Friday, April 21, 2006

Bread-Machine Guilt

The day after my mom’s funeral, the afternoon after my first excursion to Sunday services since my mother was hospitalized, I took a drive to my food coop, in a community a fair jog down the freeway. It wasn’t because I was particularly hungry; but about every month I’ll go down there for provisions that I can’t find here in town, and perhaps a perishable treat like a bunch of lovely certified organic Swiss chard or kale. And I just felt like I needed to be away, somewhere, and I always feel better when I go to the coop – the smells of spices and coffee, the interesting mix of customers and friendly, laid-back staff and general crunchy-granola gemuetlichkeit.

On this day there was a new display of artisan breads from a chi-chi-foo-foo bakery on Michigan’s Gold Coast. The wheaty, yeasty aroma was wonderful; the loaves were beautiful and crusty; the price was…outrageous. A small bag of bread crumbs was $4.50.

“I need to get out my bread machine,” I found myself thinking. And then I felt guilty.

The bread machine was a source of major, inexplicable, mother-daughter contention at my house. I’d gotten it a couple of years ago on the advice of several of my coworkers who adore their bread machines and make their own bread and pizza dough all the time. And when I bought mine, that’s what I decided I’d do as well. I went to town with it: potato bread and whole-wheat bread and oatmeal bread and rye bread and wholegrain nuts-and-twigs breads from recipes off the Internet. Not that it was perfect bread, mind you – there were the little divots at the bottom of the loaf from pulling it up off the dough paddles, and having enjoyed making bread the old-fashioned way I missed the kneading, working for that moment when the elasticity was just right – but the bread-machine bread was still good, tasty, fresh bread. I had complete control over the ingredients; I wasn’t tied to the task all day; there was less kitchen mess; it made the house smell really good when the bread was baking; and it seemed more energy-efficient to use the bread machine than to heat up our oven. I’d take my bread to work, or to church functions, and people liked it.

My mother ate the bread without comment for several weeks. But then the complaints started: The bread didn’t have the “right” texture; it was, depending on the week, too spongy or too crumbly. The crust was too chewy. The shape of the loaf wasn't right. “I want white bread.” “I want sliced bread.” This conversation extended to our supermarket excursions, when we’d get to the bakery and Mom would start lighting into the bread machine, in tones loud enough to make other shoppers stare. “Your bread machine makes terrible bread!” she exclaimed one day as a hush fell upon the aisle. “I hate it!”

Well, long story short, you pick your battles, so the bread machine wound up in the basement.

And now I want to get it out again and bake some terrible, hateful bread, and I’m feeling bad. The way I felt bad when I threw out the tacky oilcloth on the dining room table and got some placemats I liked instead, and replaced the fake milk glass fruit bowl I never cared for with my little wooden fish-shaped bowl, and changed all the towels in the bathroom, and put a Boston fern on the end table. I feel so much repressed/suppressed me bursting out right now, like lava exploding from a volcano; and yet sometimes it's as if I’m engaging in some sort of strange passive aggression with my dead mother: Oh, yeah? Well, watch this!…

I remember feeling this same way when my dad died. My father was not an easy man to live with. He was, I think, chronically disappointed in the way life had treated him, and he had a volatile temper; he was not a hitter, but he was a histrionic yeller -- his voice was loud enough to make the walls vibrate -- and my mother took most of the brunt of his anger. Now, he could also be charming and funny; but you never knew when Mad Dad would emerge. So keeping my father from exploding into screaming fury was a full-time job at our house when I was growing up; more so as I got older because he and I disagreed about nearly everything. In adulthood I tended to keep him at arm's-length. I remember, after he died, when I was still living away but coming home on weekends to chauffeur my mother around (she didn't drive), feeling a certain sense of relief that I, that we, didn't have to self-censor anymore; that we could talk about things that we'd never dare talk about when he was there. I could also see my mother visibly more relaxed. Some spouses fall ill after their partners die; after Dad died, Mom's blood pressure and blood sugar readings kept improving.

This strange juxtaposition of feelings -- sorrow on one hand, a kind of liberation on the other -- is a difficult one to navigate through, I'm telling you. It's tough. And it speaks to the incredible complexity of human relationships. It's a wonder we want to have them at all. And yet we do.


Songbird said...

When we lose our parents, we find ourselves playing a new role, finally the "adult." It doesn't matter how old we are or how good the relationship was; we're changed. Your gestures toward "you-ness" are healthy, and your writing about them, as always, deep and honest and beautiful.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I make machine bread all the time, about 4 loaves/week. I'm on my second machine. I wore out the first one, plus a couple of replacement parts. I got used to mixing the bread in the machine, but shaping the loaves myself, and baking them in the pan of my choice. You get the best of both worlds that way, and no divets. My first machine made the crust like an old tree trunk.

I get some grief from one inlaw about the lack of kneading it and how that is the good part, etc. but I figure that if I didn't use the machine, then my bread making would be mostly good intentions. Plus, almost all the bread in the store is crap.

So if this bread tastes good to you, make it and eat it. If you like the smell of baking the bread, do it. Maybe you can learn to do it for you, for yourself, only. And make some to share with someone else.

I relate to some of the things about your dad, the yelling, and the arm's length relationship as well, but too much so to write anything here. Even as a child, I saw my father as an unhappy man. Thank goodness I felt this way because I never felt responsible for "fixing" him or myself in the relationship.

RuthRE said...

This brings to mind my 2nd grade teacher, Miss T. She was oh..probably in her 50's when I had her....she lived with her mother....and before becoming a teacher was nearly a nun. She was very prim, very proper...very soft spoken. You could earn extra points by sitting up straight. She made her own clothes (always dresses).

Some time later (I think when I'd graduated HS) I heard that her mother had died.

Soon after she had repainted things in the house...redid the kitchen..went out and bought (not made)a new wardrobe...and had a special man friend. She was reported to have blossomed a bit..and enjoyed ..well enjoying things a bit more.

Apparently her brother thought she'd gone wild! He thought this craziness had to stop!

I thought, wow..good for Miss T! Never too late to discover new joys.

Don't feel guilty...your mother would ultimately be happy for you discovering little joys here and there...especially after losing her.

RevHRod said...

My grandmother loosened up a lot after my grandpa died. As a kid I thought things like "Are you really comfortable sitting like that?" were coming from her. Nope. Grandma was just the sergeant at arms. And since she kept everything so nice, Grandpa could be the fun guy. Now, after twenty five years of widowhood, my grandmother is feisty as ever. She started doing things differently after her husband died and that was good. She still misses him every day and truly, that's good too.

Mary Beth said...

I, too, relate a lot to your situation about keeping an explosion from happening. I am working on some of those issues from childhood therapy (old stuff) and as they impact my daily life (history trying to repeat itself!)

I did a lot of tap-dancing to keep things happy and skippy.

Bless your process of mourning, learning to be without, owning which characteristics of your mom's you will miss and which not.

Sally said...

I guess in a way you are rediscovering youself whilst not wanting to betray your mom and the tension is an uncomfortable place to be. Living with the knowledge that realtionships though treasured had their difficulties help us to remember our parents were fully human, and so are we.
I pray That God will be espacially close to you as you work through this time.

Lorna said...

((((Lutheran Chik))))

thank you for sharing the thoughts, the pain, the conflicting emotions, the grief and the new found freedom.

I read this thinking about the Eucharist and the bread of life. May God bless you richly - and as you dust the old machine and get out flour and yeast and seeds and start making bread again may HE minister to you. in love.

Tom in Ontario said...

Have you brought out the machine? Do it. It might be therapeutic. And you get yummy bread out of it.

We usually have the holy cardboard for communion. On Maundy Thursday my 3 year old pipes up, 3 times so that everyone can hear him, "THIS TASTES LIKE CARDBOARD!" He's had it before but this night he had to let everyone hear his opinion.

For Easter Sunday I baked bread. I made a loaf of what the recipe called French bread in the machine and we had that at the sunrise service out at the cemetery divot an all. I also made an egg bread recipe that I mixed and kneaded myself, rolled into three snakes of dough that I braided together and we had that at the service in church. The second kind was better, not because it was hand made versus machine made, just because it was a better tasting recipe.

Do you use real bread in your church? If not, offer to bake some...often. I wish some people here would do that. Whenever we have real bread (rarely) I'm the one who bakes it.