I had this wonderful, planned activity for last Thursday afternoon. I could see in my mind's eye rabbit-shaped rolls and golden-crusted star fish. I could almost see the smiles on the faces of the seniors' as they held up their sculpted bread dough creations for a group photo that I would come home and post here.
I prepared the bread dough two hours before I had scheduled baking on the activities board so that it could rise and be ready for sculpting when the time was right. I printed out pictures of bread shaped as a snake, a starfish, an angel and more so that I could share them with the participants before they began designing their own.
When everyone was seated, I placed a mound of bread dough in front of each of the seniors. I walked around and showed the pictures I had selected and invited them to use the dough as a sculptor would use clay.
Right away, one of the seniors took a piece of dough and started to rub it between her hands making a long-snake-like shape. I asked if it was in fact a snake, still clinging to my earlier sculpting ideas about the baking project. She laughed and then answered, "Oh course not Susan. I don't like snakes. I am doing what my mother did with the dough she made. I am making pretzels." She then told me that the dough was too sticky and that she needed more flour to "do it my mother's way. The way I watched her do it my whole childhood." She placed the length of dough on the table top and began to roll it.
"Do you have a wooden board I can use like my mother used?" she asked. I went to the kitchen and got the white, cutting board stored there. "Oh, perfect. Now I can finish my work," she told me. "I can use all this, right?" was her next question. I assured her that that was fine.
While she rolled her dough into pretzel-like shapes, two other women seated across from her called me over to tell me about what they were making. "Your Susan, right?" one of them asked. "I read on the board over there that it says, 'Baking with Susan,' so I thought that must be your name." I agreed that it was. I never say to any of the seniors when they ask my name, even though I work with them everyday, "You know my name. Remember I told you this morning." My boss told me when I started, "Remove the word "remember" from your vocabulary."
At the end of the table another of the seniors caught my eye. She had patted her dough into a circle. Too, she had gotten a water glass from the counter and was now cutting smaller circles out of the larger one.
"Dear," she said as I got closer, "could you bring me a couple of pans for my cinnamon biscuits. Oh, and could you bring me some cinnamon and sugar. I need to get these in the oven before it's too late and dinner has started." I knew that I could see her standing next to me, but that her thoughts and where she believed herself to be was decades earlier. I smiled and simply answered, "I'll do that now."
I went to the kitchen and returned with the requested supplies. By the time I had returned, more pretzels had been made by the first woman, bread rolls were shaped to be baked not fried and two rows of donut-shaped biscuits were placed at the center of the table. Too, the senior baking cinnamon biscuits had filled two round tins and had a single question to ask me, "Did you turn on the oven as I asked you to earlier, Dear?" She then looked at me, smiled and said, "Times awaiting. The others will be hungry, so let's get these cooked."
Before the participating seniors left for the day, The Bridge is a day program, they each had a baggie filled with cooked bread tucked under the wing of their arm.
I had started this Practical Life activity with my ego spread across the "directions" like cream cheese spread on a Sunday morning bagel. However, as the bread was being twisted, shaped and cut, I let go of any set outcomes. Instead, I watched as hands moved with ease and agility. I listened as they spoke of the bread baking days of their childhood. The muscular and emotional memory of those days returned to them for an hour or so.
They didn't pull from the bread dough starfish or angels. Instead, they pulled from the bread stories of years gone by. When I took the first tray of fresh baked rolls out of the oven, I slabbed on some butter and passed around samples to all. "Tastes just like my mother's recipe. She was so good at baking bread. My mother was, really."