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A Family Recipe

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without my wife’s homemade yeast rolls.

Family bakes mom's dinner rolls together

Thanksgiving morning. If it hadn’t been for my teenagers, Amy and Andrew, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. The year before, my wife, Bev, had died from cancer. The kids and I talked about spending Thanksgiving at home, just the three of us. But our neighbors Marilyn and Joe wouldn’t hear of it. “You’re having dinner with us,” Marilyn said.

I trudged down the hall to the kitchen and made a cup of tea. The kids were still in bed. The only sound was the hum of the refrigerator. These were the moments I used to spend with Bev, planning our day and dreaming about the future. Bev seems so far away. How do I cope without her?

I heard the kids getting up. The phone rang. It was Marilyn. “Still coming for dinner?” she asked, though it was more of a reminder than a question. “We’ll eat around four.”

“Anything we can bring?” I asked.

“Just yourselves. Oh, wait, I don’t have any bread,” Marilyn said.

“Leave it to me,” I said and hung up.

Bread. I’d have to find a store that was open. Then I remembered Bev’s delicious rolls—yeast rolls from scratch that my mother had taught her to bake.

Cooking didn’t come naturally to Bev, so I was glad she asked Mom for help. The recipe had been in our family for generations. I can remember going to my great-grandmother’s log cabin for Thanksgiving, the scent of baking bread wafting from her wood-burning stove. I’d take a roll, add a dab of butter and let the warm, crumbly bread dissolve in my mouth.

Mom wrote out the recipe on a card for Bev and coached her through the process. The yeast rolls were Bev’s first step in becoming a serious cook.

Bev’s recipe box was still on the kitchen counter. I flipped through the cards. Spaghetti and meatballs, strawberry salad, chocolate pie, all of Bev’s specialties were there. Each card was written in her neat hand, except the very last one, for yeast rolls. I recognized Mom’s writing.

I pulled out the card. I’d watched Bev and my mom make those rolls many times. I held a family tradition in my hand. A tradition passed down from my great-grandmother to my wife. Bev was gone, but the Williamson family tradition didn’t have to end with her.

I put on an apron, got out a mixing bowl and lined the ingredients on the counter. “Dad, what are you baking?” Amy asked, stumbling into the kitchen, her brother trailing her. “I’m making your mother’s yeast rolls,” I said and got to work.

I stirred the yeast into warm water, beat an egg and added the flour. I kneaded the dough and let it rise. After separating the dough into balls and arranging them in a large baking pan, I noticed there was more dough left.

Bev always used to let us have a roll before dinner, I thought, staring at the bowl. That was the leftover dough. I put the extra balls in a separate baking pan and set the oven timer.

In minutes it smelled just like my great-grandmother’s log cabin. Surrounded by that heavenly aroma, I sat at the kitchen table and thought about Bev—the way she made us all laugh, how incredibly unselfish she was, how she taught us to live and to love.

The timer buzzed. I took both pans out of the oven and called the kids into the kitchen. “Let’s all have one,” I said, putting the extra rolls on a plate.

We sat down at the kitchen table. I took my children’s hands and bowed my head. “God, it’s been a tough year for us. We miss Bev so much. We thank you for the time we had with her. We’re grateful for the little reminders, each day, of her presence in our lives still. And we’re blessed that we have one another.” I squeezed the kids hands, then broke open a roll. A puff of steam came out.

It was a day of Thanksgiving.

Try these Homemade Rolls.

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