Crouched down I retrieved the binder which is beyond bursting with recipes—some clipped from newspaper, some from magazines, while others were passed on. I knew what I was looking for when I flipped the tab marked “breads” to the side. Her long-hand penmanship came into view; involuntarily I sat on the cold tile beneath the open cabinet door, and felt both the cold from the stone, and the loss trickle into me.
The notebook paper stared back at me and before pulling it from its protective sheet cover I brushed the plastic with the palm of my hand. Did she sit at her dining room table and think about her mortality before she picked up the pen and hand wrote the instructions for making the most scrumptious cinnamon rolls ever? With closed eyes I tried to picture her in a house that has long since been sold, behind a window graced with roses, on a chair whose needlepoint cover has been stored in the attic two floors above where I sat cross-legged on the floor. No, I suspect not. Guessing at her thoughts I imagine her obsession with making the lines legible, and perhaps the joy sharing brought her, but not her mortality.
She was my husband’s Grandmother and at the last of her life she moved in with us. As cancer stripped her of her independence she gave herself over to me. Her disease had no regard for the countless hours she gave away to her family, community, and church. It ravaged her body cruelly and throughout the worst of it she never complained. There is an intimacy in giving care to a dying person–the backward slide from adulthood to virtual infantile dependency–rendered me humbled.
The night she died Jimmy and I together prepared her for bed…she had been in a coma for over a week. We whispered to her as we attended her needs…fresh sheets, nightgown, followed by an excerpt read from her beloved King James. Twist of the knob to leave the light on low and kisses to each cheek from us, we slipped from the room. Hours later, I woke from a deep sleep, I rose and descended the stairs. From the stairs I could see her just as we had left her in the dim glow of light.
I grabbed her hand and sat down. “Hi Grandma…it’s me Elin.” Her labored breathing filled my ears. I stared at the time worn crevices of her face while my thumb traveled to and fro absently against the top of her hand. Without warning her eyes opened and I watched as she searched the ceiling above us. A smile spread across her face as her gaze lighted on something I could not see—she went on smiling as tears made their way to her pillow.
Moments later as if escaping, her soul left her depleted body.
Since tucking her in for her permanent rest the ritual of making her rolls lay dormant; reasons that I gave included the labor making them entailed.
Sitting on that cold floor in a flood of memories, I knew better, I had been avoiding the pain associated with losing a woman I cherished so deeply. Eventually I left the tile surface, recipe in hand.
Later, with flour dust swirling around me from ingredients stirred into the bowl, my hands worked to create the velvety dough. As if playing in my own fingertips, I felt a piece of her come back to me. Even later she was there–as the fattened by yeast-drenched-in-sugar-glazed-rolls–were pulled from the oven. Surrounded by family, her family, the aroma of cinnamon hung in the air as we chewed and eyes met with “mms” of content.
I felt it, perhaps we all did, the gift of a tradition passed on, and in that sharing, her pure grace and love on this Thanksgiving was alive yet again.