She still lived in the same tiny two bedroom house my dad had grown up in.
Small living room, two small rooms, a kitchen.
The bathroom and dining room/laundry room were built on later.
In the 80′s.
A sticker on the tiny window of her front door read, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and you could smell the onions she was dicing before you even opened the door.
My grandmother’s house. This is where we gathered for Thanksgiving.
My dad was one of nine children, and eight out of the nine kids lived in their hometown. There were many years where eight of those kids, their spouses, and their children would ALL be gathered in that tiny two bedroom house on Atchison St. to celebrate Thanksgiving together.
If you got up out of your seat, too bad–you lost it.
If you sat next to the coffee pot, you were now in charge of getting EVERYONE coffee.
It was cramped. It was crowded. It was loud.
It was awesome.
My Aunt Doris was hilarious, always picking on Uncle Bobby–I can still remember her little giggle and the booming sound of her voice.
Aunt Mary would always bring “Dump Cake,” causing my mom and I to look at each other and try not to laugh at the horrible name for a dessert.
Grandma always had her own stick of butter right beside her.
So many pies. So many. And Grandma always made an apple pie because she knew it was my favorite.
And she made Chicken and Noodles because she knew they were my favorite. Served over mashed potatoes, it was Carb Heaven.
There were many years, however, that I didn’t particularly care for Thanksgiving.
The first bad Thanksgiving I can remember was shortly after I had my first few panic attacks. This particular Thanksgiving, I just laid on my grandma’s couch, trying so hard to figure out why I was dying. In the midst of laying there, I listened to the people coming and going.
I perked up when I heard someone say, “Shirley–are you okay?”
Slurred speech followed.
“Your eye is drooping!”
So, that was the day poor Aunt Shirley was taken to the hospital due to a stroke.
Or there was the year that I sat next to Aunt Bernice.
“Where’s my coffee cup?” she asked.
“Right there,” I pointed to the cup right in front of her.
“Oh! There it is!” she laughed.
A few moments later, she asked, “Where’s my coffee cup?”
Puzzled, I gave her a look and said, “Um, right there. In front of you.”
She laughed. ”Oh! It’s right there. I see it now.”
A few moments later. ”Where’s my coffee cup?”
I stopped eating in mid-bite and looked over at my mom.
“What’s going on with Aunt Bernice?!” I asked with my eyes.
“I’ll tell you later,” she told me back with her eyes.
Yes–that was the Thanksgiving I found out Aunt Bernice had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The next five or six Thanksgivings were spent with me back on Grandma’s couch because I had tonsillitis. One of those Thanksgivings, I told my parents I didn’t feel so good. We waited until the next day to go into the doctor, and while the doctor went to go get me a shot of antibiotics, I passed out in the room. The doctor heard the thud from three rooms over. I remember waking up to them saying something like, “Blood pressure is 50/60–get her to the E.R.”
And then in college, due to the fact that Blockbuster was open 365 days a year, I chose to work Thanksgiving so I could get off on Christmas.
Do you KNOW how many people rented movies on Thanksgiving?! It was insane.
“I can’t believe you guys are open on Thanksgiving!” they would say with a laugh while they sat their six movies on the counter.
“I can’t believe you’re IN here on Thanksgiving!” I would say with a laugh as I silently wanted to punch them in the face.
It has only been in recent years that I’ve actually enjoyed Thanksgiving.
We have hosted at our house due to my husband’s work schedule, we have celebrated at my mom’s house, and also at my in-laws’ house.
Crowded, cramped, loud–it’s everything it’s supposed to be.
Back at my grandmother’s house all those years for Thanksgiving, she would fix the “Brown and Serve” rolls on Thanksgiving–probably because it was easier on her with all the other cooking she was doing.
But everyone knew the recipe she was known for: Light Bread.
It started when she was a kid. She was responsible for getting up in the morning and getting the bread mixed up. During the middle of the day–while she was at school–her uncle would punch the dough down and let it rise again. When she got home from school, she pulled pieces of dough off and formed them into rolls to be baked.
The term “Light Bread” came from the color of the bread–not the consistency. The taste is incredible, and she continued making the bread when she had kids.
As her kids all got older, she made Light Bread less often as age was becoming a factor.
When she DID make it, though, it was an event.
Phone calls were made.
“Mom’s making Light Bread today.”
“Grandma’s making Light Bread today.”
And we would all come out of the woodwork.
She brought us together.
Light Bread brought us together.
You would walk into her house, the smell of bread covering you like a warm blanket, and there would be pans of bread…everywhere.
When she passed away, I knew it was the one recipe that should never die. Light Bread was my dad’s favorite thing his mom would make, and I knew I had to continue the tradition.
It was intimidating the very first time.
To start, make sure you have five pounds of flour on hand.
That’s right–five POUNDS of flour.
Throw in 2 packets of yeast (in cold weather), 1 cup sugar, 1 “handful” of salt, 2 cups of shortening, and 5 cups water.
Don’t skimp. Don’t substitute. Don’t try to make it healthy.
Don’t try to fix what’s not broken.
And you knead until your arms feel like limp spaghetti.
There was a reason my grandmother was built like a Hungarian mountainwoman. She kneaded bread a LOT growing up–and if you’ve never kneaded five pounds of flour, well, skip your cardio workout and upperbody program for the day.
You’re going to be JUST fine.
That’s right–that flour sack was full when I started, and now it’s empty.
Let the dough rise. Give it time. It’ll happen.
Form into rolls and place in every single pan you own in your kitchen. There will be bread rising all over your house. True story.
Bake ‘em until the tops are light brown. When they come out of the oven, smother them–and I mean smother–with butter.
And not margarine or Healthy Smart Butter or whatever that fake stuff is.
Smother them in real butter.
And then you let ‘em cool.
And then you watch as the miracle of Light Bread brings everyone together.
My Light Bread will never taste as good as her Light Bread. You need the small house, the smells of her kitchen, and…her…standing in the room.
But I can at least continue the tradition and pass it on to my kids so that something so special to our family never dies.
Thanks be to God for ALL of His blessings.
I hope you and all of yours have a VERY blessed Thanksgiving.