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Let’s Cook: Celebrating cherished neighbors

By Staff | Mar 13, 2015

There are some neighbors who come into your life and impact it in such was way that you never see things the same again. This happened to me when the Don and Virginia Loffelmacher family moved to Underwood when I was in fifth grade. Their family included a son, Cameron; identical twins, Harold and Harlan; and daughter Cheryl.

Virginia was a teacher in the Underwood School, and her abilities to encourage and help students profoundly influenced several lives. She challenged her students, thought of creative ways to make them learn, expanded their worlds – and for some, became their devoted advocate. She could see potential when others had given up.

Don worked various jobs in and around Underwood; but, first and foremost, he was a thinker, a technician and a mechanic. He took to welding like Julia Child took to cooking. Puffs of smoke twisted and electricity jumped as he callused the metals with his white flash from his welder. Next was grinding which produced a coppery meteor shower, and finally his work of genius upsurges. Sometimes it was a hitch, latch or some other very useful item. He fused together many used items that my dad and others used in their businesses and farms. These were items that could not be taken off the shelf but rather produced by a creative mind, artistic eye and a useful hand.

My friendship with all of them was instant, but especially to Harold and Harlan. We were classmates. We spent hours together – drawing, creating, laughing, working and, most of all being friends.

After school we would go to Virginia’s room and sketch until all the chalkboards were full. We hauled appliance boxes into her room and refashioned them into stage sets. She let me keep my geraniums in her sunny windows.

They moved into my parent’s trailer court, so their home was right next door to mine. A well-worn path curving past the cottonwoods, willows and apple trees was quickly established. The inside of their home to me seemed like a combination of the movies “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” There Don was inventing with his welder; Cameron was taking a motor apart; Harold and Harlan sketching and painting with boundless creativity; Cheryl with a parade of dolls, dishes and other appeals of young girl; and Virginia doing creative writing and storytelling as she went about her household duties. It was eccentric, moving, exciting and wonderful.

I was introduced to southwestern N.D. when they became our neighbors. They had lived in Fryburg, Belfield, New Hradec, Medora and Dickinson and they brought with them interesting stories from each place. Their sowing of these accounts created a deep interest for me. Virginia’s mother, Nellie B. Noyce of Dickinson, was an alumnus of Dickinson State College, a member of the National League of American Pen Women, and she treasured the history of Medora and the cowboy. It was from her that I learned Theodore Roosevelt’s first North Dakota home was the Chimney Butte Ranch located 7 miles south of Medora in 1883. He then in 1884 founded his second and most popular ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch, named for the brand he had selected for his cattle. She could talk at interesting length about this region and once told about how her Uncle James L. Moody attending the reception in Medora in April 1903 for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. She even had a picture to prove it!

Nellie did not visit Underwood often, but when she did, you can bet I was there and listening. She spoke of great horse riders like Earl M. Hoke and his vitality at rodeos, along with bronc rider Larry Mahan, who rode at Home on the Range for Boys. This was my first ride in the saddle and Nellie and Virginia brought these interesting stories to life. They instilled in me an appreciation of the rich, real history of Medora. The early burning coal mine, the Columnar Juniper, the lady Medora Van Hoffman de Mores – whose Christian name had titled the town. Noyce, in time, penned a book, “Roaming on the Buffalo Range”, which is still a fine read about history in this area.

Loffelmachers relocated to New England, N.D., where they were blessed with another daughter, Michelle. We would see each other from time to time, and our friendship has remained. Recently Don passed away, and this has caused me to reflect on what fine neighbors they were and how they enriched not only my life, but the community of Underwood.

Here is one more sweet reflection. Don was working at a welding shop between Bismarck and Mandan, on the strip. It was Christmas time, and he and Virginia were invited to attend the company Christmas party. I clearly remember going with Virginia into Von’s Clothing Store on Main Street – walking the wooden floor to the back of the store. Once there, she selected this quilted fabric that had a black background with very colorful peacocks which had tones of rich gold, hot pink, emerald green and sapphire plumes. You know me, I had noticed that fabric years before, and it had been there for some time. It was most attractive, but it took Virginia’s eye and creativity to fashion it into a lovely long skirt. Additionally at Von’s Clothing was an assortment of ladies’ belts which were hung from nails on the blonde sewing notions counter. Smack in the middle of the belt parade was a stunning wide gold belt with an impressive buckle. That, too, caught the eye of Virginia and she made it part of her evening ensemble. She finished off her creation with a white, elegant evening blouse and she looked like a million!

Virginia wore a pair of gold pumps with her stylish long skirt that she had sewn at the kitchen table. I recall her fancy for these pumps; thus, the reason the hem of her skirt gracefully rode just above these golden stars. The ruby slippers didn’t corner the market on magic, for these golden gems created euphoria as Virginia slipped them on. She could have gone to the Emerald City, but instead when right to Bismarck with her handsome escort in a vintage 1963 black two-door Cadillac DeVille.

It was Amos Bronson Alcott that said, “Stay is a charming word in a friend’s vocabulary.” Some neighbors, even though they move away, are always right next door in our hearts; in fact, when they leave this world they still stay there.

Applesauce Meringue

(Pommes Meringuees)

It was the Loffelmachers who gave me my first cookbook, “The Young French Chef.” This is an easy, interesting and tasty recipe from that book.

3 egg whites

2 jars (15-oz.) applesauce

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Let egg whites warm to room temperature for at least an hour. (The egg whites will give better volume when beaten.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix cinnamon and applesauce and place in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

At high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in granulated sugar; beat just until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue evenly over applesauce, then make pretty swirls with the spatula this is fun. Sprinkle top evenly with confectioners’ sugar.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until meringue is slightly golden and crusty. Serve warm.

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