My mom, Carolyn Jean Johnson, died on February 3 of 2004.
It’s been 15 years now.
My mom fought Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with all she had for over eight years.
I had never thought of my mom as brave, strong or courageous until cancer came barging inside,unwelcomed and uninvited,and made her that way.
She was a survivor of a traumatic marriage that lasted only long enough to conceive me, her only child, and to break her spirit into a million tiny shards.
Those tiny shards took a long,long time to gather up, piece by piece,and put back together.
I didn’t realize it back when I was a child but my mom turned to baking to help her cope with her anxiety-her “nerves” as we all called it.
The mixing of ingredients one by one, the beating of eggs and butter, of sugar,flour and oil, to create something that could be seen, smelled and tasted bought her a sense of purpose and calm.
It was predictable. She knew exactly what she was doing and exactly what she was going to get and the reaction she would receive from those lucky enough to get a handful of cookies or a big slice of cake.
She had so many recipes memorized and if seemed as if she went on automatic pilot once she had the kitchen all to herself.
Baking gave her more than just a purpose and peace, it gave her recognization for something good, it was her “can” in a life filled with “can’t” and she loved it.
But sometimes baking was chaotic and stressful in a house with family running in and out and others wanting the oven, and all tarnation would break loose.
That is until I begin having children of my own.
These “babies” as my mom always called them were the special ingredient in the batter of my mom’s life.
Gregory, Chase, Kateley and Hunter were the light for my mom shining love all over her. She was an extraordinary MeMe; spoiling them rotten with presents for every occasion and any reason at all. She created gift boxes for St Patrick’s day, Valentine day, Easter and so on. She lavished them with attention, read books and played games and told them so many stories.
The kids in return gave her more than love; they gave her the strength, the courage and the sheer will power to tolerate endless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Every time she went in for treatment,she would say, “This is for my babies…I’m doing this for my babies.”
She did it, again and again…going into remission and battling back because that’s what she had to live for.
They received so much from her and,in return, they gave her exactly what her spirit had longed for and needed to become whole again for all those years.
My mom, who had claimed the kitchen with a fierce tenacity when she was in the mood- which was often-to bake, turned out to be astoundingly fierce in the battle against cancer.
In the midst of all the treatment, she would still go into the kitchen and pull out the mixer, line up all the ingredients and begin doing what naturally bought her purpose and peace.
She would bake cookies for hours, batch after batch of sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies,cowboy cookies and chocolate chip cookies.
She was a magician with a tried-and-true method for doing everything just so. She wiped down the)l tables with a wet rag and laid wax paper on the damp table so it would stick.
That was where she liked to lay the cookies,piping hot from the oven. She would have lines of cookies from end to end, t the rather tantalizing aroma of sugar,vanilla and cinnamon filling the house and tempting everyone to try to sneak a cookie-or two, or three-when she wasn’t looking.
She was known for her chocolate cake with the thick glazed frosting that was was pourel over the cake almost as soon as it came out of the oven and giving it the consistency of melted fudge and the taste of heaven.
Her cake was requested at every family function and was known simply as “Carolyn’s cake” or “Meme’s cake.”
All the things she made had one thing in common- one special ingredient….
My mom baked for those she loved. She baked so that she could give love and receive love and she baked so she could use all the special ingredients she had been waiting to use.
She added love by the handful.