Wheat Germ, Puppies, and Parades

The Texas Story Project.

Dr. Norma Callender (Left) and daughter Leslie Callender (Right)

The answer is ... wheat germ, Easter parades, puppies, and grapefruit juice laced with brewer's yeast.  The question is ... what makes my Texas mother so special?

For those of you who have never tasted brewer's yeast (and for those of you who do not know what it is) let me explain: Take one glass of very cold Texsun Grapefruit Juice (the kind that comes in a big can from Piggly Wiggly) and add one heaping tablespoon of brewer's yeast, which has the taste and consistency of a tablespoon of Galveston beach sand, stir briskly, and share with the only offspring brave enough to taste it.  That was always me, of course.  I am the second of four girls, all about two years apart.  Talk about a house of little womenthat was [our house on] Belfort Boulevard in Houston, Texas, in the early sixties.  But I digress.  The special part was to mix the brewer's yeast and juice mixture up, sneak out to the front porch with my mother, carefully avoiding any siblings, and sit very close together on the cool concrete step overlooking the busy boulevard that hustled past our house leaving a slight breeze in its place.  This was when my mom would tell me that my freckles were where the angels kissed me. And I remember thinking that anything that tasted that bad and was good for me should make my freckles disappear!  But even when they didn't, I'd still go back for more ...

... Maybe it's because I thought if I drank enough brewer's yeast, she'd quit putting wheat germ in my pancakes, and my biscuits, and even my Jell-O!  And this was not the super golden, crunchy, honey-nut-tastes-great from the 90's wheat germ.  It was the gray-ish, paper-pulp consistency wheat germ of the 60's.  But it too had its redeeming qualities.   This was the wonder grain that was going to make me look like Dream Date Barbie even though I really could have passed for Skipper!  Of course, that was my spin on mom's version of, "Eat it!  It will make you really healthy, give you rosy cheeks and shiny hair."  So my sisters and I blithely gummed our way through our bowls of wheat germ and powdered milk, secure in the knowledge that our mother must really love us a lot to make us eat something that tasted so bad!  The reality was that wheat germ and brewer's yeast were protein supplements for a budget that just could not afford meat.

Nor could our budget afford to feed another litter of puppies!  That was one thing we were never short of while growing up.  Ginger, our mixed terrier pound puppy, had grown up and was making puppies of her own!  We (the four girls) found this extremely exciting, Ginger found it hard work, and mom found it annoying because she always had to quit studying for a college exam to help with the delivery.  But once they had all arrived (usually seven or eight at a time,) she would call us out to the garage and we would all help in naming them.  Occasionally, mom had to preside over funeral services for the runts that didn't make it, while drying many sets of eyes including her own.  As soon as the puppies were old enough, this varied based on our pleadings, it was back to Piggly Wiggly, but not for grapefruit juice this time.  No, this time it was with a red wagon full of puppies to be given away.  But somehow, we always ended up with one that nobody wanted. And mother, of course, understood.

Besides, we couldn't waste any more time at Piggly Wiggly, because everybody knows puppies are born in the spring, and spring brings Easter, and Easter brought the Annual Sakowitz Fashion Parade at Gulfgate Mall.  It didn't cost anything to enter and the first prize was $25.00!  Oh, the starching, ironing, mending, and hair curling that went on.  Because mother had once modeled for Elsa Rosborough, we practiced her pirouettes while she was dressing.  And then we were off to Sakowitz!  No one, including myself, ever knew the dresses we wore were hand-me-downs from neighbors and friends.  What a bevy of beauties we were as we circled hand-in-hand on the runway.  One by one, the competition faded in the crowd until our little family of very little women was left pirouetting in our best Elsa Rosborough style!  When the applause faded, and we left to go pick up our first place prize, I remember thinking that the wheat germ and brewer's yeast must be working...never suspecting it was the love, pride and self confidence that had been stirred into every glass of grapefruit juice, ironed into every ruffled dress, and poured into every bowl of wheat germ!  It was my strong Texas mother who made us all winners, then and now...

...because you see, only the most special mother could make her hardest years, my very best to remember.

Leslie Gemey Callender currently lives in Austin. She is a licensed Property & Casualty Insurance broker, specializing in the Entertainment Industry. Leslie is the second of four girls born to Dr. Norma Ann Callender, who when left with a high school diploma and four small girls to raise on her own, rose to the challenge, setting an incredible example of the best in Texas character and standard for her children, grand children, and great grand children. Like her mother, Leslie enjoys reading and writing in her spare time, and has had poetry selected for inclusion in "The State of the Arts" at Clear Lake City.

Join 11 others and favorite this

Related Stories

See All Stories »
Browse All Stories

Read stories from people across Texas

Browse All Stories