Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Mother’s Hands.

Long piano fingers so elegant and lovely.

I miss Ma.  Sharing cups of tea.  Or lingering conversations on a quiet summer evening.  Laughing until we cried.  Long walks through the neighborhood.  Enjoying the pleasure of each others company.  Mother and daughter stuff.  All such lovely things that I cherish and hold dear.  But of all those things, it is her hands that I pine for.  Reach out and wish that they were resting next to mine.  Hand in hand.  Beautiful.  Comforting. Tender.  Reassuring.

Her touch was my first.  My touch was one of her last.

Her fingers were long, thin and graceful.  Pulsing with veins.  Like indigo rivers across translucent terrain.  We used to call them piano fingers because they could easily span an octave of keys.  She never played an instrument.  Except the music of her heart.

Her hands were hard working.  Dependable and strong.  They understood the connection between soap, water and a scrub brush.  A dish rag and a scouring pad.  Intimately.  Thoroughly.  Hardwood, tile, linoleum and wall to wall.  Down on all fours.  Scoured and cleaned.  Washed and wiped. Polished and shined.  Gleaming with pride.

Ma loved clean laundry.  Before washing machines were automatic, she filled her wringer washer daily.  Pulled her family’s clothes, piece by piece, through the hard rubber rollers.  Filled her wicker basket then meticulously hung the day’s laundry on the line to dry. Wooden pegs and twisted wire.  Summer or winter.  Spring or autumn.  The sparkling laundry fluttered and flew and often froze.  Board stiff long johns and flannelette nighties.  Her magical hands orchestrated it all with ease.  Held it close and let it go.

Hands that could cook up a storm.

Her hands were a sight to behold in the kitchen.  She cooked and baked.  Stirred and tossed.  Kneaded and coaxed.  Folded and cut.  Meals were prepared with tenderness.  Cookies were baked with love.  Cakes were dressed and adorned for every occasion.  Table was set.  Dinner was served.  Dishes washed and carefully put away.  Countertops glistened.  The floor was swept.  The refrigerator hummed with contentment.  Such power in those hands.

A paint brush found its place to dwell.  Between her thumb and pointer finger.  Strokes and splashes across the canvas.  Dabs and feather light lines.  Details drawn.  Smudges and smears.  Oil on canvas.  Flowers and trees.  Fruit in bowls.  The Sleeping Giant.  Artistic.  Expressive. Imaginative wondrous hands.

Her hands held books and magazines.  On topics diverse and sundry.  Her hands were eager to learn. To grasp the meaning of life.  To find the truth.  To seek wisdom.  To scratch her head when none of it made sense.

Fabric was transformed in her hands.  Curtains from calico.  Tablecloths from cheerful colorful cotton. Dresses from wool or the softest silk.  Jumpers from baby wale corduroy.  Skirts that twirled and flared.  Slacks that zipped or buttoned.  Shirts were crisp or casual.  A surprise dress at the end of a school day.  A new wardrobe to start the year.  Machine sewn.  Hand stitched.  Embroidered edges.  Guide me home.

Hands that gripped life and love and held on tight.

The exquisite hands that caressed my newborn head.  Supported me while I learned to walk.  Clasped my hand on my first walk to school.  Tended to my scraped knees.  Wiped the tears from my eyes when my heart was torn and broken.  Touched my shoulder with the language of love.  Embraced.  Hugged.  Carried.   Stroked.  Hands that gripped and held on tight.  To love.  To life.

Young hands.  Mother’s hands.  Old hands.  Grandma’s hands.  May they reach down from heaven and touch this daughter’s heart tonight.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth.

Ma’s Recipe Box.

I bake.  Cookies mostly.  But sometimes cakes on someone’s birthday.  Or pies at Christmas or Thanksgiving.  I love everything about baking – the ingredients, the utensils, the smell, the warmth, the kitchen, the bittersweet memories.  Simply divine.

Ma taught me how to bake and cook.  Not by instruction but more by osmosis and illustration.  And by surprise.  My fondest memory from childhood is that of walking in the backdoor after school and inhaling the delicious aroma of something freshly baked.  Heaven scent.  Growing up, our kitchen was the hub of the house.  A Mecca that attracted all, not just us kids but our friends as well.  It was where we ate of course, but it was also so much more.  In a way it was Sacred Ground, the place where things got discussed, prayed about, laughed and cried over, and most importantly, where Ma served tea with delectable treats.  This was her turf, the place where she was most at ease where she could express herself creatively through the things she made with her hands.  Not just the food but other things too.  The curtains embracing the windows, the paintings adorning the walls, the cheerful tablecloth.  All wonderful expressions of her God-given talent to make much with very little.

Little back story.  Ma taught herself how to do pretty much everything.  Her mother died when she was three and her father at ten.  She was raised, along with her four sisters, by her maternal grandmother who taught her manners; how to pick lettuce from the garden and turn that into the best sandwich in the world; how to embroider and transform the drab to lovely with a few colorful stitches; and how to love unconditionally.  Ma learned how to bake and cook by doing and perfecting.  I learned by watching and eating.

Ma shared a lot of her favorite recipes with me over the years.  She even gave me the recipe box that came with her first “modern” stove.  A Gurney.  I still have the box.  It’s a magnificent piece of vintage memorabilia, tin construction, red and cream enamel with “Recipes” embossed on the front.  I cherish this gift.  The Gurney Box came complete with a set of recipes covering everything from Beverages to Vegetables. No A nor W X Y Z.  The best categories were in the middle – Cakes, Cookies and Pastries. The super stars of the box.  But my favorite recipes are Ma’s handwritten gems.  These are the ones that have seen better days, are tattered, smudged, splattered, greasy, barely legible. But it doesn’t matter.  I know them by heart.

The days prior to Christmas I become a marathon baking fiend, along with my sugar-sweet grand daughter, who has my mother’s beautiful dark eyes and easy smile.  I pull out all of Ma’s ancient recipes.  Sometimes I cry when I see her handwriting but mostly I’m comforted by these artifacts of her, little pieces of Ma on scraps of paper torn from a memo pad or jotted on 3×5 recipe cards.  It takes me back to a small divine kitchen, a little piece of heaven on earth full of activity, laughter, tears, flour and lots of sugar.  Love.

Ma’s Chewy Ginger Snaps

Cream Together:
3/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses

Sift Together:
2-1/3 cups flower
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ginger & cinnamon
1/2 tsp closes
1/4 tsp salt

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.  Shape into 1-inch balls.  Roll in white sugar.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets @ 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Sweet and Simple.  Just like Ma.