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So much talk about black cats and walking under ladders on Friday the 13th. I’m thinking about Grandma Cooper today on her birthday. She was voted the prettiest baby in 1921.

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She grew up in a generation when women were meant to marry and raise children. She did that, but she also worked at a downtown bakery and became a Rosie-the-Riveter on the line at NCR during World War II. Later, she would run a grocery store and gas station in the country where people would congregate around the stove and help themselves to a bowl of her vegetable soup. In the 1980s, a corner restaurant in a small town would bear her name.

Grandma was thrifty. No matter how many people squeezed themselves around the dinner table, everyone would have a piece of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and cole slaw. But, maybe, just one piece of chicken.

When I was a very little girl, I would walk down the street by myself to visit her. She had an organ that always wanted to play and a donkey that brayed and popped a cigarette out from under its blanket. (A different time, indeed!) Later, I remember spending summers at her house on the coast, running out to the dock to see what was swimming in the basket that Grandpa had caught and Grandma would fry up for dinner. Food and memories…

Grandma was a card player. We spent hours playing King’s Corner or Uno until we were old enough to play Euchre. You knew you were grown up when you got to play a hand with Grandma. Grandpa was a player too, being able to tell you three hands later that you should have played the ace of spades on your brother’s king, but Grandma was quietly cunning, saving the best plays and always having the right card to pull out a win.

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Her family didn’t have the money for her to get a class ring when she was in high school, so when she went to her 50th class reunion, I bought her one. I wear it from time to time, wishing she’d had it when she was young. It’s a reminder to enjoy what you have.

When I got married, my sister gave me a cookbook that included a place for family recipes. One that Grandma shared with me was her Mango Casserole. For some reason, some folks in Southwest Ohio call bell peppers mangoes. When I asked her for her recipe, she appeased me and called it Green Pepper (Mango) Casserole. Here’s her recipe:

Green Pepper (Mango) 2 or 3 chop small – cook until done. Save some water for casserole. Saltine crackers & add peppers & longhorn cheese – milk & butter. Bake 1 hr to 1 1/2 hr – Butter baking dish – stir at least 2 or 3 times. Bake at 325℉.

Each year at Thanksgiving, we make her scalloped oysters with great debate as to how much butter and milk to use. As you can tell from her recipe (or receipt, as she might have called it), measurements aren’t precise.

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One year when she was no longer cooking the big dinner herself, she was happy to see I’d brought a pecan pie to Thanksgiving. “It’s my favorite,” she told me. I hadn’t known that. She always made pumpkin.

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She passed 12 years ago. Lately, I’ve been using the Christmas ornaments she saved for me as a centerpiece. So, here’s to you, Grandma Cooper. We miss the twinkle in your eye and your presence around the card table. Happy birthday.

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