Pacific Ocean

THE DINNER ROLL RECIPE

“It’s time for us to move back to the Bay Area,” said my father.  “We need to live closer to you — not with you — but near you.”  At 85 he finally admitted to himself that my mother was slipping away and she would need more care than he could provide.  Not yet diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease, she was showing all of the signs.  I had noticed her failing as well, but the decision to leave their lovely home located between Sebastopol, California and Bodega Bay which boarders the gentle Pacific had to be theirs.

The little farm as the family lovingly titled my parent’s retirement home had been a gathering place for more than 20 years and tradition at Thanksgiving.   All of that time she and my father bought the bird from a local turkey farm while the rest of us brought the side dishes.  The one thing, however, that no one even ventured to duplicate were the dinner rolls straight from Mama’s oven.

Whether the recipe was her own, her mother’s or one clipped from a magazine we never knew.  What we did know was the roll recipe was tucked away in her black, loose-leaf binder among the other clippings and hand-written cooking treasurers collected through all the years of her married life.  My sisters and I never asked for the recipe because the rolls were Mama’s speciality.  Being a wonderful cook she prepared other specialities as well when there was an occasion or if she felt inspired, but when she was busy, food was plain and simple, “and better for you in the long run,” she assured us.  So it was that we grew up experiencing a few culinary delights as well as steamed potatoes still in their jackets and vegetables cooked in “waterless” cookware.

With their final decision to move absolutely firm, Ken and I looked, and found, an ideal house for them just a few blocks from us.  Four months later I drove the two-hour trip to begin packing with the family coming the following week for the big move.  Mama saved everything.  My job with the help of my niece Denise was not only packing, but also included sorting through some 60-plus years of accumulation.  Dad’s job was to keep those empty boxes coming, and Mama’s job was to see that we were all fed and happy.  After all, she was a wonderful cook.

As we sat down for dinner Denise and I looked at one another with the same thought, “What is thisssss?”  Tasting did not answer the question.  Too much spice, too much salt and too much of whatever else it was that she found in her food supply which made up the mystery dish.  My father, who usually wolfed down his meals in a matter of minutes, ate everything on his plate, but it was an obvious effort, and because he was hungry.   Denise and I dabbled with our food then went back to packing.  Mama, we agreed, had forgotten how to cook.  Following that first night one of us worked with her preparing dinner and I told my dad that he would have to help Mama in the kitchen once they moved into their new home.  Either that or he would have to get used to guess-what dinners.  I had known that Alzheimer’s was stealing away my mother’s thoughts and memories, but I hadn’t realized it was stripping away her skills as well.

When I packed the kitchen supplies, I placed all of her cookbooks in one box, sealed it up realizing that it would be unlikely she would ever use them again.  At the new home I placed the box on a shelf in the garage, planning to glean the best of her recipes and to browse through the black binder at a later date.

The later date didn’t come until after she was gone.  Picking up the dilapidated binder I thought about the aroma of her freshly baked rolls which had beckoned us to the dinner table on so many memorable occasions.  Page by page I searched, but to no avail.  There was no recipe for the rolls I remembered.  Instead of being tucked away in a book it was no doubt tucked away somewhere in the corner of her mind.

Even after  nearly two decades I find that every so often a thought races through my head, “I’ll call Mama and ask her about …..?”  But just as quickly reality follows; Mama isn’t here and a thousand little questions will never have answers.  Nor will I ever make rolls as delicious as the ones she made.

Originally posted 2009-06-04 06:23:00.

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