This weekend was hard. There's no need to sugar coat it. What was originally planned to be a weekend full of merry Christmas parties and get-togethers changed in that one phone call -- my grandmother passed away Friday evening. I was dressed to the nines in a red cocktail dress and a gold scarf, brushing my teeth and waiting for a coworker to come over to ride to the company Christmas party when I got the call my Mimi was gone. Very very unexpected. Scottery and I got to their house downtown just in time. She was still there, the police and funeral home people were there about to wheel her out. I got to see her, and stroked her warm face one very last time. I will never forget that, and am so thankful for that moment.
She was a wife. A mother of six. Mimi of eleven. Great-Mimi of five. She grew up in Belgium and France, and was an artist. She lived in the woods for months during World War II, hiding from the Nazis who took over her house and tied up her family, or that's the story I was told. She would tear up and stop talking when asked about the war. After moving here, meeting my grandfather and starting a family, she raised her kids bilingual, and lived happily ever after. She had a flock of painted buntings that visited her yard one particular week in April every year. She painted them, named them, knew them well. She loved all animals, and colors, and beautiful, delicate things. And she loved to sing. And she loved to cook. And she loved to laugh. Many times I remember she would laugh until she cried and couldn't speak. Her laugh was contagious, and because we had a bit of a language barrier, sometimes trying to explain with charades made it even funnier. In mid-November we shared a marathon laugh at the dinner table, laughing over silly things no one else would understand. All these things, I respected and loved about her. And all these things, I will miss so very much.
On the morning of her funeral, I felt empty. And I felt like I needed to find a place of peace and understanding. So I pulled out a recipe I had made with her years ago: Mimi Bread. It was bittersweet, as she had written out her estimated measurements for me in her perfect French handwriting, and I had written the directions in teenager handwriting, because she didn't want to get the English wrong. I would help her make this bread when we stayed there in the summer as kids. Or if we went downtown to visit her, we'd go home with still-warm, fresh loaves. Mimi Bread was a hot commodity in my house. A shaggy loaf perfect for cheese toast, cream cheese and jelly for breakfast, or just plain. But I was a kid. I didn't ever think I'd need to make this on my own.
Scottery was sweet enough to go to the store and find the wheat germ and some apple cider vinegar, and rather than getting ready for the funeral, I made my first batch ever (on my own) of Mimi Bread. Without having a complete recipe (there were holes on how to do it), I had to combine my list, my memories, and my knowledge about bread-making. And it started coming together. There are few words to describe the therapy this did for me. I could imagine her presence in my kitchen. Kneading the dough, I remember her showing me how to punch it down. Sticking my fingers into the water with her to find out what 'perfect bathtub temp' is. How soft that dough was. And it made me feel such a strong connection to someone I don't have with me anymore. The smell of flour and yeast and honey and vinegar whirling around my kitchen took me to a different time and place that I didn't want to leave.
I let the dough rise and double, punched it down and put it in pans to rise once more. And then I put it in the oven. I checked the oven timer with about 14 minutes to go and took a peek into the oven. And then I started laughing, and then started crying because a) I was laughing so much at my mistake and b) I could picture exactly Mimi's reaction and laughing with her and I wished I could share the funny story. The bread had risen so high that it hit the roof of the oven and taken on the form of its flat roof. We never wrote how many loaves of bread the recipe makes. And like a dummy, I didn't even think about it because today was already upsetting. I'm assuming by the ridiculous height of the bread, this recipe makes 3 large or 4 small loaves. I mean really -- gravity defying bread.
When they were done and I gave each loaf that signature thump that Mimi taught me to make sure it's done, I waited the longest time for the bread to cool enough for me to put a piece of cheese on and toast it real quick. And that made everything better. Aside from the ginormity of the 2 loaves that should have been 4, the crumb was there, the fork marks, the smell, the flavor. I am so happy because now I have the key to visit my grandmother in her kitchen whenever I need to. It made the rest of the day - the visitation, and the funeral - not so hard.
I will miss so much about my Mimi. Her voice, her laugh, her beautifully thick accent, her facial expressions and dancing eyes, her soft hands, her softer heart. But I'm hoping that I can carry on many traditions in remembrance. Step 1 is this bread. I will work to perfect it. And behind that, so many more recipes I want to remember of her's. I found comfort in the kitchen today, and have come to some sort of peace and understanding.