EDGINGTON -- At the back of the gas station/convenience store, she takes the faded, narrow yellow linoleum steps up to the place she has called home for 57 years.
Earlier, she made her bed, same as she does every morning. After getting dressed for the day, 103-year-old GraceKaiser arrived at the local beauty shop to get her hair washed.
"Every Thursday morning, no matter what, she's here," said her beautician, Pam Fuhr, owner of Kountry Kutters salon in rural Taylor Ridge. "I used to go get her. She's never driven. Never had a license.
"She brings me treats, cakes. She was funny today."
Now, Mrs. Kaiser is at home, relaxing in her chair next to the overhead lamp.
After a nap, she'll take her grandson's arm and grocery shop later in the day. If she's not too tired, maybe she'll bake one of her famous chocolate cakes like she does every week.
On Sundays, she takes cookies to Edgington Presbyterian Church for the children.
"I don't bake them," she said. "I buy two or three packages and give them to the kids."
Mrs. Kaiser lives alone above what was once her family's grocery store, serving the rural Rock Island county area for more than 50 years. By today's standards, it would be a small grocery store.
But in its time, Edgington Food and Locker was a nice fit for the nearby farmers and neighbors. Many farmers bought their food, sometimes running up a few thousand dollars worth on credit, with a handshake and a promise to pay back later in the season.
"And they always did," said Mrs. Kaiser's son, Ken, 81, of Andalusia.
She walks through this home of memories without the aid of a cane or a walker, slightly stooped, smile on her face, content with the roads she has traveled. She raised her three boys, two of whom are deceased, with her late husband, Elmer, and went to work down those same linoleum steps each morning before retiring at age 92.
"My husband came out here and opened all this country for them," she said.
Ken Kaiser ran the store's meat locker, cutting meat for 11- and 12-hour days. His mother and father ran the store, his mother ordering the groceries and keeping the books.
"Back then, they'd butcher right on the farm," Ken said. "We had a butcher who would go out in his pickup truck. He did a heck of a job. Right in the feed lot, he'd butcher (cattle and hogs).
"They'd come in clean, and I'd wash them again. Our coolers were always full. Just packed."
As her son speaks, Mrs. Kaiser's blue eyes awaken to when people bustled downstairs, walking the few store aisles, getting their goods.
"We had the best soup bones in the world," she said. "If you get a knuckle bone, the meat around it, oh, it was wonderful.
"Now, if you ask for a soup bone, they give you a bone. There's nothin' on it."
She said the meat locker was particularly popular during deer season.
"They used to stack 'em up," she said. "Hang as many as they could, then, the rest would lie on the floor."
The grocery business had a different flavor then.
Back in the 1950s, farmers would walk in and sit on a sack of peanuts, talking about the weather or politics or who was doing what in the area. One man, Ken Kaiser remembers, would eat the peanuts out of the shell as he sat on them, saying he was, "eating the seat out from under him."
At other times, Mrs. Kaiser would buy a truckload of peaches, telling the local telephone operator to spread the word.
"She'd put out a line call," her son said. "She'd say, 'Anybody want peaches at the store? Peaches at the store, they just come in.' "
Soon, the countryside would buzz with activity, people arriving at the Edgington market.
"They'd be coming in from all directions, getting those peaches," Ken remembers. "It was a party line, so you're talking to somebody, everybody else would listen."
Connecting with the past
Mrs. Kaiser was born in Ladd, Ill., in 1908, and grew up in LaSalle.
She enjoys food, and connects with her past through the tastes and smells of her mother's cooking on a kerosene stove.
She remembers her parents putting a sign up in the window indicating how many pounds of ice they'd need from the ice man traveling through on his horse.
Mrs. Kaiser remembers her mother giving her 25 cents to buy some boiling beef and a pound of dried northern beans for supper.
"And, I'd have a nickel left for me," she said."We had a big family. There was eight of us. Boiled beef for our supper, put a slice of bread on your plate and the bean soup over the top -- that's really wonderful food.
"I still get a hunger for that every once in a while."
She worked at the former Westclox plant in LaSalle as a bookkeeper. She met her husband one night during a local dance.
"We'd been to the auditorium and I was just coming off the dance floor," she remembered. "For 25 cents you could go up and dance. I went with my girlfriend.
"I had my head turned, and he (Elmer Kaiser) was lighting a cigarette with his feet sticking out.
"And, I fell over him, and he grabbed me. And, that's how I met him."
Mrs. Kaiser said married women were not allowed to work at the Westclox plant. In 1929, the couple moved to Moline and Elmer started Hilltop Tire and Battery Service up the hill on 15th Street Place.
Elmer Kaiser then worked in the wholesale grocery business. Eventually, they moved to Edgington, where they purchased the store and moved upstairs.
Ken Kaiser took over the store in the 1990s and sold it in 2000. Today, it goes by the Rocket Stop, Inc.
His mother retired along with her son. She keeps busy, traveling with Ken to visit grandchildren. She's visiting her only surviving sibling, a 91-year-old sister, in North Carolina in the coming weeks.
"I love to travel," she said.
Sweet memories, sweet tooth
GraceKaiser always has enjoyed her sweets and desserts.
She remembers a friend bringing a sack of apples to her every Sunday morning.
"I'd spend my whole Sunday afternoon peeling apples and making pies," she said. "I'd call the kids in and say, 'Come and have some pie and ice cream.' "
Ken Kaiser savors the homemade lemon pies his mother made.
"I made it with lemons, too," she said. "Most people didn't know when you made a lemon pie, you had to grate the rind and put it in to give it flavor."
When a reporter said he never heard of that, Mrs. Kaiser shot back, "Well, you're not a cook."
She enjoyed being with people, learning the day's gossip, helping someone if she could. She especially enjoyed the children coming into her store.
Penny candy, nickel bars, she was a softy when she saw the children, doling out sweets for no charge. If they were relatives, even better, her son said.
"She'd give them a bag and say, 'Just go fill that up with candy,' " he said.
Even today, she'll buy a couple hundred dollars worth of chocolates when her son takes her out.
"Yes, I want good chocolate," she said. "I love it."
Now, things are quiet for the most part. But, she isn't forgotten.
"I grew up next to that grocery store," Ms. Fuhr said. "Everybody knows her as Mrs. Kaiser. At least, the kids that have grown up with me do.
"If we have a question or want to know someone's name, we call her."
Mrs. Kaiser seems to know more than she's saying. The smile is genuine, the result of a century's worth of interacting with people.
"When you're in business, you get used to talking to people," she said. "People coming into your store all the time.
"Now, I've had a happy life. I've had good parents. A good husband."
Her son interupts her train of thought.
"And, she's been doing those steps for 57 years," he said.
"I said you've been going up and down those steps for 57 years."
Today is Thursday, June 20, the 171st day of 2013. There are 194 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: The latest interpretation of the conscription law is said to be that $800 can be paid for an exemption, in which case the person will be eligible for call ina subsequent draft; or a substitute can be furnished. In the latter case, if the substitute isaccepted, the person he represents is exempted for that draft period. 1888 -- 125 years ago: A floral concert presented by Central Presbyterian Church womenattracted a large crowd yesterday. 1913 -- 100 years ago: Milton Reed, infielder on the Davenport baseball club, has beensold to the Philadelphia National league team. 1938 -- 75 years ago: The State Bank of Rock Island has doubled its capital structure,raising it to $1 million, according to Lewis B. Wilson, president of the bank. 1963 -- 50 years ago: The American Wind Symphony Orchestra will present two concertsin the Quad-Cities on Aug. 6, performing from its specially equipped stage-barge. Thebarge, which is traveling the Mississippi River route, will be moored just off the shore forthe concerts. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Fines for overdue items at the Rock Island Public Library are beingincreased to 10 cents per day per item effective July 1. Fines will not be prorated onbooks returned after that date.