I’ve been thinking about her lately, especially as I kneaded the bread dough on Sunday. The year before she died, she and I made Greek Easter bread together.
It was the first time I had made this cake-like bread. Ma’s hands were stiff from the rheumatoid arthritis she suffered from, so I kneaded the dough, enjoying its feel and yeasty aroma. I remember that day for many reasons; the companionship and common purpose we shared, the anticipation of family coming to our house the next day for Easter dinner, the conversation that comes when women bake together. I also remember how much the yeast rose. We were both astonished at how it grew and that we were able to get two very substantial loaves where there should have been only one.
I’ve also been thinking about my dad, who passed away 43 years ago last Thursday. Holy Thursday by the Orthodox calendar. He died on a Holy Thursday in April. Another April 12.
As I thought about the bread making and the hymn learning, I thought about other things I learned from my parents. The sit-down lessons of childhood, the practical lessons of living, and I thought of the last lesson Ma and Daddy gave me together. It was 43 years ago, in a hospital room on a bright April day. I was nineteen.
Daddy was bedridden, jaundiced and swollen with cancer. His was barely able to communicate, his voice all but gone. I was home for spring break. I spent every day at the hospital, our last time together. My mom worked as a cashier, standing on her feet six to eight hours at a time, yet she came to the hospital each day.
My parents, like most of their era, were not demonstrative with each other. They didn’t hug or embrace in our presence. Though I knew they loved and respected each other, I don’t recall more than a peck on the cheek for affection.
My dad was fidgeting that day, unable to get comfortable, in pain, his feet jerking under the bed covers. Without a word, Ma got up from her chair, pulled the sheets up off of his feet, and rubbed them. Now, my dad was never barefoot. He always wore shoes or slippers. Always. I felt a little embarrassed. A few moments passed and I felt Daddy looking at me, his eyes waiting until his and mine locked. In a raspy voice, barely over a whisper, he said to me
“See. Your mother can barely stand on her own feet, yet she is standing here rubbing mine.”
My father was still giving lessons. He was acknowledging what a caring woman my mother was, respecting her and honoring her selflessness and sacrifice. He was showing me the way to an adulthood he would never see me reach. My mom was showing by example, though I know she never thought about it. She was just doing what she could to ease his pain and, in doing so, showing me compassion and love.
The lessons are always there, my friends. The lessons are always there.