Monthly Archives: December 2010

Long live the fruitcake

A beloved but often belittled fruitcake. Sherry Roberts photo.

The box came in the mail Dec. 24. It was addressed to me and came from Eilenberger’s Bakery in Palestine, Texas.

There was a message on the shipping label: “Greetings: From Mrs. Sherry Roberts. Here’s your fruitcake, my love!”

Enclosed was a delicious, round two-pounder in a festive tin.
I had lamented a few weeks earlier, as I have for the last several Christmases, that fruitcakes seem to be no longer available in area stores. You used to be able to buy them at places like Walgreen’s for $5 apiece.

Maybe fruitcakes are in short supply at retailers because sales have decreased. And maybe that’s because fruitcakes are now the butt of so many jokes on late-night TV and elsewhere. They are regularly ridiculed and parodied. More on that in a moment.

I’ve never let popular opinion — or jokes — determine what I like and don’t like. And I’m not afraid to proclaim that I like fruitcakes. That includes the texture, nuts and dried fruit. It goes back to my childhood, I guess, when my parents often received them as gifts.

One of the fruitcakes they received each year was home made, and it came from my folks’ neighbor, “Bunny” Fiala. Her fruitcakes were the best, perhaps because her recipe called for a generous helping of booze. I don’t remember whether she used whiskey or rum, but a piece of Bunny’s fruitcake gave you a warm feeling inside — literally.

My parents are gone, Bunny’s gone and so are her fruitcakes. But the memories of them linger.

Fruitcakes have been around a long time. According to, the oldest reference that can be found regarding a fruitcake dates back to Roman times.

“The recipe included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins that were mixed into barley mash. Honey, spices and preserved fruits were added during the Middle Ages. Crusaders and hunters were reported to have carried this type of cake to sustain themselves over long periods of time away from home.”

So the fruitcake has a long and distinguished history.

But I mentioned before that lots of people make jokes about fruitcake. The Internet is loaded with them. One website,, lists 20 uses for a fruitcake, none of which are eating:

1. Use as a doorstop
2. Use as a paperweight
3. Use to clean your pots and pans
4. Use as boat anchor
5. Use as bricks in the fireplace
6. Build a house with them
7. Use it to hold up your Christmas tree
8. Use as a pencil holder
9. Give it to the cat for a scratching post
10. Put it in the back yard to feed the birds and squirrels
11. Use to hold up your car when changing tires
12. Slice and use for poker chips
13. Use it to carve your turkey on
14. Use as a replacement for Duraflame log
15. Take it camping with you — use it to weigh down the tent
16. Use it as a seat at a stadium event
17. Stand on it when you change a light bulb
18. Put it in the back of your car/truck for snow/ice driving
19. Use it to replace free weights when you work out
20. Use as book ends at the school library

There’s also a website,, devoted — tongue-in-cheek — to informing the world about the dangers of fruitcake proliferation and its devastating environmental impact. Huh?

“If you care about the future of the earth, the time to act is now,” the website says. “If you receive a fruitcake this holiday season, please keep the tradition alive. Pass it on. It’s the perfect way to say, ‘I care more about the environment than I care about you,’ in a way that fulfills your gift-giving obligation and societal guilt in one step.”

If you don’t have anyone to give your fruitcake to, the site points out, you can send it to The Great Fruitcake Recycling Project and, in turn, get a “I recycled a fruitcake” button.

See? Like Rodney Dangerfield, fruitcakes don’t get any respect.
Except from me.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on December 25, 2010 in Uncategorized



New Facebook site designed for Q-C radio folks

Here is a photo from the site, showing a young Dave Shropshire at KSTT.


Thanks to a couple of radio guys, current and former members of the Quad-Cities radio media and their friends now have their own site on Facebook. TV folks are welcome, too.

Quad Cities On Air is a place to share Q-C media-related photos, videos, audio clips and stories.

The site was started Dec. 4 by Terry James and Shawn Geyssens.

James last worked in the Q-C in 2006 as a newsman at WOC and the other Q-C Radio Group stations. He is now in Lincoln, Neb., where he is the Nebraska Radio Network’s news director.

Geyssens, who no longer works in the media, is a former deejay at Power 98.9 and KUUL.

“We thought there needed to be a place where people who have gotten out of the business — or are still in it — could talk about the good old days and post their video, audio and pictures,” said James. “We have gotten our hands on some old air checks that radio geeks like us will love. We really need, and hope people will submit, items and join in discussions about the good old days.”

James said the site is not a place to bellyache.

“We don’t want to complain about what radio has become but celebrate what it used to be.”

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on December 7, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Note to self: At the TSA checkpoint, take your cell phone out of your pocket

Flying the friendly skies is a good way to travel -- once you get through security.

I don’t like all of the security measures at airports these days. Who would? But I understand the need for them.

And here’s a special note to myself:

Dear Self,
Before you walk through the little TSA doorway that beeps if you have something metal on you, be sure to take your cell phone out of your pocket and put it on the conveyor belt to the X-ray machine.

I recently flew from Moline with some fellow members of the Mississippi Valley Fair Board to Las Vegas, where we attended the annual convention of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

I normally clip my bulky old cell phone to my belt when I’m walking around. But, since it sometimes falls off, I decided the night of the flight to put it in a pants pocket so I wouldn’t lose it.

That turned out to be a bad idea because at the security checkpoint, when going through the doorway that sounds an alarm if you have metal on you, I kept making it beep, beep, beep. After several unsuccessful attempts to get through without setting off the alarm, the TSA attendant there asked me to step over to another TSA worker, who was waiting to pat me down.

Great, I thought. Just what I wanted most to avoid!

He told me to take everything out of my pockets, and that’s when I discovered my stupid mistake, the cell phone.

As some other friends and their spouses from the fair, who had sailed through security with no problem, stood nearby, watching me and smiling, another TSA worker walked over to me with a little bowl to collect the phone and run it through the X-ray machine.

“Why did you leave this in your pocket?” he asked incredulously.

I explained why I’d put it in the pocket in the first place and that I’d simply forgotten about it. He’ll be old and forgetful someday, and I hope I’m there to see it.

The other TSA worker, the pat down guy, now had rubber gloves on and began to explain why he was doing the pat down and what it involved.

I’m a news junkie, and I consume the news via newspapers, television and the Internet. So I knew all about this new, controversial security procedure.

As he was talked, the phrase that one airline passenger, a young man, had used, came to mind. It’s the line that was in the news and now appears on bumper stickers and T-shirts: “Just don’t touch my junk, bro.”

I was thinking it, but I certainly didn’t voice it. I may be forgetful when it comes to cell phones, but I’m not stupid. I didn’t want to cause any trouble and miss my flight.

I merely said of the pat down, “I know all about it. Just go ahead and do your job.”

And he did. Thoroughly. Very thoroughly. Right down to checking the inside of my waistband for contraband.

He explained everything he was about to do before he did it. And the whole thing took just a couple of minutes. Long, embarrassing minutes. All that time I was thinking, The terrorists have won. They’ve disrupted our lives. They’ve caused us to lose our right to privacy. But again, I didn’t verbalize that.

I passed the pat down test and began the processing of reassembling myself — stepping back into my shoes, gathering my belt, belongings and my dignity….at least what was left of it.

I later learned another fair board member who had arrived earlier also had gone through a pat down. And he’ll likely do so every time he flies.

It’s not because he carries his cell phone in his pocket and forgets it. His problem is, he’s had hip replacement surgery, and the replacement hip is metal.

For him it’s always going to be beep, beep, beep at the airport.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece submitted as an “Everyday People” column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on December 3, 2010 in Uncategorized


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I’ll never get over my love of being a firefighter

This old 1928 Chevrolet fire truck was at Iowa 80 Truckstop's annual Walcott Truckers Jamboree. Phil Roberts photo.

Note: This was written in Las Vegas, Nev., in the early morning hours of Nov. 30, 2010.

I’m sitting in a big-city hotel room as I write this, and you’d think the street outside my window is named Siren Boulevard. It’s early morning and police cars, ambulances and fire trucks have been racing by periodically for a couple of hours, sometimes two or three at a time, their sirens wailing.

That’s life in the big city, I guess.

But I’m OK with that. I look out the window most each time an emergency vehicle passes. In fact, when a fire department pumper went by a few minutes ago with its siren screaming and its many red and blue lights pulsating, I would have given anything to have been able to jump on board and been part of the crew. Fire or EMS, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Paid or volunteer, active or retired, firefighters are forever part of a close-knit fraternity. There are no meetings, and there are no dues, but it’s a fraternity nonetheless. That’s because no matter where they live or serve, firefighters are called on to do many of the same kinds of jobs using the same principles, and they experience the same emotions. Borrowing a line from ABC’s old “Wide World of Sports” program, firefighters all experience the same “thrill of victory and agony of defeat.”

In the old days, you could accurately say firemen were part of a brotherhood. But things change, and women are now a valuable and, in most places, welcome part of the fire service. So the word “firemen” has become “firefighter” and “brotherhood” is now “fraternity,” and I’m just fine with that.

I spent 27 years as an active duty Walcott (Iowa) volunteer firefighter, 14 of them as one of the department’s first-ever group of emergency medical technicians. There were only four of us in the beginning (1979) and, until others received the training, we felt obligated to respond to every call for which we were available.

Although I’m now on the WFD Auxiliary, helping out mainly with public relations and media relations tasks when asked, I hung up my helmet in 2003.

I was burned out from responding to an increasing number of calls for service, and my work schedule at that time prohibited me from attending most of the department business meetings and training sessions.

Now, seven years later, I’m no longer burned out, and my schedule has eased since I am semi-retired these days. Some of the more senior current firefighters — friends I served with way back when who are still at it — have told me I should consider returning to active duty.

I thought about it but have decided not to re-up. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to help. Like many volunteer units, WFD is short-handed during daytime hours when many of the members are at work in the Quad-Cities.

I truly miss the fire department, serving the residents of Walcott and those outsiders who’ve had accidents, car fires or medical problems while passing through.

But what I’ve gained in knowledge and experience over the years is now offset by age and a body that, thanks to too many years of the good life, is certainly not as fit as it once was. And firefighting can be quite demanding.

In addition, the memory of how much I enjoyed being part of a team that worked well together when there was a job to do and played together when the job was done is offset the memory of missed nights of sleep, interrupted family gatherings and the heartache firefighters often feel when they’ve done all they can to help someone, but it hasn’t been enough.

That doesn’t mean, though, that this lifetime member of the firefighting fraternity doesn’t still get excited at sound of a pumper’s approaching siren, the roar of its engine and the rumble of its tires on the pavement, whether it’s home or in the big city.

An old firefighter never quite gets over that.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on December 3, 2010 in Uncategorized


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