Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Soda Bread

On any given March 17th one thing in the Murphy household was certain.
Kathleen Vokes would come and go, leaving a warm loaf of Irish soda bread on the front step for sure. My brother and two sisters and I would fight for the chance to be the one to find it there, but in truth...she was a sneaky one, so you just never knew when she'd come.

There were other times too, when Mrs. Vokes would turn up with her soda bread, quite often in fact, for she was the quiet white-haired matriarch in the neighborhood, and she had a very watchful eye and a kind spirit to match. We were a bit of an oddity in our neighborhood, having lost both parents by the time I turned eleven. My brother, ten years older than I, was the breadwinner, as was my sister Carol.  Mrs. Vokes had always played a quiet role in our family, tending to my mom when she was sick...for she herself was a nurse. She'd come up with one of the two daily pain injections, and sometimes Carol would run down to her before the time was up, because Mom was desperate and unable to wait.

But I was oblivious to most of that. Mom died when I was just a bitty girl, and then Dad later.
Mrs. Vokes, to me, was a mystical character. She had wild white hair and pinky toes that stuck out at the ends of her cloth sneakers. She always wore an apron or held a trowel in her hand. She, like my dad, tended that small plot of land as if it were a farm in Ireland. I'd skip down the hill and knock on her door and often find her in either place, the garden or the kitchen, and then I'd be enlisted to roll out the pie dough or dig up some lost bulbs, hidden deep in the soil.
But my favorite, by far, was the making of the Irish soda bread. 

I hadn't seen Mrs. Vokes in many years, having left to go off to college, to begin my first teaching job and to buy a home of my own and have my first baby. But, to my delight, on a trip to my brother's, I discovered her there once more. Matt was just six months old, and so I propped him up on the kitchen table. She was pulling an apple pie out of the oven and so the kettle went on and we talked. I asked her if she'd give me her Irish soda bread recipe, which of course she did. There was no recipe, was a 'bit of this and a bit of that', but I've managed to figure out the this and thats and have made more than a few over the years. 

When I got in my car to leave that day, we were both teary. It'd been so long, and in that short visit, I realized just how much she meant to me as that bitty girl so long ago. As fate would have it, though, my car wouldn't start. We went back in amidst the fitful cries of my little guy, Matthew. He was starving. So, as only she would, she slipped him onto that generous hip of hers and got him smiling and laughing again. But then it all stopped and the crying started again. It was then that I realized the secret incredient of all my visits to Mrs. Vokes. She switched him then from her hip to a seat atop the table, dug into that sugar bowl of hers and shoveled a heaping teaspoonful of the white stuff right into his mouth! I was horrified, but hysterical at the same time. We both laughed and laughed, and Matt's crying of course stopped. Good old Tommy Sullivan rescued us then and we were off on our way. 

Sadly, that was the last time I saw her, but I have a lifetime of memories from that kitchen, some of which are stored in my Middle Grade novel, Forever and Always, a story of a young girl growing up with only a dad, who learns to find mom in the small places, in the stories of people and the events that shape her life, those nooks and crannies of the universe. 

Tomorrow's entry: Mrs. Vokes's Irish Soda Bread Recipe. Stay tuned!


Smileyblueyes said...

And HERE lies the heart of you, Gael, previously always hidden behind the laughter! Beautiful, writing! Stay on that page, feel the feelings and share them. I want to know more, more details, more color, more grace filled moments, more memories....they made you who you are, and the sharing of it is your gift to us and those you immortalize with your sharing of the memories. Like gold, these are the purest moments, it is what life is really all about, isn't it?
Beautiful writing, and the telling of the story, makes me feel even closer to you than ever.

gael lynch said...

I'm so glad we've found each other again, Diane. I so love this connection! Like found gold! You're the best, thank you for all your encouraging words!