I felt my mother settle beside me as I picked up a photograph … four generations of women, “you seem fragile sitting there with a half smile. I didn’t see your aging … the tellings of you as a grandmother … a great grandmother. It is as if I remained within a 6 year-old time frame while you rode a time train into your future.”
Eyes glistening and an acknowledging smile and nod, “Within an album is another image, a faded photograph … unique to the 60s and 70s. Together, on a couch…your grandmother, you, E, and I. Four generations.”
My left arm wrapped around your waist…my right hand reaching towards E. B, sitting on her mom’s lap, her dress pulled up … hiding her face, as toddlers are known to do, playing pick-a-boo. It is as if I was a conduit … arms reaching through the barriers of time…connecting each of you to the other.
Two moments of togetherness…four separate lives within one time frame … a telling of our ancestral heritage.
Tomorrow a birthday celebration, your great great granddaughter. Within her unabashed joy, glimpses of you.
Adopted 70 – 74 years ago. A teddy bear, 12 inches tall and 9 inches wide. A child’s toy stuffed with long, fine wood shavings. A faded pink ribbon … placed around the neck … frayed … a limp bow. A mishmash nose …the tip reconstructed with thick black thread. Missing mouth and eyes. Matted and worn wool body … the muted yellowish brown colors of early spring.
Well traveled … bits of time along the east and west coastlines of the United States as well as the mid-west and Rocky Mountains. Deployed with the family for 2 years in Australia.
The numerous times the childhood family and then my family moved … household items, furniture, toys, clothes left behind … moving sales, yard sales, donations, and tossed in the trash things … a shedding of things…leaving a trail of chosen and then discarded things.
Never though … photograph albums … ones she created for each of her children, her marriages, and her childhood family. Each one a chapter within a visual memoir … validating her life.
But why this one teddy bear … adopted during the first chapter of her life as a wife… a young mother of two girls?
A teddy bear … a child’s gift tucked away for safe keeping. Later an adult’s re-given gift of a mom’s unspoken memories kept close to her heart.
A pocket-sized hard board notebook…forest green within a package mailed from California. Black and white photographs of extended family…lent not given…to be returned to sender.
Within the notebook her father’s carefully written numbers…some lists seemed to be Union Pacific Railroad time schedules while others household expenses. In the back – two facing pages – a written exchange between a father and daughter.
She was his first born. She loved him. She felt his love and his gift of inclusiveness.
She knew her grandmother’s love. Sitting together in a rocking chair her grandmother reading aloud biblical scriptures, “I did not know what she was reading from the Bible. It was enough sitting on her lap…being close.”
His smoking…she loved watching him roll his cigarettes…and evenings at the neighborhood bar, two sources of discontent within the family.
It has been told that she sometimes accompanied him to that bar during family visits. There was that time, father and daughter sitting together at the bar … her mother and siblings outside at the window looking in.
They were walking together to the train station…the state mandated her education be a placement within a school for the deaf. When she first began school she was enrolled in the school in Idaho. Later, a transfer to Salem, a new state requirement – enrollments to be within the state. Home visits, family celebrations and holidays were now difficult to arrange.
His words … written words messaging understanding and reassurance. A writing style evoking calm. Her writing – a resigned resistance.
When she was 14 … away at school, a fatality at the railway roundhouse.
Peets’ coffee beans releasing its rich earthy scent throughout the house as the grinder cracks the beans with its annoying pulsating grating sounds. The scent of coffee easing away this irradiation as well as my morning mental fog…the rich, complex scent of dark roasted coffee.
Waiting to lick the spoon – to be shared with all who was home – I watched her stir the cake ingredients into a silky smooth batter. Then the ritual of pouring the batter into two greased and lightly floured round cake pans, the lifting a pan about 3 inches above the kitchen counter top and dropping it with a bang, “Air bubbles…we want then to escape from the batter.”
Closing the oven door, “if we open the door too early and if we are too rowdy, the cake will fall.”
A slightly tilted two-layered coffee flavored birthday cake with caramel flavored frosting. Burning candles randomly inserted waiting to receive a secret wish that will be carried away in the billowing smoke. A long forgotten birthday guest sitting across from me…skewed eye brows that said, “huh?”
A birthday cake recipe that included the morning coffee. Coffee that had filled the house with the faint scent of pungent earth and metal and the sounds of the gas stove’s circular flames. Flames that brought the water to boil and then lowered to insured the continual flow of water through Folger’s grounds beans.
She loved coffee. Coffee with milk and sugar. Yet, for us coffee was one of the three absolute Nos. Coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol. No discussion. End of sentence…full stop.
With a hidden agenda of nudging her to relent, I once described how my best friend’s 4 year-old brother would sit at their morning table and drink coffee with his mom, she replied, “That is their home.” End of discussion..full stop.
Huh? A coffee flavored birthday cake? For my 12th birthday?
An unknown added ingredient…a mother’s gift. A mother’s love bending the rules…just this one time.
Coffee flavored birthday cake
2 1/2 cups shifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup of whole milk
8 oz (2 sticks) of butter
3 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup of strong coffee
1 tablespoon of mother’s love
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean