The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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I interviewed my great Aunt Pat at her house on a warm, sunny afternoon. She laughed almost constantly as she talked to me about many different parts of her life; including this not-so-happy time. When my great-grandmother was dying, she lived at my grandmother, Evie's, house. Being a hairdresser, my grandma (her daughter) had to work on Saturdays. Aunt Pat went over to spend the day with their mother, while my grandma was at work and this is what ensued. My great-grandmother, Nicoline Gioia, passed away in May, right before Easter that year. It is because of this moment that my Aunt Pat is the one that became the designated 'Easter bread maker.' For as long as I can remember, this has been her role.

"Mom I'm here!" Pat called up the stairs to her mother’s temporary room.

"Okay" her mother, Nicolene, responded weakly, unable to get her voice to travel like she used to when she would call the family to dinner.

Pat washed the cranberry colored dishes that were piled high in the deep, farmhouse style sink. She glanced around the otherwise clean kitchen, eyes stopping on the fire in the wood-burning stove in the corner. The flicker of light made time stand still, as she rinsed the sudsy water out of the last snowflake embossed glass.

"OH MY GOD!" Nicolene yelled suddenly, sending Pat into a flailing flight up the stairs into the red and gold damask wallpapered room.

"Mom, what is it?! Are you-"

"I just realized that Easter is soon, and no one knows how to make the Easter bread!"

Pat grabbed her mother's hands that were still bigger than hers, wrinkled from years of kneading bread and stirring Sunday gravy with a wooden spoon. All the years of rolling out Christmas cookies and forming meatballs had caught up with her; sunken-in eyes, brittle body, and frailty even in her concerned voice.

"How about this? I'll go downstairs, get the recipe, make it, and come back here so you can tell me if the dough is right,” Pat suggested.

"Yes, Patricia do that. The dough shouldn't be sticky or dry...just smooth."

The recipe may as well have been in Morse code. Instead of tablespoons and cups, the measurements were in handfuls and "until it feels right." The handwriting was a mixture of script and messy print. Dark patches blurred the writing all over, where drops of butter had seeped into the floral patterned recipe card. When Pat decoded the encrypted recipe, she ran up the golden colored stairs for the second time that day, the sweet-smelling dough in hand.

"No! This isn't right...go downstairs and add more flour!" Two handfuls of flour later, Pat returned and presented the powdered dough to her mother. "Patricia, I told you to knead until it feels right."

Back and forth from pale hands to dark soapstone countertop, Pat transported the dough ball. On the fifth try, Pat entered the room and the corners of her mother's lips raised before she even touched the velvety, golden sphere.

"Now this feels right. See? It's not sticky, cracked, or dry."

Nicolene passed it from right hand to left. Her eyes darted to every inch, looking for a flaw in the quality of work. A giggle slipped out of Pat’s mouth and the corners of her mother’s slid into a grin.

Pat walked out of Nicolene’s bedroom for what felt like the thirtieth time that day, turning back to catch a last glimpse of her mother's fragile frame. With the same steady grin from before, Nicolene closed her eyes slightly and bowed her head in approval. A familiar warm wash filled Pat’s eyes as she walked down the stairs with heavy feet to bake the premature Easter bread.

Easter Bread

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Right Before Easter
Glenside, PA

I interviewed my great Aunt Pat at her house on a warm, sunny afternoon. She laughed almost constantly as she talked to me about many different parts of her life; including this not-so-happy time. When my great-grandmother was dying, she lived at my grandmother, Evie's, house. Being a hairdresser, my grandma (her daughter) had to work on Saturdays. Aunt Pat went over to spend the day with their mother, while my grandma was at work and this is what ensued. My great-grandmother, Nicoline Gioia, passed away in May, right before Easter that year. It is because of this moment that my Aunt Pat is the one that became the designated 'Easter bread maker.' For as long as I can remember, this has been her role.

Decade: 1990s
Rating:
Recorded by Carly Shanken on June 5, 2019
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