Thursday, November 26, 2009

Creating Abundance and Grandma's Rolls

Last month at my grandmother's funeral, the most frequently used word by the speakers was almost certainly "frugal". Grandma was known for saving all kinds of things for re-use: twisty-ties, bread bags, disposable plastic cups, styrofoam trays used to package meat, wrapping paper. She was teased about it from time to time, yet all of us recognized she lived through a time when you didn't take throwing something away lightly. If it was useful, it got used.

As we talked together in the following days, Grandpa wanted us to really understand her Depression experiences that laid the foundation for frugality. Grandma's family was extremely poor. With no job and a large family, her father struggled constantly to make sure they were all fed. During high school, Grandma had just one dress that she washed and hung every night to dry for the next day of school, putting up with occasionally snide comments from other girls in new new matching sweater sets. She always knew college wouldn't be possible, due to lack of financial resources not academic ability. She learned to make do with what she had and to make other plans when necessary. She learned how to care of things and make them last. She learned the importance of high quality and always worked to create things of excellence. Frugality was part of survival.

A life like this, of altered dreams and doing without, could make one miserly and bitter, but that's not what happened. She chose something different. As the stories others shared and my own memories flood my mind, it is her generosity that stands out to me. She took her impoverished background and created abundance for the people in her life.
  • One son shared a memory of watching her willingly prepare and pack a full lunch for a local beggar, simply because he knocked and asked.
  • Neighbors told of times she brought over food when they were in need.
  • While home, we slept under a faux fur throw, a remnant of the many "softs" she made her children and grandchildren.
  • After the funeral, we flipped through photo albums she put together of reunion after reunion where her love for her grandchildren was shown through creating: sewing personalized aprons, leading rock painting activities, or running a family Olympics complete with opening ceremony parades.
  • I remembered one of her letters from when she was serving alongside my grandfather over a mission in Michigan. She told of the dozens upon dozens of Christmas care packages she made for each of the many missionaries serving with them, packages I knew from the many years she sent them to us.
  • Her daughter reminisced about her talents as a seamstress. She couldn't remember a single dress, blouse or skirt she owned as a child that wasn't made by her mother.
  • I shared the story of her careful work assisting on my junior prom dress when we were behind schedule. She sewed meticulously even when I wanted to rush because, um, my date was waiting while it was finished.
Amidst all of these stories and memories, one of Grandpa's comments said it all: her background made her empathetic to the suffering of others. When she saw some one lacking, she sought ways to share with them. When they were down, she sought ways to reach out a lifting hand. Within her family, she made consistent efforts to provide us the best of comfort, nourishment, creativity, beauty and enjoyment. While her life was not one of dramatic public accomplishments, the work of caring for the people around her will always be remarkable to me. I am honored to have known her and to have seen the ways she created abundance.

Today, it felt appropriate to attempt her family-famous rolls for the first time. Her Thanksgiving dinners were always delicious and these rolls were divine. I really struggled through this first attempt, not sure how to work with such unwieldy dough, and yet, I loved every minute of it. It felt like an honor to her legacy of creating bounty for the people you care about.

Hope you feel blessed with abundance this Thanksgiving, including good food.

Grandma's Parker House Rolls

Dissolve in a small bowl:
2 pkgs. yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp. salt
1 cup scalded milk

When cool, combine mixtures. Add:
4 cups flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup veg. oil

Stir well, then add:
3 3/4 cups sifted flour

Mix well with large spoon, not a mixer. Let rise covered, until double (about 2 hours).

Melt several tablespoons of butter and set aside. Punch down dough with a spoon. Pour (yes, pour) about half of the dough onto very well floured bread board. Sprinkle generously with flour to prevent sticking. Roll to about 1/3 inch thick. Cut rolls with biscuit cutter, score gently with a knife and brush with butter along the crease. Fold in half, pressing the round edge together and transfer to a greased cookie sheet. Lightly brush with melted butter. Let raise until doubled again (about 1 hour). Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Brush tops with unmelted butter.

The secret to these light rolls is not using too much flour and not handling the dough too much.

Her final, somewhat deceptive notes? "They are so easy to make - just stir them up - raise - roll out and bake. SO SIMPLE!" I think it should say "So STICKY! but worth it!" Mine need a bit of work to find the right balance, but I think I have a few years before I have to have them "Grandma perfect".


Jen said...

What wonderful memories! Those rolls sound delicious. We can learn so much from our grandmothers, can't we?


Wow! Andrea, a great post. made me teary! I am so glad you had such lovely memories! powerful stuff!

jenny said...

What a sweet tribute to grandma! I bet your rolls were delish! She definitley had some stories to tell. Thanks for the memories.

Jessica said...

This has to be one of my top favorite posts ever read. Beautiful!!!!

Nina Lewis said...

You grandmother was such a delightful person!!! I wish that I had eaten some of her rolls. I think that you'll be up to speed in making perfect rolls (like she did) in the not too distant future.

Wendy said...

What a beautiful tribute to Grandma! She would be so pleased to know that her granddaughter values the simple things that meant so much to her. Love you!

Megs said...

What an amazing post, Andrea! So much to learn - and notice about the small ways someone chooses to lead their life!
Do you mind if I link my church blog to this? We've been talking about simplicity and generosity in church for the last month and a half - this would be a perfect example! :)