A Memory for Mother’s Day

Unknown-2Every year as Mothers’ Day approaches, I feel the absence of mine, though I’m seventy-one and she died in 1992. Yesterday, preparing a sandwich, I thought about her homemade bread.

Mom baked eight loaves of bread at a time, as often as needed, for her ever-hungry husband and seven children. We youngsters hoped for white bread, but our parents favored whole wheat. Dad said the whole grain would put hair on our chests—a questionable sales pitch to use with his daughters.

Baking day highlighted our week. When we came home from school to a loaf of freshly baked bread, churned butter, and homemade strawberry jam, we behaved, as our mother once remarked, like young pigs at a trough: squeals of excitement, jostling for position, and dedication to our task.

Sometimes Mom took fistfuls of the rising dough, patted them flat, and dropped them into hot grease in her cast-iron skillet to fry to a golden brown. We called them scones and would have sold our birthright for them.

Other times, she used some of the dough to make cinnamon rolls with lots of raisins. We thought our cousins from Provo, who wrinkled their noses and removed the raisins, were a bit deranged. My younger sister Barbara preferred her cinnamon rolls unbaked, or, in her words, raw. But she liked the raisins, so we forgave her.

If out of bread and short of time, Mom made baking powder biscuits, which we also devoured. Whenever I invited my high school boyfriend to eat with us, he’d ask, “Is your mom making biscuits?” as though they were the only attraction.

Strangely enough, my siblings and I sometimes had trouble eating these same biscuits. On occasion, if we were out of milk or the cow was dry, Mom would substitute bottled tomatoes for the liquid in the recipe. This substitution turned the biscuits a sickly pink, marbled with darker streaks of red tomato.

Chewing on them, I felt vaguely cannibalistic.

When we moved from Lake Shore to Spanish Fork, Blaine watched while Dad took apart the round oak kitchen table to load in the truck. Underneath, a hidden ledge circled the pedestal that supported the top. Blaine claims that when Dad detached the top from the pedestal, twenty-two petrified tomato-laced biscuits fell to the floor, some partially eaten.

Myrl Hall Bray, my mother

Myrl Hall Bray

Recently, walking through my neighborhood in Craig, I smelled baking bread and instantly became a child again, standing in a patch of kitchen sunlight with hands freshly washed, allowed to punch my fists into a huge batch of risen bread dough, enjoying the smooth stickiness and burping bubbles of its collapse. I laughed, and Mom smiled over at me from the sink.

She was always there. Though she lives in my memories, I miss her every day.

Have any thoughts on Mother’s Day?
Please comment below.

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25 thoughts on “A Memory for Mother’s Day

  1. I so enjoyed reading this. My mother didn’t bake bread, but she sure baked pies and cakes. I think of her every day, but when Mother’s Day comes, I think about her all day. She had me when she was 42 and wasn’t here to attend her grandchildren’s (Molly and Ben) graduation or marriage, but I know she was with us in spirit on those occasions. I still remember our phone number and STILL think “I should call mom” even though she’s been gone since 1982. Memories….

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    • Corrine, I’m so happy to hear from you. I always sensed we shared a strong love for our parents and siblings and your comment verifies my belief. “I should call mom,” frequently echoes in my mind as well. I wish I’d had a chance to meet your mom.

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  2. I too miss my mother everyday. I don’t think I was nice enough to her as she aged and now that I am aging I wish she were here so I could ask her questions about it. I hear her come out of my mouth and cringe and then smile a bit.

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    • I find myself in your comment as well, Jeannie. I often wish I’d thought to ask Mom how she handled different aspects of aging. I comfort myself that perhaps she wished she had talked more to her mother!

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  3. I loved this exquisitley woven memory. When I was a girl we too had a round table with benches for sitting. The benches came together in the corner providing a little hidey hole for the detested cod liver oil pills we gagged on daily. (I think they were the forerunner of the fish oil pills of today) Of course that didn’t work for long. My next attempt at avoidance was even more short lived. I thought putting mine in my Mom’s morning tea was a perfect solution, as the dreaded pills were tea colored. You guessed jit. As soon as they hit the hot tea they immediately melted into an oil spill in her teacup. Oh me! I think it best not to go any further. Thanks Janet for the ongoing blog. It gives me pleasure. K

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    • Thank you, Kay. Your comment gave me pleasure. I could picture your expression as you watched the detested pill melt into oil in your mother’s teacup. A great anecdote.

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  4. You just made me cry. I, too, miss my mother every single day. I was lucky to have her live with me the last years of her life. Watching the relationship between my children and her is a memory I’ll never forget.

    I love your blog and frankly, yours is the only Blog I read consistently read which began with the post about your uncle-which was a hoot! Thank you for the memories…my mother was French and she was an excellent cook (everything had an incredible sauce…sigh) although she did not bake bread nor did we have churned butter. She also refused to entertain the idea of camping — she thought it to be the most ridiculous idea as she said, “I have no intention of cooking and cleaning on my vacation. Hotels are here for a reason!” And she never did….

    Thank you!
    Franny

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    • Thank you for reading my blog, Franny. I look forward to spending some time on yours. What wisdom there was in your mother’s hilarious comment about camping. I wish I’d been wise enough to use it during my years as a young wife. I think your mom was also lucky to be able to spend her last years living with you and your children.

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  5. My mother lived to 97 years old. She died in March of 2012, but, due to her dementia, the real her had left several years ago. I miss her as she was when I was young, but I do not miss the person she became. She was a loving mother, especially to me, since I was the youngest and the only boy. I think my sisters resented my place in her heart.

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    • Such sadness in your comment, “…due to her dementia, the real her had left several years ago,” and such happiness in your memories of her as a loving mother. Being a sister, I have to defend yours by asking if they ever said anything to you or if you could have imagined their resentment? I sometimes acted put-out with my two youngest brothers, but loved them dearly.

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      • I probably imagined their resentment. They actually loved me as much as my mother. Thanks for calling that to my attention. I am surprised to know that we are the same age. My birthday is 8/16/42.

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  6. I miss Mom Bray everyday. You will be happy to know that JL continues making our weekly bread from Mom’s recipe. We also make scones, cinnamon rolls, etc. Our children were fortunate to grow up with the homemade bread he prepared. To learn to make it he spent the day with Mom baking bread. She gave us her loaf pans and the big stainless steel bowl for us to use. So, when it’s bread making day Mom is there with us.

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  7. I so like reading about Grandma Bray; I never got to know her nearly as well as Grandpa or my Browning grandparents simply because of distance and how young I was when she passed away. Hearing stories like this from you and mom (and the rest of the family, during the inevitable family reunion “Remember When?” period) makes me feel like I know her just a bit better.

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    • If my blog does nothing other than sharing my parents and siblings with the next generation, I’ll feel my time was well spent. Thank you, thank you, for this comment Shawna.

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  8. This is such a lovely story. It’s hard for me to imagine baking the family’s bread from scratch every week, but at one time mothers had to do just that. They probably didn’t even think it was noteworthy. I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I manage to make a trip to the grocery store.

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  9. good evening Janet, my comment may have lost in the blog, so here I am again- loved your post, fine tribute to your Ma. Mine left in 1995, she taught me to bake to. Delighted that you are enjoying Godfrey, when I read at open mic nights, it is curious to note how many young men relate to his story.How wonderful that we both write works of the heart..thank you from Sheila.

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    • Thank you for this comment and for your email, Sheila. Chocolate cake every Sunday! How wonderful that you learned to bake from your mom. I wish I had. I’m also impressed that you read at open mic nights. That takes courage.

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  10. Hi Janet; open Mic can be nerve- racking, especially reading a rambling story of one who disliked beets, my favorite was outdoors about a year ago. Just as I began to read, wind and hail TORE through the city square, the tent canopy blew away, everyone bolted for cover, I kept on reading . One of the fellows, before the storm got the hook for taking too long, a sad tale of a dog he had when he was four, he came back our next session and with a grin picked up where he left off. Your stories would be lovely read aloud. The tomato biscuits were probably yummy, My Ma when low on cash made us toasted ketchup sandwiches, cooked black under the broiler, I grew up thinking everyone ate toasted ketchup..catch you next Tues, Sheila.

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  11. Janet, through your book, columns, posts, and our conversations, I feel like I knew your mother, although we never met. You’ve honored your mother by writing and speaking so lovingly about her, and I wish I’d had a chance to sit with you both and eat fresh bread and strawberry jam. This picture of her youth is beautiful. I think she radiates a soft kindness, but from your writing I know she was strong when she needed to be. How fortunate she was your mother.

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  12. I was fortunate, Mary, though I didn’t always think so when Mom was trying to overcome my slothful nature. Even when young, I loved this particular photograph. Thank you for your comment and for being such a faithful reader.

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  13. Janet, You inspired me to go looking for this poem I wrote for my mom on her 75th birthday. And to be brave enough to share it.

    When we needed to be fed or changed
    or sung to or colored with,
    You were there and you did it
    With a smile.

    When we needed a birthday cake decorated
    or wallpaper hung or a costume sewn,
    When we needed a haircut or a Band-Aid
    You were there and you did it,
    With a smile.

    When we needed a room mother
    or den mother or Brownie leader,
    When we needed a place to build a homecoming float,
    You were there and you did it
    With a smile.

    You were there saying
    “Of course”
    “No problem”
    “We’ll figure out a way.”

    You were there
    Saying “Yes”
    Saying “No”
    Guiding, protecting,
    Warning, teaching,
    Applauding us,
    Loving us.

    And when people wonder
    where we learned what we know,
    How we came to be who we are– we smile.

    We know it is because
    You were there and you did it
    With a smile.

    Of all the mothers we could have chosen,
    we’re glad we chose you

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