By Marcia Pilgeram
Every Monday, since Oct. 5, 2009, the calendar on my phone has reminded me to “take care of Uncle Jimmy.” And I finally did.
Uncle Jimmy was my mother Fern’s older brother. He was born in the summer of 1924, and my mother followed him about 17 months later. In early January 1927, their mother — Irma — was pumping a gas lantern that exploded in her hands. I imagine their house was not much more than a wooden lean-to, so it took no time for the place to erupt into an inferno.
My grandmother threw young Fern, still secured in her high chair, out the door and into a snowbank, then did the same with young James. When my grandfather heard the noise and hurried up from his barn, he found all three engulfed in flames.
My grandfather carried their scorched bodies to the car and rushed to the nearby town of Jerome, Idaho, as their home and worldly possessions burned to ashes.
According to one of the many archived articles I found at the Twin Falls library in southern Idaho, young James suffered gruesome burns and was rushed to the office of Dr. Zeller. There, he inquired about his dog, Gyp. Assured by Dr. Zeller that Gyp was fine, young James lapsed into unconsciousness; and, 10 minutes later, he succumbed to his injuries in the doctor’s office.
My grandmother’s burns were so severe that the doctors thought she might, too, succumb to her injuries, and Uncle Jimmy’s funeral arrangements were deferred so they could be buried together should she perish. My mother was completely unharmed.
Though Irma survived and lived well into her 80s, she never overcame losing her firstborn.
My mother repeated the story of the fire and Uncle Jimmy so often that, as a child, I knew it by heart. Gram often shared her sorrow in leaving Baby James behind in the cemetery in Twin Falls. Aside from her memory, there was but one physical reminder of Jimmy: a blurry image, enlarged and colorized, which was always present in Gram’s bedroom until she passed (it now hangs in mine).
About 20 years ago, I flew to Boise and rented a car to continue to Twin Falls for a tourism conference. I settled into the car and fiddled long enough with the radio to find a mediocre station. I continued south, admiring herds of black-and-white milk cows grazing placidly in fields of tall, green grass, and all but missed a highway sign announcing the exit for Jerome. I barely had time to make the turn off the highway.
Jerome — the original headquarters of Tupperware — was a sleepy, timeless little town. I wandered the streets, ate great Mexican food and found the small local museum. With the help of a dedicated volunteer who searched the archives, I could read the actual articles about the fire. Newspapers were filled with sensationalism in those days, and the stories were horrific.
That evening, I missed the conference’s welcome reception in Twin Falls and barely made it to any of the following sessions. But I found the grave of our sweet little Jimmy. That day, I promised both of us that I would reunite him with his mother and three siblings — all buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Helena, Mont. And, 20 years later, he’s resting alongside them.
It took longer than I anticipated. There was a lot of legal paperwork, expense, and coordination to have him disinterred and reinterred. I had a few false starts, but with the help of a cousin and my sisters, we got it done. My grandson Alden and I made it to Twin Falls in June to finalize the disinterment.
Last week, we gathered to reunite Jimmy with his waiting mother. Grandchildren-now-parents, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews were there to celebrate Jimmy’s homecoming. We were reminded how much family matters.
During our week in Helena, my baking partner — granddaughter Miley — was presented with her great-great-grandmother Irma’s favorite cookbook. Irma loved to cook (like me), and she loved any excuse for a good party and celebration.
Chocolate celebration torte
This torte can stand alone, or becomes even more decadent enrobed in ganache.
Approx. 16 thin slices (very rich — it goes a long way).
• 9 ounces good quality 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 9 ounces unsalted
• ¾ up finely granulated sugar
• ¾ up brown sugar
• 8 large eggs at room
• 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
• 8 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate bar, chopped finely
• 8 oz heavy whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and line a nine-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Flip parchment paper so both sides are coated with grease.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or carefully on low in a microwave, until the chocolate is almost completely melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth and totally melted. Stir in the sugars, and let cool for five to 10 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking briskly, after each addition. Continue to whisk until the batter becomes shiny and thick. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Pour the batter into the pan. Bake approx. 35 minutes, until the torte is nearly set, but still slightly loose in the center, but is not completely set. Begin checking at the 30-minute mark to ensure the torte does not overbake. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then carefully unmold and invert onto a serving plate.
This recipe can be made in advance, and once the torte is cool, can be stored in the refrigerator — tightly wrapped with plastic film — for up to 3 days. Dust with powdered sugar prior to serving, or cover with ganache and garnish with berries.
Place chopped chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a soft boil (don’t let it boil over). You can add a tbs vanilla, rum or other flavor at this point.
Pour the cream over the chocolate, stirring slowly in one direction, until smooth and glossy. When barely cooled, pour over the torte. Store leftover ganache (covered), in the fridge.
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