by Roger M. Goetz
MOM BECOMES HEAD OF THE CHEMISTRY CIRCLES
Professor Ralph Hixon was Head of the Chemistry Department when he had been made Dean of the Graduate School in 1948. But no one was appointed at that time to succeed him as Department Head, so he continued in that position as well for two more years – until Dad became Head of Chemistry on July 1, 1950.
Three month’s later Mom and Dad had a new experience stemming from his promotion which she recorded in her diary on Sunday, October 1:
Last night was a big night for us – or rather evening. We stood in Dean Gaskill’s receiving line at President Friley’s reception together with the other newly appointed department heads of the Science division. The Gaskills sent me a lovely pink carnation corsage.
It wasn’t nearly the grueling experience I expected. Shook hands steadily from 8 to 10 then had refreshments. Stopped at the [Fred] Dukes for 5 min. and were home by 11:00.
A major change in my mother’s life was about to unfold for her as wife of the new Chemistry Department Head, for there were certain traditions and responsibilities that went with her new position.
The passing of these from Stella Hixon to Mom was recorded on Thursday, October 5:
Last night was Chem Circle meeting and Mrs. Hixon handed the gavel over to me as Head of the Chem Circle. Nuts! When I came in they pinned a corsage on me. Then after the gavel presentation they showered me with gifts of food for my emergency shelf for all the visiting chemists that will be in town off and on and will have to be entertained.
It was a nice gesture on their part but I felt like an idiot unwrapping all those packages with everyone watching.
In the first year or two after Dad became department head, when some chemist would come visit Iowa State and Dad had to feed him supper, Dad would call Mom up and tell her he had to bring a guest home for supper. Mom, as many women of that day and age, knew how to stretch food accordingly on short notice and, if necessary, skimp on what she ate herself.
But after a few years, when Dad called Mom up, we would all go out to eat at the Solar Inn, then located about a mile south of Ames on the east side of U. S. Highway 69.
I loved it when that happened because then I could have chicken giblets, for this was the only restaurant around that offered such; and Mom never fixed them at home. The chicken giblets were the chicken hearts, livers, and gizzards, breaded and deep-fat fried. I didn’t like the livers, so I’d ask for just hearts and gizzards and no livers. They always came through for me. Thus, for years, at my request, we always ate at the Solar Inn for my birthday (or other personal special occasions) so I could have chicken giblets. My parents were always glad to oblige for they enjoyed eating there as much as I.
I absolutely must digress further and recount something that happened from time to time when we were entertaining visiting chemists at the Solar Inn.
If my mother needed to excuse herself from the table to use the restroom, she wouldn’t say so in plain English because she considered saying such in public to be inappropriate. She didn’t even like saying she had to go powder her nose.
Thus, at the Solar Inn she would excuse herself by saying, "I have to go to the Hiesli." The word Hiesli (pronounced "hee-slee") was a Swiss word (Mom had a Swiss grandfather) meaning "little house" (an out house and thus, by implication, toilet).
I always had to grin to myself at this because we knew what she meant, but the visiting chemist didn’t.
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Here’s a glimpse of one kind of responsibility now held by my mother recounted in her diary:
October 18 the Senior Chem Circle entertained the Jr. Chem. Circle at the Atomic Institute Seminar Room. "I poured"!!
The 6th [of November] I had to pour at an open house the Atomic Institute was giving Dept. heads and deans.
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Mom’s diary noted that a committee of the Junior Chemistry Circle met at our house on Monday, November 20 to plan their December 15 Christmas party, also to be held at our house. Regarding the party and the week leading up to it she wrote:
Dec. 8 we went to dinner at the Don Martin’s. Dec. 9 to dinner at the Hach’s. Dec. 15 the Xmas party for the Junior Chem. Circle was at our home. Mrs. Spedding brought the Xmas cookies, I rented funeral chairs, giant coffee makers, cleaned the house from top to bottom – worked late every nite – lived on aspirin all week for a sore throat and felt lousy. Put the tree up the 14th and decorated the house. When my feet gave out, I wrote Xmas cards like made – sent almost 100 – but never did get them all done, so still have a few notes to write.
What is curious to me is that she didn’t mention the catastrophe that happened only a few hours before the Junior Chemistry Circle Christmas party began.
After school that day, I was practicing the piano at our baby grand piano which at that time was located in the southwest corner of the living room. Seated at the keyboard, I was facing north. In order to get me to practice, Mom was sitting in a chair on my right watching me.
While practicing, I happened to glance over at her and saw with horror that the large mirror that was as wide as the fireplace and ran from the mantel to the ceiling was in the act of falling off the wall. The bottom of the mirror was still resting on the mantel but the top was about a foot out from the wall.
Unable to speak, I immediately stopped playing and threw my hands over my ears. In seconds the mirror, unseen by my mother, smashed into a zillion pieces with a loud crash.
Mom jumped and screamed in surprise. When she’d recovered, she wanted to know why I hadn’t warned it was falling; and I told her I was too horrified to talk.
As she surveyed the damage, she lamented that it was just hours before all those women would arrive and see her house in a mess. All thought of hers to have me practice my piano lesson was gone, so I gladly helped her clean up the mess.
By the time the women arrived everything was as normal except for the area previously covered by the mirror. It didn’t match the color of the walls painted two months earlier and it had a bunch of irregular blotches where glue had been holding the mirror to the wall.
In any case, When Mom wrote the party up in her diary, she didn’t mention of the broken mirror episode, so it apparently didn’t bother her by the time she. And I’m not surprised for when I asked her how the women reacted to the missing mirror, she indicated that it didn’t appear to make any difference to them at all.
The moment I read about the Junior Chemistry Circle having a Christmas party at our house, I knew I wanted to write the story about the mirror, but I didn’t know what year it happened. Did it belong in this chapter?
But, while doing research for the next chapter, I found the answer in Mom’s journal of expenses:
December 27, 1950 Living room Mirror $77.16.
The man who was to mount the new mirror wanted to glue it to the wall, but Dad kept insisting that it be mounted to the wall with brackets until he finally agreed to do it that way. Dad wasn’t taking any chances on a repeat performance!