My friend Terry Beck, a Brownwood boy and my contemporary, is about to launch national distribution of his first two books, A Train of Thought, and I've Been Thinkin', both of which have enjoyed wide popularity in and around Texas for the last few years.* Upon hearing this news, I picked up my copies of these delightfully entertaining books and browsed through them again, re-reading some of my favorite stories and anecdotes. As always, Terry's tales of the old days led me to reminisce about my own childhood back in the home town. And since this month will mark the 91st anniversary of my mother's birth, I was remembering her especially and the inestimably important roles she played in my life. One of those roles was meal preparation, and that activity sometimes extended, through the air, up and down Avenue D for a ways.
There were late afternoons when the neighborhood would unexpectedly take on the delicious aroma of baking bread. It was so pungent and alluring that I would run home and plant myself in front of the oven from which the sweet smell was emanating, waiting for the emergence of what I knew to be a baking pan full of Mother's plump dinner rolls. If, as it often happened, I'd been playing with my friend Francis Epperson, who lived a few doors down, he would tag along and stand just outside the back door panting like a hungry puppy. When Mother took the pan out, she would dislodge one of the rolls, wrap it in a napkin and deliver it into Francis's anxious and grateful hands. If I remember correctly, the rolls -- light and fluffy and tall, tops browned to perfection, would be gone by the end of supper, regardless of what other dishes might be served. When it came to those yeasty dinner rolls, made from scratch on random occasions, Mother had the touch, no question about it.
Our little family of five loved them, but it was Francis who lavished praise on the rolls, complimenting Mother about the way they smelled, thanking her at every opportunity for days after she would dole a hot one out to his waiting hands. He may have been displaying his gratitude, sincere as I know it was, partly to help ensure receipt of a roll from the next batch, but he would not have expected what Mother did one crisp autumn day. Francis and I were playing in the front yard with toy parachutes we had improvised from handkerchiefs, when the aroma of bread -- always unexpected because infrequent -- beckoned us to the back door. I ran inside, and Francis took up his receptive position at the door. This time there was no roll for him. Instead, Mother handed him an entire pan of them.
"Well, he likes them so much, I just made an extra pan..." she said dismissively after he had run off toward his house holding the hot pan with the folded dish towel Mother had provided, his face glowing. I wonder if he shared those rolls with his mom, dad, and brother. If I ever run into him again, I'll ask him.
*The third book in Terry Beck's series A Gathering of Words will be forthcoming. It will be titled A Scattering of Memories.