My mother was an amazing cook; nothing fancy, just wholesome and tasty Southern cooking. Of all the delicious baked items she often prepared, her specialty, most definitely, was yeast dinner rolls. We just referred to them as “hot rolls,” and in our family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws, they were legendary.
Christmas morning 1952 was bitterly cold in Mena, Arkansas, as my sister, brother and I jumped out of bed to see what treasures Santa had left for us. Even though our family, like most of our neighbors, friends and relatives, lived rather frugally, our dad always made sure that we had a good Christmas. We didn’t always get just exactly what we had asked for, but we received wonderful toys and usually some totally unexpected surprise gifts.
Mother already was in the kitchen starting her preparations of food to take to our grandmother’s for the traditional Christmas feast. While she worked, the three of us played with our new toys as we listened to Dad play familiar tunes on his harmonica.
Later, after a delicious breakfast, we dressed in our best church clothes, loaded everything into the 1939 Ford sedan and began our journey to Waldron.
Earlier that morning, Mother had prepared the dough for the “hot rolls” and then kneaded in the baker’s yeast just before our departure. Because the car was so loaded, she stowed the large mixing bowl of fluffy dough, covered with a kitchen towel, on the floorboard next to her feet.
The day was perfectly clear, but very cold, so Dad adjusted the heater to a high setting for us to be nice and cozy. The heater vent on that model was mounted low, just in front of Mother’s feet — and blowing directly on the bowl.
As my sister, brother and I were happily occupied in the back seat with a few of the toys we were allowed to bring along, we overheard Mother casually remark that the yeast was rising much faster than normal. A little while later she exclaimed that the dough was spilling over the sides of the bowl, so she asked Dad to turn down the heater, hoping that would slow down the action. She also had picked up the bowl and placed it in her lap. It helped somewhat, but the bacterial glob, which now had our full attention, kept on growing. I began to worry, for in my overactive imagination I could see a monster taking shape right in my Mother’s lap — a soft, white blob that would soon fill up the whole car, smothering us all before Daddy could get the car stopped, and we could make our escape. Well, Mother must have had similar fears, because she rolled her window down and madly started tearing off great handfuls of this evil stuff and throwing it out.
Since I am authoring this account, you know that she succeeded in getting her dough under control and saving us from a most horrible fate, but I often reflect on that day; what other motorists and any bystanders along U.S. Highway 71 must have thought, seeing these white, puffy clumps seemingly rain down from the sky. Perhaps they thought it was manna from Heaven?
Jim Beasley, 73, is a retired aerospace engineer and lives with his wife Pam, in Tyler. Besides writing as a hobby (hoping someday to publish a book of short stories and poems), he sings with the East Texas Men in Harmony barbershop chorus and builds guitars with his brother Scott in Nacogdoches. He also is a Bible class teacher and song leader for the Rice Road Church of Christ.