This weekend we were in my mother’s kitchen. My mom, my sister, my grandmother, and me. “She got tarred of me pesterin her, so she finely let me hep her,” Mamaw was talking about her own mother, from a time when Mamaw was only ten or eleven, she said. “Then she’d roll me outta bed evry mornin from then on to make biscuits.” She laughed at this. Gina, my sister, gathered everything she needed to make Mamaw’s biscuits: flour, oil, and buttermilk. Mamaw stood opposite my sister, on the other side of the counter, ready to give instruction.
Gina had been planning this for days. My family is going through a difficult time right now. My Papaw just spent a week in the hospital for surgery. Now he and Mamaw are staying with my parents as Papaw continues to recover. Mamaw has dementia and Alzheimer’s, which complicates everything. That Gina wanted to do something to help did not surprise me. She is a nurse and has a nurse’s personality: she is a caregiver and has a servant’s heart. For the months before my other grandmother passed away, Gina helped care for her in countless ways. When medical emergencies arise, I usually call Gina first.
So she had decided that Mamaw would teach her how to make her homemade biscuits today. Mamaw’s biscuits are famous in our family, and rightfully so. They are delicious. Golden, crispy on the bottom, fluffy and light on the top. They are perfect for jelly or gravy or just butter. They taste like my childhood, and my mother’s childhood, and her mother’s, and hers before her. Mamaw’s biscuits taste like family and love and legacy.
That’s why the recipe cannot be written down. That, and Mamaw doesn’t really use a recipe. “Okay, now just dump three or four cups a flour in there, or whatever, just til it looks right, ya know.” But it takes a skilled and knowing eye to know what it’s supposed to look like. Even the temperature of the oven is not exact. When Gina asked her what to set the oven to, Mamaw responded with “You gotta cook em fast. The faster the better.” 450? “Oh, I dunno. Whatever you think. Just gotta cook em fast.”
It requires a skilled hand to know how much the dough should be kneaded. Gina slapped the lump of dough onto the counter and pressed the heel of her hand into it, and again. Mamaw watched from the other side of the bar. “Yeah, that’s right.” She nodded. “Don’t mess with the dough too much. But be rough. Tell that dough who’s boss.” As Gina slammed the dough onto the counter, Mamaw laughed, more than I had seen her laugh in weeks, maybe months, possibly years. The more instruction she gave, the more of my grandmother I saw, before her dementia made thinking and remembering difficult. She was not confused, she was not absent in her own lost thought. She was there in the kitchen with us, being useful and having fun. Gina had given her something back she hadn’t felt in a long time: a purpose.
My sister continued following her instructions exactly, turning the dough just so between her hands while Mamaw looked on, her chin resting on one hand, her other hand pointing to where Gina had missed a spot. “Mmmhhm. That’s right. You got it.” She supervised with great importance and even greater delight. I admired the way my sister was taking care of my grandmother, how she was making her feel good, strong, and healthy. And all she needed was flour, oil, and buttermilk to do it.
Gina put the biscuits in the oven and fifteen fast minutes later, they were done. Mamaw bit into one, the crumbs falling from her lips. She closed her eyes, savoring the taste, and smiled. “Not bad for your first time.”
I had a challenging afternoon. I had to sift through old pictures of my sons, looking for soccer pictures of Jack, my middle son, in preparation for his upcoming 8th Grade Night. They were due last week, but I did not want to do it. This afternoon, I finally forced myself to go through picture after picture of my boys when they were younger. Cute pictures of chubby cheeks and big smiles. Silly pictures. Christmas pictures. Disney World and Toronto. Halloween. Joseph asleep beside Sam. Jack hugging Drew. Me, sitting on the floor, surrounded by little boys and toys and a pug. Hundreds of pictures. I was miserable.
I cannot look through my pictures right now without my anxiety going up. Even now, as I am typing this, my heart rate is up and I’m sick on my stomach, just thinking about the pictures. What should bring joy and sweet memories instead brings grief and near-terror for me. It is one of the many ways OCD intrudes on my life.
Let me try to explain what the OCD makes me think when I look at old pictures. That I can’t go back in time to when my children were younger is more than frustrating to me—it feels like death. And I worry that I didn’t parent them well when they were little, that they missed out on something. And so their futures are ruined because of me. I know this is not true, but it feels so real.
Looking through old pictures reminds me that I have forgotten so much, and that is simply tortuous to me. It hurts that I have forgotten most of their lives. Like everyone else, I have vague recollections and a few stories, but the day-to-day events of their early childhood has been swept out of my mind, and I fear I can never retrieve it, and so part of my children, and part of me, is lost forever. It is death. I fear that because I can’t remember everything, my love for them is not complete. I fear that they will not know I love them. More lies that my brain makes feel true.
The pictures make me feel guilty. I did not take enough pictures. I lost all our home videos. I am not taking enough pictures and videos now. I could have, should have, done more and should do more now. I am failing as a mother. The pictures tell me this.
So I can either avoid the pictures or I can look through each of them, tediously reconstruct the moment in my head, try my hardest to remember so my kids will know I love them. I can search the whole house—again—for my home videos. I can cry over lost time and forgotten memories. I can take too many pictures, so many that I forget to enjoy what is happening. I can do all of this, and I have many times, or I can just avoid looking at pictures.
Maybe there will be a day when I can look at old pictures of my children and not have a panic attack. I used to be able to. That’s the thing with OCD. It doesn’t make sense. It is not logical. And it twists and morphs and seeps into everything. I used to think it was compartmentalized—like this particular thing is an OCD issue. But I’m beginning to understand that it is not that at all. I can’t compartmentalize and seal it off. I have to live with it.
And I am in fact living with it. I am doing the little things that are difficult for me and not blaming myself for it being difficult in the first place, and I am ultimately finding joy in those little things. So even though this afternoon was challenging and uncomfortable, I did it anyway. And I was able to, amid my elevated heart rate and upset stomach, find joy in Jack’s cute little smile.
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.