NORFOLK, Nebraska –
Ask anyone within 50 miles of Norfolk, Nebraska where to go for the best funnel cake in town and you’ll hear the same answer: “Go to Meemaw Jane’s. Her funnel cake is out of this world!”
Sadly, never a truer word was spoken, as mourners gathered at the former site of Meemaw Jane’s cake stand, the only structure left intact after a massive F4 tornado destroyed the town’s landscape, wiping out an entire community in an instant.
“It happened so fast,” said ‘Meemaw’s’ daughter, Barbara Treen. One minute it was bright and sunny, then all of a sudden, the clouds moved in, and just like all the people say on The Weather Channel, it sounded like a freight train right on top of the house — hailstones as big as my shoe, thunder and lightning. That’s the last thing I remember.”
“Meemaw Jane Treen’s funnel cakes sent more of this town’s young people to college than I can count on both hands,” said Norfolk Mayor Sue Fuchtman, as she placed a bouquet of flowers in the stainless steel fry cooker beside the Formica counter where Meemaw once proudly served. “Meemaw Jane donated so much of her proceeds to an educational fund for children wishing to study fairground culinary arts.”
“She hung on until the last customer got their cake,” recalled daughter Barbara. I started to pack up because the sky was getting dark. I told her ‘Turn off the oil and close up Meemaw,’ but she wouldn’t do it. There were still 2 customers waiting and she never let a customer go home empty handed. That’s the last thing I heard her say: ‘I never let a customer go home empty handed.’ And then, up she went.”
The tornado swept through town with less than a moment’s warning.
“Next thing I knew,” said Barbara, “I woke up in the parking lot under a pile of debris. I kept screaming ‘Where’s Meemaw? Where’s Meemaw’ but no one answered me. I knew she was gone.”
Meemaw Jane embodied the American success story. Originally from Denmark, Treen arrived in America with only a recipe, a dream, and fifty cents to her name. She settled in this small Nebraska town, set up shop, and became a local legend.
“Meemaw Jane’s legacy will live on for generations,” said Mayor Fuchtman. “Many of us took her classes – cotton candy making, toffee apple wrapping, meat on a stick – she was an inspiration to us all and we thank her for her service. Do you remember when the Food Network people came out to interview her just three short years ago?” asked the mayor. “I certainly do! That put us on the map and it’s just so sad.”
Meemaw’s bruised and battered remains were located 30 yards from her cake stand, flung atop an upturned recycling bin – her twisted and curled frame ironically resembling the shape of the thousands of funnel cakes she so tenderly prepared. The whereabouts of her last 2 customers are unknown.
“I didn’t even recognize her. Then I saw the apron,” said her daughter, through tears. “She was all coiled up with powdered sugar in her hair, just like an angel. She had a sweet little smile on her face. I covered her with the apron ‘til until the ambulance came. I bought her that silly apron and she just laughed and laughed,” said Treen, sobbing uncontrollably. “She wore it all the time. All the time.”
“We will rebuild,” said Mayor Fuchtman, and this funnel cake stand will be the new center of town! This spot shall be known from this day forward as The Meemaw Jane Memorial Cake Square,” she declared, her voice drowned out over the cheers and applause of the crowd. “We owe it to her! She will be missed!”
Treen vows to carry on the tradition that her mother began nearly 50 years ago. Addressing the crowd she said: “We’re going to get back out there and do what Meemaw would want us to do!” I promise you, the minute I get this back brace off, I’m going to stand tall, fire up some oil and get to frying!”
A makeshift flag pole was erected, Meemaw’s apron attached by its strings, flying at half-mast and waving in the gentle breeze — its message easing the pain felt by many. “Life Is Short – Eat Dessert First” it proudly proclaims, a fitting tribute to a town’s unforgettable and much loved Danish heroine.