Mother Went Dancing

From the time my little sister and I  were toddlers sitting with Mother on a daybed in a one-room flat on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati, we heard her tell about her days as a teenager and how much she loved to dance.  She gloried in the days when she would go to local grange dances with her friend, Ruby, and they would dance together all night long – never mind trying to meet a boy.

Mother sat with us in her plain cotton house dress and talked about the joys of getting dressed up and going out for a night of dancing.  I remember she owned one tiny sample of Tangee lipstick in a natural tone, a small disc of rouge, and a sample bottle of Jergen’s lotion.  These were her cosmetics and she had to use those sparingly, both to save money and to keep her young husband from noticing and denouncing her as a floozie.

I remember Mother listening to my Great-Aunt Anne talking about the wonderful barn dances they used to have when she was a young girl in the early 1900s as she described in detail the fiddlers, the girls in their best dresses, the noise and fun of everybody kicking up their heels with great gusto.  In the 1970s after my father was gone, my sister talked her into taking square dance lessons.  Since she didn’t have a partner, she danced with other club members and practiced the calls in her mind constantly.  Finally, she got to the point where she was out of class and could go to easy level dances.  It was there that she met a refined, soft-spoken gentleman named Norton and they set off on a whirlwind of dances, both round and square, all over the area.

Mother loved sewing the square dance dresses and then finding matching petticoats, pettipants, shoes and even earrings.  When my youngest daughter was three years old, Mother made matching square dance skirts for them.

She absolutely glowed when she was dressed up to go dancing.  She and Norton were a close and loving couple until he died of cancer in 1983.

Mother continued to dance whenever she could, going often with her friend, Edna, and never being shy about taking the man’s part.  She survived breast cancer for five years and continued to dance three or four times a week.

When she was 72 (1989), Mother made a tape of old family stories and reminiscences:

As long as I can remember I’ve always loved to dance.  My father died of the flu during World War I and I always wondered where I got my love of dancing and Aunt Mabel said I got it from him.  He loved to dance and he would dance as long as anybody would play music.

My girlfriend and her mother liked to go to dances and she’d take us and we’d get out there on that floor – I was only about 10 years old – and we’d Charleston and we would dance and I’d go home and I’d wind up that old Victrola and put on records and I taught everybody around how to dance.  I taught Alice Mae (her older sister) and her girl friends, they’d come in and get me to teach them how to dance.  Alice Mae never could dance and she’d get so mad because I could teach them how to dance.  I guess I still love to dance to this day – I guess you never lose that.”

Mother died on July 31, 1991, and I sat under a clear blue sky in the back yard and wrote in my journal:

Mother went dancing today with her skirts swirling and petticoats flouncing, her golden red hair in perfect order and wearing her matching shoes and earrings.  She was smiling and light on her feet, happy at last to be able to promenade and do-si-do and twirl and swing.  She barely glanced back at the rest of us still struggling with our affairs.  She was going dancing!

On the 20th anniversary – RIP, Mother.

Norton’s Rum Cake

After my father was gone in the 1970s, my sister (a die-hard round dancer) persuaded my mother to get out more and to take up round and square dancing.  Mother fought the idea for awhile, but finally got up the nerve to venture out on her own and met the most wonderful man who became her dance partner and a friend of the family for many years to come.  Norton was always the perfect gentleman, soft-spoken with a dry wit, a great dancer, and a good cook.

The dances were always the occasion for good food contributed by the club members and Norton’s favorite item to bring was his famous rum cake.  Although alcohol was strictly forbidden at dances, everyone looked the other way when Norton walked in with his cake.  Erma Bombeck wrote about the joy of being at a PTA meeting and having someone bring in anything with alcohol in it.  It was the same way at these teetotaler dances – everybody rushed to the table when Norton’s Rum Cake was there.

I don’t use cake mix very often, but it works so well with this cake that I’ve never tried anything else.  It’s delicious and easy to make.


To make the cake:

  • 18.25-18.5 oz. box of yellow cake mix (I use Betty Crocker Super Moist)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup dark rum (Bacardi)
  • 1/2 cup oil (canola)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 315 degrees F
Grease and flour a 10-cup tube or Bundt cake pan

Place all ingredients in the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.  Pour into greased and floured 10-cup tube or Bundt pan and bake @ 315 degrees F for approximately one hour until a tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.

With cake still in pan, allow to cool on a rack for 5 minutes.

Run a knife around the edges and tube portion to loosen.  Invert cake onto rack.

While cake is cooling, make the Rum Glaze:


  • 8 Tblsp. (1/4 lb.) butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum (Bacardi)

In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Then stir in the water and sugar.  Bring to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the rum.

While cake is warm, poke holes in the cake with a skewer and pour the sauce over the cake.  It will take several minutes for the cake to absorb the glaze – just wait a few seconds and ladle on some more sauce until it is all used.

Let cake cool completely before cutting and serving.

I would love to have one more chance to sit alongside my mother in her beautiful square dance dress with matching shoes and earrings, watching Norton as he smiles and accepts the compliments of all the dancers on his wonderful cake.

A Patchwork Memory Jacket

This is the first quilted jacket I made.  About 7 years ago, I was very new at quilting and was looking for anything I could find around the house to use as practice projects.

About 25 years ago, my oldest daughter had embellished my black square dance skirt with her gorgeous hand-painted and embroidered work.  When the skirt was no longer wearable, I cut out all of the hand-worked panels, not knowing what I would do with them.  When they surfaced again while I was looking for things to quilt, I had my answer.

I made the jacket first out of patchwork squares with colors that coordinated with the embroidered panels…

…then appliqued the panels onto the jacket.  At that time, I didn’t have the skill to piece the panels into the patchwork design.

The design that had been on the center front of my skirt was a beautiful rendering of swans and I used those as a panel on the back where there was plenty of room.

When I was making the jacket, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, so I just used a sweatshirt as the lining.  It has become a piece that I keep back for special occasions and if I were making it now, I would put much more thought into a lining that would complement the jacket.

The colors don’t come through too well but this is really an exciting, beautiful jacket and one that is filled with memories.  My husband passed away six years ago, but we had so much fun going to square dances and whenever I wore the skirt, I spent quite a bit of time standing still so the other women could circle around me, admiring each beautiful panel with my daughter’s handiwork.

Blueberry Pineapple Dessert

svgOver 20 years ago, my husband and I were members of a wonderful round dance club in Cincinnati, the Bendoliers.  At Christmas time, the couple who served as President gave a brunch for the other officers in the club.  As Secretary, my husband I were invited and it was a beautiful meal.  I told the hostess that my favorite dish was what she called “Blueberry Salad” and asked for the recipe.  She was amazed that I didn’t know this old standby and as the years have passed, I’ve seen many versions of it in community cookbooks.  But at that time it was new to me and I loved it.

I adapted her recipe a little bit and I think of it as a dessert rather than a salad, but basically, it’s the same great dish we had that long-ago Christmas.


  • Two 6 oz. packages of blackberry gelatin (I used four 3 oz. packages of Jell-O Blackberry Fusion)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup cold fruit juice*
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • One 8 oz. can crushed pineapple

*Whenever I drain a can of fruit, I put it into a pint jar that I keep in the freezer.  I keep adding the drained juice from whatever fruit I have until I have enough to replace the cold water in a gelatin recipe.  In this case, I used a mixture of several kinds of fruit.


  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

In a 9×9 pan, dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.  Add the cold fruit juice, stirring well.  Chill in the refrigerator for about 1-1/2 hours until the mixture cools and begins to thicken.  After the mixture has thickened, add the blueberries and pineapple.  (Pineapple should be drained through a sieve into a cup, lightly pressing with a spoon.   I add this juice to my jar of stashed juice in the freezer.)


Chill gelatin/fruit mixture until set.

After the gelatin/fruit mixture has set, make the topping:  Beat together the cream cheese, dairy sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla.  Spread the topping over the gelatin/fruit mixture.  Sprinkle chopped pecans over the top.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield:  9 delicious servings. 


A Tree Skirt from a Square Dance Skirt


Thirty years ago (in 1978), I was very much involved in square and round dancing.  For my Christmas gift that year, I asked my oldest daughter to work her magic with needle and thread on a skirt I could wear to all the Christmas dances.  She helped me choose a heavy cotton fabric in Christmas green and I made a 12-panel full-circle skirt.  She decorated each of the panels with a different design in embroidery and fabric paint.

My favorite designs were the little folk girl and the angel, although each image was unique and charming.



I wore the skirt for many years at dances and various Christmas parties.  Each time, I would have to stand still while other women made a circle around me, picking up the panels and admiring my daughter’s handiwork.  After my husband became too ill to dance and after the waistband became a little too snug, I hated to think of storing the skirt away and never seeing it again at Christmas time.  That’s when I decided to just cut it apart up the back and use it as a tree skirt.  It’s wonderful and makes an appearance every year encircling my Christmas tree.


I’m so glad to be able to sit and look at the skirt each year, remembering all of the happy dances and parties from so many years ago.


Fluffy Pineapple Dessert


My oldest daughter was here on Sunday and we wanted something for supper that was satisfying, yet relatively healthy and not as heavy and rich as the food we’ve been eating for the past two weeks.

I got some leftover Thanksgiving turkey breast from the freezer and heated it on the stovetop with some broth and seasonings.

For our vegetables, I tried Sweet Rosie’s method of roasting vegetables – wonderful – be sure to include the whole cloves of garlic.

For dessert I went back to an old family favorite from the 1970s – Fluffy Pineapple Dessert.  This is really delicious and it makes a lot, way too much for two people.  But by the time I sent some home with this daughter, saved some for the youngest daughter and kept some for myself, it was just about right.



  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (I used the non-fat kind)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple (in pineapple juice), drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • 16 oz. container of whipped topping (I used Cool Whip Lite)

In a large bowl, combine milk and lemon juice; stir until thick.  Add crushed pineapple and nuts; mix well.  Fold in whipped topping.  Pour into 9×13 pan and refrigerate for several hours.

This dish was very popular at square dance potluck dinners.