By Lindsay Eckert
Tribune lifestyle editor
When Samaritan Caregivers’ Jamey Henderson invited me to sample sweet treats as a Chocolate Celebration judge, my taste buds were so busy doing a happy dance I could barely utter an excited, “Yes!” As I listened to my delicious judging duties - my taste buds were busting out The Macarena at this point - I thought about my grandma whose sweet tooth would’ve emptied the place out with style.
Her tall and slender stature, which was always styled in elegant accessories and jackets, gave no hint she ate a heaping slice of chocolate cake for breakfast with her coffee every morning, nor the fact a 2-pound box of chocolate could and often did vanish within days - the only hint of its existence being a trash can full of chocolate-touched wrappers and a telling smirk.
But her miraculous metabolism was just one of her many fascinating features.
People were most fascinated by first meetings with her. As she smiled sweetly and introduced herself, “I’m Rhomance, lovely to meet you.”
As a kid, my dad said his teachers would accuse him of forging a fake name to parent-teacher slips when they saw the name Rhomance penned into a signature. Others politely nodded while their faces showed they questioned their hearing and some assumed it was a nickname.
But it was her middle name she knew as her own her whole life and when I asked why she didn’t stick with Gladys she simply stated, “I think Gladys was just too different of a name.”
However, the nontraditional name fit her nontraditional heart. As a child, her father was tragically killed in a car accident leaving she, her mother and two sisters to do what many women didn’t then: Open a restaurant and support themselves.
The fabulous foursome opened The Green Lantern in their southern Indiana town of English where they cooked, served and ran the downtown location with heart. But, my grandma’s mother knew hard work deserved rewards. So, every Friday night my great grandma swept the floor of tables and chairs, turned on the juke box and transformed the room into a sock hop for her daughters and their friends.
It was one of those Friday nights she met the man she’d later call, “My sweetie” for 60-plus years. I still remember her telling the first time she met my grandpa, who was from the neighboring town of Birdseye.
“I wasn’t interested. I wanted an English boy, not a Birdseye boy.” But her mind was changed after my grandpa planned a double date with a twist. “He told me one of his friends wanted to go out with one of my friends, but he said he’d hate for them to go out alone without really knowing each other. He somehow convinced me to go. After that I thought he was a darling.”
The starting sentence to their love story stood out because - even years after his passing - the amount of love reflected in her eyes when she told the story gave life to the both of them in those reminiscent moments.
After my grandparents exchanged I do’s, they moved to Noblesville where my grandma, always ahead of her time, continued her quest to work full-time. Unlike most couples at the time, they cooked together, they cleaned together and they cared for a garden together. But, on Friday nights they danced together.
“We went dancing at [Indiana Roof Ballroom] and they had stars on the ceiling. When we had the boys we would dance in the living room together after we put them to bed. Your grandpa was a really good slow dancer. I loved that,” she would say sitting on her pink sofa with the shadow of an apple tree she and my grandpa planted years before framing her (a bowl of wrapped chocolate candies permanently nestled on the table next to her). “He was always my sweetie, still is.”
Being part of the Chocolate Celebration brings back many sweet memories of the woman who always encouraged me to write, “I don’t know how she can put words together the ways she does.”
It’s an honor “to put words together” for Kokomo and to be part of the Chocolate Celebration that benefits Kokomo’s grandmas and grandpas through Samaritan Caregivers.
[friday] editor/ “Puts words together”