December 2, 2014

CREATIVE NONFICTION BY LANCE TURNER "THEY'RE NOT LIKE OURS"



Lance Turner is a writer living in Kansas. He has had work appear in The Pierian and Touchstone. He currently works as a lecturer at the University of Kansas.
Previous publications include:
“Regression Therapy” (short story). The Pierian, Albany State University’s Department of English, Modern Languages and Mass Communication’s Literary Journal. Spring 2013: 70-73.
“Detour Ahead” (personal essay). Touchstone, Kansas State University’s Department of English’s Literary Journal. Spring 2007: 41–47.

They're Not Like Ours

Bread of the Dead


1½ c. flour
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1Tbsp. anise seed
2 pkg. dry yeast
½ c. milk
½ c. water
½ c. butter or margarine
4 eggs
3½ to 4½ c. flour



Glaze:

½ c. sugar

⅓ c. orange juice

2 Tbsp. grated orange peel


Mix together 1½ c. flour, sugar, salt, anise seed, and dry yeast.  Combine and heat milk, water, and margarine in saucepan.  Mix dry ingredients, add heated liquid, and beat.  Add 4 eggs and 1 cup of flour and beat.  Gradually blend in remaining flour.  Knead on lightly floured board for 8 to 10 minutes.  Place dough in greased bowl and let rise until doubled: about 1½ hours.  Punch dough down and shape into a loaf or several smaller loaves.  Let rise again for 1 hour.  Bake at 350ºF for 40 minutes.


Combine ingredients for glaze in saucepan and boil for 2 minutes.  Apply glaze to warm loaf.



I have a sacrilegious sensation when I bake this bread, but that was what it was called in my ninth grade Spanish Class, so I’ll keep the name. I first learned of this bread’s existence in high school.  As a class, we were assigned to make the forebodingly named bread of the dead for Dia de los Muertos, and I turned to my mother for help.

“Go ask Grandma,” was her response. 

I did.  Grandma was the experienced chef.  No one could make spaghetti sauce like her, or even scrambled eggs.  They were both sweet dishes with lingering tastes of sugar, butter, and cream.  I have come close to recreating the eggs, but not the sauce.  And so, in ninth grade, I was enthusiastic to watch and learn a little bit of Grandma’s bread-making skills. 

It had been years, possibly even decades, since Grandma had made bread.  She mulled over the recipe.  The glaze was something new to her, but my mother already bought the ingredients and Grandma was never one to back down from a recipe.

Standing in her small kitchen, she shuffled in her socks toward the wooden cabinets and marble counter and pulled out ceramic bowls, a saucepan, measuring cups, and spoons.  The purchased ingredients were sprawled out on the dining room table, waiting for her to need them, waiting for me to get them.  And we began.  We opened, we mixed, we cracked, we floured, we stirred, and we kneaded.  The dough clung between our fingers as we worked.  When she placed the large, ceramic bowl of dough on top of the stove to rise, I cleaned my hands under the kitchen faucet.  Handing me a paper towel, Grandma told me I have her fingers: long and slender. 

We let the dough sit on top of the stove for hours.  We waited for the yeast.  After the dough rose, we kneaded the dough and waited for the dough to rise again.  Before long, it was finally time to form the individual, oval loaves and bake them.  Then, as we waited for the loaves to bake, it was time to make the glaze. 

At first, Grandma complained that my mother bought the wrong oranges.  The skins were not thick enough and the glaze called for grated orange zest – the orange of the orange peels.  I had never known orange zest to be an ingredient in anything, let alone bread.  Bread is basic.  Orange zest isn’t, but a citrus aroma soon filled the kitchen as I grated orange zest into a paper bowl.  Not long after that the kitchen timer went off.  The dough had cooked, the bread was browning, and that luscious warmth of baked goods filled the air as Grandma pulled the glistening loaves out of the oven.  I could hear her take a deep breath and I could see her smile. 

I generously applied the orange glaze to the loaves and we each had a taste.  This was my first taste of my first homemade bread and it was bread, but sweeter.  Like the eggs.  Like the sauce.  The glaze made the bread what it was, savory and complete.  We had done a good job.  Grandma said so.  When I took my loaves to class, enough students had attempted the baking process that I had plenty of extra loaves to take home and my Spanish teacher thought it would be a good idea if we tried each other’s bread.  She divided the different loaves among us and I took my share of the class's bread home.  Grandma helped to eat most of that bread over the following days, loaf after loaf, some with the orange glaze and some without, formed in different shapes, loaves, and slices. 

When Grandma finished, she made one comment, “They didn’t make them right.  They're not like ours."


I spent a lot of time at Grandma’s house before I started high school.  We would watch movies in the afternoons on weekends and, during the summers, I would walk the four houses that separated her house from my parents’ house and take little mini-vacations, sleeping in her back bedroom, renting movies, and eating waffles.  I remember one of these trips in particular, in the summer, maybe around the eighth grade.  I was watching television with her, an episode of the Golden Girls on Lifetime.  “Mixed Blessing” is the episode’s title.  The premise is that Michael, Dorothy’s son, flies down to Dorothy’s home in Miami to proclaim his engagement to a woman twice his age.  She is black.  Both of the new couple's families have issues with the engagement and both are suspicious about the differences in the couple's ages and races, but it is a comedy.  “Mixed Blessing” is funny and poignant as Michael and his soon-to-be wife (I want to say, Loraine) deal with their families. 

As we watched the show unfold before us, Grandma relaxed in her recliner, her feet up.  When the show ended, Michael and Loraine were married and Grandma turned her head, still sitting back, her blue eyes visible behind her rounded glasses in the unlighted living room and she asked me a question.  I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember the emotion behind it.  She asked if I would ever marry someone of a different race, specifically, black. 

I paused.  Being fourteen, I did not completely understand the reasons behind why she would ask me this question.  “If I loved them, I would,” I said.

Grandma did not say anything for a moment, but little by little she put her feet down on the carpet, leaned her body forward in the recliner, her shoulders hunched as she ran her index finger under the band of her watch, separating it from her skin, and said, not to me, but to the television, or to the room, “There are enough of them and enough of us that we do not need to marry each other.  They are not like us.”


I never did tell my grandmother I was gay before she died.
~Lance Turner

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