Sunday, September 25, 2011

In the Moments before Autolyse...

This morning after I had just got home from church, and was standing over my KitchenAid to continue a bread that began yesterday, I got the text message than my Gram had passed away a half hour before. I knew this day was close, and that her body was rapidly failing, but I still read the words with a tinge of disbelief. I haven't lost many people in my family, none so close as she was to me, but the grief I felt seemed somehow laced with joy. Joy that she is in a new and better place, joy that she is no longer in pain, joy that a flood of good memories could overwhelm me.

I think grandparents are so tremendously important, and my Gram was certainly an amazing woman and an important fixture in our lives. Since our houses were only about a half mile apart, we saw her nearly daily all throughout my childhood. She provided us with goat's milk in glass bottles with paper stoppers, she knit us woolens from her flock of sheep, she shared the bounty of her garden and her pantry. After I started 1st grade, my brother and I would get off the school bus at her house after school, where there would be remnants of lunch for us to pillage from the Shop kitchenette for a snack. (My Gram and my uncles ran an upholstery business, and my Gram brought lunch over from her next-door home every day. There were always leftovers.)

My Mom was the only girl, the middle of two older and two younger brothers, and even as a child I could sense the bond between a mother and her only daughter, something I have come to know with my own Mom, but something I'll never know with a child of my own. It somehow felt very fitting that I read this news when crafting a bread, the backbone of my daily life, the staple I am most proud to make myself and one that my Gram was very proficient in herself.

There isn't a whole lot that hasn't already been written about bread, sometimes I feel like it's a subject that is somewhat exhausted though nonetheless interesting. The bread I have made for the past year has been mostly "slow" bread, wild yeast bread that is at the mercy of it's environment, a product as much of the weather as of my contributions to it. I can never tell if it will work the way I want, but strangely it is always edible - something good always coming from what at times seems like disaster. The loss I'm feeling now is not that different, the timing of mixing a new loaf just as the old one was down to it's last slice: it is the inevitable circle of life that propels me forward as a cog in it.

It could feel insignificant, each person moving in his or her own circles, briefly moving along the motions of life that sometimes connect us and sometimes do not. But people like my Gram bury themselves deep inside you, the twinkle in her blue eyes that never dimmed even as she could no longer see. She had a profound love of life and the ability to make the most of it, be it with meager rations or with plenty. I have a feeling that she touched more people than she realized, and I know she meant more to me than I ever probably conveyed. She has left an incredible impression on me, a stellar example of how to be independent and productive as well as faithful and diligent.

The bread that continues to rise now and will bake later tonight will continue to remind me of her, and I'm figuring the number of loaves out of the oven for the next several weeks will as well. Let them be a testament to her life, her steadfast and sureness, all of her reminders to me through her quiet ways to live my life well, so that I have no regrets at the end.


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. It sounds like she was really incredible.

    I am enjoying your blog and noticed you have many of my same interests! I left work so I can be home full time...I love it!

    I am also interested in learning the art of making great bread, so I'll be visiting your site a lot to check up on you!


  2. I'm so sorry for your loss. This was such a beautifully written piece. Through your writing I can see that your Gram is leaving a valuable legacy.

  3. That was just lovely. Thank you for sharing it with us. Please know that you have my sympathy and my understanding.

    My grandmother has been gone for nearly 15 years now and I still miss her all of the time, but, like you, my grief is mixed with the happy memories I have of time I spent with her and all that it meant to me.

    My favorite memories with her are of the time we spent in the kitchen and outside together. She taught me to make spaghetti sauce, cabbage balls (stuffed cabbage), and coffee so strong I call it Cowboy Coffee because it could float a horseshoe. (I stole that from Louis L'Amour.) I have the bowls she always served spaghetti and the sauce from, and it eases my heart a little every time I do the same. That sense of continuity brings a kind of depth to a meal that makes it so much more than just eating. Outside she shared her knowledge and love of nature that was a great bond between us from my earliest memories.

    I don't have children, myself, so I will miss making those memories with my own kids and grandkids, but I can and do spend time in the kitchen with my niece and nephew, and I'm always aware that we are not cooking a meal, we are making memories.

    I'm sending you a big, sisterly hug and I wish you peace.

  4. Thank you, everyone. It is a bittersweet time, filled with remembering - and I appreciate your comforting words, and stories !


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