Forgive it Forward: Follow Those Footprints
Sometimes it helps to follow in someone’s footsteps – even if only for a short while. For that reason, Ray and I have started this series; a virtual footprint forum for muses with stories, ideas and tips that we think worth sharing. We hope your ‘walk’ with them makes your day a little lighter and brighter –and that you leave with something that inspires you to forgive it forward, backward, upward and downward!
This story is being shared under the category of forgiveness as a reminder. In the flurry of day-to-day living, it is moments like these, shared between a young boy and his mother, that capture the heart and are worthy of our capacity for memory – not the ones that disappoint. And when someone we love loses their ability to remember, these are the ones that we hold for them as well as ourselves. Which is why we found “A Fortune in Dough” by Ray Harwell priceless. So, sit back and pour yourself a cup of coffee, or tea if you prefer, and travel back in time with us as we share a precious memory in the making.
GUEST MUSINGS BY: Ray Harwell, Agricultural Research Assistant
“Tell me the story, Momma.” It had been a while since the last time I had asked and I knew that if I asked too often she would say no. She acted as though she hadn’t heard a word I had said. I stood behind her, over near the fireplace, watching as she prepared her work on the breakfast meal. I stuck a thumb in my mouth and contemplated whether or not she had, in fact, heard me. This was somewhat dangerous ground. One false move here and there would be no story this morning. Why, it may even be days if I pushed too hard. In a flurry of action she had turned on the stove eyes and the oven, gotten stuff out of the fridgedair and had made several trips to and from the sink. I had to act soon. Making my way around the table (it was an extremely large table where all members of the family had a designated seat) I saddled up close to her right side. She looked down at me and in those big beautiful brown eyes I could actually see the love pour out and down on me.
“Oh, not this morning!” she said turning once again to her work. “Your daddy will be in from the barn soon and I need to have things ready.” It was time for a bold move. Removing the thumb from my mouth and wiping it on my shirt, I started tugging on one of the many straight-backed chairs that surrounded that grandest of all tables. I pulled and pushed and pushed and pulled until I had it right up against the cabinet to Momma’s right. A quick glance assured me this had not caused her to stray from her task. The chair was in place with its back pushed tight against the cabinet and after a brief struggle I found myself in the most perfect place in the whole wide world.
Momma was still acting as if I was nowhere around and this was good. She pulled open the cabinet door that was directly in front of her and below. From there she retrieved the dough board and sifter. In one action she loaded the sifter with the right number of handfuls of flour (White Lily if you please) and placed it on the cabinet in front of her. I was amazed at how fast she could sift that flour and never let it spill over the sides but land perfectly in the dough board making a mound. Once again she stooped into the lower cabinet and came back up with just the right amount of pure hog lard in her right hand. Those hands of hers were a great mystery to me. With those same hands she had rendered the lard that she now rubbed onto flat pans and mixed into the flour. Those hands, that wiped with all tenderness the tears from my eyes, had picked cotton and hoed rows and rows. The little finger on her right hand was bent at the second joint and was stiff. I had asked her many times why that was but she would only say she hurt it as a child. I still can not rightly say. Even with that stiff pinky she worked that lard into the flour until it was exactly like she wanted it. She made a valley in the middle and poured in the fresh milk a little at a time with her left hand while mixing steady with her right.
My thumb had once again found my mouth and I leaned in close to her, my head against her hip. Even now when I think of this moment in my life, repeated so often before so many meals, I can still feel her warmth beneath a faded dress. Her smell fills my senses and I find, if only for an instant, that feeling of greatest love and security that can only be that of mother and son, the way it was intended to be.
The moment of truth had arrived. If Momma were going to tell me the story it would be now. She had kneaded the dough until it suited her and with a pat she pinched off the first biscuit.
“This is Ray on the day he was born.” she said as she rolled the tiny bit of dough in her hands and, patting it flat, laid it onto the greased pan. “It was one of the hottest days in July.” The story had begun.
Pinching off a slightly larger piece and rolling and patting it flat she said, “And this is Ray when he turned one year old.” She placed it in the pan next to the first one and I could see that I had grown in size. “This is Ray when he will start first grade and he will learn how to read and write.” Momma said, as she placed this even larger biscuit next in line. “You’ll have lots of fun there and you will be so smart!” she would say. “Who will my teacher be?” I would ask. “Will I like her?” “Maybe you will have Miss Thornton or you might have Miss Fleming.” she would reply. As she answered my questions she was preparing the next biscuit. In like manner, she took me through grammar school and into high school. I noticed the biscuits were now much the same size as her regular ones and she told me that I would continue to grow but not as fast and I wouldn’t notice it as much. Sometimes she would tell me of girlfriends I would have, of learning to drive and working on the dairy with Dad. She would usually take me through high school graduation and tell me how proud she was of me for getting through school. Then she would add a slightly smaller pinch of dough and place it on the pan really close to the last in line. “And this is the lucky girl that Ray will marry and he will love her very much and she will love him too!” she would say. “What’s her name?” I would ask. “That’s for YOU to find out! You’ll know her when you see her.” was all she would ever say.
On a daily basis Momma made many pan-fulls of biscuits. Usually two, sometimes three, every meal for a long time. I only asked for the story at breakfast and have often wondered why. It may be that after the sun was up there were too many other things to hold my attention. It may well have been because that was the routine and like the cows, from which we gained our living, I was merely a creature of habit. For me, however, it was because that was MY time with Momma. My sister was still asleep; Dad and what brothers were still at home were at the barn milking. There was only the two of us in that small country kitchen as Momma told my fortune in dough and with it gave me insight into phases of life and love and even the heartbreak that would forever be part of me and of us all.
Many years have come and gone and in their goings have taken away many of the memories created so long ago.
Several years ago, as Momma was struggling so valiantly against one of the worst diseases of this world, Alzheimer’s, I was watching her make biscuits. She was eighty-two, I was forty-six. She could still do pretty well. I eased up against her and said, “Tell me the story, Momma.” She stopped immediately with her preparation and after a brief moment she looked up at me with those same clear brown eyes of so long ago and smiled at me with a smile that could only have been sent from God. I swear that it warmed me like the sun breaking from behind the clouds on a cool day. She did not attempt to tell me the story nor was I expecting her to. The moment was just that – a moment.
But in that fleeting moment we connected again on that level that was the love of mother and son, the way it was intended to be. Time nor disease will ever take away nor change this memory of mine. I will not let it.
My wife and sons and daughter (by the way, all foretold in long ago dough) have heard this story. My sister, Faye, has heard this story. And now you can hear it, too. And with each telling or reading or remembrance time is rendered impotent in its abilities to steal.
I miss her. I miss her a lot. Writing this has been difficult for me but necessary. Not to share this great gift – so freely given to me by my mother so long ago that started me on my life’s journey and provided the ground for a connection years later – would be the most selfish of action.
So, that is the story. As I sit here in front of the computer screen and read it over with wet red eyes and tears on cheek, I think of how much I loved her – how I love her still.
Ray is a retired Agricultural Research Assistant with the University of Georgia. He lives in Madison with his wife of 36 years. Their three children are grown and gone with five children of their own. He is now occupied with the care of an old friend, 93 years young, and making wind chimes from glass and recycled materials. He is also finding the path from which he strayed in days gone by and is learning to reframe, forgive forward and reconnect with that inner artist abandoned so long ago.
Did you miss the Forgive it Forward video? Click here to see the 3-minute video!
Curious how it ALL started? CLICK HERE to see the 2-minute video book trailer that started it all!
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