(my favorite picture of mother and I together)
My eyes wandered around the room, looking at the walls covered in artwork, courtesy of many kids who were pulling for her to get well. My dad asked me to tell her goodbye. I looked at my mother with the many tubes and machines and did my best to tell her that I loved her. I kept thinking that I wished she could look at the awesome rainbow I drew. I wanted to tell her how my uncle took me to Sonic and let me order anything I wanted – even the footlong hot dog, of which I only took five bites. I had so much to tell her. But with her closed eyes and lack of response, I knew she wouldn’t ever get to hear about it. Never could my eight-year-old brain comprehend and process that I was saying goodbye to my mother on this side of earth. The clearest memory I have of her funeral was sitting in the back of the limo on the way to the cemetery and feeling happy that someone thought to pack me a sandwich.
My memories of my mother are faint and dream-like. I remember pulling a chair up to the kitchen counter and watching her roll out pie crust. To my delight, she handed me the trimmings of the dough and the rolling pin. I carefully worked, proudly making my dad a tiny mini pie. To this day, I can vividly recall the terrible goulash she made and how I broke down in tears whenever we had it for dinner (yes, it was that bad). And how every year for each child’s birthday, she would take them on a lunch date to anywhere they chose. My last birthday with her, I chose Pizza Hut and happily ate my personal pizza telling her how I hoped to get roller skates for my birthday.
The sting of my mother’s absence was nearly unbearable at first, but as time moved forward the pain lessened. I learned to adjust to a life without her. Today, the memory of my mother brings more joy than pain, and the sorrow is far outweighed by the gratitude of still learning from her life. While her physical body passed many years ago, her life is still alive all around me. I see her in the care and compassion my little sister shows to everyone around her. I smile when I think of my very headstrong three-year-old brother she struggled to parent, that is now a kind, strong, and gentle man. I hear her in my sisters’ laughs. Her influence is still alive and evident as I look throughout my family. The life she lived encourages me to push past myself to be a better wife, mother, and friend.
I now teach my daughter how to put on a jacket with long sleeves the same way she did in my grandma’s living room. And I joke around with my kids the same way she did with me. When I look in the mirror, I am proud that I resemble her so strongly.
Today is my mother’s birthday. In honor of her, my sister and I carved out an afternoon last weekend to make her cinnamon rolls (with a few adjustments – Mom, I cannot bring myself to use shortening). We laughed and talked about politics, our family, and trivial beauty trends. The entire time, I couldn’t stop thinking how overjoyed she would have been seeing her youngest girls now as best friends.
If she were here today, I would plead with her to give up the goulash and tuna casseroles for good. I would ask her how she managed to let her kids grow up without breaking into a million pieces. She would scoop up my kids and hug them for too long. She would play kitchen with my daughter and build many lego creations with my son.
Even though she is not here physically, we are celebrating her birthday today. We will eat cinnamon rolls, and I will tell my kids about how their Grandma Denise was a ballet dancer growing up, just like their mom. I will tell them about the tone and scowl she used with their grandpa, every time he did something ornery. I will recount how much she loved her kids and how much she would have loved them more than they can imagine. Yes, today we will celebrate her life and I will smile knowing that her spirit is very much alive today.
(These are a combination of her go-to recipe and my own adaptions)
Makes approximately 3 dozen rolls
1 1/2 cups of very warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons of dry active yeast (1 pkg)
1 cup + 1/3 cup of sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened and separated
1 teaspoon of salt
4-4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
Pour water into a large bowl and add the yeast and sugar. Carefully stir a few times. Set aside for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is bubbly. Whisk the egg with 1 stick of the softened butter and add to the yeast mixture. Sift the flour and salt. Slowly add the flour into the yeast mixture until well combined. Place on a floured surface and kneed for 5-10 minutes until the dough is elastic Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2-2 hours. While the dough is rising, whisk the remaining butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Pull the dough in half. Roll into a rectangle. Spread half of the butter mixture over the entire rectangle before rolling into a tight roll. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll in 2 inch pieces. Repeat the process with remaining dough and butter mixture. Place in pans and cover with a tea towel. Let them rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2- 2 hours. Bake on a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until the rolls begin to turn golden. Cool completely and frost with icing recipe below.
Vanilla Bourbon Icing
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/3 cup of vanilla bourbon* (see note below) or vanilla of choice
Whisk ingredients together, adding more sugar to thicken, or cream to thin.
*A friend gifted me some very nice vanilla bourbon. This was the perfect place to use it since the flavor can often be overpowered in baked goods. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand. Different flavored extracts take this in all sorts of directions. I have had success with maple, orange, and peppermint extract.