your house in the face of an oncoming wildfire are obvious – essential documents, pets, clothing, children, spouse.   Other things pose a more pressing dilemma.  In my case, one of the last minute things I grabbed as I headed out to our car packed with our quickly thrown-together clothing, two frantic cats, a dumbfounded dog, and essential papers, was a cardboard folder containing my mom’s journal entries. I never realized how precious this bundle of paper was to me until that split moment of decision, or indecision as it may be.

My mom had begun systematically writing short vignettes about her life experiences to share with her children and grandchildren in 1994, shortly after my father passed away. Her entries have titles such as “Floods in My Time,” “Those Wonderful Telephones,“ “Getting Older,” and “The Food That I Cooked.” Her journal was sort of a pre-blog-era blog about, and for, her family. But these vignettes are more than a family history- they provide an intimate picture of how my mother viewed the world and the truly selfless, kind person that she was. Perhaps just as important, they also help explain much about how I (and I suspect, my siblings) turned out. To me this was the ultimate pass-along.

My mother was ahead of her time when she learned to use word processing. Although she composed all of her journal entries on the computer, all that remain are the hard copies she shared with me and my brother and sister.   All of the electronic files on her antiquated PC were lost without any of us kids having the foresight to salvage the hard drive. For years I have been meaning to digitize her journal so I could convert it into book form,  but never got around to it. Hence my urgency to keep the hard copy out of harm’s way.

To stay with our food-based pass-along theme and to counterbalance Ann’s family’s disproportionate contribution to this blog, I thought it was only fair to my side of the family to share pass-alongs from my mom’s journal:

When we were first married, Dad said he liked my “creamed chipped beef” on mashed potatoes. (So it seems we had it often,) For years Dad would tell a newly wed person, “Don’t tell her you like something or you’ll get it every day.”

That story was part of our family lore.  I must have heard it a hundred times while growing up.  My mom’s “blog” continues…

Andy liked when I fixed hamburger with just a smidgen of sausage mixed in, floured and browned with thin sliced potatoes and water added for a nice brown gravy and cooked till potatoes were done.

Just reading my mom’s description of this hamburger dish has an effect on me similar to what Marcel Proust experienced when eating a petite madeleine (a small French sponge cake) in his famous Remembrance of Things Past.  To him the cake evoked “involuntary memories” which contain the “essence of the past.” I was required to read this excerpt from Proust in college and have been waiting for the right time to insert this reference. I think it sounds kind of sophisticated and cool, even though I have not read all seven of his volumes.

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This blog entry has Proust’s stamp of approval (couldn’t help myself).

My mom always said that she raised three “only” children. My sister Helen is 5 years older and my brother Dan is 13 years my junior. Dan’s favorite casserole sounds like a mid-century classic.

Dan loved the casserole that Mrs. Smith fixed. … I got the recipe and over the years it has been a favorite…. It has hamburger, a smidgen of sausage, cup of onions, cup of celery, ¼ cup soy sauce, can of chicken and rice soup, a can of cream of chicken soup. Mix with 3 cups cooked rice, and you are in business. Chinese noodles on top (and I forgot the water chestnuts. I use jicama if I don’t have chestnuts)”.

One of my favorite family traditions is mentioned in my mom’s journal. She always baked us a birthday cake with coins inside, wrapped in aluminum foil. I doubt that she got the idea from the Mardi Gras tradition of teeny plastic babies baked in king cakes, but I do remember how exciting it was to find a nickel or a dime in my piece of cake (I will refrain from saying that “a nickel went a long way in those days”).

As an added note, my brother just emailed me this:

“I don’t know if you remember Mom baking the neighbor Barbara B. a birthday cake on her birthday?  Barbara didn’t eat the cake and put in the garbage disposal where the coins jammed it up, she was not happy.  I don’t think Mom made them anything again.”

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My mother instructing our son Travis on how to make a cake (Baton Rouge, circa 1985)

My mom’s journal is now back on my desk and secure (thankfully we were spared from the fire) and I am still planning to digitize it.  As we get back to our daily routine following a nearly two week evacuation, my mom’s journal seems even more precious.  Perhaps this will motivate me to create my own journal to pass along to our kids and grandkids.  Just to be safe, I will be sure they get a digitized copy.


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