the rolls

by Alexia M., 17

Even as a child I would look forward to this special day. As soon as my eyes would crack open, I would be welcomed with the unusual aroma that bullied its way through the house. I hurried down the rough cold bare creaking wood planks to find my mom standing in front of the warm glow of the refrigerator gathering a container of eggs. The house pulsated to 90’s R&B classics while the TV showcased the Macy’s parade. 

The best part was the thick aroma of the food—turkey, stuffing, and pies—our traditional menu of goodies. These smells became a staple so much so that whenever I catch a whiff of these classics it triggers mouthwatering memories. Only one missing piece to make this day perfect. Getting to spend time making rolls with my Nana was something I looked forward to every year. Now only a once-a-year event as my life had gotten so hectic with school and sports, this day had grown even more special. 

The doorbell sound radiated through the house as the warmth of a friendly smile. The door protested as it opened slowly. Standing before me with open arms was my 4’10” Nana grinning from ear to ear. “Hi Honey,” as she reached up to encircle my now-towering-above-her frame. It always amused her that her granddaughter was so tall, she would tell everyone she passed down an extra foot of her height to me. I stood wide-eyed and wondering while waiting for the rest to walk in. I hadn’t seen my uncles for years, but their voices roared up the driveway like a freight train. 

Dinner Rolls—a faded three-by-five index card with scribblings lay on the recipe box ready for us to tackle when we returned to the kitchen. I had the prestigious duty of joining my Nana in bringing the rolled-out dough to life. This is no easy task. I always thought we should just buy them from the store but would never speak those words in fear of the thunderous barrage of verbal arrows waiting in my Nana’s quiver. 

We gathered all the ingredients to get started. We prepared the dough and rolled it out. Nana was a stickler for detail and a perfectionist. It had to be exactly right. She knew how it should feel and knew what to do if it wasn’t just right. My hands and arms were covered with a blanket of snow while somehow only her fingertips had been dusted. My little dough balls would look like little eggs and she would make me roll them again. And again. And again, until it was right. She would reach her petite hands over mine and show me where I was going wrong. 

When the turkey came out of the oven, I pushed the rolls in to take its place. They were always the last thing in as cold rolls were simply unacceptable at our table. The adults and kids were only allocated one roll per person to start off as we slid our plates along the white and grey textured pop-up table. Once everyone had made it back into the dining room, we joined hands for the blessing. Now a graduate of the “kids table,” I was positioned next to my Nana and she slid her petite warm hand into mine. Looking down at our interlaced fingers I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of the contrast. 

Her hands had grown so calloused and wrinkled, speckled with age marks. Her petite fingers and yellowing, thick nails squeezed my hand tightly. The contrast of her wrinkled white skin against my smooth brown was a symbol of a love story that began when a white woman married a black man in a world that wouldn’t allow it. Her swollen knuckles, now full of arthritis and shaking from years of serving the community as a cashier in a small-town grocery store. People would wait in long lines just to chat with the friendly petite woman with the beautiful French accent. How could the brush of her thumb across mine give me such a feeling of warmth and comfort?

Before we stuffed ourselves beyond comfort, we took the family picture. My mom pulled out her camera equipment and fumbled about trying to get the timer to work. The laughter in the moments proceeding this final frame will be forever ingrained in my memory. After many attempts of getting the timer to work my mom just took the picture with her phone. She fussed at my uncle to make sure to get one professionally done so it could be done “right.” But I don’t think it could have ever been as good as it was that night. 

The riotous chatter of my opinionated family filled the room like smoke. Even so, my Nana would listen intently as I brought her up to speed on my life and the latest relationship that was as dead as a doornail. Chairs growled at the wood floors as people moved about the room. We chatted through the clamoring of dishes switching over from dinner to dessert. Everyone and every other conversation became muted in the background as we laughed and caught up during apple pie and ice cream. I could listen to her talk for hours, she loved to share little nuggets of wisdom. Little wrinkles in the corners of her eyes would turn upward as her whole face would smile when she laughed at my stories. I am greedy for her time. The third pass of my mom giving me the eye that it was time for me to come help clean up pulled me away into the kitchen. 

The doorbell rang and my uncle walked through the kitchen and bear-hugged me. He brought in a bag from the grocery store. As I finished setting the table, I went into the kitchen to gather the rest of the food. I opened his bag and pulled the two bags of store-bought rolls out. I felt my eyes fill with tears as I reached up into the cabinet. No flour dusted counters and aprons today. Awkward and seemingly out of place, the small bowl of perfectly shaped rolls sat in the middle of the table. We reached across the table to hold hands. My mom slid her hand into mine. While familiar, it was foreign for this moment. She squeezed her fingers around mine and we stared into each other’s eyes, both trying to comfort the other person with a small no teeth smile. We both longed for those wrinkled calloused hands that made us feel like we were the only one in the entire room. I rubbed my thumb across her thumb, and she did the same.

Reynoldsburg, Ohio