“Yeast? I don’t know what that is,” Betsy knit her brow. She’d finally figured out the tablespoon, the teaspoon, a pinch, a dash, a cube, the cups, and now this. Yeast.
“Oh my word, girl. Yeast! It’s the magic that raises the bread, puts the puff in pastry.” Betsy’s grandmother shook her head. “Raising you under a rock they are. Raising you under a rock.”
Betsy wanted to tell the old woman her neck was bound to be sore from shaking her head all day as she displayed her dismay and disgust. Betsy, it seemed, was not being raised by her parents at all. She was being ruined by them.
“May God forgive them, she doesn’t even know yeast,” her grandmother muttered. “Well, girl, you’re going to be amazed by yeast. We’re going to bake cinnamon and raisin bread. Breakfast bread, you see. A dozen loaves.”
Her grandmother pulled a small jar from the cupboard, a food thermometer, and a mixing bowl from the sideboard. “Here now, I’ll show you how to warm the yeast. It’s alive you know, and a bit temperamental. If it’s too hot, the yeast dies. If it’s too cold, it won’t activate. That’s why we use the thermometer. We’ll get it just right,” she explained with a wink.
Soon, Betsy was lost in the most wonderful musty aroma she’d ever experienced. She learned to flour the board and knead the dough; the soft, warm, wonderful smelling dough. She covered it with one of the many red and white towels, checking later only to be amazed by it’s increased size and the potency of the smell, an aroma she couldn’t get enough of.
They worked all day, the cinnamon and sugar and raisins and lemon and cranberry and nutmeg all swirling around the kitchen and right through Betsy as she lost herself in this productive satisfying creative paradise that was her grandmother’s world.
In the midst of all the baking, Betsy hadn’t noticed the pot roast with carrots, onions, and potatoes her grandmother had popped in a crock pot earlier in the day. Yet, the food was ready and Betsy’s stomach growled like a baby bear.
“You must be hungry, child,” her grandmother scooped the tender beef and vegetables onto a platter and set it at the table in the nook. They hadn’t eaten since mid-morning. Although Betsy hadn’t had time to notice, she was suddenly famished and although the meal before her was foreign, it smelled delicious.
“Go on now, scoop up a plate full. There you are,” her grandmother smiled, “Like pot-roast do you now? It’s my Sunday favorite.”
“Yes, I love pot roast,” Betsy lied. She was quite sure she’d never eaten a meal like this yet she didn’t want to disappoint her grandmother once again. Her family favorite Sunday dinner was take-and-bake pizza. This food her grandmother made, it was so soulful it could make a person cry.
How could her father have been raised with this kind of food and now be content living off of fast food? Maybe it had just been so long since the comfort of this kind of cooking had been a part of his life that he’d simply forgotten.
As for Betsy, she was starting to feel she’d been short changed with a mother that rarely did more that pick up take-out on her way home from work. Neither baking nor cooking was an issue in their lives.
She ate her plateful than asked for seconds and polished her plate clean.
“Thank you. That was very good.” Betsy smiled at her grandmother.
“Wasn’t it though. Now,” her grandmother stood and began to remove the plates. Betsy helped. At the sink, her grandmother rinsed the dishes and set them aside.
“We need to get going,” she bent over the sideboard and opened a drawer with plastic wrap and foil. “Here now – cut me eleven just this size.” She cut one and Betsy studied the size. Just enough to wrap each loaf cozily. She cut the foil and her grandmother wrapped, setting them carefully in a cardboard box.
“Now, go get your coat and boots on. We’ll make it just in time.”
Not knowing where she was going or what they were doing, Betsy Graham followed her grandmother out the front door to an old gray Buick parked on the side of the house. She opened a back door so the box of fresh baked breads could be placed on the seat. Getting in the front next to her grandmother, she buckled up and looked over at the old woman behind the wheel. She appeared sure of herself, turning the key and bringing the engine to life. She backed the car around and turned slowly down the driveway. Betsy wanted to ask where they were going, yet felt a bit excited by not knowing. Everything about her grandmother had been a surprise and it had only been one day.
Grandmother Graham turned off the county road onto a main street leading into the center of town. They drove through the busiest part of town then turned down a street where old buildings stood; some boarded up, most in shabby condition.
“Here we are now. Come along.”
Betsy unbuckled and got out of the car still wondering what they were doing. It wasn’t the nicest place to be, she noticed. It wasn’t the kind of place her mom or dad would take her. It didn’t feel safe.
“Over here,” her grandmother signaled for her to shut the back door and follow her to the building at the end of the row. A sign painted on a large plate glass window read, Angela’s Kitchen. An old man dressed in throw-away clothes opened the door for Betsy and her grandmother. His smile was like a black hole causing Betsy to shiver.
“Come! Come!” her grandmother instructed. Betsy passed through the opened door to a sight she’d never witnessed. People were coming through the door and taking seats at long folding tables. They were chatting and greeting one another and hugging. Most carried some kind of pack and they were all dressed much the same as the man who’d opened the door for them. Her mother would call them throw-away clothes. They had a box in the laundry room at home for such items.
Looking around, Betsy realized most of the clothes to end up in her family’s laundry room box were in better condition than the clothes she saw on the people entering Angela’s Kitchen.
She hurriedly caught up to her grandmother who was through the main room and backing through another door. This one led to a huge institutional kitchen where five ladies besides her grandmother wore hairnets and were busy stirring pots and checking ovens.
“Here now,” her grandmother announced. “This girl is my granddaughter. This is Betsy.”
The ladies in the room all smiled and greeted Betsy.
“You’ll need a hair net.” A small dark skinned woman with a thick silver braid flung over a shoulder handed one to Betsy. “And here is an apron.”
Betsy felt herself blush with embarrassment as she caught sight of her reflection in the stainless refrigerator doors. Her skin appeared greasy from the long day of work, her hair in the net causing it to flatten, looked as though she wore a dark helmet on her head. The apron sagged pathetically in front and nearly wrapped around her body twice. She prayed no one would see her.
“Now, come on out here,” her grandmother instructed. “I’ll show you how thick to cut the slices and you can get started. Put them on this platter and set it out here so people can help themselves. And here’s the butter.” She set a bowl of paper wrapped slices of butter next to the platter. And listen to me girl,” her grandmother caught her full attention. “Smile. These people are nothing to be afraid of and they need a nice smile from each of us. You can say hello, ask them how they are, tell them what kind of bread we’re serving. This is likely the only meal of the day and we need to make it special.”
Betsy’s face flushed. She self-consciously began slicing the bread as her grandmother showed her, put it on the platter and set it before her. The people were getting in line, leaving all their precious belongings at the seat selected. Her grandmother cheerfully drew people to the food line, handing them dishes and cutlery and getting coffee cups on the tables and in their hands. The other ladies ladled hot stew into bowls and red potatoes with vegetables onto plates.
“Now don’t miss out on the bread my granddaughter and I baked today. It’s fresh from the oven and good as any desert. Yes, get a good slice from Betsy and don’t forget the butter. There,” she pointed to the bowl set on ice, “In the bowl is the butter.” She and the other servers wore smiles so genuine Betsy couldn’t help but smile. Forgetting her embarrassment, she felt her heart lighten and a smile form on her lips as she greeted their guests and continued slicing the bread.
They were so nice, so appreciative and happy to be there. These were people of a different world, a world Betsy had never been exposed to nor had any real knowledge of. She found herself chatting to the scary man who had opened the door and to people with such bad teeth she didn’t know how they could eat. She tried not to stare at the holes in the shoes or the ill-fitted coats. The throw away clothes that would never be thrown away.
Betsy forgot everything; her big warm home, the enormous flat screen TV, her cell phone, IPad, wardrobe, everything. All that was real was happening at that very moment, in this back woods forgotten town with the grandmother she’d never known and with people she’d never imagined. Suddenly, Betsy Graham felt that her life had finally begun.
To Be Continued