Saturday, December 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Freda

Last year, I wrote a little birthday blog tribute to my mom, Freda, on December 11th.  I always get a bit nostalgic when her birthday rolls around.  Still miss her.  
     For years, she ran a little cafe` in my hometown called Freda's Cafe.  The story goes... when my dad went for the business license and was asked what the name was, he said, "Hell, I don't know... she's the one who wants the darn thing, call it Freda's Cafe."  So they did.  Of course, it was also dad (while driving back to Kansas) who stopped to eat in another local restaurant called Mother's Kitchen... Ma Haynes (the owner) had a sign in the window that said "cook wanted" and my dad talked her into hiring my mom, sight unseen (I can only imagine her surprise when he got home and said, "I got you a job, we're moving to a little town in southern Colorado!").
     Freda's Cafe.  It was a typical small town cafe'... but it was extraordinarily good.  Comfort food.  Two homemade specials a day - Ham and Beans, Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Fried Steak - always fresh and piping hot.  Homemade pies with clouds of meringue and lightly browned tips shining in the display cases (she must have made 20 or more pies a day).  Small tables lining the outer walls with seating for a family of four or a pair of couples out for the evening.  Small, glass jukeboxes dotted the counter with flip cards and push buttons.  Naugahyde stools.  Hot rolls, fresh donuts, hand-cut fries (I liked curlicue) were staples.
     Freda's Cafe.  The waitresses - Velma, Kay, Phyllis, and Norma Jean - all wore starched uniforms (dad was known to ask them to go home and iron if necessary), frilly aprons, and hairnets.  Mom did the same.  Her gray hair was neatly pulled into the mesh net, held in place with thin elastic and the rims of her black glasses.  Since she was the cook, her apron was always white (unless it was a special day and she dressed a bit fancier - then it was embroidered calico or flowered cotton), always a touch of Pink Carnation lipstick from Avon.  The waitresses had their own table in the back corner.  They'd sit down for a break, grab a Pall Mall from their cigarette cases waiting silently on the table (the kind with the fancy silver snaps).  They'd have a quick smoke.  And laugh!  Count their tips.
     Freda's Cafe.  One of the first things I remember learning to read was the menu.  Even when I was little, mom would sometimes let me load the typewriter with two sheets of paper  (purple carbon paper sandwiched between) to type out the daily specials.  Ham and Beans with fresh cornbread ........................................ $2.00 (typing the dots was fun).  Patiently, she taught me to capitalize the letters, put in spaces, etc.  I remember sitting at the counter, flipping through the songs, reading the charts, and begging for a dime to play Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean.  In 1967, I learned sight words like don't, sleep, in, the, subway, darling, it's, such, a, pretty, world, today... simply by reading the hits that were waiting to be played.  I'd make fake tickets on green and white pads of paper.
     Freda's Cafe.  I remember the decorative plates (one from every state) and college banners that lined the high ceilings.  I remember my 9th birthday when mom decorated a table in the restaurant and served my friends hamburger deluxes and all the "Big Red" we could drink.  I remember flicking a piece of bubblegum off my knife and it hitting a customer in the back of her neck (um, mom was NOT happy, I was bored).  I remember playing in the empty apartment upstairs four hours.  I remember going to the basement to fetch vegetables or canned goods for mom (it was scary).  I remember when she'd hear a certain whistle, she knew the "train crew" was stopping the train to run up the street for a quick "whistle stop" meal.  I remember watching her stand at the workstation my dad built and shout out orders as they were ready to serve.  
     Freda's Cafe.  I remember the phone call.  "Your restaurant is on fire!"  And, the fear in mom and dad's eyes as they dashed out the door to go see the devastation.  I think that's when I developed my fear of fire.  But, like the resourceful folks they were, it wasn't long until they had the whole thing remodeled and up and running again.  A fresh start.  The grand "reopening" was a hit!  I think Mom got more flowers that day than she did at her funeral!
     Freda's Cafe.  If I close my eyes right now, I can still picture her there, a small bead of perspiration on her forehead.  Hard working.  Amazing cook.  Steam-covered glasses.  So, Happy Birthday, Freda!  Until next year...


  1. What a touching tribute to your mom. I spend December 12 thinking about my own mom, who I lost when I was just 21. I think you've inspired me to sit down tomorrow and write about my own "I remembers". Thank you for sharing your memories with me.

  2. I am so glad. I was inspired yesterday by Penny Kittle. Writers inspired by writers.

  3. Found you on Twitter (I'm BookJeannie) glad I did! Love following you and the likes of Donalyn and Paul. =)

    Patrick: I'm sitting here gasping as I read this. Do you believe in kindred spirits? My mom owned a cafe in Lafayette, CO on 287, not the new one of course, old Public Road/287 that runs through town. Mama ran hers during the early 50's. She met my dad in her cafe, she leased the building from his son. I was born in '53.

    What southern town did you grow up in because mama grew up in LeVeta, her father, my grandad, worked in the coal mines?

    I lost her 9 years ago and miss her more eah day, not less. Luckily, she was a kick in the pants and I have wonderful memories, mostly of her dry sense of humor. She became the secretary at Laf elementary for 20 years and pretty much the reason I became a teacher. She should have been a teacher.

    I will get the pic scanned of her spotless little cafe. We blew the pic up for her funeral and found liver and onions 40cents written on the little blackboard. She fed the patrolman, Purdy (sp?), who died trying to save the people in Big Thompson flood.

    Do you remember when the RMN featured a "cook" in the Wed. paper? I wrote them a letter telling them about her cafe and how she made the best down-home food in the world. They called her for an interview...and, of course, she refused, "I don't have time," was her reply but really, she was a private person, not a boastful bone in her body. She lost two husbands before the age of 45, her first husband, by brother Dennis' dad, and my dad. And the thing I'm most proud of, is she NEVER complained about it. Teachers would find out about it and console her and she'd always say, "don't feel sorry for me, I had two men in my life that loved me very much" and smile. That was my mom.

    Know that I grieve your loss and know how much you miss her. What a wonderful article. Thank you.

  4. Hi Jean,

    I'm from Fowler. You need to write your mom's story too. It's amazing how many connections people make to our writing, isn't it! Thus the power.

    Thanks for sharing!


  5. You are right, Patrick, and I will. This is when I really wish I was a good writer. Do her justice. Sigh...

    Thanks! Have a great weekend.


  6. First step... pencil to paper... then reread... write some more... and so on...

    If you do not, who will?

    Can't wait to hear it...


  7. Sweet Friend- what a gifted storyteller you are. I am inspired... I feel like I'm in the presence of a talented author when they can take a simple thought or memory and bring it to life. Right now I'm sitting at your mom's cafe...wishing for a piece of that pie!!! Keep inspiring with your words- they are treasures...
    Gari Meacham