It was a cold and rainy afternoon and I had two black bananas in my fruit bowl. The trifecta for baking banana bread.
I opened up the spiral notebook my mother-in-law had given out one Christmas. She had hand-written all her favorite recipes, with colored tabs to designate the different categories. What a thoughtful gift! I’ve added some other family recipes on blank pages as years have gone by.
I enjoy Eunice’s recipes, but when I bake banana bread I always use my mom’s.
As I mixed together the ingredients, I compared and contrasted the slight differences in the two recipes and I wondered how far the recipes went back. Did their mothers use them? Did they get them from a friend? Did they tweak their own versions? Why didn’t I ask when I could have?
The bread is in the oven baking now. Whenever I bake banana bread it brings back memories of my mom, young and healthy, baking and cooking deliciousness up in her suburban kitchen.
And it also makes me think of the night she gave me her recipe…
I wondered then why a banana bread recipe could make me cry like it did. It was in my mom’s handwriting, on a three by five note card. It was slightly stained, a little bent and torn, and some of the ink was blurred where moisture had dropped on it.
It had been a faithfully used recipe, and the bread was a favorite growing up. Mom used to make big batches of it. She would bake smaller loaves and give them out at Christmas, to teachers and neighbors. I even asked mom to bake the bread for my wedding. Which she did. Along with all the food for the reception except the cake.
The night she gave it to me, about nine years ago now, I had walked across my back yard and her adjoining one to visit Mom, through the damp, humid air that reminded me of Mama’s hometown in Louisiana…
I often visited her in the evenings in those days, lying on her bed with her, watching “The Walton’s” and talking. Or we’d sit side by side on the edge of her bed and look through a couple of her dresser drawers that were filled with old photos, greeting cards, letters, etc.
The drawers had become jumbled time capsules of Mama’s life, giving us glimpses into every decade of her almost eighty years. She spent hours each day sifting through them. Maybe her struggle with Alzheimer’s made her want to hold more tightly to the memories she had.
At that time Mama had taken to reading her daddy’s obituary over and over to me. She would say she wanted to go to Louisiana and visit her people. But she wasn’t sure if her daddy and mama were still there…
I remember telling her, “No, Mom. They died a long time ago.”
“They did? How do you know?”
“You told me…Remember, Grandpa died the year I graduated from high school? You took the bus to Louisiana so you could be at his funeral.”
“I did?” she asked with raised eyebrows. “I don’t remember that. I wish I could go to Louisiana again. I want to see my mama and daddy. But I don’t know if they are there anymore…”
“No, Mom. They’re in heaven now. They believed in Jesus and loved Him, so they are in heaven. And someday you will get to see them forever.”
“That’s right,” she nodded and smiled with assurance.
“Here Mom, let’s look at some pictures. Who’s this?” I handed her a picture of my dad and three brothers, when James, the youngest, was probably two or three. She looked at it intently.
“That looks like Dad, and… …the boys.” I smiled.
“Who are the boys?” Mom asked. I pointed to each of her sons and told her who they were.
I showed her a picture of my wedding party. “Look at this, Mom! You sewed every dress in this picture!”
“I did?” she asked with a pleased smile.
Yet some of the pictures she did recognize. She knew her maid of honor, who she hadn’t seen for years. She always seemed to know her mama and daddy, but would get confused about her siblings.
She loved looking through the pictures. I labeled some of the photos that weren’t marked. It reassured her to read who they were. I tucked away some special ones in a scrapbook.
It was getting late. We shared our “good-nights” and I walked out of her room. I was saying good-bye to Dad, when Mom joined us in the kitchen, carrying a small, white card.
“Here,” she said, reaching out a smudged looking card to me with her gently wrinkled, slightly arthritic hand, “do you want this recipe for banana bread?”
I already had a copy of it at home, but I somehow felt that I shouldn’t turn down this gift. “If you don’t need it anymore,” I said.
“No, I don’t need it,” Mom said. “I don’t think I’ve ever made banana bread.”
I thanked her, and took the card. I walked back out through the humid night to my own home. I spent some time with my family, but after they went to bed, I kept looking at the worn and stained recipe card with the blurred ink splashes. And it seemed incredibly precious.
More precious than I ever knew.