A Tender Thanksgiving Memory

I saw my mother’s hands last night. She’s been gone nine years now. My dad says his memories of her are stronger at holidays. Maybe that’s what it was.

I was making her recipe for dinner rolls to take to the family Thanksgiving. I haven’t made them since we moved here more than six years ago. Since we moved, we travel, and I guess I felt that rolls were something you took the time to make when the company came to your house.

Last year my daughter and my sister both made Mom’s rolls, but they weren’t the same. I wondered if they rushed the recipe. You can’t rush yeast rolls. My daughter works three jobs, and last year she was not-quite-divorced, which is bad enough anyway without its being the holidays. Last year, Thanksgiving was a chore to her. My sister lives two hours away from my dad’s house, where we will gather. She has three kids ten and under, so she is busy too. When I was her age, my baby turned eighteen; hers will be five in December.

I wanted the rolls for tomorrow to taste like they did when my mom made them. Light. Fluffy. Melt-in-your-mouth. So I said that I would make them. One of my best holiday memories is the smell of those rolls filling the kitchen when I was growing up. I was a little nervous, though. I am out of practice with baking here, though once I baked all the bread my family ate.

I found the recipe and worried about the yeast. You soak it in water that’s warm but not hot.. How’s that for precision? If the yeast doesn’t work right, the rolls won’t either. Finally, the water felt right, and I poured the yeast in to soak.

Then I needed lukewarm milk (another precise measurement) in which to dissolve some sugar and salt. They dissolved; I felt good.

I used the mixer to start the dough, something that I would not have done when I made these years ago. To the sugar, salt and milk, I added butter, two eggs and the yeast mixture. It smelled right. I hoped it would work.

The recipe says then to add the rest of the flour until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Then you turn it out and knead it until it is smooth and no longer sticky. It was here that I could hear my mother’s voice as I watched her work. Her hands did not pound the dough. They pushed it, prodded it, worked it. Sort of like a vigorous dough massage.

I remember Mom saying that when the dough was done it would feel smooth, sort of like a baby’s bottom. That memory made me smile. Tony. My youngest grandson. How smooth his skin is when I hug his warm baby body to me!

When you get the dough all smooth, you have to let it rise to until it doubles in size. This is a judgment call, really, but you need a warm place for it to happen, eighty to eighty-five degrees. That was easy in our old country house where we heated with a wood burner. I have not been consistently warm since we moved to Indiana. How to solve the problem? I decided to turn our oven on to 300 and put the dough near the vent. Maybe it would take a little longer, but I thought it would rise.

It took almost two hours. My husband and I ran an errand during that time. We watched Jeopardy. I was getting nervous, but I made myself wait to look. Dough doesn’t seem to rise more quickly when you watch. Sort of like the proverbial pot that never boils.

Once the dough rises, you have to punch it down and form it into rolls. Now, you wouldn’t think this would be a problem, especially for someone who has done this before, but I downsized when I moved, and I only have one muffin pan. I used to form the rolls in there. The recipe makes two dozen rolls. One muffin pan holds twelve. Mom always put hers in the big glass pan, but I was hesitant. How would they look?

It was at that point that I saw Mom’s hands. Not really, you understand, but the memory was so strong I felt like I could reach out and touch her. She was shaping the rolls for the glass pan and her hands were sure of themselves. I watched as her fingers pulled off a piece of dough, turning the edges under to form a roll. Mine did the same. I’m not sure I ever asked her how she made then all so evenly. I just watched in awe.

When I was younger, forming the rolls even in the muffin pan took me forever. Last night I was done in five minutes. And as I put them by the stove vent to rise, they looked a lot like Mom’s rolls. I felt good.

The second rise really only takes about forty-five minutes. Then the rolls bake. They smelled wonderful! My husband pulled them out of the oven, though, so I didn’t look at them until later. I had not baked rolls in this oven before, and since the recipe said to bake them thirty to forty minutes, I had averaged out at thirty-five. I should have tried thirty. The outsides are a little crisp.

The insides still taste good, though. And I have time to make another batch. My mom always said that baking took practice. And patience. The next batch can rise while I am making my cherry pie. The one for which I bought Pillsbury pie crust. Mom made good pie dough and so does my daughter, but the talent seems to have skipped a generation.

They say people never die as long as you remember them. So although my last Thanksgiving with my mom was actually ten years ago, she is still here. We will eat her rolls and remember her. I will look at my four year old niece’s face and see her. And since the Bible says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, I am trusting that she sees us too.

I miss you, Mom. Thanks for all you taught me.


1/4 C.warm (not hot)water
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt

1/4 c. butter

3/4 c. lukewarm milk

3 1/2-4 c. flour

2 eggs
SOAK yeast in 1/4 c. water 5 minutes. COMBINE milk, sugar and salt in bowl. Stir to dissolve. BEAT IN butter, eggs. 1 c. flour and softened yeast mixture with rotary beater until smooth. ADD remaining flour until dough leaves sides of bowl. Turn out onto lightly floured board. KNEAD until dough becomes smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, 5-10 minutes. PLACE in lightly greased bowl. Grease top of dough. Cover with waxed paper. LET RISE in warm place, 80-85 degrees until doubled, 1-1 1/2 hours. PUNCH DOWN and form into rolls of desired shape. PLACE on greased baking sheet or in greased muffin cups. LET RISE until light and double in bulk, 30-40 minutes. BAKE at 425 for 8-10 minutes.

YIELD: 2 dozen rolls


4 Responses to “A Tender Thanksgiving Memory”

  1. 1 Ron November 23, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    I wish that I had seen more of this side of Grandma before she got sick! The getherings that I remember most about Grandma were Thanksgiving dinners. I do not know why. But they are happy memories, and ones that I will cherish.

    I am thankful the RJ and Tony will share in those memories. I do not know how much I talked about Grandma and Grandpa, but RJ asks about you every other day or so. You make Grandma proud. I am certain of this.

    Damn. Why did I have to read this at work!

  2. 2 Labosseuse November 29, 2005 at 7:02 am

    I loved this post. I am very, very close to my mother and this reminded me of the fact that this precious friendship won't be around forever…thanks.

  3. 3 hereafter2000 November 14, 2007 at 10:15 am

    My dad always made the rolls for holiday dinners and this post brought back those precious memories for me: seeing his big rough hands working the dough and shaping the rolls. He always made a big production of placing the little rounds of dough in the pan, doing it with a grand flourish. *smile* Thanks so much for sharing your memories.

  4. 4 Becky November 14, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I am glad this brought good memories back for you as well. The places I see my mom surprise me sometimes. I miss her more around holidays!

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